Big Tech.
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Big Tech antitrust is moving. Here are the newest rules.

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Another day, another version of antitrust legislation. But as the Senate sprints up on its do-or-die moment on tech competition, even small changes can affect the fate of a bill, and the industry. Plus, the latest airing of grievances between Meta and Apple and why a top blockchain advocate wants people to cut the trash talk on Twitter.

Processing the trust

Tech antitrust crusaders in the Senate are racing against the clock — and some Democratic jitters — to finalize their proposals. A new version of the antitrust package dropped earlier this week, prompting a lot of bickering and unsupported claims. Senate leadership reportedly plans to actually bring the tech nondiscrimination bill up for a vote within weeks. Here’s what’s in the newest iteration.

First, fintech is really out.

  • If you’re a Big Tech ally, this is proof that giveaways for special interests have rotted the process and lawmakers continue their political — rather than practical — fixation on Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta.
  • And if you support the bipartisan legislation from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, then the tweaks just fulfill the bill’s prior intention to get out of the way of already highly regulated industries.

Next, the amendment makes it a bit easier for a tech giant to defend its privacy measures against accusations they’re anticompetitive — after the companies hammered lawmakers on the issue and implied the original text made cyber thieves giddy.

  • In the old version, to qualify for the defense, privacy/security/user safety measures had to be built incredibly carefully and couldn’t harm competition any more than absolutely necessary.
  • Now, seemingly in recognition that there can be trade-offs between privacy and antitrust, data protection can be a bit more imperfect as long as it’s not “materially” exclusionary to rivals.
  • There are also adjustments making it harder for the government to get injunctions, a lower cap on penalties and more process around CEOs forfeiting pay for repeat violations, said Matt Kent, competition policy advocate at consumer group Public Citizen.

Most provisions haven’t really changed, despite some initial claims.

  • No, the new text is not removing TikTok, as one tech ally claimed, or lowering standards of evidence.
  • A provision that had given hope to some on the right (and worried some on the left) that the proposal would get in the way of content and app moderation is staying the same as well.
  • Allies of the bill have always insisted that lawsuits trying to stop moderation would get tossed quickly enough.

The companies aren’t going for it, of course.

  • “Instead of addressing issues Americans care about — like privacy, online child safety and inflation — the bill poses new privacy and security risks, while targeting free and popular products and services,” Mark Isakowitz, Google’s VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, said in a statement.
  • Trade groups are amping up the rhetoric further, railing now that the bill goes too far on national security, hurts retirement funds and even endangers the privacy of abortion information.
  • (Get these poor lobbyists some aloe: They can’t resist pressing hot buttons.)

And even some Democrats aren’t on board.

  • The party, after all, is facing another shellacking in the midterms that’ll almost certainly cause it huge electoral losses. Some vulnerable senators see the antitrust bill as a distraction or even a hurt, POLITICO reported.
  • Republicans do seem to have gotten a bit less enthusiastic about kicking Big Tech if Democrats would be doing it, and Democrats’ fortunes probably do hinge more on whether people can feed their babies and afford their commutes to work.

Still, frustration with tech does seem to trump even interparty rivalry on some issues, and the bill’s GOP supporters may be able to make up for a deficit of Democrats facing tough races. Plus, the measure would have to pass in the House too. The question then becomes whether the bill’s backers need to make any more changes to finish it.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

Twitter will pay $150 million to settle claims it secretly used phone numbers and email addresses it collected in the name of account security for targeting ads to users. The actions allegedly violated a 2011 order from the FTC that directed the company not to misrepresent its privacy or security practices. Twitter probably thinks it worked out: The company originally floated that it might owe up to $250 million, and it got away without any executives being named.

Sen. Mark Warner brought back his bipartisan bill requiring portability of social media data and interoperability between services, now with an expanded roster of supporters. Many experts hope that portability and interoperability could bring much-needed competition to companies like Meta, but even regulation-happy Europeans have found it hard to pull off while leaving the ad-supported business model in place.

The CFPB is demanding banks and lenders explain their algorithmic decisions, especially when denying credit. Would-be borrowers have a right to “specific reasons” for such a denial, and the CFPB warned financial institutions that making those decisions through complex AI doesn’t get them around their obligations.

Newly installed FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya has brought on Aaron Rieke as his chief of staff. Rieke is a longtime critic of platforms, and recently served as managing director of the civil rights group Upturn. Bedoya also brought on Max Miller, a former Iowa attorney general staffer who played a key role in one of the multistate antitrust lawsuits against Google.

In the states

An Amazon-inspired bill to expand antitrust law in New Yorkpassed the state’s Senate again, although a supporter in the assembly said it doesn’t appear ready to get a thumbs-up from the lower chamber this year.


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In the courts

Another Twitter shareholder is suing Elon Musk for allegedly manipulating the company’s share price. This suit claims that Musk’s tweets about bots on Twitter are "designed to create doubt" and drive Twitter’s stock price down.

On Protocol

Meta told the NTIA that Apple’s gaming and app tracking restrictions are “self-serving tactics” that inhibit Meta’s ability to innovate and reach users. The filing came as part of the NTIA’s competition research, which itself is a response to a Biden administration executive order.

The founder of the blockchain-focused Chamber of Digital Commerce wants crypto advocates to keep criticism of the SEC professional, and she’s put a Bible quote in her Twitter bio to prove it.

In data

Strong majorities of all voters say social media is at least “somewhat responsible for the spread of extremist ideologies such as white supremacy and antisemitism,” according to a Morning Consult poll. That was most of any choice, including the news media and various political figures and parties. The survey was conducted in the wake of the racist mass shooting in Buffalo earlier this month. The person charged in the spree appears to have adopted some of his views on 4chan.


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Can I have your number?

Opponents of Klobuchar’s tech-antitrust push apparently bought a TV spot urging voters to stop Senate bill 2922. The antitrust measure, though, is actually bill 2992. (Bill 2922, introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, proposes to investigate the U.S. war in Afghanistan.)

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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