US Bills Target Tech Giants’ Unchecked Power

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Five draft bills in US House of Representative build on last years’ antitrust hearings with measures that target tech giants’ key business practices

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have introduced four bills aimed at reducing the power of the biggest tech companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, as well as a fifth that would give antitrust regulators more resources.

The five bills are the result of last year’s review of the tech industry conducted by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

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

At the time, lawmakers accused the companies of abusing their market power.

Image credit: US SenatePlatform dominance

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”.

“From Amazon and Facebook to Google and Apple, it is clear that these unregulated tech giants have become too big to care,” said Democratic US Representative Pramila Jayapal, who sponsored one of the measures.

The bills have bipartisan backing from Democratic Representative David Cicilline, the chair of the antitrust panel, who co-sponsored the bills, and co-sonsor Ken Buck, the top Republican. The bills were also sponsored by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler.

Acquisitions

“Change is coming. Laws are coming,” Cicilline said in February.

He said at the time that the power of tech giants was “spreading through our body politic and taking over our ability to function as a democracy”.

The European Union’s draft Digital Services Act (DSA) also targets large tech platforms.

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.

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.

‘Conveniences’

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.

The pro-business US Chamber of Commerce said it “strongly opposes” the bills’ approach in that they “target specific companies”.

A tech industry advocacy group, Chamber of Progress, said the bills could ban “conveniences” such as Amazon Basics brand batteries, Apple’s Find My Phone tool or Google Maps appearing in Google search results. The group is backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google and others.

Robert Weissman, president of advocacy group Public Citizen, lauded the bills for targeting tech companies’ “incredible abuses of power”.

“That unchecked power ends now,” he said.

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