US lawmakers put Big Tech’s might in crosshairs of wide-ranging antitrust agenda – CNET

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

U.S. 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 are the result of more than a year investigating competition in the digital marketplace — and what lawmakers call the “unregulated power wielded” by Big Tech. 

“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work,” Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island and the chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, said in a press release. “Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

Representatives for Apple, Amazon and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Google declined to comment. 

The immense market power of these companies, which collectively represent more than $6 trillion in market value, has confounded the basic principles that guided antitrust legislation in the US for a generation.

Supporters of Silicon Valley argue that the unprecedented innovation and scale of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google has provided consumers with sweeping technological benefits often at lower cost. But critics of Big Tech’s extraordinary market power have put them increasingly under fire for the harm they cause workers, the oppression they put on smaller rivals and the costs consumers pay for their services beyond simple monetary prices. 

The legislative agenda announced Friday includes five bills, which the lawmakers said would:

  • prohibit discrimination by dominant platforms (think: Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store or Amazon’s, well, entire store) such as self-preferene and “picking winners and losers online.”
  • forbid acquisitions of companies to squelch them as competitive threats, or 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 for the first time in two decades so that both the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission have more resources 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 are facing major antitrust battles in court, with Cicilline leading the charge in the House. Last July, the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple appeared virtually before the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee at a marquee hearing. That gathering was the culmination of a more-than-yearlong investigation by the subcommittee into the market dominance of the tech giants.In that time, the subcommittee gathered more than 1.3 million documents from the tech giants, competitors and antitrust enforcement agencies for the investigation. Following the hearing, the subcommittee released a 449-page report accusing the four companies of “abuses of monopoly power.”

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with a user base roughly equal to the world’s two most populous countries combined. Amazon controls 38% of US online sales — Walmart, its nearest competitor, has just shy of 6% — and has data on other retailers using the giant platform. Apple’s App Store is a powerful gateway for software developers to find an audience with the company’s massive iPhone and iPad customer base. And Google processes about 90% of all web searches globally. 

–Rich Nieva contributed to this article. 

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