The US House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust has spent the last 16 months investigating Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, and yesterday its Democrat majority staff published a report into their findings. You can read the full 449-page report here, or head straight to the press release for the juicy bits.
“In recent years, each company has expanded and exploited their power of the marketplace in anticompetitive ways,” said chairmen Jerrold Nadler and David N. Cicilline in a joint statement. “Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy.”
Spotify (mentioned 31 times in the report) is just one company that will be poring over the recommendations. For example: “structural separations” that “prohibit a dominant intermediary from operating in markets that place the intermediary in competition with the firms dependent on its infrastructure”. Consider the implications for music streaming here…
Other recommendations include “prohibiting platforms from engaging in self-preferencing” (from search engine results to app store rankings) and “establishing a standard to proscribe strategic acquisitions that reduce competition”. Again, these are not just focused on the big tech firms’ music activities, but there are potential implications for our sector IF (and that’s very much a big ‘if’) the recommendations become legislation.
Unsurprisingly, the four tech firms aren’t happy. “We have always said that scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate but we vehemently disagree with the conclusions reached in this staff report with respect to Apple,” said Apple in a statement sent to journalists. “Our company does not have a dominant market share in any category where we do business.” Amazon’s response to what it sees as “flawed regulatory ideas” focused on retail policy specifically, while Google said “we disagree with today’s reports, which feature outdated and inaccurate allegations from commercial rivals about search and other services”.
But we come back to that ‘if’. There are already disagreements from some of the Republican members of the subcommittee, which hints at the long road ahead if these recommendations are to be translated into bills, and then to become law. All eyes will be on the upcoming elections, and which party ends up in charge of the Senate and/or House of Representatives, not to mention the White House.