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A group of House members from both parties put forward five bills that would affect Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
WASHINGTON — On Friday, members of the House of Representatives introduced broad antitrust legislation. The goal is to limit the power of big tech and stop companies from merging. If the bills become law, they would be the most ambitious changes to monopoly laws in a long time.
The five bills go right after Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google for how much power they have over online shopping, information, and entertainment. The plans would make it easier to break up companies that used their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another. They would also make it harder to buy out new competitors and give regulators more money to keep an eye on companies.
The law could change how the companies do business. For example, Facebook and Google might have to do more to show that any mergers won’t hurt competition. When Amazon sells its own brands, like toilet paper and clothes, it could get more attention. Apple might find it harder to get into new business areas that are advertised on its App Store.
“Right now, tech monopolies that don’t have to answer to anyone have too much power over our economy.” Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island and head of the antitrust subcommittee, said, “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, shut down small businesses, raise prices for consumers, and put people out of work.” “Our plan will make sure that the richest and most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”
The bills, which have some support from both parties, are Capitol Hill’s most direct challenge yet to Silicon Valley’s tech giants, which have grown and thrived for years without much regulation or limits on how big they can get. After a 16-month investigation, the antitrust subcommittee released a harsh report about the industry last year. The report said that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all did things that were monopolistic. The proposals that came out on Friday try to solve the problems that were pointed out in the report.
Over the past ten years, dozens of bills that would have protected people’s data, made people responsible for what they said, or kept kids safe online have failed. But in the past few years, there has been a lot of support for trying to stop the biggest tech companies from being so powerful.
During the Trump administration, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission accused Google and Facebook of doing things that hurt competition. They then filed lawsuits that are likely to be fought for years. Both Democrats and Republicans say that a small number of companies have too much power, which leads to the spread of false information, differences in labor and wages, and a lack of clear rules for speech on the internet.
All over the world, there are efforts to limit the power of the tech giants, such as antitrust investigations in Europe and new laws in Australia and India.
Charlotte Slaiman, competition director for Public Knowledge, a public interest group, said, “These are exactly the kinds of new laws we need to really deal with the problem of gatekeeper power by dominant digital platforms.” There are so many powerful tools that big tech companies can use to protect their monopolies. These bills would give antitrust enforcers more powerful tools to open up digital platform markets to competition.
The bills set up a fight with the powerful influence armies of the tech industry. Over the past ten years, the industry has hired the most lobbyists in Washington. To protect their businesses, the companies sponsor think tanks, pay for academic papers, and hire top antitrust litigation firms.
Some of the ideas are likely to get a lot of support from lawmakers. For example, one idea is to raise merger fees to get more money for antitrust agencies. The Senate just passed a similar bill. Another bill that might get passed would let people take their digital history to other websites. This would make it harder for big companies like Facebook to control personal information.
But it will be harder to pass other bills. One would make it illegal for a company like Google, which has the most popular search engine, to own another business that relies heavily on online search. For example, under the new law, the company would not be able to favor search results for its YouTube video service. If it did, it could be forced to split off the video business. Another bill would make it illegal for a big company to use its power to keep competitors out or make others buy goods and services from the company if they want to use its platform.
Adam Kovacevich, the head of the Chamber of Progress, a lobbying group with members from big tech, said that if the bills passed, consumers would not be able to buy popular products.
“Consumers would react badly to ideas like banning Amazon Basics batteries, Apple’s Find My Phone tool, or Google Maps showing up in Google search results,” he said.
Facebook and Google both said they had nothing to say. Amazon and Apple didn’t answer requests for comments right away. Some smaller tech companies were very happy about the bills.
In a statement, the company that makes online streaming devices called Roku said that the biggest tech companies “flagrantly ignore” antitrust laws and hurt consumers.
“A strong set of reforms is needed to stop these monopolists from abusing consumer choice in the future and making it harder for people to get access to new, independent products,” the company said.
Antitrust experts say that the bills would give law enforcers more confidence. This is because recent court decisions have made it harder to understand antitrust laws that have been around for a century.
“This is a response to how narrowly the Supreme Court has interpreted our antitrust laws,” said Eleanor M. Fox, a law professor at New York University. “Because of this problem, it is a good idea for Congress to step in and decide what is bad for markets and what is good for them.”
On some parts of the bills, Republicans have different opinions. Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado who serves on the subcommittee, has always been against how much power Big Tech has. But he has also insisted on narrowing parts of the laws so that smaller companies don’t get caught up in the changes.
Like other Republicans, Mr. Buck has been very critical of how much power social media companies have over speech. He has also said that Facebook and Google censor conservative politicians.
“This law breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online,” he said. “It also promotes an online market that encourages innovation and gives American small businesses a level playing field.” It’s not an option to do nothing. “We’ll just do it now.”
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