A new antitrust bill aimed at reducing conflicts of interest on online marketplaces could drastically decrease Big Tech companies giving preference to their own products and services and potentially even break up the tech giants.
The Ending Platform Monopolies Act, written by Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, would promote competition in online marketplaces, such as those run by Amazon or Google, by eliminating the "irreconcilable conflicts of interest" that arise from dominant platforms both controlling a marketplace and selling items on it.
A number of conservative Republicans, including prominent Trump supporters such as Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, back the bill, as does the House antitrust panel's top Republican, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado.
The bill is part of a larger antitrust package the House Judiciary Committee is considering on Wednesday, consisting of five bipartisan bills drafted by lawmakers on the House Antitrust Subcommittee that would rein in tech companies.
The bills, including Jayapal’s legislation, are targeted at tech giants with a market capitalization of over $600 billion and at least 50 million monthly users or 100,000 business customers, such as Amazon, Apple, and Google. The legislative effort represents rising skepticism of Big Tech power on Capitol Hill.
Jayapal’s bill would make it easier for the federal government’s antitrust agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, to stop Big Tech companies from preferencing their own products and services through discriminatory conduct. For example, the legislation is meant to change which products and services end up at the top of Google search results, Amazon product listings, or Apple app recommendations.
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Such changes could lead to fewer Amazon 'Basic' generic products at the top of its website, more restaurant reviews from Yelp at the top of Google search results instead of its own recommendations, and fewer preinstalled apps on iPhones such as iMessage and FaceTime, said Charlotte Slaiman, head of competition policy at open internet advocacy group Public Knowledge.
The legislation also gives the agencies express authority to separate the marketplaces controlled by certain tech giants, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, from the products and services they offer if a conflict of interest exists between the two.
The antitrust agencies would enforce the legislation by conducting investigations into the tech giants' behavior. The agencies would probably have to sue them in court in order to stop the self-preferencing behavior or break them up altogether.
“Perhaps iMessage and FaceTime won’t be preinstalled on the iPhone [because] of this bill, but you could easily download them after,” said Jane Chung, the Big Tech accountability advocate at the consumer group Public Citizen.
“Amazon and Google would also keep pushing all their products and services but without the self-preferencing. I cannot overemphasize how big of a f***ing deal these bills are for small businesses and a fair economy,” said Chung.
The companies and their lobbyists, along with tech trade associations, have been aggressively portraying the antitrust bills as hurtful to consumers in trying to cajole members of Congress into opposition.
“The legislation is a solution in search of a problem and will be bad for consumers thanks to less competition and higher prices,” said Carl Szabo, vice president at NetChoice, an advocacy group that represents companies including Amazon and Google.
“All of these problems being argued can be solved through current antitrust law, but instead, Congress wants to rewrite the law so that all tech defendants are guilty by default,” Szabo said.
Thirteen advocacy organizations allied and funded by the tech giants have come out against Jayapal’s bill, claiming it would take away services and products that consumers like.
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“Rep. Jayapal’s bill would force free apps like Google Maps, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, iMessage, and FaceTime to be divested from their parent companies, putting at risk these free services and making them less accessible to the public,” the groups said in a letter Monday to the House Judiciary Committee.