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(CNN Business) – A powerful House panel on Thursday approved a broad set of proposals aimed at weakening big tech. He gave his approval to a series of measures that impose new obligations on the main digital platforms, prohibit them from abusing any “guardian power” and, in some cases, opens the door to new fines and breaches.
In a two-day marathon session that spanned nearly 29 hours, lawmakers from the Judiciary Commission sent six bills to the House of Representatives that would represent the most significant change to US antitrust law in decades.
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The proposals seek to reduce dominance
The toughest bills prohibit what committee members have alleged are the most blatantly anti-competitive tactics practiced by Big Tech.
Under those proposals, Amazon would be barred from owning the same e-commerce platform on which it competes with independent sellers. Facebook could not acquire new companies that it may perceive as a future competitive threat. Google would be banned from promoting YouTube in search results over other video rivals.
And Apple may be required to allow third-party app stores on iOS. The proposed policies go straight to the heart of some of the key business models of big technology.
The bills would make it illegal for big tech companies to unfairly promote their own products and services on the platforms they own, such as when Google pushes YouTube videos. They also seek to prevent them from using their control of multiple platforms to harm other companies that depend on those same platforms, as some allege against Amazon in its treatment of sellers.
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“These measures would be the most important reforms in America’s competition law system since Hart-Scott-Rodino, which was 45 years ago in 1976,” said William Kovacic, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, referring to the Ford-era law that aimed to establish public transparency requirements for mergers and acquisitions.
The bills do not name individual companies, though some lawmakers on Thursday expressed willingness to do so as a way to narrow the intended scope of the legislation. Instead, the bills describe a blanket definition for tech giants that antitrust regulators are expected to use to identify companies subject to the laws. This includes market capitalization and monthly user thresholds.
Under the bills, if the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department discovers that a covered business has abused its power, the agencies could potentially sue for fines or a break.
The results could create massive changes for the internet as we know it
The House rating comes as the tech industry faces mounting pressure from lawmakers and regulators around the world. Google has been affected by multiple antitrust lawsuits by federal and state officials alleging abuse in online search and advertising.
State and federal officials have sued Facebook for what its critics have called a “murderous takeover” strategy. Apple went to court this spring to defend itself against allegations by Epic Games, the maker of “Fortnite,” that Apple’s app store monopolizes app developers’ access to the iPhone. Amazon faces new antitrust scrutiny amid its acquisition of media heavyweight MGM.
In recent months, European officials have started a steady stream of investigations into a variety of Apple, Google and Amazon business practices. Europe’s high court asserted this month that data privacy regulators across the continent, not just those in the same jurisdiction as corporate headquarters, can hold digital platforms like Facebook accountable.
The House bills mark the most comprehensive effort on this side of the Atlantic to craft a national set of rules governing digital platforms.
“Today, we have sent a clear message,” said Rep. David Cicilline, who led the charge in a 16-month investigation of the tech industry last year that culminated in the legislation. “The United States will no longer allow other countries to lead the fight against unregulated monopoly power. The United States is ready to hold Big Tech accountable so that we can build a stronger online economy.”
The technology companies give warnings to approve the bills
The tech industry launched an all-out attack to thwart US bills ahead of Wednesday’s decision. His trade groups and lobbyists said Congress was moving too fast and the bills could have unintended consequences for consumers.
The companies themselves issued dire warnings: Amazon said that if forced to choose between selling retail products on its own and operating an e-commerce marketplace for everyone, it would choose the former, resulting in lost business for half a million sellers. who use your platform. Apple said allowing iOS users to download apps from anywhere could lead to security and privacy violations.
Some lawmakers echoed those concerns during the legislative session. They said many of the bills were too broad in scope or risked giving too much power to the federal government.
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Conservative lawmakers repeatedly tried to amend the bills to address claims of anti-conservative bias. In fact, one of the first amendments attempted to prohibit the FTC and DOJ from using Congressional funds to advance critical race theory. The amendment was scrapped as not relevant to the antitrust issues in question.
A bipartisan coalition of California lawmakers, some of whom represent Silicon Valley, worked throughout the session to challenge the bills, citing “basic questions” that they said the authors did not respond to. For example, they said, it is not obvious how the bills would affect specific products used by millions of consumers.
The reluctance continues
But advocates of tough new restrictions called for swift action to shore up the nation’s competition laws. They argue that they were necessary to save small companies threatened by big tech.
“Each bill is an essential part of a bipartisan plan to level the playing field for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups, and to bring the benefits of greater innovation and choice to American consumers,” said the president of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler at the start of proceedings Wednesday.
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When the bills came out of committee, Rep. Ken Buck, one of the legislation’s main Republican co-sponsors, claimed victory over what he said was pressure from the tech industry to sink the effort.
“Big Tech lobbied against all six antitrust bills, saying they would not be passed outside the Committee,” Buck tweeted after the bills passed Thursday. “I am proud to work with my colleagues on both sides to ‘Break Up Big Tech’ and advance these bills to the House floor.”