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Bipartisan roadblock coming Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet, Apple way next week

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By Nikhila Natarajan

New York, Oct 16 (IANS) A group of lawmakers, comprising both sides of the US political aisle, led by Senators Amy Klobuchar, Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, Republican, will float legislation to bar Big Tech platforms like Amazon and Alphabet’s Google from favouring their own stuff.

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The Klobuchar-Grassley measure aims at reining in tech firms, including industry leaders Facebook and Apple. Past attempts on these lines have failed although one, a broader measure to increase resources for antitrust enforcers, has passed the Senate.

Amazon, as per a Reuters investigation this week, is accused of using data from third-party sellers to determine products it would create.

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Reuters said it reviewed “thousands of internal Amazon documents, that the US company’s India operations ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own private brands in the country, one of the company’s largest growth markets”.

Klobuchar tweeted Saturday: “There are real dangers on platforms like Instagram and Facebook for kids and teens. Today I met with Minnesota families to hear from them about their concerns around the content pushed to their kids and how these platforms are using their data.”

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“When dominant tech companies exclude rivals & kill competition, it hurts small businesses and can increase costs for YOU. My new bipartisan legislation with @ChuckGrassley will establish new rules of the road to prevent large companies from boxing out their smaller competitors,” the breast cancer survivor, who conceded her presidential running mate slot to Kamala Harris, added on her timeline with 1.7 million follows.

“BigTech is dominant/controlling over what Americans can buy/see/say–able 2pick winners & losers As gatekeepers for other biz to reach consumers they shldnt preference or discriminate Need 2hv fair playing field 4 competition So I hv bipart bill w Klobuchar and other Rs to fix this,” Grassley added.

The text of the full statement Thursday, reviewed by IANS, spells worry for Big Tech.

“The American Innovation and Choice Online Act sets commonsense rules of the road for major digital platforms to ensure they cannot unfairly preference their own products and services. US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced today that they will introduce bipartisan legislation to restore competition online by establishing commonsense rules of the road for dominant digital platforms to prevent them from abusing their market power to harm competition, online businesses, and consumers.”

“This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Josh Hawley (R-MO). A bipartisan group led by House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and Ranking Member Ken Buck (R-CO) introduced a similar version of the bill in the House, which was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee.”

“American prosperity was built on a foundation of open markets and fair competition, but right now our country faces a monopoly problem, and American consumers, workers, and businesses are paying the price,” said Klobuchar.

“As dominant digital platforms – some of the biggest companies our world has ever seen – increasingly give preference to their own products and services, we must put policies in place to ensure small businesses and entrepreneurs still have the opportunity to succeed in the digital marketplace. This bill will do just that, while also providing consumers with the benefit of greater choice online. I’m proud to introduce this much-needed legislation alongside Senator Grassley, Chair Durbin, and a bipartisan group of our colleagues, and I look forward to it passing the Senate and being signed into law.”

Grassley said: “As Big Tech has grown and evolved over the years, our laws have not changed to keep up and ensure these companies are competing fairly. These companies have continued to become a larger part of our everyday lives and the global economy, controlling what we see and how we engage on the internet.”

“Big Tech needs to be held accountable if they behave in a discriminatory manner. Our bill will help create a more even playing field and ensure that small businesses are able to compete with these platforms.”

“Choice is fundamental to competition. American consumers have been systematically denied access to critical information about their market choices. This new bill will fight strong arm tactics used by Big Tech to disadvantage their consumers and exclude competitors from the marketplace,” said Durbin.

“The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that will create clear rules for fair competition online by banning monopolistic behavior that stacks the deck in favor of platform monopolies and against American businesses, workers, and consumers. I applaud Chairwoman Klobuchar, Chairman Durbin, and Ranking Member Grassley for leading this critical effort in the Senate. Congress must move swiftly to enact this important legislation,” said Cicilline.

“I am thrilled that Senators Grassley and Klobuchar have introduced the Senate companion to the House’s non-discrimination bill. Just yesterday, we saw reports about how Amazon engages in the very practices – including self-preferencing and abuse of third-party data – that this bill would outlaw. Republicans and Democrats in both Chambers of Congress are united in its determination to rein in Big Tech’s egregious abuses. Congress must pass this legislation,” said Buck.

