US antitrust bills designed to curb big tech pass House Committee stage

Google argues the bills constitute an attack on American consumers and undermine US tech leadership

The House Judiciary Committee has approved legislation aiming to curb the market dominance of tech giants, with the potential to break up larger entities.

A package of six bills was presented on Wednesday, five of which have since been approved, with one still in the debate process at the time of writing.

One significant bill, approved in the early hours of Thursday morning by 24-20, is the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which looks to prohibit discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing. This would prohibit big tech companies from favouring their own products on their platforms.

Another key bill, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching, or Access, Act, which passed 25-19, requires large internet platforms to make it easier for users to transport their data to other platforms. It would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) extensive new powers.

The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act was also approved 24-17 which effectively prohibits acquisitions of competitive threats by dominant platforms, as well as acquisitions that expand their market power.

Of the two other bills passed, one aids state attorneys general in procedural battles in antitrust court cases, while the other raises federal fees on corporate merger reviews. The last bill, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, which aims to eliminate the ways dominant platforms leverage their control across multiple business lines, will be debated at 11am (EST) following a six-hour recess.

The bills still need to pass a full House vote, although it remains unknown when they will be brought to the floor.

A number of large tech companies have put pressure on legislators in the run-up to the vote, arguing that a delay in the vote was needed for further debate.

“American consumers and small businesses would be shocked at how these bills would break many of their favourite services,” said Mark Isakowitz, vice president of government affairs and public policy for Google to WSJ. “This would all dramatically undermine U.S. technology leadership, damage the way small businesses connect with consumers and raise serious privacy and security concerns.”

Apple also argued that the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, which would create a way for users to download apps onto their iPhones without having to use the company’s App Store, would harm customers by threatening their privacy and potentially exposing their data to ransomware attacks.

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This comes as the Biden administration recently appointed antitrust researcher Lina Khan as the chair of the FTC, a move welcomed by legislators who are keen to clamp down on the big tech’s market power. US senator Elizabeth Warren called the appointment “tremendous news” and said that big tech companies deserve the growing scrutiny they are facing.

The bills were originally introduced in early June as legislators looked to restore competition to the digital marketplace and rein in the largest tech platforms through an agenda called "A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation, Choice". Judiciary Committee chairman David Cicilline underlined how tech monopolies have too much power over the US economy and are in a position to “destroy small businesses” and “pick winners and losers”.

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