For the past decade Big Tech leaders have failed to address issues of mounting public concern about the industry: monopolistic practices, privacy invasion, disinformation and misinformation, and election interference.
Their lack of action has created a political vacuum that Congress is now rushing to fill. Tech leaders, in turn, are suddenly aghast at the package of bills passed by the House Judiciary Committee last week designed to substantially constrain the industry’s most profitable companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
They’re right to be alarmed. The bills are poorly crafted by authors who don’t fully understand how the industry works. But tech leaders have only themselves to blame for the conundrum they now face. Rather than stepping up when they had the opportunity, they largely whiffed on the issues.
That won’t cut it. Tech leaders now need to do more than just say no to legislation. They should actively work with Congress to solve the problems and ensure the future of the innovation economy. While the solutions might require cutting into short-term profits, the long-term survival of the industry is at stake.
For now, the latest bills are almost certain to fail. But that’s only because Senate Republicans are insisting that any legislation first address their perception of anti-conservative bias on social media platforms.
Make no mistake: The day of reckoning will come. The bills have bipartisan support in the House. And a federal judge’s dismissal last Friday of antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, filed by the U.S. government and 46 states, will only put more pressure on Congress to act.
Tech leaders must decide now whether they want to be part of the solution or a victim of their inaction.
The two most problematic — and far-reaching — bills in the package are Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline’s “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s “Ending Platform Monopolies Act.”
The bills are well-intended. They purport to prevent Facebook’s penchant for acquiring competitors and Apple’s practice of giving preferential treatment to its own products on its App Store.
They would prevent tech companies from running businesses that compete with others on their platform. They would also outlaw them offering services that businesses must buy to get access to the platform.
If they were to pass, say goodbye to Google including Google Maps in its search results. Or Apple preinstalling “Find My Phone” on its iPhones.
The Bay Area’s two representatives on the House Judiciary Committee, Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Eric Swalwell, D-Castro Valley, voted against the bills. Lofgren called Jayapal’s bill “a very extreme measure” and said it “would take a grenade and just roll it into the tech economy and blow it up.”
Tech leaders may be able to eventually block the worst elements of the congressional package. But it should be clear that momentum is building for Congress to rein in the industry’s abuses.
Tech leaders must get in the game if they want to help draw the industry rules for the years ahead. The alternative is sitting idly by while members of Congress write regulations that could stifle the next wave of innovation.
— The Mercury News