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Why Consumers Should Oppose the Latest Senate Antitrust Actions

By Yaël Ossowski

The U.S. Senate is considering two antitrust bills by Sen. Amy Klobuchar that would significantly harm both consumer choice and innovation.

Unfortunately, these bills have been co-sponsored by members of both political parties, creating what looks like a bipartisan consensus in the Senate chamber, but not one favored by the vast majority of American consumers.

Both the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act appear to be general antitrust regulations but are in fact targeted attacks on consumers who benefit from the services of a handful of tech companies.

While there are plenty of reasons to criticize certain tech companies and their business or moderation decisions, inviting the government to control, direct, or otherwise halt innovative goods and services from specific tech companies would create more problems for consumers than it would solve.

Don’t You Dare Sell Your Own Products

The first bill would aim to outlaw “discriminatory conduct” by the platforms targeted, mostly concerning their own products and applications. Think of the vast array of Amazon Basics products, Google’s services other than search, or even Facebook offering Messenger.

These goods and services are offered by companies because the firms have built up specialized knowledge and consumer demand exists for them. Even though these firms sell products and offer services from third parties, they also sell their own, similar to Walmart’s “Good Value” brand or even “George” clothing line.

When it comes to tech offerings, as noted by Adam Kovacevich of the Chamber of Progress, this would basically halt Amazon Prime, it would block Apple from pre-loading iMessage and Facetime, and require Apple and other phone makers to allow third-party apps to be “sideloaded” outside the traditional app store. Not only would this be inconvenient for consumers who like and use these products, but it would also make it harder to innovate, thus depriving consumers of better goods and services that could come down the line.

Don’t You Dare Acquire Other Companies

The second bill more radically alters existing antitrust law by basically baring large-capitalization tech firms from acquiring or even investing in other firms. Again, this

The rise of Silicon Valley has been an unadulterated success for American consumers, owing to the entrepreneurship of startups, companies and investors who see value in them, and the unique pollination of both talent and capital that has made American technology a dominant global player.

This bill purports to ensure consumers are protected from the “evils” of Big Tech, but in reality, it would put American entrepreneurs at a significant disadvantage globally, inviting companies from illiberal countries to offer products to consumers and reducing the options and choices for anyone who enjoys technology products.

Why Consumers Should Oppose

Rather than protect the consumer, these bills would have serious impacts on the overall consumer experience and consumer choice: 

  • They would restrict the innovative growth of US platforms while giving tech firms abroad an advantage
  • They would degrade the consumer experience by reducing the options and services firms could offer 
  • They would empower the federal government to pick the winners and losers of technological innovation rather than consumers
  • They would limit the potential for small businesses to use these platforms to provide goods and services to their customers
  • They would increase the cost of regulatory compliance with federal mandates, which would raise prices for consumers

The American people benefit from a competitive and free market for all goods, services, and networks we use online. Weaponizing our federal agencies to break up companies, especially when there is no demonstrated case of consumer harm, will chill innovation and stall our competitive edge as a country.

If Congress wants to update antitrust for the 21st century they should:

  • Establish more clear penalties for breaches of data or consumer privacy and empower the Federal Trade Commission to act where necessary
  • Punish companies that violate  existing antitrust provisions that harm consumers
  • Better define the scope of the consumer welfare standard in a digital age

The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

The overwhelming majority of users are happy with online marketplaces and with their profiles on social platforms. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability of ordinary people to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up. 

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on. The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states.

The Consumer Choice Center stands opposed to antitrust actions on innovative tech firms

Today, the Consumer Choice Center sent a letter to the members of the House Judiciary Committee to explain our opposition to a series of bills soon to be introduced on the House floors related to antitrust actions.

The full letter is below, and available in PDF form to share.

Dear Member of the House Judiciary Committee,

As a consumer group, we write to you to raise your attention about a series of bills that will soon be introduced on the floor of the House and make their way to the House Judiciary Committee.

These bills, soon to be introduced by Democrats and co-sponsored by some Republicans, relate to antitrust actions to be taken against tech firms based in the United States.

These include the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, End Platform Monopolies Act, Platform Anti-Monopoly Act, Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, and Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act.

In our view, these bills are not about concern for the consumer, the consumer welfare standard as traditionally understood in antitrust law, or even because companies like Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft are “too big.” 

Rather, these actions are a zealous takedown of American innovators that will harm consumers and punish innovation. This is a dangerous precedent.

Many of the tech companies in the crosshairs offer free or inexpensive services to consumers in a competitive marketplace that boasts hundreds of social apps for messaging, photo sharing, social networking, and online marketplaces that offer quick delivery, stellar service, and unbeatable prices.

