Bipartisan support in US Congress' tech antitrust probe

In its first hearing about the power held by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, US lawmakers focused on the decline of the news industry.
In its first hearing about the power held by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, US lawmakers focused on the decline of the news industry. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • A congressional investigation into the power of big technology companies has kicked off with bipartisan concern from US lawmakers that the government's lax oversight of the industry may be doing more harm than good.

In its first hearing on the power held by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple on Tuesday, lawmakers focused on the decline of the news industry. They said they were troubled that the online digital advertising market, dominated by Google and Facebook, had siphoned off too much revenue from news organisations.

"Concentration in the digital advertising market has pushed local journalism to the verge of extinction," said Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Lawmakers criticised the Internet giants in a long list of grievances, including their dominance in the digital ad market, the spread of misinformation on their platforms, their acquisitions of smaller rivals and their handling of users' personal information.

The number of topics covered in the hearing and the lack of significant partisan bickering indicated that the House lawmakers are willing to carry out a deep probe of the industry.

Tuesday's hearing gave publishers a microphone after years of complaining about the big tech platforms. The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing 2,000 news organisations, has long argued that Facebook and Google have become the biggest online advertising companies at the expense of publishers, which now rely on the platforms to find audiences.

Lawmakers of both parties pointed out how some of their local newspapers had shut down in recent years.

 
 
 

"Smaller news organisations don't stand a fair negotiating chance when they try to negotiate deals with the platform giants," said Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican and co-author of the Bill with Mr Cicilline. "These giants stand as a bottleneck - a classic anti-trust problem - between consumers and the producers of news content."

Mr David Pitofsky, general counsel of News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, said "the marketplace for news is broken". Online platforms are "free riding" by selling ads tied to News Corp's content without paying to create it, he said. Those ads take money away from publishers' individual sites, he added, because advertisers prefer services that aggregate news.

News Corp supports Mr Cicilline and Mr Collins' Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The law would exempt publishers from anti-trust rules for four years, protecting them from charges of price collusion.

But Mr Matt Schruers, a vice-president at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said giving anti-trust exemptions to publishers was risky and could ultimately harm consumers and the economy.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2019, with the headline 'Bipartisan support in US Congress' tech antitrust probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe