Lawmakers signal changes for big tech in antitrust hearings

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Congressional lawmakers have signaled coming changes to the government's antitrust approach in a hearing that targeted big tech companies.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law met to discuss large tech companies’ rising power, with lawmakers vowing to change conditions under which tech companies operate. Yesterday's hearing was the first in a series to explore potential reforms to help level the tech industry playing field.

House Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler warned that antitrust regulations needed a shakeup to deal with big tech's increasing power.

"The rise and abuse of gatekeeper power by a few dominant firms has undermined the goals of the open internet," Nadler said. "Instead of having an open, competitive ecosystem, online gatekeepers can and do put a thumb on the scale in favor of their own business and against innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups."

David Cicilline, chair of the Subcommittee, put it more succinctly. "Change is coming," he said. "Laws are coming."

There were no big tech companies at the hearings yesterday. Instead, representatives from various organizations, including the American Economic Liberties Project, Public Knowledge, the Global Antitrust Institute, economics consultancy Econ One, and legal firm Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Fredrick, testified on topics ranging from data interoperability to non-discrimination.

Eric Gundersen, CEO of mapping company MapBox, explained why he wanted Google to open its mapping data to others. Charlotte Slaiman, competition director at Public Knowledge, advocated for interoperability measures that would require big tech companies to open their data so consumers could move easily between networks.

Other suggestions included a tribunal for companies to air cases of alleged discrimination that favor their platforms. This is prescient, given Epic's current battle against Apple, which it claims has unfairly used its app store platform’s power.

Lawmakers will conduct more hearings over the next few weeks, including one exploring the technology industry's focus on journalism. Facebook has been embroiled in a dispute with the Australian government over its insistence that it pays news organizations when linking to their news from its platform.

This event follows a large Congressional antitrust hearing last July where lawmakers grilled tech CEOs directly. The House Judiciary Committee followed that up with a lengthy report in October detailing an extensive investigation into big tech antitrust practices. Later that month, the Department of Justice charged Google with antitrust violations, and the FTC launched its antitrust case against Facebook.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.