Senate Committee Approves Big Tech Antitrust Bill

Image credit: US Senate

Attempt by US lawmakers to tame the power of big tech firms, nudges a step closer after Senate Committee votes to advance competition bill

The US Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to advance a competition bill, which is being vigorously opposed by big name tech firms.

The amended American Innovation and Choice Online Act was introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican.

In the end the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-6 Thursday to advance the tech competition bill, which many feel is the best chance for US lawmakers to make substantial reforms to laws governing the tech industry.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar. Image credit: US Senate
US Senator Amy Klobuchar. Image credit: US Senate

Taming tech?

The bill passed after five Republicans voted with the Democrats to advance the bill out of the committee.

This means the bill is now on a path to potentially be adopted by the full Senate, CNBC reported.

That said, some doubt whether the bill will achieve the necessary votes to pass a full Senate vote.

The bill has significant implications for Amazon, Apple and Google in particular, although as it is currently written it would also apply to other large platforms such as Facebook-owner Meta and TikTok, CNBC reported.

The bill essentially bans dominant platforms (based on number of users, market capitalisation etc) from discriminating against other businesses that rely on its services.

For example, Amazon would not be allowed to place its own branded products higher in search rankings that listings from third parties.

Apple and Google meanwhile would not be able to rank their own apps higher than rivals in respective mobile apps stores.

The same principle would also apply to Google’s search engine results.

One of the amendments that was accepted into the bill makes it more difficult for firms such as ByteDance (owner of TikTok) to gain access to American data.

Unhappy CEOs

The advancing of the bill comes despite reported large-scale lobbying and PR campaigns from big name tech platforms.

Senator Ted Cruz reportedly said he had a 40 minute telephone call from Apple’s CEO Tim Cook who reportedly expressed “significant concerns about the bill.”

Cook is concerned the bill could make it harder for Apple to allow users to opt out of app monitoring, but Cruz said he didn’t think the bill would have that affect.

Senator Klobuchar, chair of the panel’s antitrust panel, said after the vote that she also had spoken with both Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

“I had discussions with them and I made my case and I listened to them,” she was quoted as saying by Reuters. “They are most likely never going to like this bill,” she said adding that she was open to changes but not to gutting the measure. “We’re not going to put a bill forward that does nothing.”

The Cowen Washington Research Group reportedly said that despite the committee’s 16-6 vote to approve the measure, enough of its supporters expressed reservations that it had less than a 50 percent chance of becoming law.

Meanwhile a second bill that will ban app stores from forcing app developers to use their payment system was held over.

Both of those bills have a version in the US House of Representatives, Reuters reported.