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From Biden to Congress, Big Tech comes under increasing pressure

WASHINGTON (AP) – Without saying a word or scratching a pen on paper, President Joe Biden has upped the pressure on big tech companies already under federal and Congressional inquiries, epic antitrust lawsuits and near-constant condemnation of politicians from both sides.

Last week, Biden raised a fierce criticism of Big Tech, antitrust lawyer Lina Khan, as the head of the powerful Federal Trade Commission. The surprise move was a clear signal of a tough stance on tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, and came as sweeping bipartisan legislation moved forward in the House that could restrict and force their market power. to separate their dominant platforms from their other lines. work.

The House Judiciary Committee looks at the legislation in a public drafting session on Wednesday, a first step in what promises to be a daunting task across Congress. Many Republican lawmakers denounce Big Tech market dominance but do not support a complete overhaul of antitrust laws. Republicans have relentlessly launched accusations of anti-conservative bias against social media platforms and may demand targeted legislative sanctions in return for their support.

The huge legislative package, led by industry critic Rep. David Cicillin, DR.I., targets corporate structure and could point to their disruption, a dramatic step for Congress against a powerful industry whose products are woven into everyday life. . If such measures were mandatory, they could bring the biggest changes to the industry since the federal government’s historic case against Microsoft some 20 years ago.

“It will be a very onerous task,” said Rebecca Allensworth, professor of antitrust at Vanderbilt University Law School. The complex language that could possibly be spelled out could invite fights in the courts as it rewrites four decades of antitrust case law, she suggested.

Seen as engines of innovation, the giants of Silicon Valley have enjoyed minimal regulation and star status in Washington for decades, with notable comforts during the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president. . The fortunes of the industry were abruptly reversed about two years ago, when companies came under federal scrutiny, a hot congressional investigation and growing public criticism of the issues. competition, consumer privacy and hate speech.

Biden said as a presidential candidate that the dismantling of big tech companies should be considered. He also said he wanted to see changes in social media companies’ long-standing legal protections for speech on their platforms.

The legislative proposals would also prohibit tech giants from favoring their own products and services over their competitors on their platforms. The legislation was informed by a 15-month judicial subcommittee antitrust investigation, led by Cicillin, which concluded that the four tech giants abused their market power by charging excessive fees, imposing contract terms. policies and extracting valuable data from the individuals and businesses that depend on them. .

The four companies deny abusing their dominant market position and have claimed that improper market intervention through legislation would harm small businesses and consumers.

The legislation would also make it harder for giant tech companies to capture competitors in mergers, which they have supplemented by dozens in recent years.

And the legislation calls on Congress to increase the budgets of regulators who oversee competition, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. State attorneys general would gain the power over companies to choose which courts to pursue technology antitrust cases. Some expert observers see these parts as the least complicated and least controversial of the legislation that might stand a better chance of being passed by Congress.

Democrats control the House, but they would need significant Republican support in the Senate for the legislation to pass. The house is split 50-50 with the margin of a Democrats vote depending on whether Vice President Kamala Harris is the tiebreaker.

The tech industry knew that major antitrust legislation would likely follow the House investigation. And it has been known for months that Biden named Lina Khan as one of the five members of the FTC. But Silicon Valley – and almost everyone inside the Beltway – has been blinded by Biden’s flash move to elevate Khan to the head of the independent agency. She was sworn in just hours after the Senate confirmed her as one of five commissioners on a 69-28 vote.

Khan, who was a law professor at Columbia University, burst onto the antitrust scene with her important academic work in 2017 as a Yale law student, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” She helped lay the groundwork for a new way of approaching antitrust law beyond the impact of large corporate market dominance on consumer prices. As an advisor to the Antitrust Judicial Subcommittee, she played a key role in the 2019-2020 Tech Giants Market Power Survey.

At 32, Khan would be the youngest chairman in the history of the FTC, which monitors competition and consumer protection in the industry in general, as well as digital privacy.

Last October, Trump’s Justice Department, joined by a dozen states, filed a groundbreaking antitrust complaint against Google, accusing the company of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle publicity. competition. This was followed in December by a major antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, brought by the FTC and nearly every state in the United States. He’s looking for remedies that could include a forced fallout from popular messaging services Instagram and WhatsApp.

European watchdogs, meanwhile, are stepping up their antitrust actions against tech giants. In the latest move, word came on Tuesday that European Union regulators have opened a new investigation into whether Google has stifled competition in digital ad technology. EU regulators have previously accused Apple of stifling competition in music streaming and accused Amazon of using data from independent merchants to compete unfairly with its own products.

Regulators in the EU and UK recently opened a dual antitrust investigation into whether Facebook is distorting competition in the classifieds market by using data to unfairly compete with competing services.

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Follow Marcy Gordon on https://twitter.com/mgordonap




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