House Subcommittee Seeks to Rein In Big Tech

October 8, 2020 Updated: October 8, 2020

House Democrats proposed a sweeping overhaul of U.S. laws in a bid to rein in the power of Big Tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by making it easier to break them up or discourage them from getting even bigger.

The House Antitrust Subcommittee released a 450-page report on Oct. 6 (pdf), following a bipartisan investigation launched in June 2019, claiming a range of anti-competitive practices on the part of the four tech titans.

While acknowledging that the four companies operate differently, subcommittee members identified what they said were “common problems,” including acting as gatekeepers over a key distribution channel, which lets them maintain market power and gives them the ability to “pick winners and losers throughout our economy.”

Besides wielding “tremendous power,” the companies “abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them,” the report stated.

“Finally, these firms have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance. Whether through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct, the dominant platforms have exploited their power in order to become even more dominant.

“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 stated.

The subcommittee’s recommendations include increasing enforcement of merger and monopoly laws, enhanced administration of antitrust laws, imposing nondiscrimination requirements, and adopting structural separations.

The report sparked a series of rebuttals from Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook.

Amazon, in a blog post, claimed the subcommittee’s conclusions on the alleged monopolistic practices were “fringe notions” and “regulatory spitballing,” while insisting that both small business and customers would suffer as a result of the “misguided interventions” of lawmakers.

Apple, in a statement sent to TechCrunch, said it “vehemently” disagrees with the subcommittee’s recommendations and highlighted its ability to review apps and curate user access to third-party software as bulwarks against potential privacy infringements.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch that its acquisitions strategy is simply good business that allows the company to “innovate new technologies to deliver more value to people,” while insisting on the presence of a “strongly competitive landscape.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, on Oct. 25, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Google said in a statement that it competes “fairly in a fast-moving and highly competitive industry. We disagree with today’s reports, which feature outdated and inaccurate allegations from commercial rivals about Search and other services.”

Big Tech has faced historic scrutiny under the Trump administration, including antitrust probes by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

But experts told The Epoch Times that a Biden-Harris administration could signal a return to the friendly stance held during the Obama era toward Silicon Valley.

Mark Grabowski, an associate professor specializing in cyber law and digital ethics at Adelphi University, told The Epoch Times that a Biden-Harris administration could produce a number of different policies when it comes to Big Tech, including “an effort to restore President Obama’s network neutrality policies, a possible push to eliminate Section 230 protections for the internet, a retreat from the tech war with China, and pressure on Silicon Valley tech companies to hire more women and minorities.”

“Some of these things could help, but others could be really disastrous,” Grabowski said.

The Trump 2020 presidential campaign expressed concerns about a Biden-Harris ticket, in particular emphasizing the reported anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley.

“Big Tech has proven time and again its willingness to censor conservatives while turning a blind eye to Democrats,” said Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for Trump’s reelection campaign.

“It’s no secret that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have Big Tech in their pockets,” Zager told The Epoch Times on Sept. 17.

“Across social media platforms, the arbitrary rules these companies create do not apply equally to every account and instead are used to silence any views in opposition to those held by the liberal coastal elites in Silicon Valley.”

Trump, in his second term, would continue to advocate for an internet “that embraces free speech over censorship,” Zager said. Biden, she said, “would enable the toxic cancel culture we’ve come to see online and allow Big Tech to silence free speech for millions of Americans.”

While the Biden campaign didn’t respond to The Epoch Times, spokesman Matt Hill suggested to The Wall Street Journal that Biden would be tough when it comes to market power. Hill declined to comment on the prospect of settling antitrust cases.

“Joe Biden has long said one of the greatest sins is the abuse of power,” Hill told the WSJ. “Many technology giants and their executives have not only abused their power, but misled the American people, damaged our democracy, and evaded any form of responsibility. That ends with a President Biden.”

Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.

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