Big Tech spends millions in campaign against antitrust bill
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Technology giants have spent over $36.4m (£29.5m) on TV and internet ads opposing a US bipartisan effort to pass one of the most significant antitrust legislation reforms of the last few decades.
Since January 2021, the largest players in the technology industry have been lobbying against antitrust legislation reform that will ban such platforms from favouring their own products and services, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
In total, the group of companies has spent over $36.4m (£29.5m) on their advertising efforts. Almost 40 per cent of the sum has been spent on television and internet advertising since May 1, according to data from ad-tracking service AdImpact. By contrast, groups supporting the legislation have spent around $193,000 (£156,000).
The sums involved have made it one of the biggest ad campaigns by the technology industry in recent years, reflecting the potentially game-changing nature of the proposed law.
The ad campaign opposes the passing of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bipartisan bill that will be voted by the Senate in the summer of 2022. Versions of the law have already advanced out of both chambers' judiciary committees and the legislation has received the support of US President Joe Biden's Justice Department, as well as the Commerce Department.
If signed into law, the legislation would mark the most meaningful change to antitrust law in decades, disrupting how big tech companies operate and opening the possibility of breaking up some of the largest conglomerates. The legislation specifically targets dominant tech platforms, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.
In 2020, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust published its 450-page report concluding that these tech platforms had used their monopoly power to strifle competition.
Big Tech representatives have opposed these measures, on the grounds that such laws will lead to fewer choices for consumers and higher prices for products.
“This is without question one of the most significant campaigns the association has embarked on in recent years, because it’s one of the most radical policy proposals to regulate a leading sector of the US economy,” said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which has spent more than $23m (£18.6m), the most of any group.
CCIA has not disclosed which companies provided funding for its ad campaign, saying only that “the association is funding the campaign.” However, CCIA lists Alphabet’s Google, Amazon, Apple and Meta Platforms’s Facebook among its members, with Amazon having publicly opposed the legislation and disclosed that it made payments of $10,000 or more to CCIA in 2021. Google has also published a blog criticising the bill.
The advertisements have mostly been airing in key states and districts of lawmakers who may be undecided on the legislation, characterising the bill as contributing to inflation, weakening America's competitive edge against China, or hurting consumers and small businesses.
Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, two of the bill's sponsors, have held a press conference to defend the reform.
“We’re confronted with these big tech companies spending tens of millions of dollars on ads and also on front groups to spread falsehoods about our bill,” Grassley said. “Obviously they want to protect the status quo, which allows them to expand their influence.”
Tech companies “know that if the bills came to the floor for a vote, they would pass, and so big tech lobby groups are scrambling to try to prevent that from happening,” said Sacha Haworth, executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, one of the groups that have run ads supporting the legislation.
Klobuchar further confirmed that, in spite of the attacks, the bill has the necessary votes to pass the Senate.
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