Amazon ramps up criticism of antitrust bill targeting tech giants

Amazon is ramping up criticism of a key antitrust bill that aims to rein in the e-commerce giant’s power, in part by trying to distance itself from the other tech giants targeted by the proposed legislation. 

Amazon’s vice president of public policy Brian Huseman published a blog post Wednesday slamming the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in the company’s most extensive and direct criticism of the legislation. 

Much of the post rehashes talking points Amazon and tech industry groups have put forward to push back on the legislation for nearly a year, seemingly attempting to rev up criticism as Klobuchar pushes for a summer floor vote on the bill. (https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3504031-key-senate-antitrust-bill-hangs-in-the-balance/)

Huseman said Amazon’s consumer business targeted by the legislation is more like retailers such as Walmart, Target and Costco than it is akin to that of Apple, Facebook or Google. 

“Applying the same broad, vague, and undefined language to all of these different market segments to regulate what are in fact very different companies would cause serious and damaging unintended consequences for American consumers and small businesses the bills purport to protect,” Huseman wrote. 

Klobuchar and Grassley’s bill aims to limit tech giants from giving preferential treatment to their own products. In practice, that could mean barring Amazon from placing its own products at the top of a search page on its site. 

The legislation doesn’t specifically target Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, but defines a covered platform by user base and revenue in a way that would likely rope in those four companies. 

Supporters of the bill have dismissed critics for arguing it targets the four companies, noting that companies can fall in and out of the parameters of the definition going forward. 

In addition to Huseman’s argument trying to distance Amazon from other tech giants, the blog post also reiterates an argument Klobuchar and Grassley have dispelled that the legislation would keep companies from offering services consumers enjoy such as Amazon’s Prime program. 

Huseman said the bill is “vaguely worded” in a way that would “substantially degrade the value and quality of Prime.” 

“Such a mandate would make it difficult, and potentially impossible in practice, for Amazon and our selling partners to offer products with Prime’s free two-day shipping (let alone one-day),” Huseman wrote. 

Klobuchar pointedly dismissed the argument in an interview with The Verge in January. 

“It’s not like we’re trying to make them or all of their innovations go away. Of course not. That’s ridiculous,” Klobuchar said. “We’re simply trying to put some rules of the road in place so that they cannot give preference to their own products over others or copy the data of other companies and use it to their advantage.”

During a Senate Judiciary Committee markup on the bill in January, Grassley said the bill is “not meant to break up Big Tech or destroy the products and services they offer. The goal is to prevent conduct that stifles competition.” 

The bill ultimately advanced out of the committee after the markup by a 16-6 margin, although some supporters expressed reservations about the version of the bill at the time. 

The version of the bill that advanced also included a section that further clarified that the bill would not aim to disband services like Prime by stating the bill would not impose a liability on a covered platform “soley for offering” a “fee-for-service subscription that provides benefits to covered platform users.” 

Amazon’s blog post also tries to cast the bill as harmful to small businesses, despite fairly broad support from small businesses and third party sellers to senators in favor of the legislation. 

Huseman said a “myriad of broadly written restrictions aimed at the concept of self-preferencing that prohibit commonplace retail practices,” including using and buying data from sellers to personalize consumers’ experience on the site, could “meaningfully jeopardize our marketplace.”

Amazon’s argument goes against support issued by small business groups, such as Small Business Rising which has urged Congress to pass the legislation. 

A group of forty smaller companies including Yelp, Sonos and Basecamp, sent an open letter endorsing the legislation and saying that self-preferencing has allowed dominant platforms to “entrench their gatekeeper status in the market to the detriment of competition, consumers, and innovation.”