Big Tech Lobbyists are Crying Wolf in a Desperate Bid to Avoid Competition | Opinion

It is rare for legislation to bring senators like Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker together with Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham. But there is true across-the-aisle support right now for some of the most substantial tech and competition reform in a generation: the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act, or AICO. The bill is pending before the Senate and there remains only a brief window to pass legislation before everything is consumed by midterm campaign chaos.

Google, Amazon and other tech giants have spun up their lobbying machines to prevent this legislation from threatening their bottom line. Unable to defeat bipartisan support for reform directly, Big Tech lobbying groups are spreading misinformation about what the legislation does. Their misinformation playbook is designed to create confusion and delay a vote on the bill until the clock runs out.

One of the key claims pushed by Big Tech is that AICO will eliminate everyone's favorite services. They argue the bill will kill Amazon Prime and Google Maps. But the bill's text makes perfectly clear that these services will not only survive—they'll end up better. Big Tech companies just won't be allowed to cheat anymore.

Take Amazon Prime. The bill prohibits Amazon from preferencing its products over third-party sellers in a way that "materially harms competition." In other words, Amazon can't use its enormous power to prioritize its own products and services at the expense of small businesses that rely on the website to reach their customers. Simple enough.

We rely on Amazon's search and display functions to find the products we are looking for at the best price and availability. It's unfair to both sellers and users for Amazon to prioritize products that earn it the most money and hide cheaper, better, faster-shipping products from consumers just because it owns the search algorithm.

The bill doesn't stop Amazon from telling consumers that an item is Prime eligible, or about the great price of Amazon Basics. Offering that information doesn't harm competition, it helps it! Amazon just can't push competitors off the page so consumers can't see other, better options.

Amazon warehouse
WARRINGTON, ENGLAND- JANUARY 05: The Amazon logo is displayed outside the Amazon UK Services Ltd Warehouse on January 05, 2022 in Warrington, England. Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

On the business side, third-party sellers sign up for Amazon as a platform to sell their goods. Once they're there, Amazon offers add-on services like advertising, or fulfillment. These services can be more than 40 percent of the price of the product a business is selling. It would be an abuse of power for Amazon to require businesses to sign up for all the bells and whistles as a condition of access to the main product. It's like if a mechanic fixing your car took the engine out and then said, "if you don't pay me to install a sound system, you're going to have to fix this car yourself." The bill prevents this type of extortionate behavior. Of course, Amazon can offer extra services—it simply cannot force businesses to buy them with the threat of losing access to the main platform.

Big Tech lobbyists also argue that AICO will destroy everyone's favorite tool of convenience: Google Maps. As with Prime, the story being told is closer to the opposite of the truth. The bill simply says search services can't rank their own products and services "more favorably relative to those of another business" than they would be ranked under "neutral, fair, and nondiscriminatory" criteria.

Of course, this doesn't mean Google can't include Google Maps results in Google search results. It just means that it can't give Google Maps top placement no matter what, only because it happens to own both the search engine and maps interface. If Google wants to put a map at the top of a search result, as we have become used to, it would have to give users the option of which map service they would like to have as a default. If you like Google Maps always being at the top, you get to keep it that way. This bill would give you the power to decide.

Similarly, if you search for a location and Google's search algorithm fairly determines that Google Maps is the best map based on quality of the information or some other fair metric, the bill permits that result to remain at the top.

There is no reason for us to believe the doomsday proclamations of Big Tech lobbyists about the legislation. The bill is about making the space they have taken over more fair, transparent and open. It is about giving users more and better choices.

These are modest rules. If a company has become the dominant search space, so much so that a whole sector of the economy depends on it, it can't abuse that privilege to fatten its pockets at our expense. Following that principle won't destroy their business or take away any consumer convenience. Tech lobbyists are making bad-faith arguments to scare consumers. The truth is that this legislation would help consumers and small businesses, and ultimately, rebuild the trust that these companies have abused.

Alex Harman is Director of Government Affairs, Antimonopoly and Competition Policy at Economic Security Project Action

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.