As antitrust efforts ramp up in Congress, Big Tech is fighting back, unleashing an army of lobbyists, enlisting business groups to apply pressure and engaging in fearmongering to avoid critical regulation.
Regardless, lawmakers must forge ahead and support legislation that reins in the tech giants’ worst impulses, ensures fair competition and protects consumers and small businesses.
After a 16-month investigation by the House Antitrust Subcommittee into the business practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, lawmakers last year advanced a series of bills meant to curb the tech industry’s unfettered power. They include measures that would strengthen regulators, restrict dominant platforms from owning a business that creates a conflict of interest and bar companies from prioritizing their products over those of competitors.
Similar legislation has also been proposed in the Senate, with the Senate Judiciary Committee advancing bills this year that would improve competition on sales platforms and app stores. A recent hearing of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would give publishers a larger say in how their content is distributed online, is also part of the larger antitrust push.
In response, groups aligned with Big Tech, including the recently tech-flush U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been aggressively promoting claims that reforms threaten innovation, would hurt minority-owned businesses, make it hard for consumers to use digital services and could harm security and privacy.
Ads by trade group NetChoice have even claimed that legislation would keep Amazon’s Alexa from responding to the question, “How do I perform CPR?” implying users would waste precious time by having to manually scramble for the answer (on Microsoft’s Bing, no less).
The industry’s transparent efforts show they are willing to protect profit at any cost, said U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Seattle Democrat who is the vice chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee.
“It is clear that Big Tech has become too powerful to care about fairness, competition or consumer choice,” she said. “They have pulled out all the stops and poured money into trying to stop Congress from passing much needed antitrust legislation that would prevent concentration of power in the hands of very few companies, killing small businesses and hometown newspapers and harming consumers.”
Big Tech’s campaign doesn’t have to score the winning shot, it can just run out the clock. Although there is bipartisan support for antitrust legislation, opposition by some Democrats and expected leadership changes in Congress after the midterm elections mean there are no guarantees current efforts will continue.
Of course, lawmakers must root out any unintended consequences that could stifle invention or harm small business. But no matter what the tech companies say, antitrust legislation will not slay these giants or kill innovation (or even make Amazon Prime go away), that is not its goal. What it will do is limit Big Tech’s ability to run roughshod over competitors and consumers.
Enough Democrats and Republicans agree, but time is running out. Congress needs to act soon.