House lawmakers have called for sweeping measures to “rein in” Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, comparing the tech giants to the big business monopolies that controlled the U.S. economy in the late 19th century.
In a 449-page report, the House Judiciary Committee said its 16-month investigation of the companies established that they have “too much power,” resulting in “less innovation, fewer choices for consumers, and a weakened democracy.”
The report recommended spinning off or separating parts of their businesses or making it harder to buy smaller companies, strengthening antitrust laws and empowering agencies that police market concentration.
“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” the lawmakers said. “Although these firms have delivered clear benefits to society, the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google has come at a price.”
The four companies have a combined market value of more than $5 trillion. The report said they had monopoly power over markets, including online advertising and social networking (Facebook), software app distribution (Apple), and search advertising (Google).
“The House report is the most significant government effort to check the world’s largest tech companies since the government sued Microsoft for antitrust violations in the 1990s,” The New York Times said.
Republicans have voiced objections to some of the report’s bolder proposals, such as restructuring the companies and their business models. But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, said that while he disapproves of sweeping changes to the antitrust laws, “There actually is a lot that we agree on, including the lack of sufficient scrutiny on past activity by these companies.”
The report cited “evidence that the antitrust agencies failed, at key occasions, to stop monopolists from rolling up their competitors and failed to protect the American people from abuses of monopoly power.”
Of Facebook’s nearly 100 acquisitions, it noted, the Federal Trade Commission engaged in an extensive investigation of just one — the purchase of Instagram in 2012.