What Congress Desires From Huge Tech

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There was so much screaming at first. And now action is taken. (May be.)

The bad mood over the power of big tech companies has a new and perhaps surprising development: the House legislature has written a package of legislative proposals that, if anything happens – a very big “if” – Google, Facebook, and Amazon Apple could fundamentally change the way we know it.

I asked my colleague Cecilia Kang to walk us through the bills and how we got here.

Shira: What does this legislation suggest?

Cecilia: There are six bills that try in different ways to limit the power of big tech companies. A bill to provide more funding for government agencies that control businesses isn’t as controversial.

This helped cement a largely bipartisan consensus – though not always for common reasons – that Washington had to lend less hand to tech companies. And antitrust law is now seen as a way to address a number of perceived issues with technology, including how some Republicans perceive conservative voices and views.

Do big tech companies screw up and create too many enemies in Washington, or was it inevitable that they would be targeted for new laws and regulations?

Both. From my conversations with lobbyists of large technology companies it emerges that the companies have misjudged their goodwill towards politicians and regulators. And Washington’s tech company policy bureaus may not have fully articulated to their West Coast bosses how much lawmakers have opposed big tech.

But you see, a handful of tech companies are the most valuable companies in the country, influencing the economy, labor practices, the way people find information, and the way we live. This puts the company to the test.

How do the companies react to these bills?

Their central message is that lawmakers risk creating far more problems than they can solve. For example, Apple says that if Congress asks the company to download iPhone apps outside of its official store, people will be exposed to sketchy apps. Lobbyists have said that Amazon could potentially be forced to stop Prime delivery on some products.

Is there a united front between Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple?

Not necessarily. There is some disagreement about politics. Facebook seems open to any of the suggestions that would make it easier for people to move their data from an app to a competitor. Google opposes it, saying it exposes scammers.

There is also anger inside. It’s not just the biggest tech companies that resent Facebook for what they think the company has done to tarnish the entire industry. A lobbyist told me that after many scandals, Facebook is finding it difficult to take action against antitrust law. Apple, which is at odds with Facebook in almost every way, is effectively lobbying lawmakers on behalf of Facebook and Facebook.

Sorry for the cynicism, but what if Big Tech was just waiting for it Divisions and struggle among the legislators to kill the legislature?

Are you sure you haven’t been lobbying ?! It’s a classic strategy, and it’s not an illogical bet that Congress won’t work together. But these antitrust laws, especially those that make acquisitions difficult or force companies to close down, are existential threats to big tech. Businesses have to fight it.

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  • Can ecommerce giants help India’s shopkeepers? The 20 million small shops in India known as kiranas dominate shopping in the country. Bloomberg News reports that Amazon and Walmart’s own ecommerce site Flipkart are teaming up with the stores – including providing inventory management apps and using the stores to ship deliveries – to sell more goods in Indian communities .

  • DR. Save yours? Wired writes that a Reddit forum called DiagnoseMe, where people ask strangers for medical advice, isn’t as bad as it sounds. DiagnoseMe is pretty good at self-monitoring and encourages people to stand up for themselves in the sometimes hostile healthcare system.

Why did mom and her ducklings cross the street? Go to a bagel shop. (They later made it safely to a park.)

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