“This legislation will help end Big Tech’s self-serving market manipulation. For too long, tech giants have been able to use their vast market dominance to unfairly boost their own products and services – and to disadvantage competitors. I’m proud to back this bipartisan bill to level the playing field, ensuring smaller competitors have a fighting chance and consumers have more options at fairer prices,” said Blumenthal.

“Big Tech has a track record of unfairly limiting consumer choices and thwarting free-market competition. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would help offer consumers more options at competitive prices from businesses online, which is what the American economy is supposed to do best,” said Kennedy.

“The nation’s largest tech companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, have faced accusations of prioritizing their own products on their platforms, using their market power to edge out competitors, and limiting consumers’ choice,a said Booker. “These discriminatory practices have been an issue for far too long, and it’s time for Congress to step up and help restore competition to the digital marketplace. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would hold the largest tech platforms accountable by prohibiting these discriminatory practices, and ensure that their competitors can participate fairly in the marketplace.”

“In the absence of any meaningful regulations, Big Tech platforms are using the data they collect from companies on their platforms to create unfair advantages for themselves. These practices have stifled innovation and harmed their very consumers with a lack of choice. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would level the playing field and make sure that consumers and merchants in Wyoming have fair access to the marketplace,” said Lummis.

“Our competition laws haven’t kept pace with today’s economy. The result is online giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google who roll over potential competitors and harm consumers,” said Hirono.

“By preventing tech giants from preferencing their own products, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act will bring real competition back to the online world.”

“For our digital economy to work for all Americans and all innovators, we need fair rules of the road. This bill ensures that dominant platforms aren’t engaging in self-preferencing or other discriminatory conduct that tilts the playing field in their favour and entrenches their dominance,” said Warner.

Hawley said: “For too long, Big Tech has run roughshod over small businesses, and lax antitrust enforcers have refused to do anything. No more. Congress is finally beginning to take these issues seriously. This bill will outlaw much of the discrimination and self-preferencing that tech companies currently get away with.”

As per the joint statement, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act will:

Set clear, effective rules to protect competition and users doing business on dominant online platforms, including:

Prohibiting dominant platforms from abusing their gatekeeper power by favoring their own products or services, disadvantaging rivals, or discriminating among businesses that use their platforms in a manner that would materially harm competition on the platform; and

Prohibiting specific forms of conduct that are harmful to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers, but that do not have any pro-competitive benefit, including:

Preventing another business’s product or service from interoperating with the dominant platform or another business;

Requiring a business to buy a dominant platform’s goods or services for preferred placement on its platform;

Misusing a business’s data to compete against them; and

Biasing search results in favour of the dominant firm.

Give antitrust enforcers strong, flexible tools to deter violations and hold dominant platforms accountable when they cross the line into illegal behaviour, including significant civil penalties, authority to seek broad injunctions, emergency interim relief, and potential forfeiture of executive compensation.

Prevent self-preferencing and discriminatory conduct by the most economically significant online platforms with large US user bases which function as “critical trading partners” for online businesses. For such platforms, the rules target harmful conduct, allowing the platforms to innovate, do business, and engage in pro-consumer conduct, including protecting user privacy and safety, preventing unlawful behaviour, and maintaining a secure online experience for users.

The bill, which Klobuchar’s office said would be introduced early next week, would be a companion to a measure which has passed the House Judiciary Committee. It must pass both houses of Congress to become law.

The Klobuchar and Grassley bill would specifically prohibit platforms from requiring companies operating on their sites to purchase the platform’s goods or services and ban them from biasing search results to favour the platform.

“As dominant digital platforms – some of the biggest companies our world has ever seen – increasingly give preference to their own products and services, we must put policies in place to ensure small businesses and entrepreneurs still have the opportunity to succeed in the digital marketplace,” Klobuchar said.

The Minnesota senator’s book, “Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age,” is listed as a “national best seller” on Amazon.

Klobuchar was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. She campaigned as a moderate, but struggled to gain traction in the crowded field – and in March 2020 she withdrew from the race. She later was considered a possible running mate for the presumptive nominee, Joe Biden. However, the death of an African American man while in the custody of Minnesota police brought increased focus on racial justice and raised questions about Klobuchar’s record as a prosecutor. In June 2020, she withdrew and said that a woman of colour should be the vice presidential nominee. Biden ultimately picked Kamala Harris.

(Nikhila Natarajan is on Twitter @byniknat)

–IANS

nikhila/vd

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