A series of new bills introduced Friday by House lawmakers aimed at disrupting the economic dominance of tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google could force them to make significant changes to their businesses.
The bipartisan bill is Congress’s most significant attempt to rein in Silicon Valley to date, and it takes direct aim at the tech giants’ underlying business models in some cases.
If passed, the legislation could force Google (GOOG) to stop promoting YouTube in its search results, as well as prohibit Amazon (AMZN) from selling products on its marketplace that directly compete with third-party seller listings.
Apple (AAPL) may be forced to loosen its restrictions on iOS app developers, and Facebook (FB) may be barred from acquiring startups in order to suffocate future competitors.
The most aggressive of the five bills, which addresses concerns about tech behemoths using their control over multiple business lines to favor their own products or suppress competitors, threatens the companies’ breakup if they don’t comply.
“For example, a search engine could not own a video service that it has incentives to favor in search results,” according to press material provided for the proposed legislation. “In such instances the bill requires dominant platforms to divest lines of business where the platform’s gatekeeper power allows it to favor its own services or disadvantage rivals.”
The bills make no mention of any specific businesses. However, virtually every bill seeks to address the findings of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel’s 16-month investigation into the tech industry. In a landmark report, the investigation found that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have monopoly power and have abused it in various ways at the expense of fair competition.
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Rep. David Cicilline, the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. 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.”
Google has remained silent on the legislation. Requests for comment from Facebook, Apple, and Amazon were not immediately returned.
Large tech firms have previously denied engaging in anticompetitive behavior. They argue that they compete fairly and offer products and services that benefit consumers greatly.
Critics of Big Tech and smaller competitors alike praised the proposed legislation. Roku, a streaming device maker that competes with several of the world’s largest tech companies, said on Friday that “aggressive reforms are required to prevent a future in which these monopolists further abuse consumer choice and impede access to innovative and independent products.”
Consumers will see significant changes as a result of the proposed legislation, according to tech industry advocates. According to Adam Kovacevich, founder and CEO of the Chamber of Progress, an advocacy group backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others, the bills could outlaw practices like the ability to see YouTube videos in Google search results or free shipping on Amazon Prime for select products.
According to congressional aides, each of the bills is being spearheaded by multiple committee Democrats and at least one Republican.
Though the two parties sometimes disagree about diagnosing the most pressing problems from Silicon Valley, the bipartisan cooperation demonstrates how the techlash has become one of the few issues that can unite both sides of the aisle.
“There’s not much Republicans and Democrats agree on these days, but we agree we need to tackle this crisis,” one of the aides said.
According to aides, the bill does not include any provisions addressing Republican claims of online platforms’ anti-conservative bias, in part because online content moderation is outside the committee’s jurisdiction and in part because the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Ken Buck, believes allegations of ideological bias stem from a broader monopoly problem in tech.
“These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online marketplace by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition,” Buck said in a statement. “This legislation breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field.”