As consumers of these services, we understand that there are often decisions made by these companies that raise concerns. For political conservatives, the issue hinges on whether there is bias in the moderation of accounts, comments, and products. For liberals, it is about whether these companies are too powerful or too big to be reined in by government, and questions about how they pay their taxes or whether various tech companies played a part in getting Donald Trump elected in 2016.

These are all valid concerns, and we have been active in calling them out where necessary.

However, using the power of the federal government to break up innovative American companies subject to domestic law, especially in the face of mounting competition from countries that are not liberal democracies, such as China, is wrong and will lead to even more unintended consequences.

The American people benefit from a competitive and free market for all goods, services, and networks we use online. Weaponizing our federal agencies to break up companies, especially when there is no demonstrated case of consumer harm, will chill innovation and stall our competitive edge as a country.

If there are breaches of data or if consumer privacy is compromised, the Federal Trade Commission should absolutely issue fines and other penalties. We agree with this. If there are egregious violations of law, they should be dealt with immediately and appropriately.

Let us be clear: The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

The overwhelming majority of users are happy with online marketplaces and with their profiles on social platforms. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living. This is an especially important point.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability for ordinary people like myself or millions of other consumers to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up. 

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on. The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states. 

As such, when these bills come before you as legislators, we urge you, as a consumer advocacy group speaking for millions of people just like you around the country, to reject them. 

Sincerely Yours,

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director, Consumer Choice Center

yael@consumerchoicecenter.org

Low-battery warning fight

Microsoft’s carbon dating, Google in $1tn club, Logitech’s split keyboard

Don’t tell anyone, but my iPhone charger is hidden under some newspapers on my desk so that it’s less likely to go walkies when I’m not there.

I’ve always taken precautions, with people very eager to “borrow” this vital energy supply, and in future, I may have to bolt my chargers to the desk. The European Union just doubled the chances of me losing them this week when it revived the idea of universal chargers that would fit Apple, Samsung and any other smartphones.

Apart from the extra jeopardy I will face personally, the tech industry’s own selfish interests are in focus here. “The EU-enforced common charger is the enemy of progress” was the headline of a release from the corporate-backed Consumer Choice Center, which said any such move would undermine innovation and restrict competition. It echoed the argument when this last came up from Apple, which is the king of proprietary technologies and whose Lightning connectors are still cursed by anyone wanting to plug in a headphone jack.

I don’t buy their concerns. Where would we be without common USB and HDMI standards, and WiFi and Bluetooth, all with dongle-less backwards compatibility? I would happily trade a little innovation and commercial advantage for those invaluable conformities. 

Of course, legislators are always behind the tech curve and the common charger debate would become moot if we all bought wireless charging mats that removed the need for hard connections completely. Then again, some companies are not being as innovative in taking us to that bright new future as they think they are. Apple announced its AirPower wireless charging mats in 2017, but had to cancel the product less than two years later after struggling to make one that worked properly.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Microsoft’s carbon dating The software shop has gone further than other tech giants in committing to become “carbon negative” by 2030 and offset all carbon emissions made since it was founded. The $1.2tn company also announced a $1bn innovation fund to tackle the climate crisis.

2. There’s another trillion-dollar tech titan Alphabet on Thursday became the fourth Big Tech company to reach a market capitalisation of $1tn. Apple was the first public company to achieve the milestone, in August 2018, and is now more than a third of the way to a second trillion. It was followed by Amazon, which has since fallen back below the 13-digit threshold, and then Microsoft. Meanwhile, Tesla’s soaring share price is giving short sellers the heebie jeebies.

3. Peacock proud of its free streaming strategy The last major streaming debut is also the cheapest. Comcast unveiled its NBCUniversal Peacock streaming service on Thursday and said it would be free for its existing cable customers when it launches fully in July. There will be live sports and news, a large catalogue of older sitcoms, and the service will primarily rely on advertising rather than the subscriptions favoured by rivals. “We like the idea of zigging when others zag,” said NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke.

4. WhatsApp won’t rely on ads Facebook is dropping plans to show ads on its WhatsApp messaging service, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. WhatsApp disbanded the team working on integrating ads on to the platform recently and even the code they had created was deleted from the app.

5. Ad industry faces wrath of regulator The UK’s data protection regulator is braced to do battle with the country’s £13bn online advertising industry, saying it will start investigating individual companies that are in breach of European data protection law and enforcing it against them. The Information Commissioner’s Office said the ad industry had responded insufficiently to a six-month grace period to get its house in order.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at 
consumerchoicecenter.org

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