Senator Klobuchar Wants to Ban FaceTime, Amazon Prime, and Google Maps in Search Results
Why are Senators embracing unpopular ideas that voters oppose?
No, you didn’t miss the thousands of voters marching on Washington demanding that Congress make their smartphones dumber, their Amazon shipments slower, and their Google results less helpful. That protest never happened.
Yet amazingly, some of our elected officials are working on legislation that would do all these things. According to press reports, Senator Amy Klobuchar plans to soon introduce her own version of House Democratic legislation that would ban or degrade tech services used by millions of voters.
Based on a leaked draft of Klobuchar’s legislation, here’s what we know about what her bill is — and is not.
What Klobuchar’s Bill Is
It would break tech products that millions of Americans use every day. Klobuchar’s bill, like House companion legislation by Rep. David Cicilline, would impose new “nondiscrimination” and “conflict of interest” provisions that would turn Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft into the phone company, barring the kind of integrated product design that makes their product more useful for hundreds of millions of people.
I’ve written about the impact this would have on products people love. For example, Klobuchar’s bill would prevent Apple from preinstalling Facetime or iMessage on iPhones…
Block Amazon from offering its low-cost Basics brand products…
Ban Amazon from offering free shipping on select products through Amazon Prime…
Prevent Google from showing Google Maps in search results…
And block Facebook from showing its charitable giving tools in its News Feed…
It puts limits on U.S. products that don’t apply to those companies’ foreign competitors. Klobuchar’s bill is written to apply only to a handful of companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft — but not to those companies’ competitors.
That would put US products at a competitive disadvantage. Klobuchar would block Apple from pre-installing iMessage and FaceTime on the iPhone — but let Samsung phones install their own apps. She would stop Google from showing Google Maps in its search results — but allow Russian search engine Yandex to do that.
It’s a byproduct of swampy DC corporate lobbying. Like it’s companion Cicilline bill, it’s easy to see which sections of Klobuchar’s bill address longstanding lobbying by companies like Epic Games, Match Group, News Corp, Spotify, and Yelp:
That kind of lobbying is par for the course in DC (I run an industry group too), but how does intervening in company vs. company spats help Senator Klobuchar’s constituents? On top of that, by writing a bill designed to target certain companies, she set off a flurry of lobbying by other companies begging to be carved out of the bill.
What Klobuchar’s Bill Is Not
It’s not popular. Recent congressional hearings have surfaced a lot of challenging issues around social media, and Morning Consult polling commissioned by our organization found that voters generally supported regulation of big tech companies. Changes may need to be made and companies recognize that they have work to do.
But that doesn’t make this bill the answer. Once voters in the survey learned that proposals like Klobuchar’s would impact their iPhones, Amazon Prime, and Google search results, they flipped from supporting the proposal to strongly opposing it:
It’s not what voters want Congress to be doing. The same survey asked voters what they want Congress to be focusing on — and found that “regulation of the tech industry” was far less important than the economy, public health, and climate change.
It’s not supported by a majority of Democratic Members of Congress. House Majority Steny Hoyer said in June that Cicilline’s bills weren’t ready for the floor. Several prominent House Democrats including Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Eric Swalwell, Lou Correa, and Ted Lieu voiced concerns that the legislation needed work before coming to the full House. Cicilline has not made any changes to address their concerns, and as a result his bill does not currently have enough Democratic votes to pass the House. Cicilline acknowledged this in a recent hearing.
It’s not supported by the Biden Administration. First, the Washington Examiner reported in August that Biden White House officials recognized that Cicilline’s bills lacked the necessary support to pass.
Biden officials hoped that Klobuchar’s bill would be…
“more targeted than the Cicilline bill and will focus on ensuring popular tech features, such as pre-installed phone apps or convenient Google Maps features prominently located within Google searches, are not restricted.”
Unfortunately, Klobuchar’s bill is no better on that front; it has the same impact as Cicilline’s bill.
At the same time, Cicilline and Klobuchar’s bills closely mirror Europe’s proposed “Digital Markets Act,” which would subject those five US tech firms to the same “gatekeeper” restrictions. Notably, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently pushed back on the Digital Markets Act — which would do the same things as Klobuchar’s bill:
It’s not “antitrust” legislation. Klobuchar’s bill doesn’t make changes to our established antitrust law. Instead, it singles out Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft for special regulation. That makes it close to an unconstitutional “bill of attainder.” Instead of being rooted in principles like privacy or consumer protection, it’s motivated by constraining the power of a few named companies.
Democrats should focus on what helps consumers
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was right when he said that “the strong suit for the Democratic Party has always been what we believe in…[that] government is there to help people, help them economically.”
Yet Sen. Klobuchar — like Rep. Cicilline in the House — forgets this lesson. She recently complained about tech industry lobbying, but the real problem with her bill is that it hurt consumers instead of helping them. Let’s hope Democrats stay focused on the right things.
The Chamber of Progress (progresschamber.org) is a new center-left tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future. We work to ensure that all Americans benefit from technological leaps, and that the tech industry operates responsibly and fairly.
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