Politics & Policy

House Panel Says Big Tech Has ‘Monopoly Power,’ Recommends Anti-Trust Reforms

The logos of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. (File Photos via Reuters)

A Democrat-led House panel found that Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have “monopoly power” and recommended a number of measures to reign the companies in, according to a long-awaited report released on Tuesday. 

The Democratic report details the House Judiciary panel on antitrust’s 16-month investigation into the tech giants, which included the review of more than one million documents and testimony in and out of hearings as well as interviews with hundreds in the industry. 

In the report, Democrats recommend a number of measures to decrease the dominating hold of the four companies, which were worth a combined $5 trillion in September, including revising existing antitrust laws and bolstering the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice antitrust team. 

While the investigation had been billed as a bipartisan effort, Republicans and Democrats have clashed on policy recommendations coming out of the investigation.

Representative Ken Buck (R., Colo.), the key swing vote on the committee and an advocate of antitrust reform, wrote in a draft memo earlier this week that some of the report’s recommendations are “non-starters for conservatives,” though he outlined areas of “common ground” between the parties. He said he is supportive of the investigation and its findings and will continue to push for bipartisan antitrust reform. 

Democrats recommended structural separation, which would require large companies to pursue a single line of business; nondiscrimination requirements; regulations preventing platforms from self-preferencing; and a freeze on mergers and acquisitions by companies that already dominate an industry.

In his own report, signed by three other Republicans, Buck rejected a number of Democrats’ recommendations, including structural separation as well as the elimination of arbitration clauses and opening up companies to class action lawsuits.

He adds that Democrats failed to “address how Big Tech has used its monopolistic position in the marketplace to censor speech.” Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), a ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, issued his own response as well in which he accused the platforms’ of holding a bias against conservatives.

The panel’s report details Amazon’s hold on the market for online shopping and found that the online retail giant has monopoly power over many small- and medium-sized businesses, pointing to acquisitions of several competitors as well as the collection of customer data as a main source of the company’s growth.

It focused on the company’s position as both the operator of the online marketplace and a seller in the marketplace with its private-label products as an “inherent conflict of interest” that incentivizes Amazon to improperly make use of its access to third-party seller data.

The report also claims that Apple uses its app store to favor its own products over those of competitors and charged that Facebook’s social media acquisitions had maintained the company’s monopoly power.

The report focuses on Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and included emails from 2012 in which senior employees, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, reference the acquisition as a way to squash competition. An internal memo from October 2018 detailed in the report also said that Facebook’s main source of competition was from its own products rather than externally, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

Finally, the report accused Google of having a monopoly in online search and advertising, created by acquiring DoubleClick and AdMob and exerting its dominance to hurt vertical search competitors.

The companies pushed back against the report’s findings, with Amazon saying in a blog post on Tuesday that “large companies are not dominant by definition.”

“[T]he presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong,” the post added. “And yet, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, those fallacies are at the core of this regulatory spit-balling on antitrust.”

A Google spokesperson told The Hill that “the goal of antitrust law is to protect consumers, not help commercial rivals.”

“Many of the proposals bandied about in today’s reports — whether breaking up companies or undercutting Section 230 — would cause real harm to consumers, America’s technology leadership and the U.S. economy — all for no clear gain,” the spokesperson said.

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