White House hopeful unveils Big Tech breakup plan

‘TOO MUCH POWER’::US Senator Elizabeth Warren said that as president, she would appoint enforcers ‘committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers’

AFP, WASHINGTON

Sun, Mar 10, 2019 - Page 16

US Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Friday unveiled a proposal to break up Big Tech, arguing that firms such as Amazon, Google and Facebook hold “too much power” in society.

Warren said that as president, she would press for legislation to designate big online companies with revenue of at least US$25 billion as “platform utilities” barred from owning “any participants on that platform.”

The US senator seeking her party’s nomination for 2020 said that she would also appoint antitrust enforcers “committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers,” including acquisitions in the past few years by Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

“Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy,” she wrote in a blog post on Medium ahead of a New York rally where she was to speak about the plan.

“They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit and tilted the playing field against everyone else,” she added.

The proposal comes amid a growing “techlash” movement in the US against the firms — which have grown to become the world’s most valuable — and a series of antitrust investigations in Europe.

Critics accuse the firms of mishandling private user data and of abusing their dominance of certain sectors, such as online retail and Internet search.

Warren specifically said that she would seek to unwind Amazon’s acquisition of the Whole Foods Market Inc grocery chain and shoe retailer Zappos, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google’s integration of the ad tech firm DoubleClick, Internet of Things maker Nest and mobile navigation application Waze.

“Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy,” she wrote.

Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange and Google Search would be considered platform utilities under her proposal, Warren said.

By doing this, “small businesses would have a fair shot to sell their products on Amazon without the fear of Amazon pushing them out of business,” she said.

Warren’s plan sparked swift reactions from both sides of the issue.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which represents the three firms cited by Warren, disputed her analysis.

The “unwarranted and extreme proposal, which focuses on a highly admired and highly performing sector, is misaligned with progressive values, many of which are shared within the tech industry,” CCIA president Ed Black said.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank that follows the sector, said the plan “is not pro-consumer.”

Warren’s plan “reflects a ‘big is bad, small is beautiful’ ideology run amok,” Atkinson said.

“The proposal ignores the fact that many of the services big tech companies now provide free used to cost consumers money,” he added.

However, Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute, a group focused on competition in the tech sector, said that the plan is “moderate” and long overdue.

“Keep in mind that the Sherman Act is not just a civil statute, but a criminal one. Monopolization is a crime,” Stoller tweeted.

Charlotte Slaiman of the consumer group Public Knowledge also welcomed the proposal.

“We’re very concerned about situations where a company has free reign to control the playing field on which they compete,” she said.

Rutgers University antitrust law professor Michael Carrier said that the legal basis for taking on Big Tech would be shaky.

“You can’t break up a company just because they’re big,” Carrier said, adding that antitrust laws require monopolization and “exclusionary conduct.”

“Being big is not exclusionary conduct. While big tech companies could present concern, that’s not enough for a case,” he said.