House Antitrust Chair Says Big Tech Abuses Gatekeeper Power

(Bloomberg) — Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. abuse their power as gatekeepers of the internet, said the head of a House antitrust panel who’s poised to propose legislative changes to rein in the technology giants.

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“Each platform uses their gatekeeper position to protect their own power,” said Representative David Cicilline, who chairs a House antitrust panel that’s spent more than a year probing the dominance of the internet platforms. “By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals — and ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats.”

Cicilline, who spoke Thursday during a hearing with experts on competition law, is preparing a final report recommending changes to the legislative and regulatory framework. That report is expected to be released as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg testified voluntarily in July before the subcommittee. Cicilline criticized their testimony as being evasive and non-responsive and said “they raised new questions about whether they believe their companies are beyond oversight.”

Representatives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Cicilline’s remarks.

Among the recommendations that Cicilline has floated is a prohibition against running a platform and competing on it at the same time. That would potentially bar Google from bidding in the online ad exchanges it operates or stop Amazon from providing a marketplace for independent merchants while selling its own products.

Cicilline has said he wants bipartisan support for his ideas, but hasn’t revealed whether he has Republican support for his proposals.

The GOP typically views changes to antitrust law skeptically. Although some of the committee’s Republicans have been critical of some of the technology companies’ practices, not all agree that new legislation is necessary.

“We ultimately disagree on the future of antitrust laws,” said Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who is the top Republican on the subcommittee. He suggested he wants to see improved enforcement of existing laws, but is opposed to changes that would prompt break-ups of the companies.

For decades, the internet giants have enjoyed laissez-faire regulation in the U.S., including scant antitrust enforcement of mergers. Still, they are coming under increasing attack in Washington over a range of issues including misinformation, hate speech, election meddling, and what Republicans decry as anti-conservative bias.

In addition to Cicilline’s investigation, federal and state antitrust enforcers are poised to file a historic monopolization lawsuit against Google, and additional cases could be in the pipeline, Bloomberg has reported. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also preparing a possible case against Facebook. Amazon and Apple are also facing inquiries by federal antitrust authorities.

Witnesses at the hearing included Bill Baer, a former Justice Department antitrust chief under President Obama; Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University known for progressive views on antitrust; and Rachel Bovard of the conservative-allied Internet Accountability Project.

Baer called for Congress to pass

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