Technology

Senators unveil long-awaited antitrust bill


With help from Vincent Manancourt and Leah Nylen

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— It’s finally here: Months after the House Judiciary Committee approved its antitrust package, a bipartisan group of senators is introducing a long-awaited companion bill.

— Supply solutions: House lawmakers are tackling a slate of bills today that would strengthen supply chains and crack down on fake goods sold on online marketplaces.

— Transatlantic meetup: A top EU official is meeting up with his U.S. counterparts today and on Friday, and they’re expected to talk about data privacy and consumer protection issues.

IT’S THURSDAY, OCT. 14. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. Did you read about the startup that allows you to crowdsource funds from current and former colleagues to get a job, in lieu of the interview process? It didn’t go over well on Twitter.

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FIRST IN MT: SENATE TO ROLL OUT BIPARTISAN ANTITRUST BILL — Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are today releasing a bill barring the tech giants from favoring their own products, to be formally introduced when the Senate goes back into session next week.

The legislation mirrors what the House Judiciary Committee approved this summer with a few key tweaks: Namely, under the Senate bill, only federal and state enforcers could sue Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google over conduct that “materially harms competition.” Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel, told MT those changes “will ensure companies’ can improve their products without fear of violating the law.”

Klobuchar said she and Grassley have been working on the bill for months and have already secured six co-sponsors, three Democrats and three Republicans: Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), former chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony last week gave it a boost: “People are starting to disabuse themselves of what they’ve been told by tech lobbyists,” Klobuchar said.

— More legislation TBD: The House Judiciary package also included bills calling for a Big Tech merger ban and requirements on compatibility across platforms. Klobuchar said some of those other House measures are likely to get their own Senate companions soon. “I don’t believe we’re going to have a monopoly on solutions in one bill,” she said. “This is a complex part of our economy, but there have been no updates made to our privacy or competition laws since we got the internet. Our laws need to match the sophistication of our economy.”

HOW CAN THE U.S BE MORE COMPETITIVE? — Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection panel are convening a legislative hearing today to examine ways to boost U.S. manufacturing and competitiveness. Among the topics they’ll consider in the 10 bills are supply chain resiliency, counterfeit online goods and tech companies’ impact.

— Supply chain issues: Several of the bills on the agenda would create offices inside the Commerce Department aimed at securing supply chains. One bill would authorize $500 million over six years for a supply chain resiliency and crisis response office, while another would authorize $41 billion across six years for a financial assistance program to bolster supply chain resiliency and manufacturing. The slate of bills comes as a global semiconductor shortage, affecting the chips used in everything from iPhones to automobiles, continues to rankle manufacturers.

— Online marketplaces: Lawmakers will also consider the INFORM Consumers Act, which subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced last week with ranking member Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). The bill makes online platforms responsible for verifying the identity of high-volume third-party sellers in an effort to crack down on counterfeit goods.

“We cannot allow dangerous or stolen products sold online marketplaces like Amazon to line criminals’ pockets,” Schakowksy will say, per her prepared remarks. “Consumers deserve to shop with confidence and get what they pay for.”

In April, Amazon said in a blog post that the bill — versions of which are being considered in the Senate and in state legislatures — “favors large brick-and-mortar retailers, at the expense of small businesses that sell online, while doing nothing to prevent fraud and abuse or hold bad actors accountable.”

— The tech effect: One piece of legislation would direct the Commerce Department to produce a report related to tech startups and ways to foster their creation and growth. Another would task the department to conduct a study on the gig economy, as well as how states and the federal government can help it grow.

THE EU’S PRIVACY CHECK-IN — Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice chief, is in Washington through Friday, where he will meet in person with FTC Chair Lina Khan, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

—What not to expect: Transatlantic data flows will be a topic of discussion, but don’t hold your breath for an announcement on a new Privacy Shield agreement. (EU officials have told our colleagues in Europe that there likely won’t be one before the end of the year, and the officials that are in charge of negotiating that aren’t meeting as part of this trip.)

