Senate Judiciary Committee clears tech-focused antitrust bill

Anna Edgerton and Siri Bulusu

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved an antitrust bill aimed at Apple Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, bringing the measure one step closer to consideration by the full Senate.

The bill, S. 2992, sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, would prohibit covered platforms from giving an advantage to their own products on their platforms. Smaller competitors have said these so-called gatekeeper companies use unfair business practices to maintain their dominance.

Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

The affected companies warn that the legislation would hurt U.S. innovation by giving an advantage to foreign competitors, would risk user privacy and security and would damage products enjoyed by consumers.

The 16-6 committee vote in favor of the bill demonstrated bipartisan support for the measure. Some senators, however, expressed concern about the bill’s national security implications and the criteria to determine which companies would be considered a covered platform.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley

One of the amendments the committee adopted would address how data is shared with China, companies controlled by China, or other foreign adversaries. Another amendment added criteria to the covered platform definition to include companies that have $550 billion in net annual sales or 1 billion worldwide users, which could capture platforms like Bytedance Ltd.’s TikTok. 

The bill gives the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department the authority to determine which firms would be covered under the criteria. 

The House Judiciary Committee approved a similar bill in June last year, giving this measure more momentum than other proposals aimed to curb what some lawmakers describe as anti-competitive practices by dominant digital firms. Democratic leaders have not yet given any indication of when the bill could come before the full House and Senate. 

President Joe Biden hasn’t taken a public position on the legislation, despite fierce lobbying from the bill’s supporters and opponents. The White House on Wednesday met virtually with some smaller tech companies, including Yelp Inc. and Sonos Inc., who have been strong advocates for the bill.