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The Technology 202: Congress takes aim at antitrust legislation designed to reel in Big Tech

with Aaron Schaffer

Antitrust bills faced significant pushback in Congress yesterday from powerful tech companies and California lawmakers who represent some of their workers.

The bills, which have some bipartisan support, made a splash earlier this month for taking direct aim at the far-reaching power of Big Tech, especially Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. But fissures began to show during a markup before the House Judiciary Committee as the companies — predictably — opposed the bills, and some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spoke out against them. 

By late evening, the committee had approved just the two least controversial of the six bills taking aim at the power of tech companies. One measure would update merger filing fees, and the other deals with venues for antitrust suits brought by state attorneys general. The other measures include sweeping bills to prevent tech giants from buying rising competitors; prohibit big tech companies from giving their own products and services preference over those from competitors; and another making it illegal for giants to operate lines of business that create a conflict of interest.

Big Tech is making a full-court press in lobbying lawmakers to defeat the bills, according to reporting in Gizmodo and the New York Times.

The Times reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to say the bills would harm innovation. 

The package also has the support of Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee. who led an exhaustive House investigation into Big Tech companies last year that preceded the bills. 

“Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are gatekeepers to the online economy,” Cicilline said early in the committee markup Wednesday. “They bury or buy rivals and abuse their monopoly powers — conduct that is harmful to consumers, competition, innovation and our democracy.”


Some conservatives want to curtail Big Tech's power, just not in the same way. The day before the markup, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) partnered with former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows to pen an opinion piece for Fox News calling for Republicans to be skeptical of the bills. 

“These Democrat bills will only make things worse,” they wrote. “If you think Big Tech is bad now, just wait until Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are working in collusion with Big Government.” 

Democrats have approached antitrust legislation by focusing on tech companies' growing economic concentration, while Republicans have focused on their concerns that tech companies have stifled conservative voices online. 

At the markup, three members from California, where many of the tech giants are headquartered, and all are large employers, also voiced skepticism. 

“In my district, small businesses depend on services provided by these tech companies,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “Amazon has opened a distribution center and is looking to open a few more. These are good-paying jobs with benefits.” 

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said he would not support three of the more sweeping bills.

“In my district alone, I represent thousandslikely in the five digitsof employees affected by the proposed laws,” he said in a statement. “It is these people whose jobs, families, and livelihoods I was elected to protectand must advocate for today.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said four of the bills as introduced could create more harm than good. She introduced several amendments during the markup.

“While I share the desire to reform digital markets and increase competition, as drafted, the bills fall short and will create more harm than good for American consumers and the U.S. economy,” she said in a statement. 

She focused on allowing the companies to protect privacy and moderate content — echoing similar sentiments to what a few of the companies argued in their statements of opposition to the measures.

Apple issued a report Wednesday morning outlining what it sees as the perils of letting consumers “sideload” apps, a process enabling apps to be downloaded on Apple products without going through the company's App Store. Critics have argued that Apple’s control of the App Store, and especially its practice of taking a cut of in-app purchases, threatens smaller competitors. 

The iPhone maker also sent a Tuesday letter to the committee, saying the bills would restrict consumer choice and would not promote competition.

Similarly, Amazon released a statement from Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman saying the bills “would have significant negative effects on the hundreds of thousands of American small- and medium-sized businesses that sell in our store.” (Amazon head and founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Google Vice President of Government Affairs Mark Isakowitz said the bills raise privacy concerns and “damage the way small businesses connect with consumers.” And Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said antitrust bills should “not punish successful American companies.”

“The surest way to address the challenges facing today’s Internet is to tackle the areas of greatest concern to people like content moderation, election integrity, and privacy not attempt to dismantle the products and services people depend on,” he said in a statement.

Our top tabs

The Supreme Court sided with a high school cheerleader who posted a profanity-laced rant on Snapchat.

The court ruled 8-to-1 that Pennsylvania cheerleader Brandi Levy’s suspension from a cheerleading squad for posting a profanity-laced rant was too severe, Robert Barnes reports. The court, however, declined to say whether schools should never have a role in punishing students for off-campus speech.

“The school in this case asked the court to allow it to punish speech that it considered ‘disruptive,’ regardless of where it occurs,” said David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the case for Levy and cheered the ruling. “If the court had accepted that argument, it would have put in peril all manner of young people’s speech, including their expression on politics, school operations, and general teen frustrations.”

A French legal case against Apple will proceed in the fall.

The case, which originally was filed in 2017, could change the way the tech giant’s App Store treats app developers, Politico EU’s Laura Kayali reports. France Digitale, a trade association for start-ups, joined the French government in the suit this month and provided testimony about how the company’s App Store allegedly hurts developers, according to a court document.

Apple declined to comment. France’s Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control did not respond to a request for comment.

British lawmakers slammed Amazon for destroying millions of unused items.

The company is coming under fire in London for an undercover report finding that it has marked millions of items in a U.K. warehouse for destruction, Jennifer Hassan reports. Lawmakers in the country are demanding a meeting with an Amazon representative, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to look into the allegations, which he said were “incredible.” 

“We are working toward a goal of zero product disposal and our priority is to resell, donate to charitable organizations or recycle any unsold products,” the statement said. “No items are sent to landfill in the UK. As a last resort, we will send items to energy recovery, but we’re working hard to drive the number of times this happens down to zero.”

Rant and rave

Apple published a white paper on Wednesday to argue that its App Store protects iOS users. The graphic design was a bit distracting, however. Designer, developer, artist and writer Nick Heer:

Developer and blogger Benjamin Mayo:

The New York Times's Shira Ovide:

Hill happenings

GOP riven by infighting over Big Tech crackdown (Politico)

Inside the industry

Myanmar: Facebook promotes content urging violence against coup protesters – study (The Guardian)

How Twitter hired tech's biggest critics to build ethical AI (Protocol)

Competition watch

National antitrust watchdogs want more say in enforcing EU tech rules (Reuters)


Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos will fly to space at their own risk. Does that make it right for everyone? (Christian Davenport)

Britney Spears requests termination of her conservatorship: ‘It’s embarrassing and it’s demoralizing’ (Ashley Fetters)

John McAfee, software entrepreneur with outlaw persona, dies in prison at 75 (Glenn Rifkin)


  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, discusses antitrust legislation at a Washington Post Live event on Friday at 11 a.m.
  • Acting Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel discusses the Emergency Broadband Benefit program at a New America event on June 29 at noon.

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