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Break down Big Tech? The idea may gain momentum during the congressional probe

Calls for a split in Big Tech will not go away. If anything, they can become more serious.

That was the point for some antitrust lawyers and other technology industry analysts watching members of Congress spend five-and-a-half hours on Wednesday on key technology CEOs about the power of the monopoly online.

This was also concluded by Rep. David Cicilline, DR.I, who chaired the meeting as chairman of the House Antitrust Commission, Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, and who became chief antagonist of Silicon Valley.

This hearing explained to me one fact: These companies that exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken down. Everyone needs to be properly regulated and accountable, ”he said when the meeting ended on Wednesday evening.

Four Big Tech executives appeared together in a virtual hearing to give testimony: Amazon̵

7;s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

At the same time, leaders represented the historic concentration of corporate power in one congressional process, and experts said it was an impression just to see lawmakers bombarding some of the world’s most powerful men with pointed questions about their business practices.

“It was refreshing to see lawmakers going from foot to toe with titans in the technology sector.”

“It has been refreshing to see lawmakers go from foot to toe with technology titans,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust service in the Department of Justice who is now chief adviser to the Public Knowledge advisory group.

Sometimes the survey was almost canceled as some Republican subcommittee members tried to move the hearing to other topics, such as online language rules, but even some Republicans questioned whether companies treat competitors fairly.

Democrats also seemed to coordinate their tasks and share lines of polls before the hearing so as not to duplicate efforts or waste limited minutes.

New laws are possible

But not just the theatrical, listening can have real consequences for the four companies. Critics have been able to escalate their case against the technology industry, as the Department of Justice and several states are preparing to launch antitrust lawsuits.

The hearing also highlighted a new degree of seriousness on the part of Democrats in addressing the power of the technology industry a few months before the November 3 general election, when they will have the opportunity to take unified control of the federal government and possibly try to rewrite a century of antitrust laws. laws.

Cicillin is already collaborating with old age Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Another harsh criticism of large technology companies in drafting bills that would radically change antitrust laws. They would have a chance to move forward if the Democrats swept the election.

One idea is to split the largest companies, but critics have also explored how to use them in other ways.

“The hearing has gained momentum in the area of ​​’regulation’,” said Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute. “The possibility is not ruled out that there may be support from both parties for a new regulatory act on digital technologies,” she said. In short, a new law establishing a framework for, inter alia, non-discriminatory access to platforms.

Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Freedoms project, which represents the anti-monopoly group of lawyers, said the hearing creates an impetus that will be transferred to other hearings and legislation.

“Probably decades have passed since the Congressional Committee offered a deeply researched and aggressive approach to key corporate players,” she said. “I really haven’t seen anything like it in 15 years in politics.”

Focus on the data

According to external experts, a few moments did not get stuck in the marathon hearing.

First, D. Val. Demings, D-Fla., Pressed Google Pichai for 2016 The decision to combine DoubleClick’s ad business data with other data held by Google was a decision that it said revoked a previous commitment not to destroy “the information.

“It’s very easy for users to manage their data today,” Pichai replied.

Demings interrupted him, saying, “I’m concerned that Google’s bait and switch using DoubleClick is part of a broader model where Google buys businesses to interview Americans, and because of Google’s dominance, consumers have no choice but to to give up. “

RND spokeswoman Kelly Armstrong also asked Pichai about the ad data, saying that YouTube in 2015. It decided to change the way it sells ads, “which prevented smaller competitors from participating.” Pichai replied that there is still a solid choice in the market.

Several lawmakers have questioned Beza’s data on whether Amazon uses data about third-party products on its website. Bezos said Amazon is investigating a report in The Wall Street Journal this year that Amazon employees used such data to develop competing products, despite the company’s policies before.

But Cicillin said that was not enough. “Amazon’s dual role as a competing vendor on this platform is fundamentally anti-competitive, and Congress needs to take action,” he said.

Facebook and Apple were also asked how they use the data they collect in one context and then use it to inform business decisions in other contexts. Experts said it was no coincidence that lawmakers maintained such constant attention. Technology companies have a huge amount of data and while their practices may be allowed under current laws, this may be the focus of future laws.

“It’s an overarching theme here: Big Tech platforms have both the opportunity and the incentive to leverage the data they can create to the detriment of smaller market players,” Kimmelman said.

Not everyone thinks the right time to consider antitrust law, especially before the Department of Justice and other authorities end the ongoing probes.

“It’s hard to see Congress change antitrust laws until these investigations are done and we get guidance from antitrust agencies and the courts,” said Asheesh Agarwalis, deputy general counsel for the law firm TechFreedom.

However, some questions asked by technology companies on Wednesday raised questions under current antitrust laws, such as whether government executives should reconsider their previous approvals to buy Facebook on Instagram and Amazon to buy Diapers.com.

The tone of the questions put to the CEOs showed that lawmakers were not intimidated by the idea of ​​trust, after years of discussion about it.

“It wasn’t, thank you for being here, you’re an amazing innovator, and we don’t want you to be uncomfortable,” Miller said. “It asked them very specific and detailed questions about their market power and how they use it to the detriment of other businesses and consumers.”

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