Democratic lawmakers are pushing to break up Big Tech companies following the completion of an investigation by the House Antitrust Subcommittee.
The 15-month investigation involved more than 1 million documents and a hearing with the CEOs of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.
Investigation lead Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) is expected to propose a sort of “Glass-Steagall for the Internet” that would force Big Tech companies to separate their platforms from other businesses. For example, Amazon could be banned from competing with sellers on its own website and Google could be forced to stop advertising its services alongside search engine results.
“You can’t set all the rules, control the marketplace, and also sell on it, in the way that Amazon does,” argues Cicilline.
Republicans largely agree with Cicilline’s concerns, though they worry how the subcommittee’s proposal could affect Big Tech’s power in digital markets as well as other industries that operate online.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that both sides think there is a problem,” says Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND). “We would be better served by attacking very narrow problem sets and seeing if we could come up with a solution.”
Critics insist that consumers should be responsible for their own choices and that platform separation would make it harder for companies to make a profit.
“The consumer is the one ultimately making the decisions,” argues Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “They’re making the decisions about what to buy, what price to buy it at, who to buy it from.”
It’s true that consumers are making their own decisions, but the way Amazon prioritizes its own products in search results can make it difficult to find third-party sellers.
“One feature dominant digital platforms share is that they have integrated across business lines such that they both operate a platform and market their own goods and services on it,” argues Lina Khan, a top staffer for Mr. Cicilline. “This structure places dominant platforms in direct competition with some of the businesses that depend on them, creating a conflict of interest that platforms can exploit to further entrench their dominance, thwart competition, and stifle innovation.”
In the meantime, the Trump Administration continues to investigate Google and Facebook for antitrust violations and could bring lawsuits against those companies.
Neither Trump nor Biden have called to break up Big Tech companies.
Author’s Note: Ironic that the Dems are encouraging competition (i.e. capitalism) in an industry fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party.