The bills are aimed at the four tech titans, which collectively influence almost every aspect of online life, as well as the broader industry. If eventually passed into law, the bills would make it easier for the government to break up dominant companies and prevent them from snuffing out competition through preemptive acquisitions.
US lawmakers unveiled a wide-ranging antitrust agenda Friday, aiming to rein in 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 Big Tech.
Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, said the slate of bills would “level the playing field” and ensure tech companies were held to 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 on consumers, and put folks out of work.”
Facebook and Google declined to comment. Apple and Amazon didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
The immense market power of these companies, which together represent more than $6 trillion in market value, has confounded the basic principles that guided antitrust legislation in the US for a generation. Lawmakers have become increasingly concerned by the industry’s behavior and threatened to address it. In July, the chief executives of the four companies were hauled in front of Cicilline’s committee for a grueling six-hour hearing, an unprecedented public interrogation of Big Tech’s most visible leaders.
Silicon Valley’s supporters argue the scale of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google has provided consumers with unprecedented innovation and sweeping technological benefits, often at lower cost. Critics of Big Tech counter that the industry’s extraordinary market power harms workers, suppresses smaller rivals and costs consumers in ways other than money.
The bills in Friday’s legislative agenda, according to lawmakers, would:
Prohibit discrimination by dominant platforms — such as Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store or all of Amazon’s marketplace — preventing them from exercising self-preference or “picking winners and losers online.”
Forbid acquisitions designed to squelch competitive threats, or those that would expand or entrench the market power of online platforms.
Restrain dominant platforms from leveraging their control across multiple business types to give themselves unfair advantage and disadvantage competitors.
Promote more online competition by lowering barriers to entry and reducing the costs to businesses and consumers when they want to switch to a new provider.
Update filing fees for mergers, the first increase in two decades, providing funds for both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to pursue necessary antitrust action.
The bills escalate a fight that’s been brewing between Silicon Valley and Washington for years. All four of the tech giants face major antitrust battles. Google is the target of three major antitrust lawsuits, including a landmark case filed 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 attorney of Washington, DC, for price fixing. Apple and Google have been sued by the maker of the popular game Fortnite for their app store policies.
Cicilline has led the charge in the House. July’s hearing was the culmination of a more-than-yearlong investigation by his subcommittee into the market dominance of the tech giants. During that time, the subcommittee gathered more than 1.3 million documents from the tech companies, their competitors and antitrust enforcement agencies. Following the hearing, the subcommittee released a 449-page report accusing the four companies of “abuses of monopoly power.”
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