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Democrats and Some Republicans at House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Take on Big Tech’s ‘GAFA’ Squad



WASHINGTON, July 16, 2019 – In the House Judiciary Committee’s second hearing putting tech giants under the microscope, both the Democratic majority and some members of the Republican minority attempted to squeeze the companies into greater political compliance.

At a Tuesday hearing featured witnesses from the widely-feared “GAFA” companies — Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., raged against their level of market control with minimal regulatory oversight.

The internet has become more hostile and less open to entrepreneurs trying to enter the online market, he said, because these major firms are shielded from competition and smaller businesses face rising entry barriers.

Moreover, the prominence of big tech is not the inevitable result of innovation, but the result of choices made by policymakers, he said.

And while subcommittee Ranking Member James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., doubted Democratic calls to break up big tech companies, a statement by the ranking member of the full committee, Doug Collins, R-Ga., put a bipartisan sheen on the tech-bashing.

“Almost all online engagement by individuals and businesses today runs through a few large platforms. When it comes to online communication, therefore, the platforms must be careful in how their businesses affect free expression,” Collins said in a statement.

“When it comes to online commerce, these platforms must be careful they don’t put consumers at increased risk of harm or facilitate illicit conduct. These expression and conduct issues raise different challenges that should not be conflated, but both issues can and should be discussed.”

Collins suggested that the platform companies’ business models shield them from market and other forces that leads them to lower levels of social accountability.

The ‘GAFA’ squad of companies respond to a hostile Congress

Witnesses at the hearing consisted of policy executives from the four major companies.

Google’s Director of Economic Policy Adam Cohen said that their work supports and accelerates innovation within other firms and open sources.

It’s a broad market because many Americans start their online searches for dedicated specialist competitors, he said.

Matt Perault, head of global policy development at Facebook, said that Facebook has “democratized” advertising by enabling small and medium-sized businesses to grow. Because there are low barriers of entry, new applications and technologies are constantly emerging.

Consumers benefit from all competition regardless of their business models, said Amazon’s Associate General Counsel Nate Sutton. Amazon’s mission is to be a customer-centric company and its success depends on its partnerships with third parties, he said.

We work hard to grow and retain consumer trust, said Kyle Andeer, vice president of corporate law at Apple. Every developer in the App Store abides by the same guidelines so that everyone has an “equal opportunity.” Apple continues to invest in resources and tools for developers, he said.

The panelists were asked about how their companies specifically devoted resources into promoting smaller, competitive firms. Perault said that Facebook looks to acquire “all services” that would be beneficial and bring value to their services.

Amazon is not the only way for merchants to advertise, said Sutton. Ebay, WalMart and Target are all examples of emerging online marketplaces. Moreover, the fastest growing market has a mixture of online and offline transactions, he said.

Critics in Congress were not amused by the Silicon Valley giants’ arguments

Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., said that Amazon has been known to arbitrarily shut down merchant accounts “without explanation.” Sutton stated that Amazon has a “dedicated customer team” to which merchants can address their concerns. However, there are occasions where the firm takes “swift and immediate action” towards those whom it considers are “bad actors” selling on Amazon.

Google controls 90 percent of the search engine market in the U.S., said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., yet the company somehow claims that competition is “just a click away.”

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., asked Perault if Facebook identifies itself as a monopoly, referring to the social media platform’s past policy statement that said, “don’t replicate core functionality that Facebook already provides.”

The company evaluates Facebook’s terms and conditions on a regular basis, said Perault. He stated that Facebook has 2.7 billion users and that it is the parent company of WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

Each of these four companies has a unique position in the market, said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., but Facebook is the “only one” with an edge in the social media market.

Because consumers have no other options, they have no choice but to accept these conditions, said Johnson.

(Photo of House Judiciary subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Ranking Member James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, by Masha Abarinova.)


Panel Disagrees on Antitrust Bills’ Promotion of Competition

Panelists disagree on the effects of two antitrust bills intended to promote competition.



Photo of Adam Kovacevich of Chamber of Progress, Berin Szoka of TechFreedom, Cheyenne Hunt-Majer of Public Citizen, Sacha Haworth of Tech Oversight Project, Christine Bannan of Proton (left to right)

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2023 – In a fiery debate Thursday, panelists at Broadband Breakfast’s Big Tech and Speech Summit disagreed on the effect of bills intended to promote competition and innovation in the Big Tech platform space, particularly for search engines.  

One such innovation is new artificial intelligence technology being designed to pull everything a user searches for into a single page, said Cheyenne Hunt-Majer, big tech accountability advocate with Public Citizen. It is built to keep users on the site and will drastically change competition in the search engine space, she said, touting the advancement of two bills currently awaiting Senate vote.  

Photo of Adam Kovacevich of Chamber of Progress, Berin Szoka of TechFreedom, Cheyenne Hunt-Majer of Public Citizen, Sacha Haworth of Tech Oversight Project, Christine Bannan of Proton (left to right)

The first, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, would prohibit tech companies from self-preferencing their own products on their platforms over third-party competition. The second, the Open App Markets Act, would prevent app stores from requiring private app developers to use the app stores’ in-app payment system. 

