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Protocol | Policy

Bad news for Big Tech: There's bipartisan agreement on antitrust reforms

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.

Bad news for Big Tech: There's bipartisan agreement on antitrust reforms

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.

Buck said he still doesn't agree with his Democratic counterpart's efforts to create "Glass-Steagall legislation" for the internet age, a sweeping reform that would prevent companies like Amazon from owning a marketplace while competing within it. Buck argued that could take a "chainsaw to the whole economy."

But the two top members of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee did tee up multiple pieces of antitrust legislation that could have a chance of making it through the Senate, which requires some Republican support. Buck, in particularly, identified three core areas where he sees a path forward, harkening back to his "Third Way" report last year:

  • Increasing funding for the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission's antitrust efforts. This is the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of bipartisan proposals to reform antitrust, and it plays a significant role in Senator Amy Klobuchar's recent antitrust legislation. Most antitrust experts take it as a given that the agencies need far more resources, and even expanded authorities, in order to bring the best cases against the Googles and Facebooks of the world.
  • Enacting data portability and interoperability rules. Legislation along these lines could require dominant platforms to make their services compatible with one another and make it easier for consumers to take their data with them. It was one of the key proposals laid out in the Democrats' antitrust report last year. Facebook has its own ideas about how that could look, and certain models pose serious privacy concerns. Progressives are likely to say that this kind of regulation does not go far enough. But each of the witnesses, which included a cross section of both progressives and antitrust skeptics, agreed Congress should explore creating rules around portability and interoperability.
  • Reforming the burden of proof in merger cases. Currently, the burden is on the government to prove that mergers are anti-competitive. But many reform proposals say it's time to flip that around, requiring dominant firms to justify why certain mergers aren't problematic. This could be a sticky area for many Republicans, who are likelier to say that this assumes the platforms are guilty until proven innocent. But it's been touted by key members of President Joe Biden's circle, including Bill Baer, former assistant attorney general for the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division, who helped out with Biden's FTC transition team.

Cicilline said that he is planning to put out legislation after a series of hearings over the next month about antitrust. Those hearings are not likely to include any Big Tech CEOs, but are instead intended to delve into specific proposals around how to address the firms' outsized power. It's possible he could introduce several pieces of legislation, some with Republican sign-on and some without.

"Change is coming," Cicilline said at the hearing. "Laws are coming."

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.

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Protocol | Workplace

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Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

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Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Enterprise

Alphabet goes deep into industrial robotic software with Intrinsic

If it succeeds, the gambit could help support Google Cloud's lofty ambitions in the manufacturing sector.

Alphabet is aiming to make advanced robotic technology affordable to customers.

Photo: Getty Images

Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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