The business empires of big name tech firms are facing an increasing breakup risk, after the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved an antitrust bill .

That bill was one of five. Three of these antitrust bills are aimed directly at reducing the power of the biggest tech companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple

Last week the bills were introduced, which were the result of last year’s review of the tech industry conducted by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

Breakup threat?

The review included testimony by tech chief executives including Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

At the time, US lawmakers accused the companies of abusing their market power. It came after a scathing report on technology firms was published last October, which concluded that tech giants had become so big they now flout anti-competition rules.

The report included a requirement that tech firms had to delineate a clear “single line of business” or face an enforced breakup of their operations.

Yet this would be difficult for big tech firms. Google for example owns a search engine, plus Android, YouTube and Office productivity software.

Amazon, besides its mammoth e-commerce store, also owns the leading cloud computing unit (AWS) and even Ring doorbells.

Facebook meanwhile owns the world’s biggest social networking platform, but also hugely popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Antitrust bills

So what are the antitrust reform bills?

Well two of the bills take aim at the practice of companies such as Amazon and Google which create a platform for other businesses, then compete with those businesses.

One of these measures would make it illegal for a platform to give preference to its own products over those of competitors on the same platform, with a large potential penalty of 30 percent of the US revenue of the affected business in the case of a violation.

The second draft bill would make it illegal for a platform company to operate multiple lines of business that create “conflicts of interest”.

A third bill would require a platform to refrain from an acquisition unless it can show the acquired company doesn’t compete with a product or service the platform already offers.

This is designed to prevent large tech companies from acquiring smaller competitors, simply to take out a competitor.

A fourth bill would require platforms to allow users to transfer their data to other services, including competitors. The bill would require competing services to be interoperable.

A fifth bill would increase fees to the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for assessing the biggest companies’ mergers, increasing those agencies’ budgets. It is the companion to a bill that has already passed the Senate.

And what should concern the tech giants is that these bills have bipartisan backing from Democratic Representative David Cicilline, the chair of the antitrust panel who co-sponsored the bills, and co-sponsor Ken Buck, the top Republican.

The bills were also sponsored by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler.

Bill approval

CNBC on Thursday has reported that the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved one of the five antitrust bills.

The Committee reportedly voted to approve the bill to give antitrust enforcers more money in a lengthy session on Wednesday, but had still to vote on four bills aimed at reining in Big Tech.

Reuters also reported that the breakup bill had been approved.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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