New internal documents released on Tuesday detail how three of Big Tech’s most prominent companies promoted their own products as a way to stamp out competition. Their release comes as lawmakers strive to approve tougher antitrust legislation by the end of the year.
The documents were obtained by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its long-running investigation into anticompetitive behavior by Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook parent company Meta. The investigation ended in 2020, but recently released emails, memos and reports provide new evidence in support of the committee’s calls to advance tougher competition rules for the tech industry.
“It’s time for Congress to act,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), chair of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement Tuesday.
Specifically, the documents show how Amazon and Google pressured independent sellers and smartphone makers to favor their own products and platforms over those of their competitors. In a January 2014 email, a Google executive raised concerns about a potential new Samsung service that could compete with the company’s “core search experience”. In chainmails dating back to 2009, Amazon executives debate whether to restrict a competitor’s ability to advertise on their site. Amazon then acquired competitor Diapers.com in a deal according to House investigators that helped the e-commerce giant secure its dominance in the market.
In another email, Google executives explain how Amazon’s involvement has changed the personal voice assistant market. “Amazon has changed the dynamic here,” reads the heavily redacted email. “Amazon has a built-in incentive to partner with Alexa because they’ll remove you from their store if you can’t stand it.”
A long-discussed Facebook memo titled “Possible End States for the App Family” is also included. First reported by information in 2019, the memo describes a “tipping point” at which users would start using other Meta-owned apps, like Instagram and WhatsApp, more than its core Facebook platform. The 2018 memo was written for CEO Mark Zuckerberg explaining ways the company could mitigate the growth of Instagram and WhatsApp so as not to overtake Facebook’s dominance.
“WhatsApp and Facebook coexist as broadcast sharing apps,” the memo reads. “It’s still unclear whether Instagram and Facebook can coexist… It seems unlikely that three sharing apps can coexist.”
Tuesday’s papers were released alongside the committee’s final report outlining the findings of its investigation and the legislative solutions to the competition issues they uncovered. Lawmakers have argued that the lack of competition in the tech industry has caused online products to deteriorate over time. No Republican co-signed the report’s recommendations, sending a signal that it may be harder for Democrats to push through antitrust reform this year.
“The harm of sweeping antitrust legislation would put the United States at a global disadvantage and make Americans worse off,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at technology industry group NetChoice, on Tuesday. “Its reach would extend far beyond digital markets alone: to consumers of all businesses, in all industries, in all states.”
Still, competition advocates have continued to pressure lawmakers and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to back bills that ban tech platforms from favoring their own products. Antitrust scholars and the Consumer Federation of America urged the Senate to pass the bipartisan US Online Innovation and Choice Act last week.
“From Amazon and Facebook to Google and Apple, there’s no question that these unregulated tech giants have grown too big to care and too powerful to put people before profits,” the rep said. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in a statement Tuesday.