More Big Tech Regulation, Tim Wu Leaving White House, Microsoft Antitrust Hearing

Legislators from both sides of the aisle are calling for increased regulation of Big Tech.

More Big Tech Regulation, Tim Wu Leaving White House, Microsoft Antitrust Hearing
Photo of Sen. Amy Klobuchar in 2019 by Gage Skidmore

January 3, 2022 —The coming year will see continued congressional support for increased regulation of Big Tech companies, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Gallagher voiced his support of the ban of TikTok on government devices included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December, adding that he hoped to see further bans.

TikTok poses a “multi-pronged threat” to the United States, Gallagher said, pointing to potential privacy concerns and lack of transparency about the app’s algorithms.

“But I think what’s more pernicious is the fact that, since a lot of young men and women in America increasingly turn to TikTok to get news, what if they start censoring the news, right?” Gallagher said.

With Republicans officially taking over the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the newly divided Congress is expected to consider a variety of new proposals designed to curb the power of Big Tech.

Although both lawmakers called for increased regulations on tech companies, Klobuchar noted that the Big Tech lobby is “so powerful that you literally can have a bill that got through the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, you can get promises from leaders that it’s going to be a major end-of-year bill and then within 24 hours, it’s gone.”

Several privacy and antitrust proposals failed to make the final year-end spending bill, despite bipartisan support.

Combatting Big Tech’s influence will require more transparency around algorithms and getting rid of the “archaic” Section 230, Klobuchar said.

“My only concern with the 230 repeal is that it might accidentally increase censorship on social media,” Gallagher said. “In other words, if these platforms are now liable for what people that use them say, would they not just kick people off proactively?”

White House antitrust advisor Tim Wu to step down

White House advisor Tim Wu, a tech expert and law professor who helped to shape the Biden administration’s antitrust agenda, will be stepping down from his role this week, a White House spokesperson said on Friday.

Wu’s responsibilities will be divided between two current White House staffers. Technology policy will be taken over by Elizabeth Kelly, current leader of the National Economic Council’s digital assets work. Competition policy will be taken over by Hannah Garden-Monheit, a member of the NEC who has worked closely with Wu on the issue.

Wu is widely regarded as an aggressive critic of Big Tech and was the key architect behind President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order on competition policy that included more than 70 initiatives directing federal agencies to improve competition in the tech, healthcare and agriculture industries.

Since his appointment in March 2021, Wu also led the White House’s push for new antitrust legislation targeting tech companies — an effort that was broadly viewed as unsuccessful when two major antitrust measures failed to make it into the year-end omnibus spending bill. Three antitrust measures that less directly targeted Big Tech were included in the bill.

In August, Wu called reports of his potential departure premature and said there was “still a lot of work to do.”

FTC’s case against Microsoft commences

The first pre-trial hearing in the Federal Trade Commission’s case against Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision-Blizzard is set to take place on Tuesday, with antitrust experts saying that the FTC faces an uphill battle to block the deal, Reuters reported.

The proposed acquisition would not constitute a horizontal merger because it does not remove one of Microsoft’s direct competitors, and Microsoft has pledged to release Activision’s future games on competing platforms for at least 10 years.

Still, the FTC is concerned about Microsoft’s alleged history of acquiring content to suppress competition, noting in December that “Microsoft would have both the means and motive to harm competition by manipulating Activision’s pricing, degrading Activision’s game quality or player experience on rival consoles and gaming services, changing the terms and timing of access to Activision’s content or withholding content from competitors entirely.”

Microsoft has responded to the attempted block by arguing that the FTC’s structure as an “independent agency that wields significant executive power” violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers.

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