Tue. May 24th, 2022

A U.S. Senate committee will begin discussing a number of bills designed to reform technology regulation and limit the power of Big Tech, which warns companies could have serious consequences for their products and services.

The Senate Legal Affairs Committee is scheduled to two accounts – the US Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) and the Open App Markets Act – Thursday. As they progress past the committee, the bills will be sent to the Senate floor for a vote.

The central provisions include the prohibition on the misuse of data in order to gain a competitive advantage; biased search results to favor a search engine’s own products; and any requirements for third-party merchants to pay for a platform’s services in exchange for more prominent placement.

They represent the most important effort still by legislators to the power of Big Tech, which as one of the few dual worries in Washington. Thursday’s hearing will give the first indication of whether such legislation might pick up enough bipartisan support to survive to be filibustered in the tightly torn upper room.

Corporate lobbyists say they expect the legislation to pass the committee stage with little difficulty, as four of its Republican members are co-sponsors, including Chuck Grassley, the committee’s most senior Republican.

Opponents of the bill have so far been confident that it will not get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate, but there are signs that confidence is waning.

Prior to the trial, Big Tech and business lobbyists took issue with the law and warned against serious consequences if the bills became law.

“We believe that updating technology regulations in areas such as privacy, AI and child and family protection can provide real benefits,” wrote Kent Walker, Google’s Chief Legal Officer. “But breaking our products will not address any of these issues.”

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s public policy chief, assert the bill singled out the online retailer while “preferential treatment is given to other large retailers involved in the same practices”.

In a letter obtained by the Financial Times, Apple told the committee the bills “will reward those who were irresponsible with users’ data and empower bad actors who will target consumers with malware, ransomware and scams”.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday the legislation “will eventually lead us down a pretty dangerous path.”

The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a think tank backed by Big Tech, also released results of research on what it described as the “irreparable damage” that the U.S. technology industry could inflict through AICOA.

The PPI claimed popular products and services would become a shadow of their former selves, which would “seriously” hamper more modern features of Google’s search engine, such as additional functionality when searching flights or finding a restaurant.

“It may look something like mid-1990s search engines,” the report said, along with a screenshot of Yahoo! website in 1994.

However, AICOA has found support among smaller technology companies. Earlier this week, a joint letter to the Senate committee, signed by more than 40 technology companies, including Google rival DuckDuckGo and audio hardware specialists Sonos, encouraged the bill.

“For too long,” the letter read, “dominant technology companies have made it difficult for other businesses to compete in the digital market by abusing their gatekeeper status to give themselves and their partners preferential treatment and access on their platforms.”

Additional post by Patrick McGee in San Francisco

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