Big tech and the internet are facing major changes under the US antitrust proposal


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The antitrust overhaul package presented in Congress, targeting big tech, could, if passed, have far-reaching implications for Internet usage and America’s largest and most successful companies.

The five bills to be voted on in committee on Wednesday could pave the way for a reorganization or dissolution of giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, while reshaping the entire internet ecosystem.

The measures would deter technology giants from operating a platform for third parties while offering competing services on those platforms, which would deal a severe blow to Apple and Amazon.

Lawmakers are also trying to forbid tech companies from prioritizing their own products or services, with Google keeping a clear eye.

Another measure would require the “portability” and “interoperability” of data, which could make it easier for people to leave Facebook, for example, while keeping their data and contacts.

The largest tech companies would also be banned from acquiring competitors under the package, which would also add funds for antitrust enforcement.

Fiona Scott Morton, a professor at Yale University and former U.S. official who has written extensively on big tech, said the legislation stems from the failure of antitrust enforcement in the U.S. and elsewhere to curb the dominance of big tech companies.

“This is regulation, it is no longer a cartel,” said Morton.

If the laws are passed, Apple may have to sell or shut down its music service so as not to discriminate against competitors like Spotify.

“Apple would have to choose,” she said.

An interoperability requirement “would be very profound for consumers because it would allow people to join social networks other than Facebook and Instagram (Facebook’s own) and keep in touch with their friends,” noted Morton.

The package comes amid signs of Washington’s more aggressive stance toward dominant tech companies, including President Joe Biden’s nomination of Lina Khan – a prominent big tech advocate – to head the Federal Trade Commission, one of the agencies charged with enforcing the Are entrusted with antitrust law.

“Risky” way
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on Wednesday on the package, which is backed by the Democratic leadership as well as the Republicans, which signals a likelihood of adoption across the House of Representatives. The fate of the Senate is less clear.

The measures follow a 16-month investigation in the House of Representatives, led by Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, which concluded that tech giants were abusing their dominant positions and had too much power in the economy.

Christopher Sagers, an antitrust professor at Cleveland State University, said the package was a radical approach to dealing with the growing power of tech companies.

The bills “would make the platforms operate more like airlines or utilities, having to offer their services to anyone who wants them and not giving anyone (or themselves) a discriminatory advantage,” Sagers said.

“These laws could also put an end to some products that are very popular,” he added.

“I’m not sure how Apple could continue to sell its own mobile software if, for example, iOS devices or the App Store were referred to as ‘covered platforms’ and this had consequences for products like Amazon Prime, Google Maps, digitized books could be in the Google Books project and who knows what else. “

However, Sagers said the long-term impact may not be bad because “markets are rearranging and new competitors emerge to replace them … but it does mean these laws seem risky and I find their consequences difficult to predict can. “

Empty smartphones?
Other analysts have warned of the unforeseen consequences of upheaval in the massively successful companies that many consumers rely on in their daily lives.

Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the move could mean a company like Apple may have to shut down its app store, ship “empty phones” with no apps, or outsource its phone division.

“For the most part, the average consumer will see their user experience degraded,” he said in a statement.

According to Aurelien Portuese of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank that often reflects industry views, the legislation mirrors European digital markets law and is likely to “distort” competition.

Portuese said the legislation emerges amid a wave of resentment towards big tech, but could ultimately harm consumers by allowing less efficient companies to win in the market.

“Consumers may no longer benefit from the economies of scale large companies,” Portuese said in a statement.

The legislative package “shows a profound lack of practical understanding of how the technology industry works and must function to remain competitive, relevant, profitable and innovative,” said Futurum Research analyst Olivier Blanchard in a blog post.

“Do big tech companies have too much power? One could safely argue that.

“But if the goal is to keep very large, very powerful companies in check, Congress could address the problem by putting in place guard rails that protect consumers and competition without destroying an entire system.”

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