After years of reprimands and flicks, US elected officials want to bring out the heavy artillery against the tech giants: a parliamentary committee is due to debate Wednesday five bills that pave the way for potential dismantling of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, the famous Gafa.
If this reform were then approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, it would be big enough to transform the internet as these big companies have shaped it.
To begin with, these companies, accused of abuse of a dominant position by many authorities, would no longer have the right to operate platforms for third-party companies while offering competing services.
A potential major blow to Apple and Amazon, which have been criticized for years for being both judges and parties respectively on the App Store (the iPhone manufacturer’s application store) and the online sales site. line.
“This would have significant negative effects for the hundreds of thousands of US SMEs that sell products through our store,” said Brian Huseman, a vice president of Amazon, in a statement Tuesday. He also referred to the risk of price increases for consumers as a result of “lower competition”.
“The (judicial committee of the House of Representatives) is moving too quickly, unnecessarily, on these bills,” he continued, before encouraging the elected David Cicilline, an anti-Gafa member of this commission, to “slow down” to avoid “unintended negative consequences”.
– Ultra dominant firms –
Elected officials are also seeking to prevent Silicon Valley from prioritizing its products or services – with Google in their sights. And the largest groups would no longer have the right to acquire competitors.
Another measure would also impose the “portability” of data and the “interoperability” of services. Facebook users could then more easily leave the social network, taking their contacts and personal information with them.
“It’s no longer antitrust, it’s regulation,” said Fiona Scott Morton, economist and professor at Yale University.
According to this former executive of the American administration, this desire to upset the industry comes from the failure of the authorities, in the United States and elsewhere, to control firms that have become ultra dominant.
After years in which Europe led the offensive, Washington has finally stepped in. Lawsuits have been launched in recent months, notably against Google and Facebook, for infringement of competition law. Many investigations are still ongoing.
President Joe Biden has appointed several anti-monopoly figures to major positions, including lawyer Lina Khan, recently confirmed as head of the US competition authority (FTC).
In the US Parliament, many Democrats have made this issue their main concern. Their bills are also supported by Republicans, a good omen for the vote in the House. Their fate in the Senate is less guaranteed.
– “Break what works” –
Nothing to worry about Wall Street for the moment. According to analyst Dan Ives, investors view this threat “with calm”, because politicians remain divided. In addition, “without fundamental change in existing laws, the antitrust momentum will crash against a wall,” he said in a note from his firm, Wedbush Securities.
If the five laws come into force, the platforms will have to “operate like airlines, or gas and electricity companies, which must provide their services to anyone who wants them, without giving privileges to anyone, including themselves”, analyzes Christopher Sagers, a specialist in competition law and professor at Cleveland State University.
Critics of these reforms say they fear some very popular services will disappear.
“As voters expect elected officials to deal with pressing issues for the country, it seems hard to believe Congress is on the verge of banning Amazon Prime and Amazon Basics (both subscriptions and products from the brand, editor’s note), to ban the pre-installation of (Apple’s messaging systems) iMessage and FaceTime on iPhones and to ban Google from including Google Maps in its search results, “13 professional organizations wrote on Monday in partly financed by the Gafa.
“We believe voters want Congress to fix what is broken, rather than smashing or banning what works well,” they added.
Jerry Nadler, chairman of the judiciary commission, said for his part that these laws will “put in place the foundations of a stronger economy and democracy for the American people, by controlling the power of the most dominant firms in line”.