Amazon and Alphabet are spearheading what is shaping up to be the most intense political campaign by corporate America in recent history as part of a last-ditch attempt to stop Congress from passing laws to curb their market power.
The companies are targeting a “self-preferencing” bill which would prevent large online platforms from using their dominance in one field to give other products an unfair advantage — for example, Alphabet using its Google search engine to promote its travel or shopping products.
If the bill goes through, it is likely to lend momentum to a wave of legislation aimed at strengthening America’s competition rules, in what could be the biggest update of the country’s antitrust rules in a generation.
“This is one of the most significant campaigns that we have run in recent years,” said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which has coordinated the tech industry’s response to the bill. “That is because there has never been so serious a proposal to undermine US competitiveness and put US users at risk.”
Those on the other side see the lobbying as aimed at shoring up the dominance of the big tech groups. “The internet giants are in YOLO [you only live once] mode — they are desperate and are doing whatever they can to change the trajectory,” said Luther Lowe, senior vice-president of public policy at Yelp, which has lobbied in favor of the bill.
“These companies are throwing spaghetti at the wall, using every conceivable argument they can find,” said one congressional aide involved in promoting the bill.
Democrats and Republicans have found rare common cause in recent years in their attempts to rein in the corporate power enjoyed by Silicon Valley’s largest companies. Members of Congress have proposed a range of legislation to do so, including measures to limit when large technology companies can buy smaller rivals and to stop them acting as both buyers and sellers in the lucrative digital advertising market.
But it is the “self-preferencing” bill, known as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, that the industry is homing in on, given its wide support in Congress and possible implications for the industry.
The bill, which has been championed in the Senate by the Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar and in the House by her party colleague David Cicilline, specifically targets Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, and Facebook parent Meta. It has passed through committees in the House and the Senate, and its supporters are now waiting for Democratic leaders to move it to a floor vote.