Lawmakers Issue Antitrust Report on Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook

House subcommittee concludes 16-month antitrust investigation into Big Tech.

Key Takeaways

  • A U.S. House subcommittee issues 450-page report detailing anti-competitive practices by big tech companies
  • Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet all targeted
  • Subcommittee recommends ways to 'level the playing field'

After a 16-month investigation into the business practices of tech behemoths Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust released Tuesday its recommendations on how to reform laws to avoid the continued emergence of digital monopolies.

The Democratic majority staff released a nearly 450-page report documenting their findings and recommendations after considering evidence from hearings, interviews and 1.3 million documents. The subcommittee concluded that the four Big Tech companies dominate the industry in ways that affect the U.S. economy and democracy, suggesting Congress implement changes to antitrust laws that could result in parts of the businesses being separated.

The subcommittee argued that each platform serves as a “gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution,” enabling the companies to pick “winners and losers” throughout the economy by “charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them.” The subcommittee also argued that these companies have identified potential rivals and bought out, copied or cut off these competitors.

“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” the report said.

Recommendations to Congress include:

  1. Reducing conflicts of interest by prohibiting tech giants from operating in markets that place them in competition with firms that depend on their infrastructure.
  2. Implementing rules to prevent discrimination, favoritism and self-preferencing in order to ensure fair competition and promote innovation online. This would include requiring dominant platforms to offer “equal terms for equal service.” 
  3. Requiring tech behemoths to prove any future transaction is necessary for serving the public interest and that similar benefits could not be achieved through internal growth. Otherwise, Congress should presume the mergers are anticompetitive.
  4. Creating an even playing field for the free and diverse press, which the subcommittee claims is currently beholden to Facebook and Google since both companies dominate digital advertising and key communication platforms.
  5. Prohibiting the abuse of superior bargaining power, including through potentially targeting anticompetitive contracts and introducing due process protections for individuals and businesses dependent on the tech giants.
  6. Restoring the antimonopoly goals of the antitrust laws by clarifying that they are “designed to protect not just consumers, but also workers, entrepreneurs, independent businesses, open markets, a fair economy, and democratic ideals.”
  7. Strengthening merger enforcement to prohibit deals that may “substantially” lessen competition or create a monopoly.
  8. Protecting potential rivals, nascent competitors, and startups by strengthening the Clayton Act to prohibit acquisitions of potential rivals and young competitors.

What's Next?

Republicans have objected to some of the subcommittee’s proposals, including imposing structural separations. Rep. Ken Buck (R-COLO.), a member of the House antitrust subcommittee, wrote in a draft memo that some of the recommendations “are not-starters for conservatives,” Politico reported. Nonetheless, Buck said he agrees that "antitrust enforcement agencies need additional resources and tools to provide proper oversight.” 

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, plans to release a response about allegations of platforms’ bias against conservatives, which the tech giants have denied, according to Axios.

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