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U.S. Government Moves to Take on Big Tech

Posted June 11, 2021 | Amazon | Antitrust | Apple | Big Tech | Facebook | Google | Microsoft | Social | Windows


Photo credit: Paul Thurrott

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives today introduced several bipartisan bills aimed at curbing and even reversing the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. The proposals come about 9 months after the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust issued a report claiming that the firms are monopolies that abuse their market power.

“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said David Cicilline, Representative from Rhode Island and the chairman of the antitrust subcommittee. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

There are five bills.

The first, ominously titled the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, seeks to break up these companies by making it illegal for online platforms to own businesses that are essentially conflicts of interest because they advantage their own products over those of competitors. For example, Facebook would have to give up Instagram and WhatsApp, and Google would have to spin off YouTube. And Amazon could no longer offer copycat products that compete with companies that rely on the e-commerce site to sell their own products.

The second act targets the anticompetitive app stores offered by Apple and Google. Dubbed the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, this would prevent Apple and Google from setting prices and conditions for apps developers. This one appears to line up nicely with the complaints we’ve seen from companies like Spotify, Sonos, and others.

The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act would ban Big Tech from purchasing competitors to remove them as threats. This is a practice all four of these companies engage in, as do other companies, like Microsoft and Salesforce, that were not specifically named.

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act seeks to improve competition by forcing companies to let consumers move their personal data between platforms. This bill is based on a recent legal requirement that forces U.S. wireless carriers to easily move their phone numbers when they move to different carriers.

And the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act follows a similar bill that already passed the U.S. Senate. It basically helps fund the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice Antitrust Division by charging much higher fees when companies notify the government of large mergers.

The most interesting thing about these proposals is that they’re happening at all in today’s highly partisan environment. But with Big Tech, Democrats and Republicans have seemingly found common ground, with one congressional aid describing the firms as “too big to care” about competing fairly.

The moves should also help to quell criticism of the European Commission, which has aggressively pursued U.S. Big Tech firms with similar complaints.

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