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Antitrust 10/19/2021

Brick by Brick, Lawmakers Threaten To Shatter The Internet

Kir Nuthi
Kir Nuthi Public Affairs Manager

On October 18th, our lawmakers took the next step in their legislative crusade against America’s leading technology businesses—introducing a new bill to reform antitrust law and protect American innovation. Unfortunately, the new proposal will almost certainly do the opposite and actually threatens to ruin our internet experience. 

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act introduced by Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Grassley (R-IA) is a radical proposal that, if enacted, will make the internet much less convenient, push government overreach into our next smartphone update, and threaten the very essence of consumer tech products as we know them.

What The Bill Does:

Based on a draft bill we have seen, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act will ban “certain discriminatory conduct by covered platforms.” Put simply, the bill will make it so that the businesses it covers— or more appropriately, targets— are greatly restricted in how they can offer their services or prevent other businesses from using the proprietary software available to their own products.

Covered platforms are designated by two federal agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, based on an incredibly specific set of criteria, targeting monthly active users, monthly active business users, and how much the business’ owner makes. In fact, this set of criteria is so hyper-specific that it’s designed to cherry pick winners and losers .

What This Bill Means:

The bill is hyper-specific and focuses, at least in part, on businesses that bundle their services together. But, isn’t that like all of the internet?

From a practical perspective, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act makes it that much harder to use services we rely on consciously and unconsciously every day. Here’s just a few ways this bill could take online tools that provide value, choice, and convenience, crush them up, and spit them out.

Search Becomes A Hyperlink Archive

Does anyone else remember during earlier days of the internet having to scroll through potentially hundreds of links, clicking on all of them before finding that one quote from Shakespeare you needed for a term paper? It’s pretty awesome now that when we and our kids search for the date of a major event or the name of that actor in the movie we are watching, the answer’s immediately at our fingertips.

That simply won’t be the case in a world where The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is enacted. Search engines integrate results from their other products and services to make the experience more user friendly—a practice considered unlawful under this bill. If Google Search loses the ability to integrate Google Maps or show YouTube videos or have featured snippets, we’d have to click through and read hundreds of sites just to find where something is when an integrated result could provide that instantaneously.

Posting Your Updates Becomes More Of A Hassle

Currently, when your baby takes its first steps or your dog is just too cute to not post, you can live stream on Facebook and cross-pollinate to Instagram. Say you got a new job, you have to remember to update your information on LinkedIn and Office. That’s currently a breeze because services like these integrate with others to make our lives easier and not harder. 

This ability to make it easier to share our updates online would be considered unlawful under Klobuchar and Grassley’s bill unless the same option was provided to literally all of a platform’s competitors. So henceforth, post your engagement photos with a checklist so as to not miss a single location. Why? Once again, The American Innovation and Choice Online Act bans services from integrating their tools together unless everyone can.

Getting The Best Deal Delivered Quickest Isn’t First Choice

Online marketplaces like Amazon have spent millions if not billions of dollars on making sure consumers consistently have the best experience. From valuable services like Prime Shipping so we can get our delivery in less than 48 hours to buy boxes that make sure we’re not overspending our hard earned money when a better deal exists, consumers are at the front of their business practices.

But much like Search, these integrated tools could be made unlawful under the bill’s sections on unlawful conduct if they include the platform’s own services. That means we’d watch what could be one or two clicks to the best and quickest deal on batteries or generic brand alternatives would turn into a chronological timeline of the marketplace’s own offerings. That would be the kind of mess that drives people away from retail innovations back towards the department stores of decades past.

Protecting Our Privacy Becomes A Maybe Not A Must

Currently, when we log in online, we have faith that the apps we use and the sellers we buy from aren’t out to harm us or steal our identities. We can buy what we want online or share our faces without worrying that someone might use our personal info for their own gain.

Unfortunately, this bill would require platforms to provide third-party actors with the ability to access or inter-operate in their platform— opening up their proprietary tech to considerable risks and security holes. And that could mean the difference between us trusting to feel safe online and the platforms we use handing over our personal data to third-party providers and foreign corporations.

Bricking the Internet Is NOT An Option:

The costs of this proposal greatly outweigh the benefits. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act will reduce affordability, opportunity, and connection for consumers across the country. That should give pause to every internet user whose internet services would become unrecognizable in the post-bill world. Bricking the internet in this way just ruins products, services, and protections we all find valuable. And to do so in the name of anti-tech fervor only weakens what made America’s technology companies that have been on the frontier of innovation for the last two decades.

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