with Aaron Schaffer

House lawmakers are preparing legislation tackling alleged anti-competitive behavior in the tech industry, highlighting the growing momentum in Congress to rein in Silicon Valley’s power. 

The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee is today kicking off a new series of hearings to address their findings that Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon engage in anti-competitive monopoly tactics. Today’s hearing will focus on how these companies’ social networks, app stores and other services serve as gatekeepers against competitors. 

The hearing will set the stage for Congress to act on the findings of its 16-month investigation into large tech companies, which resulted in a sweeping 450-page report recommending several significant overhauls of federal competition laws. Rep. David N. Cicilline, the chair of the subcommittee, said lawmakers are planning to “soon” introduce legislative proposals addressing some of the report's proposals.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of time of identifying the problem, obviously as a result of the investigation and all the findings, and now we’re moving into the phase of shaping legislative solutions to respond to the recommendations contained in the report,” the Rhode Island Democrat said in an interview with The Technology 202. 

Cicilline is considering a bold "Glass Steagall for the Internet." 

Modeled on financial laws separating investment from retail banking, Cicilline told me he wants to propose legislation to prevent tech companies such as Amazon from functioning both as a marketplace and a seller within that marketplace. The proposal would come on the heels of complaints from sellers on Amazon 's marketplace and Apple app developers. They say tech giants use unfair tactics to promote their own products and apps, while still controlling the marketplaces where they're delivered. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder, owns The Washington Post).

“Having control over all of that at the same time that you have your own product line and you're competing with other makers and services in that marketplace is inherently a conflict of interest,” Cicilline told me. 

Cicilline said there's not likely to be as much Republican support for that proposal, and he intends first to tackle areas with more bipartisan support.

But there is growing momentum for antitrust changes in both the House and Senate. 

Democrats have promised to use their new power in Washington to hold tech giants accountable, and addressing Silicon Valley’s power is an area with bipartisan momentum. There’s growing urgency to act following the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks, which exposed the increasingly powerful influence of tech companies on society. 

The subcommittee is moving closer to producing its own legislation just weeks after Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) unveiled a sweeping legislative package that would overhaul antitrust laws. Cicilline said House Democrats are working closely with Klobuchar. 

“We'll be doing a number of these things together," Cicilline said. “We have a slightly different approach, but we have all the same objectives.” 

Unlike Klobuchar who introduced one comprehensive antitrust package, Cicilline said he intends to take a more piecemeal approach to the recommendations in the report. The subcommittee is currently in the process of dividing up the tech investigation's recommendations among its members, so they can focus on developing legislation in areas where they have the most interest. 

Cicilline said the subcommittee’s “small but mighty staff” is also already preparing legislative language responding to some of the report’s recommendations. 

The tech antitrust investigation has been a bipartisan endeavor.

However, Republicans released separate reports on the investigation's findings. Cicilline said he wants to start legislating in areas where he sees strong bipartisan agreement, such as in expanding funding for the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department's antitrust division. 

He additionally said there's broad consensus that there's need for interoperability and data portability, which would make it easier for consumers to move their data to new or competing tech services. He also said there's bipartisan interest in preventing anticompetitive behavior that favors tech companies' own good and services. 

Cicilline added there is more bipartisan support “than might appear” on reversing some court decisions that resulted in very narrow interpretations of antitrust law, and in modernizing some existing antitrust statutes. 

Cicilline says the antitrust subcommittee is planning at least three hearings on the future of antitrust legislation. 

One will study the impact the tech industry has on news publishers. It’s a pressing topic following the intense battle between Facebook and Google and Australia, where regulators have proposed a law requiring tech companies to pay media companies for news links shared on their services. 

Cicilline has previously introduced a bill exempting news publishers from antitrust laws so they can better bargain with tech companies on business arrangements. He said the bill will be reintroduced with a Republican co-sponsor, and he and his staff are currently considering changes in light of the recent events in Australia. 

The third hearing will focus on proposals to strengthen and modernize antitrust laws. 

Democrats also believe it’s urgent they act to revamp competition laws amid ongoing cases against tech giants. 

