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Democrats unveil blueprint for breaking up Big Tech

A staff report recommends breaking up firms and making mergers more difficult

Photo (c) TheCrimsonRibbon - Getty Images
Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are finding themselves in the crosshairs of Democrats in the House. A staff report recommends changes to antitrust laws that would require those large technology companies to spin off parts of their businesses and make it harder to acquire companies in the future.

The report is the culmination of a 16-month investigation into how the four companies operate and how they went about acquiring other companies, including potential competitors. The report concludes that the companies are monopolies that need to be cut down to size.

House Democrats apparently are not the only government officials who feel that way. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also looked into the size and power of large tech firms and reportedly plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook before the end of the year.

Facebook apparently saw what was coming and has prepared a brief against a break-up that would force the spin-off of Instagram and Whatsapp. The leaked documents prepared by a high-powered law firm contend that such a break-up would hurt consumers who use the apps.

The wide-ranging recommendations contained in the House Antitrust Subcommittee staff report, if enacted into law, would significantly alter the technology landscape. Under it:

  • Dominant companies couldn’t go into adjacent lines of business;

  • Large tech companies would face harsher scrutiny in proposed mergers;

  • Big Tech companies would be prevented from using their platforms to favor their own content;

  • Big Tech’s services would have to be compatible with competitors; and

  • Forced-arbitration clauses and limits on class-action lawsuits would be banned.

Republican allies

Democrats may find some Republican allies for some of their proposals to rein in Big Tech. Both parties tend to have issues with large technology companies, but for different reasons.

Democrats have complained about what they see as anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers and stifles competition. Republicans have long maintained that Silicon Valley tech firms discriminate against conservative viewpoints.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), in a draft response obtained by Politico, sides with his Democratic colleagues on some items in the report but calls others “non-starters.” Buck is a key member of the House Judiciary Committee, which will have a lot to say about how antitrust laws are changed and enforced.

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