Huge changes to the Internet and Big Tech according to the US antitrust proposal


Photo: © Kimihiro Hoshino, AFP

Rob Lever

The antitrust review package presented to the Big Tech Congress, if enacted, could have far-reaching effects on how people use the Internet and on the largest and most successful companies in the United States.

The five bills, scheduled for a committee vote on Wednesday, could pave the way for a reorganization or breakup of giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, while reforming the entire Internet ecosystem.

The measures would prevent technology giants from operating a third-party platform while offering competitive services on those platforms, which would be a major blow to Apple and Amazon.

Lawmakers are also seeking to ban tech companies from prioritizing their own products or services, with Google in mind.

Another measure would require the “portability” and “interoperability” of the data, which could facilitate the exit of Facebook for example, maintaining their data and contacts.

Larger technology companies would also be banned from acquiring competitors under the package, which would also add funds to enforce antitrust law.

Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University professor and former U.S. official who has written extensively about Big Tech, said the legislation stems from the failure of antitrust law enforcement in the United States and elsewhere to make a harm to the dominance of major technology companies.

“This is regulation, it’s no longer antitrust,” Morton said.

If bills are enacted, he noted, Apple may have to sell or shut down its music service so it doesn’t discriminate against rivals like Spotify.

“Apple should choose,” he said.

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

The package appears amid signs of a more aggressive stance by Washington against key tech companies, including the nomination of President Joe Biden to Lina Khan, a prominent advocate of the Big Tech breakup, at the head of the Federal Trade Commission. one of the agencies in charge of enforcing antitrust law. .

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– “Risky” path –

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote Wednesday on the package, which has some support from Republicans, as well as Democratic leadership, which points to the likelihood of it moving to the full House of Representatives. The fate in the Senate is less clear.

The measures come after a 16-month investigation in the House led by antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicilline, which concluded that technology giants were abusing their dominant positions and had too much power in the economy.

Christopher Sagers, a professor at Cleveland State University who specializes in antitrust law, said the package represents a radical approach to tackling the growing power of technology companies.

The bills “would make the platforms work more like airlines or utility companies, which have to provide their services to anyone who wants them and not provide anyone (or themselves) with discriminatory benefits,” 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 even its own mobile software, for example, if iOS devices or the App Store were called ‘covered platforms’ and there could be consequences for products like Amazon Prime, Google Maps, digitized books in the Google Books project and who knows what else ”.

But Sagers said the impact might not be bad in the long run because “markets are reorganizing and new competitors are appearing to replace them … But it means these laws seem risky and their consequences are hard to predict. “.

– Blank smartphones? –

Other analysts offered strong warnings against the unforeseen consequences of the rise of massively successful businesses on which many consumers depend in their daily lives.

Iain Murray, a senior member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the move could mean a company like Apple would have to close its App Store, send “blank phones” without any apps, or separate its phone division.

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

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The legislation reflects Europe’s Digital Markets Act and is likely to “distort” competition, according to Aurelien 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 technologies, but it can ultimately hurt consumers by allowing less efficient companies to gain a foothold in the market.

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

The legislative package “reveals a profound lack of practical understanding of how the technology industry operates and needs to operate to remain competitive, relevant, profitable and innovative,” analyst Olivier Blanchard told Futurum Research in a blog post.

“Do Big Tech companies have too much power? It could be argued, for sure.

“But if the goal is to keep very large and very powerful companies under control, Congress could address the problem by establishing railings that protect consumers and competition without bringing a shattering ball to an entire system.”

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