Members of the US House of Representatives have introduced five different bills seeking to tame the power of the world’s largest technology companies, in the biggest legislative threat to Big Tech in years.
If passed, the proposals would together constitute the biggest shake-up of US monopolies law in a generation, curbing tech industry takeovers of the kind that cemented Facebook’s dominance of social media and limiting the ability of Apple, Amazon and Google to use their platforms to favour their own products.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said David Cicilline, the Democratic chair of the antitrust subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, when announcing the bills on Friday.
Big tech companies “are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work”, he said.
US politicians have promised for years to pass landmark tech regulations, such as a digital privacy bill, but have been hampered by a lack of bipartisan agreement on the issue.
House members signing on to support the five bills, however, include both Democrats and Republicans, a sign of the anger felt in both parties towards global technology companies.
Ken Buck, the most senior Republican on the antitrust subcommittee, said: “Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have prioritised power over innovation and harmed American businesses and consumers in the process.”
The bills would enact many of the recommendations made in a 448-page report published by Cicilline’s subcommittee last year, which accused all four companies of abusing their market power and followed hearings including one featuring the four chief executives. That report was only signed by Democrats, suggesting Republican members of Congress have since shifted their position.
Details of the five bills
The first of the five bills would stop companies using their platforms to boost their own products. Amazon has been criticised in particular for using its market-leading online store to give prominence to products the company has made. Last year’s report found Amazon routinely uses third-party seller data to help improve and sell its own products.
The second would prevent large technology companies buying up potential competitors. That bill reflects anger on Capitol Hill that Facebook was allowed to buy WhatsApp and Instagram, helping cement its power in social media.
The third would stop companies using their platforms and products to boost 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 would not have normally ranked highly on Google search.
The fourth bill would force companies to make it easier for customers to take their data and online profiles and move them to another service.
The fifth would make it more expensive to file for certain mergers, in an effort to give the justice department and the Federal Trade Commission more money to pursue enforcement action.
If passed by the House of Representatives, the main hurdle to the bills becoming law would lie in the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to filibuster new legislation. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans, is generally regarded as supportive of big business, but has said relatively little about Big Tech.
Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement: “Bills that target specific companies, instead of focusing on business practices, are simply bad policy and are fundamentally unfair and could be ruled unconstitutional.”
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