Cicilline said its necessary to provide federal regulators with more money and manpower as the FTC and Justice Department bring antitrust cases against major companies like Facebook and Google. 

“You want to make sure the statutes and the regulations that they operate under make their chance of success real, and that we don't have statutes and court decisions that make it more difficult for them to prevail and promote good competition policy, so I think it's very, very critical,” said Cicilline, who said he receives regular private briefings on DOJ and FTC cases in the tech industry. 

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Top Facebook executives blocked a page belonging to U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in early 2018 supported the move, ProPublica’s Jack Gillum and Justin Elliott report. It highlights how the company at times bends to government demands to keep its platform operational, despite its public proclamations that it's committed to free speech. 

The company blocked the page belonging to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, within Turkey after a Turkish court called for a ban on the page’s content. Internal communications show a ban on Facebook in the country was on Facebook employees’ minds, with one writing “we are in favor of geo-blocking the YPG content if the prospects of a full-service blockage are great.”

Turkey’s embassy said it considers YPG a “Syrian offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the United States and other countries have designated as a terror group. The YPG blasted Facebook and other social media networks’ actions as censorship at an “extreme level.” 

Facebook told ProPublica “there aretimes when we restrict content based on local law even if it does not violate our community standards. In this case, we made the decision based on our policies concerning government requests to restrict content and our international human rights commitments."

Health-care workers are on the front lines of the battle against misinformation.

Countless are finishing their shifts at hospitals and then logging on to fight covid on social media, pushing back on the “never-ending” stream of baseless claims related to the pandemic, Allyson Chiu reports. A network of more than 25,000 health-care workers is promoting positive messaging in an attempt to build trust in vaccines.

“At least we have some science to deal with the virus,” Kansas physician Jennifer Bacani McKenney said. “We have strategies to deal with the virus. There’s not a great strategy to deal with the random memes, or the stuff that’s presented as data that’s not actual data, or the bogus YouTube videos or whatever that look like they’re scientific and there’s no basis. It’s amazing the people that believe it and share it, and there’s not a strategy against that.”

Facebook defended its Australia news ban and announced it would spend $1 billion on news.

A company executive, Nick Clegg, compared proposed legislation in Australia that aims to force tech giants to pay to link to news articles to “forcing carmakers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car — and letting the stations set the price.” His full-throated defense of Facebook’s decision to pull news content from its platform comes after it was criticized by regulators around the world. 

Facebook struck a deal with the Australian government to resume sharing news in the country this week, and the company plans to spend $1 billion to “support the news industry” over the next three years. The company said it had spent $600 million since 2018.

Rant and rave

Clegg's statement was immediately pulled apart. Business Insider and Gizmodo reporter Cameron Wilson:

Investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who was involved in the creation of the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a critic of Facebook:

CNET senior European correspondent Katie Collins:

Trending

Mentions

  • Rick Klau, who worked as a senior operating partner at Google Ventures, has begun working as California’s chief technology innovation officer. California’s technology department also announced other recent hires.
  • Facebook public policy director Katie Harbath is leaving the company.
  • GitHub, a Microsoft subsidiary, has hired former Cisco chief information security officer Mike Hanley as its chief security officer.
  • The Klein/Johnson Group registered to lobby for U.S. chip giant Intel effective Jan. 12. Two former aides to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Israel Klein and Brian Greer, are registered to lobby on the account along with Matthew Johnson, a former aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Ian Rayder, Colorado's former deputy secretary of state.
  • Jamie Girard, the former head of trade group SEMI’s Washington office, registered to lobby for Tokyo Electron U.S. Holdings, a subsidiary of Japanese semiconductor company Tokyo Electron, effective Feb. 1. He expects to lobby on “support for domestic semiconductor manufacturing incentives” and legislation that would incentivize U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.

Daybook

  • FCC commissioner Nathan Simington speaks at an event hosted by the Lincoln Network today at 11 a.m.
  • Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) speaks at an Atlantic Council event on coronavirus disinformation today at 3 p.m.
  • International Telecommunications Union secretary general Houlin Zhao and diplomats speak at a digital foreign policy event hosted by DiploFoundation on March 2 at 8 a.m.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on quantum computing on March 3 at 1 p.m.

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