with Aaron Schaffer

Democrats are imminently planning to release a sweeping package of bills that take aim at alleged anticompetitive behavior in the tech industry. 

Drafts of five bills obtained by The Technology 202 show that lawmakers are weighing a range of changes to federal law to empower regulators to rein in the business practices of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon. Lawmakers could officially unveil the antitrust bills as soon as today, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly.

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

One draft bill would enable the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission to sue to break up large tech companies when their role as operator of a platform presents an ‘‘irreconcilable conflict of interest’’  in their other lines of business. Another bill would prevent companies from giving their own services preference over rivals. One measure would block tech giants from acquiring nascent competitors. 

Other bills are less contentious. One is similar to a measure that recently passed the Senate, which would increase merger filing fees for large companies to ensure antitrust enforcers have more money. Another is focused on data interoperability, which could make it easier to use products from different tech companies together. 

The release of the bills will signal a new stage in Congress’s years-long efforts to check the tech industry’s power. 

These bills all take aim at practices that the House Judiciary Committee last year concluded tech giants used to solidify their dominance across the Internet, following a historic, 16-month investigation into their business practices. The measures are a sign that Congress is moving from grappling with the problems in the tech industry to actually debating legislation that would address long-running concerns. 

“Now it's really happening,” said Charlotte Slaiman, a competition policy director at the consumer group Public Knowledge, which has advocated for greater antitrust scrutiny of the tech industry. 

She said the package is “a big proposal,” justifying the nearly two-year process the committee undertook to investigate the companies, draft recommendations and propose legislation. 

But it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will be able to build enough bipartisan consensus around the package. 

The congressional investigation began as a bipartisan effort, but there have been partisan divisions throughout the process. It remains unclear how Republicans will respond to the proposals put forth by the Democrats. Rep. Ken Buck (Colorado), the top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, has said that Republicans are willing to work with Democrats on some of the issues the proposals address, including strengthening enforcement of antitrust laws and blocking tech giants from buying up rising competitors. 

Buck called for Republicans to focus on competition issues amid their accusations that tech companies are censoring conservative voices, which have escalated since Facebook's announcement that it would ban former president Donald Trump from using the platform for at least two years. 

“The answer is to make sure that we have competition in the marketplace, and have four or five Facebooks and three or four Googles and five or six Twitter companies,” Buck said in a recent Fox News interview. “And when we diversify the social media platforms, we will get more competition and we will also get more diversity and viewpoints.”

Yet other Republicans have focused their efforts on regulating social media companies. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, announced a bill at a press conference yesterday that would ban companies from discriminating against people based on their political party. At the state level, the Florida governor recently signed a bill into law that would fine tech companies if they ban politicians from their services. 

Nu Wexler, who previously worked at Google, Facebook and Twitter, tweeted that these approaches show the divisions in how the parties are approaching tech regulation. 

“Republicans are pushing content moderation bills that attract a ton of attention but have First Amendment problems,” he wrote. “Democrats are doing antitrust + privacy bills rules that are less sexy but have a greater potential impact. It’s not really ‘bipartisan consensus.’”

Expect the tech companies to fight back against the Democrats' proposals — hard. 

Even before the bills have been formally introduced, tech industry groups have come out swinging against them. Netchoice, which represents Amazon, Google, Facebook and other tech companies, said the measures would “kneecap” American companies and undermine American innovation amid increasing concerns about the competitive threat posed by China. 

“At the same time Congress is looking to boost American innovation and cybersecurity, lawmakers should not pass legislation that would cede ground to foreign competitors and open up American data to dangerous and untrustworthy actors,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, said in a statement. 

Our top tabs

The Biden administration launched a task force to explore making government data available to AI researchers.

The congressionally mandated task force will work on a strategy for potentially giving researchers data on Americans — while preserving privacy and other ethical issues — in an attempt to compete with Chinese and Russian artificial intelligence research, the Wall Street Journal’s Ryan Tracy reports.

“To investigate a lot of their really great ideas in AI, [researchers] need access to powerful computing infrastructure and they need access to data,” said Lynne Parker, an assistant director of artificial intelligence at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Oftentimes researchers “simply don’t have access to these computational resources and data, and this is hampering innovation,” she said.

European regulators are considering a $425 million fine for alleged privacy violations by Amazon.

The penalty would be the largest-ever fine levied under Europe’s privacy law, the Wall Street Journal’s Sam Schechner reports. The specific allegations against the e-commerce giant aren’t known, though the alleged violations of the General Data Protection Regulation don’t relate to the company’s cloud-computing businesses, a person familiar with the matter said.

Luxembourg’s data commission, which is the main European regulator for Amazon, has received objections to the case, including one arguing that the fine should be larger. The fine represents around 2 percent of the company’s reported 2020 net income.

An Amazon spokesman declined to comment. 

Major tech companies weighed in on climate change corporate disclosures.

The companies, which include Amazon, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, said that a Securities and Exchange Commission proposal for climate change disclosures on corporate filings should reflect global standards on reporting greenhouse gas emissions and should be filed through a separate SEC climate reporting process independent of the companies’ current semiannual filings.

“We believe that it is critical to regularly measure and report on our progress towards our climate commitments and to share updates with investors and other stakeholders,” the groups wrote. “We believe that in order for such disclosures to be meaningful and comparable, they should leverage widely recognized frameworks and standards when possible.”

Rant and rave

It's Friday, which means an incredibly long week for privacy and technology professionals is almost over! Privacy counsel Lena Ghamrawi:

Joe Duball, a staff writer at the International Association of Privacy Professionals:

Hill happenings

Three senators unveiled a bill to close the digital divide.

More than 100 groups have backed the bipartisan legislation, which would set up two $125 million grant programs: one for states to set up digital equity plans and another to boost the work of groups, coalitions and communities in their digital equity projects. The senators plan to work to get key parts of the bill in an forthcoming infrastructure package, the office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.

Inside the industry

Top tech leaders including Arianna Huffington are taking a stand against anti-Semitism. 

More than 100 executives and venture capitalists, including MasterClass CEO David Rogier, ViacomCBS chairman Shari Redstone and Backstage Capital Founder Arlan Hamilton, have signed the new letter, which says too few Americans acknowledge prejudice against Jewish people. The letter cites recent violent attacks targeting American Jews.

“We ask you to join us in standing against anti-Semitism, and in creating a more tolerant and just society for everyone,” the letter says. 

Jordana Stein, the CEO of enrich who helped organized the letter, said in an interview that tech leaders have a critical role to play in countering hate. 

“We're the innovators, we're the ones who bring about change,” she said. “It's meaningful to take that role and force change in society.”

Trending

Mentions

  • Phyllis Marcus, a former Federal Trade Commission official who worked on enforcing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, has registered to lobby for NCTA — The Internet & Television Association effective May 13, two days after lawmakers introduced a bill to overhaul children’s privacy legislation. Current and anticipated lobbying activities include “children’s online privacy” issues. NCTA declined to comment on the registration, the group’s stance on the new legislation and whether Marcus would lobby on it.
  • Apple hired former BMW executive Ulrich Kranz to help lead the company's efforts to develop a car, Bloomberg News's Mark Gurman reports.

Daybook

  • Werner Stengg, a cabinet expert to European digital enforcer Margrethe Vestager, discusses the European Commission’s new proposal to regulate artificial intelligence at an event hosted by Stanford University’s Institute for Human-Centered AI on June 17 at noon.

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