US House members have introduced five different bills seeking to tame the power of the world’s largest tech companies, in the biggest legislative threat to Big Tech in years.
If passed, the proposals together would constitute the biggest change to US monopoly law in a generation, limiting the kind of tech industry takeovers that have cemented Facebook’s dominance of social media and limiting the ability of Apple, Amazon and Google to use their platforms as they prefer their own products.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” David Cicilline, the Democratic chair of the US House of Representatives Antitrust Subcommittee, said when the bills were announced Friday.
He said big tech companies are “in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put people out of business.”
US politicians have promised for years to pass high-profile technology regulations, such as the Digital Privacy Bill, but have run into obstacles due to a lack of bipartisan agreement on the issue.
However, the House members who signed on to support the five bills include both Democrats and Republicans, a sign of the anger both parties feel toward global tech companies.
“Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have prioritized power over innovation and hurt American businesses and consumers in the process,” said Ken Buck, the top Republican on the antitrust subcommittee.
The bills would enact many of the recommendations contained in a 448-page report published by the Cicline Subcommittee last year, which accused the four companies of abusing their market power and followed the hearings, including one involving the four chief executives. This report was only signed off by Democrats, indicating that Republican members of Congress have since changed their position.
Five billing details
The first out of five bills will prevent companies from using their platforms to promote their own products. Amazon has come under particular criticism for using its market-leading online store to showcase products made by the company. A report last year found that Amazon routinely uses third-party seller data to help improve and sell its products.
The second prevents big tech companies from buying potential competitors. This bill reflects Capitol Hill’s anger at allowing Facebook to buy WhatsApp and Instagram, which helps bolster its social media power.
The third prevents companies from using their platforms and products to promote other products they own. Google, for example, has been accused of manipulating its search engine to highlight its own products such as Google Shopping, when those services did not usually rank highly in Google search.
The fourth bill will force companies to make it easier for customers to take their data and profiles online and transfer them to another service.
A fifth would make it more expensive to file on certain mergers, in an effort to give the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission more money to pursue enforcement action.
If passed by the House, the main obstacle to bills becoming law lies in the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to block new legislation. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is generally seen as a supporter of big business, but has said relatively little about big technology.
“Bills that target specific companies, rather than focusing on business practices, are simply bad policy, fundamentally unfair and can be judged unconstitutional,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Google declined to comment. Facebook, Apple, and Amazon did not respond to requests to do so.
Additional reporting by Hannah Murphy, Richard Waters, Dave Lee and Patrick McGee