US lawmakers on Friday unveiled a massive antitrust program, aimed at curbing the competitive power of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The five bipartisan bills, the result of more than a year of investigating competition in the digital marketplace, target what lawmakers call the “unregulated power wielded” by Big Tech.
The bills target the four tech titans, who collectively influence nearly every aspect of life online, as well as the industry in general. If finally passed, the bills will make it easier for the government to dismantle dominant companies and prevent them from stifling competition through preemptive acquisitions.
Rep. David N. Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, said the bill list “will level the playing field” and ensure that tech companies are subject to the same rules.
“Right now, unregulated technology monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Cicillin said in a press release. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise consumer prices and put people out of work.”
Facebook and Google declined to comment. Apple and Amazon did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The immense market power of these companies, which together represent more than $ 6 trillion in market value, has blurred the basic principles that have guided antitrust law in the United States for a generation. Lawmakers became increasingly concerned about the behavior of the industry and threatened to remedy it. In July, the CEOs of the four companies were dragged to the Cicillin committee for, an unprecedented public questioning of Big Tech’s most visible executives.
Silicon Valley proponents argue that the sheer scale of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google has provided consumers with unprecedented innovation and huge technological benefits, often at a lower cost. Big Tech critics counter that the industry’s extraordinary market power hurts workers, suppresses petty rivals, and costs consumers in ways other than money.
According to lawmakers, the bills on Friday’s legislative agenda:
- Prohibit discrimination by dominant platforms – such as the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store or the entire Amazon Marketplace – preventing them from exercising their preference or “picking winners and losers online”.
- Prohibit acquisitions designed to quell competitive threats, or those that would expand or strengthen the market power of online platforms.
- Prevent dominant platforms from exploiting their control over multiple types of businesses to give themselves an unfair advantage and disadvantage competitors
- Promote greater competition online by lowering barriers to entry and reducing costs for businesses and consumers when they want to switch to a new supplier.
- Update the filing fees for mergers, the first increase in two decades, providing funding for the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to pursue necessary antitrust actions.
The bills aggravate a fight that has been brewing between Silicon Valley and Washington for years.
The four tech giants face major antitrust battles. Google has been the target of three major antitrust lawsuits, including a landmark case filed by the US Department of Justice and another complaint by a bipartisan coalition of states. Facebook is facing lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general. Amazon was sued by the Washington, DC attorney for pricing. Apple and Google have been sued by popular game maker Fortnite over their app store policies.
Cicillin led the charge in the House. The July hearing was the culmination of a more than a year-long investigation by its subcommittee into market dominance by tech giants. Meanwhile, the subcommittee has assembled more than 1.3 million documents from tech companies, their competitors, and antitrust law enforcement agencies. Following the hearing, the sub-committee published a 449-page report accusing the four companies of “abuse of monopoly power”.
The size of the companies is staggering.
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with a user base roughly equal to the two most populous countries in the world – China and India – combined. Amazon controls 38% of Online sales in the United States, while Walmart, its closest competitor, has just under 6%. (Amazon also collects data on other retailers using its giant platform.) Apple’s App Store is a powerful gateway for software developers to find an audience with the vast customer base. Company iPhone and iPad. Google handles about 90% of all web searches in the world.
The legislative package is a “big step” towards holding dominant tech companies accountable for abuses of their uncontrolled power, said Robert Weissman, chairman of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “Big tech should see this for what they are: Congress sends a clear message that the party is finally over for them,” he said in a statement.
Small competitors welcomed the movement.
Roku, who is currently in dispute with Google over a deal to continue hosting the YouTube TV app on its streaming devices, called the bills crucial step in the fight against predatory behavior. “Roku has direct experience of competing and interacting with these monopolies,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve seen how they blatantly ignore antitrust laws and hurt consumers by leveraging their dominance in one industry to stifle competition in another.”
Spotify, which has sharply criticized Apple’s actions in its App Store, called the proposals “a clear sign that the momentum has changed” after “anti-competitive practices have been unchecked for too long, stifling competition and threatening the ‘innovation”.
Advocates and representatives of the tech industry, however, have warned that the bills could undermine U.S. economic leadership around the world and hamper consumers’ access to free digital services.
“The House bills would give the government responsibility for industrial organization,” Matthew Schruers, chairman of the Computer & Communications Industry Association technology trade group, said in a statement. “They ignore the principles that have governed the American market economy and would prevent successful technology companies from providing consumers with the products and services that improve their lives.”
A statement earlier today by Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who is the committee’s most senior member, suggested that the industry’s position would find little sympathy in Washington.
“Big Tech has abused its dominance in the market to crush its competition, censor speech and control the way we see and understand the world,” Buck said. “Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”
– Richard Nieva contributed to this article.