Thursday, June 17, 2021

Five Antitrust Bills

Cecilia Kang (via Nick Heer):

House lawmakers on Friday introduced sweeping antitrust legislation aimed at restraining the power of Big Tech and staving off corporate consolidation. If passed, the bills would be the most ambitious update to monopoly laws in decades.

The bills — five in total — take direct aim at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google and their grip on online commerce, information and entertainment. The proposals would make it easier to break up businesses that used their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another, would create new hurdles for acquisitions of nascent rivals and would empower regulators with more funds to police companies.

Ben Thompson:

This bill, sponsored by Cicilline (D-RI) and co-sponsored by Lance Gooden (R-TX), bans covered platforms from giving an advantage to their own products, services, and lines of business over competitors; disadvantaging competing products, services, and lines of business; or discriminating between similarly situated business users.


  • Forbids the platform from restricting the right of third-party businesses to use their own data generated on the platform
  • Requires platform owners to allow users to uninstall pre-installed applications and change defaults
  • Bans anti-steering provisions (i.e. Spotify being able to tell iOS users to subscribe online or link to the web)
  • Restricts the platform owner from treating the platform’s own products differently in search or rankings

Rebecca Kern:

Cicilline told reporters Wednesday that a proposal prohibiting tech platforms from giving an advantage to their own products over those of competitors would mean Apple can’t ship devices with pre-installed apps on its iOS operating platform.

Via Nick Heer:

I would love to know what Cicilline believes an empty shell of an operating system looks like.


And what is the goal here? I agree in theory with limiting a platform owner’s ability to use that unique power and privilege to stifle competition. But if a user has to configure everything about their system manually, well that just sounds horrible.


Update (2021-06-18): Nick Heer:

Rich Luchette, a senior adviser to Cicilline, tweeted a clarification:

Just to correct the record, this is not what Cicilline said. iPhones can be shipped with pre-installed apps, but Apple could not stop someone from un-installing or changing their default settings under the non-discrimination bill.

In another example of Bloomberg’s stellar reporting, Kern has updated this article to reflect this understanding. However, in Benedict Evans’ analysis, the actual text of the bill more closely reflects the initial report.

Update (2021-07-02): John Gruber:

I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that the Jayapal bill would profoundly change Apple and all of Apple’s products, platforms, and above all, services — in ways that ultimately would be ruinous for the company as we know it. It’s a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” bill that betrays a profound misunderstanding of how platforms evolve. Even if it is just an anchoring strategy to make Cicilline’s own bill look moderate in comparison, Apple should be extremely concerned that Jayapal’s bill is even on the table.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

I had actually put off reading the bills directly for several days, because I feared the usual disappointment. That these bills were going to be timid, around-the-edges, squint-to-see-silverlining type of deals. I shouldn’t have. These bills are bold. Really bold.

5 Comments RSS · Twitter

Heer has posted an update. Apparently Bloomberg (China is putting rice-sized spy chips on our motherboards!) wasn't entirely correct in their summary of Cicilline's position.

Kevin Schumacher

> wasn't entirely correct

That’s in the running for the biggest understatement I’ve heard this year.

"I would love to know what Cicilline believes an empty shell of an operating system looks like."

Presumably the same it looks now, except there will be a first-run experience where you select which apps you want. People always freak out over these things, as if everybody was incredibly dumb and would pick the literal dumbest option possible.

Kevin Schumacher

> as if everybody was incredibly dumb and would pick the literal dumbest option possible

I don’t know what country you’re from, but here in ‘Merica, we pride ourselves on out-dumbing each other. I would give you examples but *gestures hands around*.

So the idea that a vastly techno-illiterate (if not outright technophobic) governing body would pick the literal worst implementation of something technical is not only possible, it’s more or less par for the course. And that’s not even taking into account general “design by committee” failure principles.

Governments don't write code, they write laws. They don't pick any implementations. Companies like Apple will do that. Unless Apple plans to self-sabotage to make a mockery of the law (which is not outside of the realm of possibilities, granted), they'll find a way to adhere to the law that still results in a good user experience.

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