House members on Friday introduced five antitrust bills — including one that would force Amazon.com Inc. and others to essentially split into two companies or shed their private-label products — in the most aggressive action yet by federal lawmakers to rein in the market influence of Big Tech.
Another bill, called “American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” targets the ability of companies, presumably Amazon AMZN, -0.08%, Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.98%, and Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL, -0.20% GOOG, -0.30%, to leverage their online platforms to favor their own products over competitors.
The “Ending Platform Monopolies Act,” which proposes structural separation, in part says, “It shall be unlawful for a covered platform operator to own or control a line of business, other than the covered platform, when the covered platform’s ownership or control of that line of business gives rise to an irreconcilable conflict of interest.” The Wall Street Journal first reported on the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.
The so-called anti-monopoly agenda, dubbed “A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation, Choice,” also includes two bills that address make it more difficult for dominant platforms to gobble up competitive threats via mergers and acquisitions. A fifth bill promotes competition online by “lowering barriers to entry and switching costs for businesses and consumers through interoperability and data portability requirements.”
“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., chairman of the House’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, said in a statement announcing the bipartisan legislation led by Democrats. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”
Google declined comment. Apple, Facebook, and Amazon were not immediately available for comment.
Civil liberties attorney Shahid Buttar called the measures “important steps to address longstanding gaps in federal policy. They will help enable better protection of consumers and limit the power of not only tech platforms, but also other companies, to dictate terms to users and customers.”
While the bills are an outgrowth of bipartisan support and a growing chorus of unsettled consumers and privacy activists, several pro-business organizations voiced their alarm at the tone and severity of the legislation.
“It makes no sense to apply a drastically different set of rules to a small handful of companies without clear evidence of consumer harms, and a compelling story for how these new rules would remedy those harms,” Alec Stapp, director of Technology Policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, said in a statement. “On the contrary, radical measures such as line of business restrictions and bans on self-preferencing would destroy many of the integrated products consumers currently enjoy.”
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Congress has spent 15 months investigating the vast powers of tech’s biggest names, which also includes Facebook Inc. FB, -0.36% The arrival of the bills coincide with another round of antitrust travails for two of tech’s biggest companies this week.
Both Google and Amazon face investigations or fines from domestic and foreign regulators.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee announced Friday that executives from Amazon and Google are scheduled to testify next week, along with an exec from speaker maker Sonos Inc. SONO, +2.58%, a critic of the two tech behemoths. Amazon Associate General Counsel Ryan McCrate and Google’s public policy specialist Wilson White are slated to testify, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the panel, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a statement.
Shares of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google were flat in trading Friday.