Big Tech’s dominance challenged by 5 pieces of legislation

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

About 16 months after Big Tech CEOs were called up to testify in a congressional hearing, the realisation is that existing regulations are not enough to curtail Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google. In early June, Antitrust subcommittee members unveiled a total of five antitrust reform bills that will  attempt to do this.

When these bills were unveiled, US congressman David Cicilline said in a statement, “Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

The New York Times has noted these four companies have a combined market capitalisation of USD6.3 trillion, four times more than the value of the United States’ ten largest banks. No doubt, if these five pieces of proposed legislation come into effect as law, many things about the tech industry, and even how we use online products and services will change.

The 5 reform bills

Here is a quick look at each of the 5 antitrust bill:

1. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act

This sees to it that platform operators do not favour their own products over competitors’ products on the platform. For example, Google is barred from conduct that prefers or offers advantage to their own services over their rival’s. So, Google cannot boost their own products in search results.

2. Ending Platform Monopolies Act

Platforms with over 50 million active users and net annual sales of over USD600 billion, are prohibited from owning a business that represents a conflict of interest.

3. Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act

This mandates data interoperability and allow consumers to transfer data to competing platforms via third-party APIs.

4. Platform Competition and Opportunity Act

Dominant platforms are prohibited from acquiring competitive threats.

5. Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act

This is an avenue for more funds for antitrust enforcers, namely the Department of Justice (DoJ) and FTC or Federal Trade Commission.

Responses to the bills

At a glance, they seem well-intentioned and immediately target very anti-competitive behaviour. But, there could be some trade-offs. For example, some analysts foresee it will slow down mergers and acquisition activity.

One thing is clear at time of writing. There is no clear consensus on all the solutions proposed as these reform bills. The legislation is still pending full House approval, Senate approval and then the White House’s, before it can be signed into law.

Currently, the bills also appear to want to do three main things:

1. prevent Big Tech from getting any bigger

2. prevent existing anti-competitive behaviour.

The 5 reform bills also recognise the immense power of consumer data and how large amassed quantities of them keep big platform players in power. This monopoly on user data is addressed by ACCESS (the 3rd bill).

What does ACCESS look like?

At the moment, there is not much clarity, but it could mean Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram sharing user data beyond among only themselves. For example, Facebook owns Whatsapp and Instagram, but ACCESS will allow users option to use another messaging app besides Whatsapp.

I personally think ACCESS is the key to unravelling the Big Ball of Data, that shields Big Tech’s monopoly.

Because, having the option to switch to another service easily if one is not happy with what is readily offered, may prevent platform players from taking so much liberties with our data.

Big Tech dominance on shaky ground?

As of now, we have no way of knowing how these bills will pan out, or even the consequences in this part of the world, should they pass into law in the United States.

Ultimately, having the option to switch to another service easily if one is not happy with what is being readily offered, may prevent platform players from taking so much liberties with our data.

A vast majority of us have been users of technology products and online services for years as businesses and/or individual consumers. We have enjoyed conveniences and have come to expect a certain level of user experience.

Finally, there is chance these conveniences and the way we use technology, will be impacted soon. Ironically, the more inconvenienced and disrupted we are, the greater the probability that America’s antitrust reform bills for Big Tech regulation, is taking effect.