House Democrats are preparing five bills to weaken Big Tech’s grip on the economy, in what could amount to Congress’s biggest challenge yet to the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
The legislation, drafts of which are currently being circulated in Washington, are an outgrowth of what House Democrats have called a “top-to-bottom” investigation of the tech industry last year conducted by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel. During that process, CEOs ranging from Apple’s Tim Cook to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testified before critical lawmakers who accused the companies of abusing their monopoly power.
The draft bills, copies of which were obtained by CNN, propose a range of legislative solutions to address how the tech companies built and maintained their market dominance. The bills were first reported by Politico.
One bill under consideration would prohibit online platforms such as Amazon from giving their own products or services an advantage over those of rivals who depend on the same platforms to reach consumers. A similar draft bill would make it illegal for a platform company like Google to operate multiple lines of business that create “conflicts of interest.”
Another bill would require platforms to be interoperable, so that users could migrate their data and switch services more easily. And two more bills target mergers and acquisitions, giving antitrust enforcers more resources, prohibiting tech giants like Facebook from gobbling up nascent competitors, and in some cases making it costlier for companies to file merger paperwork.
In a landmark report last summer, House Democrats on the antitrust panel alleged that the industry’s most powerful companies used their vast troves of user data to identify and neutralize startups that posed potential threats, to create anti-competitive policies for their platforms, and to promote their own products and services at the expense of fair competition. The panel’s Republicans issued their own report concurring with many of the majority’s findings, though it diverged on some of the proposed solutions.
The large tech companies have denied engaging in anti-competitive conduct. They argue they compete fairly, and provide products and services that have greatly benefited consumers.
The discussion drafts currently circulating among policymakers do not reflect the final state of the legislation. But the outlined proposals show how House Democrats intend to take on Silicon Valley’s biggest players by zeroing in on key aspects of their business models. If successful, the legislation could result in sweeping changes to the way Big Tech conducts its business.
In February, Rep. David Cicilline, who chairs the House antitrust panel, vowed that “change is coming. Laws are coming.”
He pointed to the economic dominance of platforms such as Facebook and said that under today’s laws, the tech industry has little incentive to shift away from business models that encourage anti-competitive behavior that hurts consumers and innovation.
“This problem is a cancer that is metastasizing across our economy and our country,” he said at the February hearing. “It’s spreading through our body politic and taking over our ability to function as a democracy.”
Tech industry advocates say the proposed bills would lead to dramatic changes for consumers. The bills would potentially outlaw practices such as the ability to see YouTube videos in Google search results, or free shipping on Amazon Prime for select products, according to Adam Kovacevich, founder and CEO of the Chamber of Progress, an advocacy group backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google and others.
“Giving antitrust enforcers more funding and encouraging data portability are relatively uncontroversial ideas,” Kovacevich wrote in a blog post, but banning conveniences like Amazon Basics brand batteries, Apple’s Find my Phone tool, or Google Maps appearing in Google search results are ideas that would spark a consumer backlash.”