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Is House Judiciary Report a Fix for Big Tech, or a One-Sided Political Document?



Screenshot from the Public Knowledge session praising the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee report

October 17, 2020 – Responding to the landmark report of the House Judiciary Antitrust Committee on October 6 about how to deal with big tech companies, two panels addressing the report on October 9 reprised significantly different perspectives.

At an event hosted by Public Knowledge that featured the chairman of the subcommittee, the report dumping on Big Tech was warmly greeted by most panelists, with one notable dissent. Little surprise that the event was titled “Big Tech’s Big Competition Problem.”

At Competition Policy Internet’s “Future of Antitrust Event,” by contrast, seasoned antitrust experts expressed concern that the Democratic majority report was contradictory and not informed by history. Some even felt that it was attacking the companies – Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook – because of their very success.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the subcommittee chairman who participated in the Public Knowledge event, said that his report sets forward how competition can, in his view, be reintroduced to America’s technology marketplace. He said tech platforms are using their power to act as gatekeepers and crush competitors.

While he said the subcommittee doesn’t know all the appropriate remedies, they now believe that adding structure, updating and modernizing our antitrust statutes, properly staffing antitrust agencies, and pushing courts to correct antitrust policy are all viable strategies.

 A House report that is big, bold, bipartisan, and unafraid to tackle ‘bullying’

“This document is big, bold, and despite what the press would say, is bipartisan,” said Gigi Sohn, distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute. She argued that rather than a bunch of talking points, the report was “real evidence,” and was shocked at the comprehensiveness of the recommendations, especially the “10 overturned Supreme Court precedents.”

Stacey Mitchell, co-director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, was “struck by the clarity of language,” describing the report as “long but very accessible and not afraid to use terms like ‘bullying’.”

“Congress is back!” shouted Alex Petros, policy council member at Public Knowledge, praising the report for “going in depth on the problems and offering in depth solutions.”

Sohn, Mitchell, and Petros agreed that the document was a sign that Congress was reasserting itself on the antitrust landscape.

Geoffrey Manne, president and founder of the International Center for Law and Economics, was the lone dissenter on the Public Knowledge praise-fest.

Manne disagreed that the report was comprehensive: “The plural of anecdote isn’t data.” Manne said that the report made no effort to look at how tech companies benefit, and instead assumed that all they did was cause harm. Problems emanating from the tech industry, he said, are at the margin.

Moreover, it is “extremely worrying” that the subcommittee report would go “right to enforcement,” especially when there was “no effort made to assess how those implementations might impose unintended consequences.”

“This is a political document,” Manne said, despite Republican support for a modicum of its aggressive antitrust proposals. Referring to issues around the tech industry’s power, he said, “We should be having these discussions; I just don’t think this report is going to engender them.”

Petros said that Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. and Doug Collins, R-Georgia, signed on the report “and they’re not the most bipartisan members of Congress.”

Among antitrust experts and former enforcers, a more measured and cautious tone

At the CPI event, by contrast, Andrew Gavil, senior of counsel at Crowell and Moring and antitrust law professor at Howard University, was among those who felt the report was not fully even-handed.

While the country should not be wed to current antitrust laws, “one of the strengths of U.S. antitrust law as been its ability to adapt.”

He also said that we shouldn’t “pay lip service to consumer choice” and then throw the baby out with the bathwater because the benefits of these companies haven’t been fully fleshed out yet.

In other words, there is more to the economy than Big Tech.

Tim Muris, senior counsel at Sidley and Austin and former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said that the report attacked companies based upon their success. Trying to structure antitrust regulations around social and political issues was misplaced.

Muris said he doesn’t object to strong antitrust action: However, if technology companies are going to be regulated, they need to all be looked at individually. In other words, not all big tech companies are successful and not all of them have a large marketshare.

Daniel Sokol, law professor at the University of Florida, said that was appropriate to revisited standards for anticompetitive mergers, and that such reviews are likely to become a lot stricter now.

Tad B. Lipsky, assistant professor and director of the Competition Advocacy Program at the Global Antitrust Institute, said as Manne had done on the Public Knowledge panel: The House report was vague and one-sided.


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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