DOJ backs antitrust bill to limit self-preferencing in Big Tech

A letter sent to bipartisan lawmakers calls for the speedy passing of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act.

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A Senate antitrust bill first introduced last year has received an official stamp of approval from the Department of Justice, adding momentum toward the bill’s passing. The acting assistant attorney general wrote a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voicing the DOJ’s support, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The bill in question, known as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, seeks to modify what, exactly, companies can be sued for under antitrust law. This should ostensibly make it easier for Big Tech companies like Apple, Google, Meta, and Amazon to be held accountable for anti-competitive practices.

This week’s letter — a copy of which WSJ viewed — specifically calls out “self-preferencing” as a business practice that could be prohibited by new legislation. That could stop Amazon from promoting its own products over those made by competitors, for example.

“By controlling key arteries of the nation’s commerce and communications, such platforms can exercise outsized market power in our modern economy,” the letter reads. “Vesting the power to pick winners and losers across markets in a small number of corporations contravenes the foundations of our capitalist system, and given the increasing importance of these markets, the power of such platforms is likely to continue to grow unless checked.”

The administration speaks up — Antitrust cases against Big Tech companies have been picking up plenty of speed in the last few years. The FTC has led many of these investigations, though the Department of Justice itself has also stepped in from time to time on cases of its own.

None of these probes or suits actually work to change U.S. antitrust law, though. Legislation proposing changes to antitrust law has been slow to surface and even slower to progress through Congress. When the Biden administration has spoken up about Big Tech, it’s more often than not in the context of safety rather than business.

Finally some consensus — The DOJ doesn’t often go out of its way to write letters to legislators in support of their bills. Its full support of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act makes it significantly more likely that the bill will pass through the House and the Senate. As WSJ points out, not all lawmakers are convinced the bill is ready to be passed just yet.

Big Tech isn’t going down without a fight, though. The Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents companies like Google, Meta, Amazon, and Apple, is campaigning against new legislation by claiming it will make products more expensive and difficult to come by.