Rob Lever (AFP)
Mon June 21, 2021
The big tech antitrust overhaul package unveiled in Congress, if passed, could have far-reaching effects on the way people use the internet and on America’s largest and most successful businesses.
The five bills, which are due to be voted on in committee on Wednesday, could pave the way for a reorganization or shattering of giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon while reshaping the entire internet ecosystem.
The measures would prevent tech giants from operating a platform for third parties while offering competing services on those platforms, dealing a heavy blow to Apple and Amazon.
Lawmakers are also seeking to ban tech companies from prioritizing their own products or services, with Google clearly in mind.
Another measure would require “portability” and “interoperability” of data, which could make it easier for people to leave Facebook, for example, while still retaining their data and contacts.
Larger tech companies would also be banned from acquiring competitors under the program, which would also add funds for antitrust enforcement.
Fiona Scott Morton, a professor at Yale University and former US official who has written extensively on Big Tech, said the legislation stems from the failure of antitrust enforcement in the US and elsewhere to reduce dominance large technology companies.
“It’s regulation, it’s not antitrust anymore,” Morton said.
If the bills pass, she noted, Apple may have to sell or shut down its music service so that it doesn’t discriminate against competitors like Spotify.
“Apple should choose,” she said.
Read also: The tech industry will be the engine of growth in Indonesia until 2022
An interoperability requirement “would be very important for consumers because it would allow people to join social networks other than Facebook and [Facebook-owned] Instagram and keep in touch with their friends, ”Morton noted.
The package comes amid signs of a more aggressive stance by Washington against dominant tech companies, including President Joe Biden’s appointment of Lina Khan – a prominent supporter of the Big Tech disbandment – as head of the Federal Trade Commission, one of the antitrust law enforcement agencies.
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote Wednesday on the package, which enjoys the support of Republicans in addition to Democratic leaders, signaling a likelihood of passage through the full House of Representatives. The fate in the Senate is less clear.
The measures follow a 16-month House investigation led by antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicillin, which found the tech giants were abusing their dominance and having too much power in the economy.
Christopher Sagers, a professor at Cleveland State University specializing in antitrust law, said the package represents a radical approach to dealing with the growing power of tech companies.
The bills “would make the platforms work more like airlines or utility companies, which must provide their services to anyone who wants them, and not give anyone (or themselves) any benefits. discriminatory, ”Sagers said.
“These laws could also put an end to some very popular products,” he added.
“I don’t know how Apple could continue to sell its own mobile software, for example, if iOS devices or the App Store were referred to as ‘covered platforms’, and there could be consequences for products like Amazon Prime. , Google Maps, books scanned in the Google Books project, and who knows what else. “
But Sagers said the impact might not be bad in the long run as “markets are reorganizing and new competitors appear to replace them … But that means these laws seem risky and I find their consequences hard to see. provide”.
Other analysts have warned of the unintended consequences of disrupting the massively successful businesses that many consumers rely on in their daily lives.
Iain Murray, a senior researcher at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the move could mean that a company like Apple would have to shut down its App Store, ship “blank phones” without any apps, or part ways with its telephony division.
“For the most part, the average consumer will see their user experience severely degraded,” he said in a statement.
The legislation reflects European law on digital markets and is likely to “distort” competition, according to Aurélien Portuese of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank that often reflects industry views.
Portuese said the legislation comes amid a wave of resentment towards big tech, but could ultimately hurt consumers by allowing less efficient companies to win in the market.
“Consumers may no longer be able to benefit from the economies of scale of large companies,” Portuese said in a statement.
Read also: Questions relating to independent data protection authorities
The legislative package “reveals a profound lack of practical understanding of how the tech industry works and needs to remain competitive, relevant, profitable and innovative,” Futurum Research analyst Olivier Blanchard said in a blog post.
“Do the big tech companies have too much power? You could tell, of course.
“But if the goal is to control the very large and very powerful corporations, Congress could approach the problem by establishing safeguards that protect consumers and competition without upsetting an entire system.”