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Democrats call for Congress to rein in, break up Big Tech

ap photo This file combination of 2019-2020 photos shows Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers are calling for Congress to rein in Big Tech, possibly forcing Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to break up their businesses, while making it harder for them to acquire others and imposing new rules to safeguard competition.

The proposals in a report issued Tuesday follow a 15-month investigation by a House Judiciary Committee panel into the companies’ market dominance.

Those kinds of forced breakups through a legislative overhaul would be a radical step for Congress to take toward a powerful industry. The tech giants for decades have enjoyed light-touch regulation and star status in Washington, but have come under intensifying scrutiny and derision over issues of competition, consumer privacy and hate speech.

The 450-page report offers Congress a possible roadmap for action, potentially with a new balance of political power in Congress and a new president next year. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden has said that company breakups should be considered. If such steps were mandated, they could bring the biggest changes to the tech industry since the federal government’s landmark case against Microsoft almost 20 years ago.

The investigation found, for example, that Google has monopoly power in the market for search, while Facebook has monopoly power in the social networking market. The report said Amazon and Apple have “significant and durable market power” in the U.S. online retail market, and in mobile operating systems and mobile app stores, respectively.

Some critics of the companies have singled out Facebook’s Instagram and WhatsApp services and Google’s YouTube and Android cellphone operating system as among the businesses that should be considered for divestiture.

The report said the four companies have abused their market power by charging excessive fees, imposing tough contract terms and extracting valuable data from individuals and businesses that rely on them.

“Each platform now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution,” the report says. “By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy.”

In addition to proposing separations of some dominant tech platforms from the companies’ other businesses, the report also calls for the platforms to be required to offer equal terms for equal products and services for all users. It proposes laws be changed to impose a higher bar for approving future tech industry mergers and acquisitions.

And it asks Congress to boost the enforcement powers of antitrust regulators, such as the Federal Trade Commission, and to increase the budgets of the FTC and the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Although the Judiciary antitrust subcommittee’s investigation was bipartisan, Republican lawmakers on the panel didn’t sign on to most of the recommendations.

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