Instead, Reynders will “take stock of the ongoing negotiations on a Privacy Shield successor,” an EU spokesperson said about the trip. He’ll also discuss challenges and opportunities to cooperate on consumer protection and justice issues.

Still at issue: how data can be transferred across the Atlantic with proper safeguards against U.S. surveillance and meaningful redress for European citizens. European courts have struck down previous attempts at a transatlantic data privacy framework.

— Other drop-ins: The Belgian politician will also participate in roundtables with the Information Technology Industry Council, which counts Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter among its members, and the Atlantic Council, which receives funding from many of the major tech companies.

— Three’s a crowd: Reynders’ visit follows a meeting last week between U.K. digital minister Julia Lopez and Chris Hoff, the Biden administration’s point person on Privacy Shield talks. During that visit, he discussed tech issues “from regulation to data flows,” as Lopez said on Twitter. (The U.K. has maintained that a data deal with the U.S. is a near-term priority.)

PUT ON NOTICE — The FTC sent out a mass letter on Wednesday, warning more than 700 businesses on Wednesday about practices the agency has determined to be unfair or deceptive surrounding fake online reviews — putting them on the hook for fines if they’re caught committing those violations. The letters are sent broadly to detail what misconduct looks like and are not accusations of guilt. (MT detailed what the “penalty offense authority” entails last week.)

— Among the recipients: Adobe, Airbnb, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox, Dell, DirecTV, DISH, eBay, Facebook, Fitbit, Google, HP, Hulu, IBM, Lenovo, LG, LinkedIn, Lumen, Lyft, Match Group, Microsoft, Motorola, Netflix, PayPal, Postmates, Ring, Samsung, T-Mobile, Uber, Verizon, WhatsApp, Yelp, YouTube and Zillow.

The Washingtonian released its 2021 list of Washington’s most powerful women, including Raimondo, Khan, Amazon’s Virginia Boney and Ardine Williams, Facebook’s Erin Egan, Clearview AI’s Jessica Medeiros Garrison, American Economic Liberties Project’s Sarah Miller and Alethea Group’s Lisa Kaplan.

Erie Meyer is returning to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be chief technologist. She was most recently senior adviser to Khan for policy planning and chief technologist at the FTC. Meyer was also technology adviser to then-FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who now leads the CFPB, and launched the White House’s U.S. Digital Service. … Kirsten E. Donaldson is joining the Digital Media Association as VP of legal. She was previously at the Donaldson Law Group and is a Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) alum. … Chris Bedford is now chief comms officer at RightForge. He’s also a senior editor at The Federalist.

More than 40 human rights organizations have launched HowToStopFacebook.org, a campaign calling on legislators to investigate the company using subpoena power and to enact a federal data privacy law “strong enough to end Facebook’s current business model.” Members include Fight for the Future, Accountable Tech, the Center for Digital Democracy and Fairplay.

Uber has completed its $1.1 billion acquisition of alcohol delivery service Drizly. … Hawaii is partnering with nonprofit Research Improving People’s Lives to develop the Hawaii Career Acceleration Navigator, a digital hub to connect unemployment insurance claimants and job seekers with career pathways. The program, powered by Amazon Web Services, will launch in 2022.

A house divided: “Spot on or unfair? Facebook employees split on whistleblower Frances Haugen’s critique,” The Guardian reports.

Global dominance: Amazon copied others’ products and manipulated search results in India, internal documents show — practices the company has denied. Reuters has more. (The Free and Fair Markets Initiative, an anti-Amazon group, called on Khan to look into the company’s practices.)

What’s next? “The Moral Panic Engulfing Instagram,” via NYT Opinion.

Tightening restrictions: “Facebook Clamps Down on Its Internal Message Boards,” via NYT.

ICYMI: Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is backing the Donald Trump-endorsed challenger to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), our Alex Isenstadt reports.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

SEE YOU TOMORROW!





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