A US congressional report has accused Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google of monopolising the digital market and recommended antitrust laws be used to break up these companies.
The 449-page report criticises how the technology giants have purchased competitors to retain their market dominance and for designing services in preference of their own revenues rather than in consumers’ interest.
Written by the House Judiciary Committee, the report recommends Congress introduces new laws which would ban platform operators from competing with businesses on their platforms, where they have an advantage.
“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog start-ups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” the report warned.
“Although these firms have delivered clear benefits to society, the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google has come at a price,” it added.
“These firms typically run the marketplace while also competing in it – a position that enables them to write one set of rules for others, while they play by another.”
The report warned that although the four companies “differ in important ways”, their business practices revealed common problems, citing “nearly 1.3 million documents” as extensive evidence collected over the course of the investigation.
“Each platform now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy,” the report stated.
“They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them.”
It added: “By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals, and have ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats.”
Among the recommendations are increased oversight and stricter rules regarding the acquisition of technology companies by the largest platforms – an issue which has regularly been cited as allowing the giants to become monopolistic over their slices of internet commerce.
Finally, according to the report, “these firms have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance,” in classical monopolistic behaviour.
“Whether through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct, the dominant platforms have exploited their power in order to become even more dominant,” it stated, calling for Congress to introduce new laws to tackle these issues.
According to The New York Times, the report was delayed due to disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, with the former upset that the report didn’t go into more detail on technology companies’ perceived bias against conservative views.
An alternative report drafted by the Republicans and obtained and published by Politico described some of the recommendations as “non-starters for conservatives”, particularly the calls to enforce a structural break-up of platforms such as Amazon so they are not directly competing with companies using their platform.