Elizabeth Warren's plan: Break up Facebook, Amazon

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren speaking before a crowd in Queens, New York City, on Friday.
Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren speaking before a crowd in Queens, New York City, on Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is bidding to be the policy pacesetter in the Democratic presidential primary, has championed another expansive idea: a regulatory plan aimed at breaking up some of America's largest tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

At a rally in Queens, New York City, the neighbourhood that was to be home to a major new Amazon campus, Ms Warren laid out her proposal calling for regulators who would undo some tech mergers, as well as legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.

"We have these giant corporations - do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? - that think they can roll over everyone," Ms Warren told the crowd on Friday evening, drawing applause.

She compared Amazon to the dystopian novel and film series The Hunger Games, in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate. "I'm sick of freeloading billionaires," she said.

Ms Warren's policy announcement sent reverberations from New York to Silicon Valley, as she further cemented herself as one of the Democratic candidates most willing to call for large-scale changes to the country's structure in the name of equality.

Among the crowded field of Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, Ms Warren has done the most to add detail to those early proposals, including a plan for universal childcare, a tax on the country's wealthiest families, and, as of Friday, breaking up big technological giants.

FED UP

We have these giant corporations that... think they can roll over everyone... I'm sick of freeloading billionaires.

US SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN, who compared Amazon to the dystopian novel and film series The Hunger Games, in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate.

Ms Warren's regulatory plan would also force the rollback of some acquisitions by tech giants, her campaign said, including Facebook's deals for WhatsApp and Instagram, Amazon's addition of Whole Foods, and Google's purchase of Waze.

Companies would be barred from transferring or sharing users' data with third parties. Dual entities, such as Amazon Marketplace and AmazonBasics, would be split apart.

Pressure for elected officials to place additional oversight on mega-tech companies has been building for months, particularly after revelations that companies such as Facebook may have violated customer privacy agreements.

Ms Warren is also sending a political warning shot across the Democratic primary field, where decisions on how much to embrace or reject Silicon Valley and its wealthy donors could become an important dividing line among candidates.

"Our technology industry is the envy of the world, and we need policies that will foster innovation and consumer choice - but we also need stronger enforcement of anti-trust law," said Representative Ro Khanna, whose district is located in Silicon Valley, the headquarters of companies such as Apple and eBay.

The congressman also said blanket statements against big tech companies were not helpful, but that each company needs to be "evaluated on a case-by-case basis and afforded due process".

Ms Warren's plan creates two tiers of companies that would fall under the new regulations: those that have an annual global revenue of US$25 billion (S$34 billion) or more, and those with annual revenue of US$90 million to US$25 billion.

The upper tier would be required to "structurally separate" their products from their marketplace. Smaller companies would be subject to regulations but would not be forced to separate themselves from the online marketplace.

Mr Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute in Washington and a former senior adviser to the Senate Budget Committee, said Ms Warren's plan was "practical" and "necessary".

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 10, 2019, with the headline 'Elizabeth Warren's plan: Break up Facebook, Amazon'. Print Edition | Subscribe