Will Antitrust Bills Manage To Break Up Big Tech Monopolies?

US legislators from both the Democrat and Republican spheres are not happy with the Big Tech monopolies and the legislation they are proposing through various bills shows that the monopolies' days may be numbered. Five bills were announced on Friday as part of the bipartisan legislative agenda to "...expand opportunities for consumers, workers, and small businesses by holding unregulated Big Tech monopolies accountable for anti-competitive conduct..." and these were:

1.The “American Innovation and Choice Online Act: This act is meant to prohibit discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms including a ban on self-referencing. For example, if passed, the bill would make illegal some of the following-

  • Giving an advantage to a platform operator's own products and services over those of another business user
  • Excluding or disadvantaging another business user's products or services on the said platform
  • Restricting users from uninstalling pre-installed programs or/and applications on their devices
  • Restricting interoperability between operating system/hardware/software features of the covered platform and others
From its details, this act will pretty much dismantle the so-called "tech ecosystems" where, for example, Apple products are only compatible with other Apple products. It would also prevent situations like whereby Google can decide to automatically rank its own products high on Google search results. It would also criminalize things like Apple forcing that U2 album down iPhone users throats, making some apps like "Safari" and "Health" uninstallable, and Microsoft forcing users to have Microsoft accounts if they want to use the Windows operating system.

2.The “Platform Competition and Opportunity Act: This act is meant to prohibit acquisitions of competitive threats by the dominant platforms as well as the acquisition of products that expand or entrench their market power.

If passed, some of the acquisitions which are to be outlawed by this act include instances like when Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp or when Google acquired Android, DoubleClick, and ITA software. At the time, all these acquisitions ensured that tech giants got rid of potential competitors and further expanded their market power which made it hard for anyone to try competing with them.

3.The “Ending Platform Monopolies Act: This act is meant to eliminate the ability of dominant platforms to leverage their control over multiple business lines to self-preference and disadvantage competitors in ways that undermine free and fair competition.

The act would make illegal an online platform using that same platform to sell its own goods and services as that would give rise to instances of conflict of interest. It would also criminalize tech companies requiring users to purchase a prerequisite product or service before being able to use another of their products or service. As an example, this act would criminalize the fact that if a user wants to use Apple Music, they first have to purchase an Apple product so they can have access to that service or the fact that Amazon is able to sell its own private brands like Pinzon, Amazon Fresh, Solimo, etc on the Amazon marketplace.

4.The “Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act: The ACCESS act is meant to promote competition among online platforms by lowering barriers to entry and switching costs for businesses and consumers through interoperability and data portability requirements.

This act would force tech giants to make available to competitors application programming interfaces (APIs) and any other third-party interfaces in order to ensure that there can be interoperability between applications and quash the monopoly and close-knit nature of the so-called "tech ecosystems".

5.The “Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act: This act updates filing fees for mergers for the first time in two decades to ensure that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission have the resources they need to aggressively enforce the antitrust laws.

Tech giants have over the years seen their antitrust and anticompetitive cases drag on for a long time or go nowhere at all as a result of the DOJ's lack of resources. This act serves to increase these resources by increasing filing fees for merges which are a major source of revenue for the DOJ.

These five bipartisan bills show the determination on the part of legislators to break up the Big Tech monopolies and if some or all of them are passed, they would change the tech landscape completely as we know it. The tech giants are obviously not going to go down without a fight but the fact that both Republicans and Democrats are endorsing these bills will make lobbying efforts even more difficult.

For over a decade, tech companies have had the freedom and liberty to do doing as they please without any legislative constraints as they were allowed to regulate themselves. They have used that time as an opportunity to trample on users' privacy, control speech, and quash any competition that dares challenge them. Although there is no denying the amount of value that these companies have added to our lives over the years through their innovations, the time has come for them to be reined in and operate under laws that will ensure that they do not continue to do as they please without any repercussions.

The argument that regulating tech companies would stifle their innovation has long lost credibility. If their innovation is based on unethical business practices that come at the expense of users and small businesses then perhaps the world can do without such exploitative "innovation". If they are unable to play by the rules, then perhaps they do not deserve to play at all.