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Policy

Amy Klobuchar’s new legislation should scare Big Tech

Her trust-busting plan actually has a shot.

Amy Klobuchar’s new legislation should scare Big Tech

Klobuchar's Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act of 2021, a refurbished version of bills she's introduced over the last few years, is a serious legislative salvo against Big Tech as Democrats assume power.

Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar is finally in power, and she's not wasting a second.

Klobuchar, the new chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, on Thursday will introduce sweeping legislation to reform the country's trust-busting laws, with a special focus on reining in the unprecedented power of the largest tech companies.

Klobuchar's Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act of 2021, a refurbished version of bills she's introduced over the last few years, is the most serious legislative salvo against Big Tech in years. It comes as Democrats assume power over both chambers of Congress and the White House — and Klobuchar has made it clear that she intends to use this opportunity to push her vision of antitrust reform.

"With a new administration, new leadership at the antitrust agencies and Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House, we're well-positioned to make competition policy a priority for the first time in decades," Klobuchar said during a tech conference last month.

Klobuchar's legislation doesn't go as far as the recent report from her counterpart in the house, Rep. David Cicilline. She's not calling for breaking up Facebook or putting an immediate moratorium on all tech mergers. But her reforms would go a long way in fundamentally changing how the tech industry operates.

The legislation would make it harder for powerful firms with substantial market power to acquire smaller companies and forbid mergers that present an "appreciable risk of harming competition." It would force companies like Facebook and Google to prove to government regulators that their mergers would not disrupt the marketplace or increase market concentration.

It would also grant government regulators — namely, the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission — new powers and resources to penalize companies acting anti-competitively. It would dole out $484.5 million to DOJ's antitrust division and and $651 million to the FTC. Right now, the agencies are hobbled and limited in how much damage they can do when they find a business is abusing their power. But Klobuchar's legislation would give them significant penalty power, allowing them to bring penalties amounting to up to 15% of the violator's total U.S. revenues or 30% of their U.S. revenues in the affected markets.

Klobuchar's legislation would update the Clayton Act to explicitly prohibit business practices that harm competitors and bar "monopsonies": when there is a market dominated by a single buyer. Experts have argued that the tech industry is made up of a series of monopsonies, pointing to examples like Apple's App Store or Google's search advertising dominance, and antitrust advocates have been pushing for the law to clearly bar this practice.

Klobuchar, who is a moderate, has previously gotten flack from progressive antitrust advocates who say she doesn't go far enough. It's possible they will push her to go further this time around as well.

But the legislation as it stands still has a lot of hurdles to surmount. Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and they still need Republican buy-in for large legislative efforts like antitrust reform, which they're unlikely to get. And they're certain to face a blitz of aggressive lobbying from every company that could be affected by the bill, including Big Ag and Big Pharma alongside Big Tech. But she's poised to move forward with support from Cicilline, who was just selected to helm the House's antitrust subcommittee again. And in many ways, their collective efforts are a more serious threat than any Section 230 or privacy legislation on the table right now.

"I'm looking forward to finally having the gavel to be able to mark up bills and send them to the floor," Klobuchar said last month. And she means it.

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Policy

Bad news for Big Tech: Bipartisan agreement on antitrust reform

Democrats and Republicans found common ground during the first House hearing on antitrust of the new Congress. Here's what that means for tech giants.

The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee held their first hearing of the 117th Congress.

Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

During the first House antitrust hearing of the new Congress, Democratic chairman David Cicilline and Republican ranking member Ken Buck made it clear they intend to forge ahead with a series of bipartisan reform efforts that could cut into the power of the largest technology companies.

"We will work on a serious bipartisan basis to advance these reforms together," Cicilline said during his opening remarks Thursday.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Protocol | Enterprise

AWS has avoided antitrust scrutiny. That could change soon.

Legislators and regulators are looking closely for evidence of contract pricing, self-preferencing and whether lock-in is hurting customers.

AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud have all invested billions of dollars in cloud infrastructure.

Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

The days of AWS flying under the antitrust radar are over.

Cloud computing has grown at a dizzying speed since 2006, when AWS launched its first cloud service. A generation of tech companies found themselves more than willing to pay handsomely to outsource their hardware and networking needs — as well as an ever-growing percentage of their software development tools — to the company.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET and paidContent, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

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