Will Congress Pass New Regulation on Big Tech? Time May Be Running Out.

Legislators on Capitol Hill are preparing for greater pressure on the bill to control the power of the country’s largest tech companies, as they see the window of opportunity closing fast before the midterm elections.

An important step forward, the Senate committee on Thursday voted to pass a bill that would ban companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google from promoting their own products over competitors. Many lawmakers in the House are pushing for a no-confidence motion that would make it easier for tech giants to break through. And some are making last-ditch efforts to strengthen privacy, protect children online, curb misinformation, block targeted advertising, and pass bills aimed at regulating artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency.

Most of the proposals before Congress are long shots. President Biden and top Democrats in Congress have said addressing industry power is a high priority, but a number of other issues are even higher on their list. These include enacting the Right to Vote Act, improving labor and supply chain barriers, developing social services packages and getting the nation out of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Still, the next few months are probably the last best chance for a while. After that, the focus will shift to midterm elections, and Democrats, who support efforts aimed at a much larger number of techs than Republicans, may lose control of Congress.

“This is a problem that has been going on for a long time, and it has become very clear to everyone,” said Minnesota Democrat Senator Amy Klobucher, who has pushed for tougher laws on tech companies. “But when you get to the fall, things will be very difficult to complete because everything is about elections.”

Congress has rallied around growing concerns about technology giants over the past several years. Still, dozens of bills have failed to pass, though many other countries have increased their rules for the industry.

When Mr. Biden, who took office last year, promised to inject more competition into the economy, especially in the tech sector. He appointed vocal tech critics to lead the no-confidence agencies, and this month, his press secretary said the president was “encouraged to see the bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to address the power of the tech platform through no-confidence laws.”

Bruce Reed, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, and Brian Deez, director of the National Economic Council, met Wednesday with executives from companies including Yelp and Sonos, which have been lobbying for no-confidence motion against tech giants. White House officials said they discussed “the difficulties that entrepreneurs, brick-and-mortar retailers and other businesses face in competing in areas dominated by some large platforms.” The administration said it expects to work with Congress, but has not endorsed any specific legislation aimed at companies.

The complication is that while both parties widely agree that Congress should do something, they often disagree on what it should be.

Over the past few years, dozens of privacy, speech, security and no-confidence bills have dried up amid disagreements over how to balance consumer protection while promoting Silicon Valley’s growth. Some bills, such as those addressed to online content moderators, are particularly polarizing: Democrats have called for action that would force companies to remove more misinformation and real-world content from their sites. Republicans have backed legislation to force companies to release more content.

“Everyone has a bone to choose from with Big Tech, but when it comes to bipartisanship, there’s something to be done,” said Rebecca Allensworth, a Vanderbilt law school professor who specializes in no-confidence laws.

“At the end of the day, regulation is regulation,” she said.

For example, a bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday could bar Amazon from buying on its Amazon-branded toilet paper and socks, making it difficult to compare products from other brands. It could force Apple to allow Apple Pay options in iPhone applications. And that could prevent Google from putting its own services, such as travel prices, restaurant reviews, and shopping results, at the top of search results.

Ms. Introduced by Klobutcher and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said the law aims to allay concerns that a handful of tech giants act as gatekeepers for digital goods and services. The combined market capitalization of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft is over $ 9 trillion. Some Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which passed 16 to 6. However, Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, reiterated his support for the “unintended consequences” for businesses under the law, with others saying the threats outweighed those concerns raised by tech giants.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz voted in favor of the bill, and his biggest concern was how giant social media companies handle content. He and other Republicans on the committee said they believe companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have censored conservative voices by banning right-wing sites, apps like Parlor and taking down the accounts of conservative individuals.

Mr. Cruz said. “I think it’s a meaningful step forward.”

Ms. Cloboucher described the vote as “a historic and important moment,” as Tech’s first no-confidence bill is intended to move the committee forward.

“As the dominant digital platform – some of the largest companies our world has ever seen – prioritizes its own products and services, we must implement policies to ensure that small businesses and entrepreneurs still have a chance to succeed in the digital marketplace,” she said.

But she admitted that there was a lot of work ahead for her and Mr. Grassley to persuade the Congress leadership to support the final route.

The bill is backed by a coalition of consumer groups and dozens of tech start-ups. Some consumer advocates have compared the law to a law that forced monopoly TV providers to give cable customers access to all networks. They say the action did not lead to the death of the cable television business, but prevented monopolies from closing the competition.

Sumit Sharma, senior researcher for tech competition at Consumer Reports, said the bill would benefit consumers by making it easier for them to install, select and use alternative apps and online services, enabling both consumers and small businesses to switch more easily. Ecosystems by combining and matching the services of different providers. “

Silicon Valley lobbyists have fought the bill in published opinion pieces, advertising campaigns and one-on-one appeals. Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, have called on legislators to oppose the bill.

Companies’ lobbyists have argued that the law could make it harder to remove malware and bugs in devices and make their services less useful. In a blog post on Tuesday, Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, drew a grim view of the implications of this and other bills: the company would have to stop mapping vaccination sites in search results if the law were passed, he said. It may need to stop blocking spam in Gmail. It may not be able to show a person seeking medical help “clarify information” and “instead you need to be directed towards a combination of low quality results.”

Companies have also said the proposals – focused on their vastness – will hurt small businesses. In recent months, Amazon has been urging merchants selling products through its marketplace to contact legislators with concerns about the bill.

Brian Husman, vice president of public policy for the company, said in a statement that the law could harm Amazon’s ability to offer sellers major shipping benefits or allow them on its platform altogether.

Ms. Klobutcher’s bill specifically targets a growing business for Amazon: it competes directly with outside merchants by offering its own products, such as its Amazon Basics line.

Amazon argues that many large retailers, such as Costco and Walmart, do just that. Said Mr. Hussein. Reacting to the companies’ arguments, two California Democrat senators, Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla, said the Silicon Valley giants were being unfairly targeted by a bill that could help rivals in China, such as TicTac and Tencent.

Ms. Kloebacher said tech companies have carried out misleading attacks. “They don’t like our bill,” she said. “You can see the ads on TV.”

Before Thursday’s session, Ms. Klobutcher and Mr. Grassley proposed changes that he said would eliminate concerns about user privacy and disrupting subscription services such as Amazon Prime. A new version is also expected to cover TikTok.

Even if Ms. Klobuchter’s bill passed the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, with its sponsors facing the daunting challenge of getting 60 senators to support it. In the House, proponents of the no-confidence motion need to have enough Republicans on board to hold Democrats accountable for opposing the proposals.

William E., former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “They’ve talked about a cascade of legal possibilities,” Kovacic said. “None of that happened. And the clock is ticking. “

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