Another step to curb the power of tech giants advanced by Senate panel


WASHINGTON (AP)

Congress has taken another step toward reining in Big Tech’s market dominance.

Bipartisan legislation advanced by a Senate panel would prevent dominant online platforms from favoring their own goods and services over those of their rivals. This could, for example, prevent Amazon from steering consumers towards its own brands and away from competitors’ products on its giant e-commerce platform.

The bill could also impose restrictions on Google’s search engine, which accounts for about 90% of web searches worldwide and regularly places its services at the top of search results.

The legislation won a 16-6 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was sent to the full Senate. The action marked a new twist in congressional efforts to curb tech giant dominance and anti-competitive practices that critics say have hurt consumers, small businesses and innovation.

Lobbying by Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, Amazon, Apple and other tech giants was intense ahead of the Senate panel’s action.

The industry has warned that the bill’s restrictions would hurt Amazon Prime, the hugely popular streaming and shopping service with free shipping and around 200 million members worldwide.

The bill “would hurt consumers and the more than 500,000 American small and medium businesses that sell in the Amazon store,” Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said in a blog post. It would “undermine Amazon’s ability to tap into a marketplace for sellers and significantly degrade the Amazon Prime benefits that customers love.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat leading the legislation, and other lawmakers assured the bill would not affect Amazon Prime or other subscription services.

The kerfuffle highlighted the delicate task facing lawmakers as they aim to tighten the reins around a powerful industry whose mostly free or nearly free services are popular with consumers and embedded in the everyday life.

The new legislation is complex, and senators from both parties have voiced objections to some provisions, though all have condemned the conduct of the tech giants. Many proposed amendments have been deferred to negotiations before the bill reaches the Senate floor, and those talks promise to be arduous.

With midterm elections looming in November, the window for action is narrow, noted Klobuchar, who heads the judiciary subcommittee on competition policy. “We have to put him on the ground first,” she said in a phone interview.

If Democrats were to lose their narrow majority in Congress, the prospects for passing technology legislation could dim. While most Republican lawmakers are critical of Big Tech dominance, many balk at a major overhaul of competition rules.

The legislative breakthrough comes as the tech giants are already under fire from federal investigations, epic antitrust lawsuits from federal and state regulators, and a new head of the powerful Federal Trade Commission who is fiercely critical of the industry. .

In the House, the judicial panel last June approved an ambitious package of legislation that could curb the tech giants’ market dominance and even force them to separate their dominant platforms from their other lines of business. There has been no House action on the package since then.

During a Senate committee debate ahead of Thursday’s vote, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “We need this bill to help consumers … and to prevent the stifling of competition and the strangulation of innovation.”

But Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, one of six Republicans who voted against the bill, insisted the legislation as drafted risked stifling innovation. Greater clarity is needed on permitted or prohibited conduct, he said.

Five other Republicans joined the committee’s majority Democrats in voting for the legislation, including Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s top Republican, who co-wrote the bill with Klobuchar. Sponsors say it has won backing from competitors from tech giants including Roku, DuckDuckGo, Yelp, Spotify, Match Group, Sonos and Patreon.

Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California, home to Big Tech’s Silicon Valley, said the bill’s crackdown on tech platforms’ “self-preference” of their own products could hurt consumer choice. and the one-click convenience of getting answers from certain search engines.

Like Amazon, Meta, Google and Apple deny abusing their dominant market position. They claim that inappropriate market intervention through legislation would hurt consumers and small businesses that rely on their platforms.

The bill includes measures “that impede our ability to deliver security by default on our platforms, exposing people to phishing attacks, malware and spam,” said Kent Walker, president of global affairs. and chief legal officer of Google and its parent company Alphabet. a blog post. “And it still includes provisions that could prevent us from providing consumers and businesses with useful, free services.”

Apple, in a letter to Judiciary Committee leaders obtained by The Associated Press, said the legislation — and a separate apps bill to be considered later — raises concerns about the “real harm they will do to the privacy and security of American consumers.” ”

“These bills will reward those who have been irresponsible with user data and empower bad actors who would target consumers with malware, ransomware and scams,” the letter said.

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