• Ed Lamar

Op-Ed: Newly proposed bills to limit online influence of tech giants will affect Alabama businesses

Ed Lamar, Our 360 News Opinion Contributor - edlamar@mail.com

We have all watched with chagrin as the COVID-19 pandemic flares up and once again threatens to disrupt our lives in countless ways. As we all know, the pandemic has severely curtailed in-person activities and threatened business models that small businesses have counted on since their inceptions. As a result, many Alabama businesses have survived the pandemic through the offering of digital services and by accessing online marketplace opportunities. This increased digitization of our lives is likely to outlast the pandemic in many ways, and it is important to ensure that we avoid adding regulatory burdens to technology that businesses now rely on to survive.


Unfortunately, two bills under consideration in the U.S House, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, HR 3816, and the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, HR 3825, would do just that.


These bills purported aim is to prevent the biggest technology companies — Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook — from engaging in anti-competitive practices. Most Alabamians are all for ensuring small businesses have a chance to survive and thrive. But the actual content of these bills could hurt more small businesses than they help, not mention cause dramatic inconvenience to consumers.


With all the challenges facing our country — pandemic recovery, crumbling infrastructure, racial equity, and climate change — it’s a bit strange that some policymakers think our biggest problem worth fixing is…Amazon Basics batteries.


According to press reports, Democrats on the House Antitrust Subcommittee are about to release several bills to curb the power of Big Tech. Some of the ideas, like boosting funding for law enforcement agencies and encouraging data portability, are laudable. We all want the government to police companies that hurt people, and all consumers want control over their own data. But based on preliminary reporting, two proposals from Rep. David Cicilline and Rep. Pramila Jayapal inexplicably target a whole host of tech conveniences that save people time and money and put tech to work for people.


Specifically, their bills would impose new “nondiscrimination” and “conflict of interest”

provisions that would turn Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft into the phone company, barring the kind of integrated product design that makes their product more useful for hundreds of millions of people. Cicilline and others have called this “Glass-Steagall for the Internet.”


To help illustrate the real-world impact of this proposal, here’s a list of 10 tech conveniences that Cicilline and Jayapal’s bills would effectively ban:


1. Amazon Prime free shipping

By requiring equal treatment of all products and marketplace sellers, the bills would make it impossible for Amazon to offer its Prime free shipping service for certain products.


2. Google Maps appearing in Google search results

The bills would prohibit Google from showing its maps in main search results when you search for a local business.


3. Facebook and Instagram cross-posting

The bills would make it impossible for Facebook to show your friends’ Instagram stories at the top of the news feed — and ban users’ one-touch cross-posting between Facebook and Instagram.


4. Apple’s App Store recommending the best apps

Because the bills ban platforms from discriminating among services that use its platform, Apple’s App Store could no longer recommend the best apps.


5. Amazon’s “buy box” recommending the best deal

Because the bills ban platforms from “choosing between similar companies that you host, Amazon’s “buy box” could no longer recommend the merchant with the best price and customer service.


6. Song lyrics in Google search results

Looking for song lyrics quickly? Google wouldn’t be able to just show you lyrics and would instead have to show you links to multiple lyric sites.


7. Apple apps pre-installed on iPhones

The iPhone wouldn’t be able to come with any Apple apps pre-installed — making it harder for the novice user to quickly get started with Safari, Note, or Apple Podcasts.


8. Facebook’s “mark safe during a disaster” tool

Facebook couldn’t promote its own tools, like its Safety Check during disasters or crises.


9. Amazon Basics brand products that save consumers money

Amazon would be effectively banned from offering its customers its money-saving generic brands.


10. Calculator results in Bing’s search results

Microsoft’s Bing browser couldn’t display its own calculator in search results — and would instead have to steer users to calculator websites.


Congress is right to consider smart and targeted regulations for the tech industry that ensure fairness and protect consumers, but I fail to see how the breakup of popular and widely used services that are offered at no or little cost is in the interest of consumers or the general public. I hope our congressional leaders will oppose HR 3816 and HR 3825.

 
Ed Lamar is an Alabama-based, independent, non-partisan commentator and content creator who writes and blogs about political and social issues. Contact him at edlamar@mail.com.

This op-ed reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Our 360 News.
0 comments