House Democrats Poised to Trim Big Tech’s Sails

WASHINGTON—Democratic lawmakers are expected to call on Congress to blunt the power of big technology companies, possibly through forced separation of online platforms, as a House panel concludes its Big Tech probe.

The House Antitrust Subcommittee is nearing completion of a report wrapping up its 15-month investigation of

Alphabet Inc.’s

Google,

Apple Inc.,

Amazon.com Inc.,

and Facebook Inc. The report follows the committee’s collection of more than one million documents from the companies and competitors, as well as a July hearing with CEOs of the four tech giants.

Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.), who chairs the subcommittee, has indicated the panel is poised to recommend significant measures targeting Big Tech’s power, including requiring owners of huge technology platforms to separate those platforms from other businesses.

Mr. Cicilline hasn’t released details, but such a law could potentially ban Amazon from competing with sellers on Amazon.com, or Google from offering services that consumers look for on its search engine.

“You can’t set all the rules, control the marketplace and also sell on it, in the way that Amazon does, for example,” Mr. Cicilline said in a recent podcast for the Brookings Institution think tank.

The committee’s final report could include the platform-separation idea among a series of policy options, Mr. Cicilline has said. Others include boosting the budgets of U.S. antitrust enforcement agencies, amending U.S. antitrust laws with an eye toward making them less permissive and mandating “interoperability” so that consumers and businesses can more easily move from one tech platform to another.

Republicans say the inquiry left them concerned about the companies’ power in digital markets, but differ on how to address the problem.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that both sides think there is a problem,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R., N.D.), a member of the committee. But broad measures requiring Big Tech to separate lines of business could affect other industries that also operate online, an issue Congress would have to study, he said.

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google faced tough questions and, at times, hostile criticism about their business practices during a House antitrust hearing. The session highlighted how four of America’s five most valuable companies are under scrutiny from both sides of the aisle. Photo: U.S. House Judiciary Committee/Reuters

“We would be better served by attacking very narrow problem sets and seeing if we could come up with a solution,” he said, pointing to bipartisan concern about Amazon’s treatment of third-party sellers on its marketplace, among other issues.

Republicans also say existing antitrust laws are sufficient to bring enforcement actions against large tech companies.

Any proposal to separate big tech platforms’ businesses would face stiff opposition from the industry. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, at the committee hearing July 29, said he doesn’t believe it is a conflict of interest for Amazon to sell products on the e-marketplace it controls.

“The consumer is the one ultimately making the decisions. They’re making the decisions about what to buy, what price to buy it at, who

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