When conservatives say they want to rein in Big Tech, they often think first of stopping the censorship. They want to make sure Facebook isn’t blocking conservative political ads, Twitter isn’t banning Biden bombshells from The New York Post, and Google isn’t rigging search results to benefit one political party.
Some conservatives will go even further and suggest that the sheer market dominance of these companies is the greater threat to America. While the issue of Big Tech censorship often breaks down along predictable ideological lines, there is significant bipartisan agreement about going after the concentrated corporate power of the Silicon Valley behemoths.
In an April poll of nine battleground states, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance – a group funded in part by Google – found that 68 percent of voters supported an antitrust crackdown against the most powerful Big Tech companies. If Congress wants to appeal to these voters, it should embrace antitrust and pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO).
A Bipartisan Check on Big Tech Monopolies
The bipartisan bill, often referred to as the “non-discrimination” antitrust bill, would ban Big Tech platforms from engaging in certain anti-competitive behaviors, such as unfairly preferencing their own products, impeding access to a rival company’s products, predatory use of sales data, and retaliation against users for raising potential issues of legality with law enforcement. The AICO recently passed 16-6 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to enjoy the same broad support if it comes to a full vote.
Of course, the specter of antitrust enforcement has generated a panic from the Big Tech firms and their lobbyists. They have claimed that the AICO and other antitrust bills will effectively usher in the digital apocalypse by destroying Amazon Prime, breaking Google Maps, and even banning FaceTime. None of this is true. But Big Tech’s hysterics over the possibility of having to follow a few basic rules should come as no surprise. As G.K. Chesterton famously said, “The rich have always objected to being governed at all.”
It is true that the AICO would put an end to unaccountable Big Tech platforms gaining unfathomable power by ripping everyone off. But oddly, in all this public harrumphing about the bill, there has been strikingly little said about how broken the status quo is, and how AICO would take important steps to fix it. It’s worth pausing to reflect on where we stand today.
How Big Tech Rips Off Small Businesses and Consumers
Consumers primarily use digital platforms like Amazon to buy products. Amazon effectively bans businesses that want to sell to these consumers from offering their products for a cheaper price anywhere else, even if a business could ship cheaper directly from its own website.
This is particularly tough because many businesses are forced to pay fees as high as 40 percent of the product price to maintain reasonable access to Amazon. Businesses often find they cannot appear under the sales option unless they sign up for Amazon fulfillment services, advertising, and participating in Prime.
All of these fees add up to a huge tax on businesses, and because of Amazon’s policies these firms are forced to charge that same price everywhere. AICO would forbid these unfair conditions and let businesses set their own prices on various platforms, which would immediately result in lower prices for consumers.
Not only have Big Tech companies driven up prices for products, they’ve made it difficult to find these products in the first place. Google has taken the open internet and transformed it into a glorified classified section. When someone types in a search, not only is she bombarded with ads, but seemingly all remaining screen real estate is filled with links to Google’s own products – Google Maps, Google Shopping, Google’s reviews service, etc.
This is intentionally designed to ensure that users never stop contributing time, money, and attention to the Google ecosystem. AICO would prevent Google from hiding its competitors in search or favoring its own products just because Google owns them. This would dramatically improve the consumer’s search experience.
How Tech Monopolies Limit Your Freedom
Meanwhile, Apple and Google tightly control what you can do with your own devices. You can download any software you’d like on most computers, but when you buy a phone that runs Apple iOS or Google Android, these platforms restrict how and what apps you can download and how you pay for goods and services within those apps.
They preload the phones with Apple or Google software, set the defaults on all services to their preferred option, and often don’t allow you to delete that software or change the defaults. AICO prohibits these restrictions on software choice unless they are necessary for security or functionality, giving consumers more control over how they use their phones.
It’s hard enough running a business in this economy, but the tech giants have managed to make it much more difficult by forcing small businesses to endure a parade of horribles. Small businesses are forced to pay exorbitant fees to Amazon just for the ability to sell. Meanwhile, they live in constant fear of having their sales strategy copied by Amazon Basics, which notoriously hunts through merchant sales data to pick off their best products after the small business takes on all the risk and does all the work to prove the concept successful.
Apple does much the same thing to app developers, who have no choice but to submit their app to the App Store review process and pray that Apple decides not to steal their idea. And if you’ve created a unique website that consumers enjoy, beware of Google, a company that plagiarizes content so brazenly and so frequently it must make Vanilla Ice blush.
On top of all of this, there is the constant threat that if anyone speaks out, he risks being cut off (and having his business destroyed) for daring to voice dissent. AICO would help rebalance this power dynamic by providing protections to small businesses from Big Tech’s self-preferencing, anti-competitive interference, and unfair retaliation.
Let’s be honest: it’s the Wild West out there. Big Tech monopolies are getting away with economic murder. We need rules to make sure there’s a level playing field for small businesses to compete. The AICO is a common-sense bill that basically amounts to a ban on cheating. The fact that it has garnered such an aggressive reaction from Big Tech is a tell – they know they’ve been making out like bandits, and they want to keep it that way.