The American Choice and Innovation Online Act
The Internet Accountability Project (IAP), a conservative group fighting against Big Tech’s abuses, strongly supports the American Choice and Innovation Online Act recently introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and its companion bill sponsored in the House of Representatives by Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.). The bill does what it says on the label: it fosters innovation and choice online by freeing up competition from small businesses against behemoth platforms including Amazon and Google. Specifically, the bill places guardrails around the platforms’ ability to self-deal by unfairly prioritizing their own products and services over those of competitors. This is a significant and positive advance from the antitrust status quo, which currently affords platforms like Amazon and Google an antitrust amnesty.
This antitrust amnesty is no joke: the last time a federal antitrust law enforcement agency tried to level the playing field online was a decade ago when the FTC failed miserably in its attempt to block Google from prioritizing its own services in search results. The agency closed its investigation without taking any action against Google, in part because the antitrust laws as interpreted by the courts have departed so radically from their original congressional intent that the FTC couldn’t reach Google’s blatantly anticompetitive conduct. The American Choice and Innovation Online Act brings this judicial activism to a close and, in so doing, would help to bring the era of Big Tech antitrust amnesty to a close.
Although all Big Tech platforms benefit from antitrust amnesty, Amazon in particular has become the poster child for what’s referred to as “self-preferencing.” As documented in last year’s House Judiciary Committee report on competition in digital markets, Amazon has 2.3 million active third-party sellers on its marketplace worldwide. A recent survey estimates that about 37% of them—about 850,000 sellers—rely on Amazon as their sole source of income. The House report found that Amazon’s conflict of interest as both a seller and host to competitive third-party sellers has created serious challenges for these small businesses. The House report concluded:
“Amazon has engaged in extensive anticompetitive conduct in its treatment of third-party sellers. Publicly, Amazon describes third-party sellers as ‘partners’. But internal documents show that behind closed doors, the company refers to them as ‘internal competitors.’”
We need look no further than recent weeks for evidence that Amazon’s ongoing self-dealing is a real world problem in search of a solution. Recent reporting from Reuters evidenced (using Amazon’s own documents) how the company uses competitive intelligence gained from its online retail store to throttle small businesses in India. This reporting directly contradicted sworn testimony to the U.S. Congress from Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos last summer in which he stated that his company did not engage in such conduct. And if Amazon is doing this in India, it’s not a stretch to assume they’re doing it in the United States.
The opponents of the American Choice and Innovation Online Act would have us think that the sky will fall if the bill becomes law. Don’t fall for their gaslighting. We have seen similar tactics used by Big Tech’s Swamp proxies before. Remember the letter from the so-called national-security experts warning us that antitrust enforcement against Big Tech would undermine national security? They failed to explain how Google used its monopoly power in 2018 to leave the United States government scrambling after Google’s woke employees complained about its drone contract (Project Maven), while Google was negotiating with Communist China to create a censored version of its search tool (Project Dragonfly). (See August 31, 2021 Substack.)
The bill’s opponents want conservatives to see the Big Tech issue in narrow economic terms. “Consumers love Amazon toilet paper,” they tell us. It is time for conservatives to stop thinking of ourselves as mere consumers. We are citizens — not global citizens, but American citizens. Yet Big Tech platforms do not see us as equal citizens and evidence of their contempt for conservatives can no longer be ignored.
In the past year alone, we have seen Big Tech deplatform a sitting Republican President, and Mark Zuckerberg spend hundreds of millions on “election integrity” in order to secure a Biden victory. As recently documented by Mollie Hemingway in her book Rigged, Zuckerberg, through his family foundations, spent over $400 million in monopoly profits ostensibly to “get out the vote.” This was in fact used by Democrat activists to infiltrate local election operations and take over jobs meant to be filled by government employees under state law. This kind of Big Tech election interference—in broad daylight—corrodes our democracy and undermines the conservative movement by exploiting loopholes in the law. As conservative American citizens—not mere consumers—this misuse of anticompetitive monopoly profits is of grave concern, well beyond even the conduct of the Robber Barons of old that triggered the last antitrust reform era.
At the Internet Accountability Project, we believe that there are values far higher than Amazon toilet paper, and we encourage you to join us before it is too late.