Senate Committee Advances Antitrust Bill Targeting Large Tech Platforms

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a controversial antitrust bill that would prohibit the largest online platforms from giving preference to their own products or services.

The “American Choice and Innovation Act,” introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would generally bar the largest platforms from engaging in a wide variety of practices, including "misusing" a business's data to complete against it, and returning search results that are biased in favor of the dominant platform.

The bill, which cleared the committee by a 16-6 vote, can still be amended before the full Senate votes on it.

This week, a group of smaller tech companies -- including review site Yelp and search engine Duck Duck Go -- publicly urged passage of the bill.

“For too long, dominant technology companies have made it difficult for other businesses to compete in the digital marketplace by abusing their gatekeeper status to give themselves and their partners preferential treatment and access on their platforms” they said in a letter to Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Grassley.

Not surprisingly, Google and Amazon have made it clear they oppose the legislation.

Amazon stated that the measure “is being rushed through the legislative process without any acknowledgment by its authors of its unintended consequences.”

For its part, Google warned that new restrictions could affect search results in ways that hinder users.

“If you search for a place or an address, we may not be able to show you directions from Google Maps in your results,” Kent Walker, the company's chief legal officer, said in a blog post this week.

The bill's supporters dispute Walker's interpretation, arguing that the measure still allows platforms to prioritize their own products and services, as long as doing so maintains or enhances the platforms' “core functionality.”

The American Choice and Innovation Act is just one of several antitrust proposals in the House and Senate. 

Another Senate bill, “Open App Markets Act,” also would impose new restrictions on Apple and Google. That measure was introduced last year by Klobuchar, along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).

Among other provisions, that bill would require Apple and Google to allow consumers to sideload apps -- that is, to download them from sources other than the App Store or Play Store. Apple famously doesn't allow sideloading, but Google has always let Android users sideload apps.

Apple reportedly told lawmakers that the measure would create new security risks for consumers.

“If Apple is forced to enable sideloading, millions of Americans will likely suffer malware attacks on their phones that would otherwise have been stopped,” Timothy Powerdely, Apple’s senior director of government affairs, reportedly said Tuesday in a letter the Judiciary Committee.

The committee was originally scheduled to debate the “Open App Markets Act” on Thursday, but postponed the markup to a future date.

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