Representatives for the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary greenlit a bipartisan package of six antitrust reform bills, sending them onto the full House of Representatives for consideration.
The antitrust reform bills, which caused days of heated debate, are aimed at technology companies growing in data and power. The antitrust legislation is some of the most sweeping to date and could result in the breakup of companies like Amazon and Apple that operate online marketplaces where they not only sell their own products, but allow competitors to sell their own, sometimes similar, products.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, House Judiciary Committee chairman, said the bills answer the many calls for reining in big tech.
"The bills … will pave the way for a stronger economy and a stronger democracy for the American people by reining in anticompetitive abuses by the most dominant firms online," he said.
Antitrust reform legislation wins approval
The six antitrust reform bills that will now move onto the House are as follows:
Rep. Dan BishopR-N.C.
- Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act to ensure consumers can move their data from one company's platform to a competitor's platform; it requires interoperability between dominant platforms and third-party platforms.
- Platform Competition and Opportunity Act to stop dominant platforms from acquiring potential competitors.
- American Choice and Innovation Online Act ensures dominant platform operators can't favor their products over competitors' products.
- Ending Platform Monopolies Act prevents dominant platforms like Amazon from simultaneously owning or operating an online marketplace and certain businesses that present a conflict of interest.
- Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act increases merger filing fees for large transactions to provide the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) with additional funds for enforcing antitrust laws.
- State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act allows state attorneys general to litigate antitrust cases in their home states.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said the six antitrust reform bills will level the playing field and pave the way for greater competition.
"The digital marketplace suffers from a lack of competition," he said. "Many digital markets are defined by monopoly or duopoly control. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are gatekeepers to the online economy. They bury or buy rivals and abuse their monopoly power, conduct that is harmful to consumers, competition, innovation and our democracy."
Antitrust legislation concerns
Concerns raised by Democrats and Republicans reflected the sweeping nature of the antitrust reform bills. The central concern focused on giving too much power to the FTC in handling antitrust oversight of tech companies.
"Taken as a whole, the package of legislation being hastily marked up provides no comfort at all, once it is examined closely," Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said. "The bills grant a great deal of new power -- regulatory, as well as enforcement power -- to agencies without much definition of policy at all."
Rep. Zoe LofgrenD-Calif.
Representatives also expressed concern about overregulation and harming tech companies that have contributed to the economy. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, in particular, "essentially mandates" the breakup of tech companies -- something she believes is an extreme measure that will be disastrous for the economy.
"This bill would essentially, metaphorically, take a grenade and roll it into the tech economy, blow it up, and see what happens," she said. "There are actions in the tech sector that I disapprove of and that I think violate antitrust law. I think we ought to have vigorous enforcement; we ought to protect competition and we ought to protect consumers. But I think this bill is overbroad and will have serious adverse consequences for Americans and the economy."
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, expressed similar concerns. He said the bill is an overstep of government regulation and would stifle innovation and investment.
"This bill is yet another example of legislation which would put government smack in the middle of business decisions," he said. "While it's perfectly appropriate to make sure the FTC and DOJ get the resources they need to investigate potential anticompetitive behavior or to ensure litigation isn't delayed due to venue issues, deciding how an online platform or marketplace operates and what it can and cannot do should not be the focus of their efforts."
Data privacy concerns
Representatives also expressed concerns about data privacy issues when requiring interoperability between platforms.
Lofgren pointed to the ACCESS Act and its push for easier data exchange and transferability and stressed the need for privacy and security measures. Lofgren is a representative of California -- a state that has led data privacy legislation efforts in the U.S. with adoption of the California Consumer Privacy Act and California Privacy Rights Act.
"We need to make sure the bill contains the necessary safeguards for privacy and security risks for interoperability and portability," she said. "In order to achieve these goals, platforms must open up their systems and user data to third parties. While this can be beneficial to both consumers and competition, the risk of abuse and neglect of the technical details are quite obvious."
But Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., one of the sponsors of the ACCESS Act, said it will not create additional data privacy and security concerns for consumers or covered platforms, because the bill itself includes provisions that require third parties to implement security and privacy measures to protect consumer data.
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.