US lawmakers unveiled a broad antitrust agenda on Friday, 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 investigating competition in the digital marketplace, target what lawmakers call the “unregulated power wielded by great technology.”
The bills are aimed at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, which collectively influence almost every aspect of life online. If finally signed into law, the bills would make it easier for the government to dissolve the dominant companies and prevent them from ending competition through preventive acquisitions.
Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, said the list of bills will “level the playing field” and ensure that tech companies abide by the same rules.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Cicilline said in a press release. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices for consumers 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 collectively represent more than $ 6 trillion in market value, has confused the basic principles that guided antitrust law in the US for a generation. Lawmakers have become increasingly concerned about the industry’s behavior and have threatened to address it. In July, the CEOs of the four companies were brought before the Cicilline committee to, an unprecedented public questioning of Big Tech’s most visible leaders.
Silicon Valley supporters argue that the scale of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google has provided consumers with unprecedented innovation and broad technology benefits, often at lower cost. Critics of big tech counter that the industry’s extraordinary market power hurts workers, stifles smaller rivals, and costs consumers in ways other than money.
The bills on Friday’s legislative agenda, according to lawmakers, would be:
- 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 personal preference or “picking winners and losers online.”
- Ban acquisitions designed to quell competitive threats, or those that would expand or strengthen the market power of online platforms.
- Prevent dominant platforms from leveraging your control over multiple types of businesses to give themselves an unfair advantage and competitive competitors.
- Promote more competition online by lowering barriers to entry and lowering costs for businesses and consumers when they want to switch to a new provider.
- Updating merger filing fees, the first increase in two decades, which provides funding for both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to carry out necessary antitrust actions.
The bills intensify a fight that has been brewing between Silicon Valley and Washington for years.
The four tech giants face major antitrust battles. Google is the target of three major antitrust lawsuits, including a landmark case brought by the US Department of Justice and another complaint from a bipartisan coalition of states. Facebook faces lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general. Amazon has been sued by the Washington, DC attorney for pricing. Apple and Google have been sued by the maker of the popular game Fortnite for its app store policies.
Cicilline has led the charge on the house. The July hearing was the culmination of a more than a year-long investigation by its subcommittee on the market dominance of tech giants. During that time, the subcommittee gathered more than 1.3 million documents from technology companies, their competitors, and antitrust law enforcement agencies. After the hearing, the subcommittee published a 449-page report accusing the four companies of “abuses of monopoly power.”
The sizes of the companies are staggering.
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with a user base roughly equal to that of the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, combined. Amazon controls 38% of Online sales in the US, while Walmart, its closest competitor, has just 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 company’s huge iPhone and iPad customer base. Google processes approximately 90% of all web searches globally.
The legislative package is a “big step” in holding dominant tech companies accountable for uncontrolled abuses of their power, said Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “Big Tech should see this for what it is: Congress sends a clear message that the party is finally over for them,” he said in a statement.
Smaller competitors also praised the move.
Roku, which is currently in a confrontation with Google over a deal to continue hosting the YouTube TV app on its streaming devices, called the bills a crucial step to curb predatory behavior. “Roku has first-hand experience competing and interacting with these monopolists,” the company said in a statement. “We have seen how they blatantly ignore antitrust laws and harm consumers by leveraging their dominance in one line of business to stifle competition in another.”
Spotify, which has openly criticized Apple’s actions on its App Store, called the proposals a “clear sign that momentum has turned” after “anti-competitive practices have been left unchecked for too long, stifling competition and threatening the innovation”.
But some who support and represent the tech industry warned that the bills could damage America’s economic leadership in the world and hamper consumers’ access to free digital services.
“The House bills would put the government in charge of the industrial organization,” said Matthew Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association technology trade group, in a statement. “They ignore the principles that have governed America’s market economy and would prevent successful tech companies from offering consumers the products and services that improve their lives.”
– Richard Nieva contributed to this article.