Hunt-Majer said she believes that the bills would benefit consumers by kindling more innovation in big tech. “Perfect should not be the enemy of change,” she said, claiming that Congress must start somewhere, even if the bills are not perfect. 

“We are seeing a jump ahead in a woefully unprepared system to face these issues and the issues it is going to pose for a healthy market of competition and innovation,” said Hunt-Majer. 

It is good for consumers to be able to find other ways to search that Google isn’t currently providing, agreed Christine Bannan, U.S. public policy manager at privacy-focused email service Proton. The fundamental goal of these bills is directly at odds with big companies, which suggests its importance to curb anti-competitive behavior, she said. 

No need to rewrite or draft new laws for competition

But while Berin Szoka, president of non-profit technology organization TechFreedom, said competition concerns are valid, the Federal Trade Commission is best equipped to deal with disputes without the need to rewrite or draft new laws. Congress must legislate carefully to avoid unintended consequences that fundamentally harm businesses and no legislation has done so to date, he said. 

Both bills have broad anti-discrimination provisions which will affect Big Tech partnerships, Szoka continued. 

Not all experts believe that AI will replace search engines, however. Google has already adopted specialized search results that directly answer search queries, such as math problems, instead of resulting in several links to related webpages, said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of Chamber of Progress, a center-left tech policy coalition.  

Kovacevich said he believes that some search queries demand direct answers while others demand a wide range of sources, answers, and opinions. He predicts that there will be a market for both AI and traditional search engines like Google. 

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Key Republican: Anticompetitive Practices of Big Tech Present a Threat to Innovation

Rep. Ken Buck said tech companies’ practices are anticompetitive and threaten innovation, free speech and national security.



Screenshot of Rep. Ken Buck from the Heritage Foundation webcast

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2023 — Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., argued on Wednesday that the anticompetitive practices of large tech companies present a threat to innovation, free speech and national security — and that even Republicans who are traditionally wary of antitrust legislation should view it as a key tool for curbing Big Tech’s power.

“I’m a free market person — I apply that principle to just about everywhere — but if you don’t have a market, you can’t have a free market,” Buck said at a Heritage Foundation event. “And when Google controls 94 percent of the online searches in this country, you don’t have a free market.”

Buck said that it was the responsibility of Congress to actively shape antitrust law, rather than “leaving it up to the courts to create something over the next 30 years.”

Among the several anti-Big Tech bills that have been proposed, Buck highlighted as his priority legislation that would prevent certain companies from acting as both buyers and sellers in digital advertising markets.

The bill applies to companies that generate more than $20 billion in digital ad revenues — specifically targeting Google and Facebook — and has so far received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

Tech companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against proposed antitrust bills, making it politically precarious for some members of Congress to support them, Buck said. Still, he urged his colleagues to consider the harms allegedly caused by social media platforms.

“We know that Instagram recognized that there was body shaming going on, there was depression among teenage girls, there was a higher suicide rate among teenage girls, and they doubled down,” Buck said. “They didn’t just say, ‘We’ve got to deal with this issue’ — they decided they were going to start marketing to a younger group.”

More competition in the market could give teens and parents access to better alternatives, Buck said, but the power held by the largest platforms makes it nearly impossible for competitors to emerge.

Rep. Buck linked free speech issues for tech industry to antitrust

“How do you have free speech, how do you have competition in the marketplace when you’ve got four companies that are so big that they can wipe out any kind of competitor?” he asked.

Buck has long been a critic of Big Tech, and introduced legislation to ban the TikTok app from U.S. government devices more than a year before similar legislation was passed as part of the bipartisan spending bill in December. This decision had nothing to do with fear of TikTok as a competitor to U.S. companies, he said.

“TikTok is dangerous, not because of its competition in the marketplace — I think it’s healthy in that sense; if Microsoft or some company had bought it, I’d be all in favor of that kind of competition for Facebook — but the bottom line is [that] how it’s being used by an adversary is dangerous and concerning.”

Although the TikTok ban won broad Republican support, alongside a variety of proposals to target tech companies’ privacy or content moderation practices, many antitrust bills have been less popular.

Buck has been open about his struggles in convincing other Republicans to pursue antitrust action, telling The Washington Post in March that “the antitrust bills that we are currently considering will not move forward under Republican leadership, and that’s been a very clear signal that has been sent.”

And now that the House is under Republican control, several experts have predicted that antitrust legislation is unlikely to move forward any time soon.

In an op-ed published Wednesday, President Joe Biden called on members of Congress to overcome partisan disagreements and keep tech companies in check by passing digital privacy, antitrust and content moderation legislation.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responded to Biden’s comments in a statement that agreed with the need for privacy and content moderation action but did not mention antitrust.

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‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’



Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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