Jan 20, 2022 - Technology

Tech antitrust bill headed to Senate floor

Illustration of a laptop on a scale with the logos of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google on its screen
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A bipartisan antitrust bill targeting "self-preferencing" by major tech platforms is on its way to the Senate floor, after the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably voted on it Thursday.

Why it matters: Today's vote puts the bill one step closer to President Biden's desk. If passed, it would mark a major blow to tech companies, which could completely change the way they operate.

Driving the news: The American Innovation and Choice Online Act passed through the committee with a 16-6 vote.

  • It would prohibit Big Tech companies from favoring their own services in an anti-competitive way, something smaller tech companies have accused companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Meta of doing for years.
  • The vote took place after a flurry of lobbying from major tech platforms, including up to the CEO level, who argued the process has been rushed and that the bill as written would majorly hurt their ability to serve customers.

Yes, but: The fight for a floor vote will be fierce. The House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of antitrust bills aimed at Big Tech in June, but they have not yet received a vote by the full chamber.

What they're saying: During an at-times contentious hearing, a number of senators, including California Democrats (who ended up voting to advance the bill out of committee) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said they had large concerns about the bill. Others said they would support it, but that it needs further work before a full Senate vote.

  • "I'm not yet convinced that this bill as currently drafted will actually provide the net benefit to consumers that we're seeking," said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California agreed, saying the bill specifically targets companies headquartered in her home state but should include any company engaging in alleged unfair conduct.
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also supported the bill out of committee, but has concerns about how it might affect platforms' ability to protect privacy and thinks it needs to be changed before a full Senate vote.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voted to move the bill out of committee. He said it had issues and that he had spoken to Apple CEO Tim Cook about it, but disagreed with Cook's arguments.

What's next: The bill will move to the Senate floor, but it's possible the committee will hold another hearing on it.

  • Some in the tech sector were heartened by the Democratic lawmakers who said the bill needs work before a Senate floor vote, and see a path to squelching support.
  • "We're talking about a vote to make this law — I think we're a long ways from people feeling comfortable," a tech industry source told Axios.

Reality check: Getting antitrust legislation done is a goal for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections, but as the party struggles to pass key priorities like major voting rights and social spending bills, it won't be easy.

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