A House Subcommittee has concluded after a 16-month probe that four tech giants – Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google — are monopolists and wants Congress to change antitrust laws to force the companies to split off businesses or make it harder for them to buy smaller rivals.
Basically, the group needs to be reined in, according to the Jerrold Nadler-led House Judiciary Subcommittee on antitrust, which released a 450-page report Tuesday called Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets. The Democratic majority staff read millions of documents, had numerous interviews and held hearings – most recently and awkwardly in July when the four CEOs testified on Capitol Hill.
Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook were grilled by pols on both sides of the aisle on a wide range of issues from not paying for the journalism on their sides, to providing platforms for misinformation and conspiracy theories, to anti-conservative bias. The tech execs all said they face competition in today’s tech world.
In his forward, Rep. Nadler (D-NY), said, “Their answers were often evasive and non-responsive, raising fresh questions about whether they believe they are beyond the reach of democratic oversight.”
“Although these four corporations differ in important ways, studying their business practices has revealed common problems,” he added: all are gatekeepers over key distribution channels; all use their gatekeeper position to maintain market power; and all “have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance.”
Recommendations include imposing structural separation and prohibiting dominant platforms from entering adjacent lines of business – for example, making Facebook divest Instagram and WhatsApp. Some Republican members were against the most drastic recommendations in the report, like forcing the companies to break up.
The report also asks that the burden of proof be shifted, meaning antitrust regulators start with the presumption that mergers by dominant platforms are anticompetitive. The company doing a given deal would have to prove that it won’t harm competition, rather than forcing a regulator to prove that it will. Another key issue is preventing dominant platforms from advantaging themselves and making sure they offer equal terms to equivalent products and services.
The subcommittee found the companies anti-competitive in various areas as follows: Apple in distribution of software apps on iOS devices; Amazon, in relation to most third-party sellers and many suppliers; Facebook in online advertising and social networking; and Google in online search.
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