Would-be Democratic Presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren (I've donated to her campaign, as well as Bernie Sanders') has published her latest policy prescription: a plan to break up Big Tech monopolists to protect the public's privacy and the interests of small-business competitors.
Under Warren's plan, large tech companies (with more than $25b in global revenues) would be designated "platform utilities" and would be required to give all commercial users "fair, reasonable and nondiscrimatory" access to their services, and the owners of these utilities would be prohibited from participating in their marketplaces — that would mean, for example, that Amazon would have to accept all sellers on the same terms, and would not be allowed to sell its own products to compete with them.
Companies with annual global revenues of $99m-$25b would also be platform utilities, but would be permitted to sell on their own platforms.
Enforcement would come through a right for state Attorneys General and private parties to sue platforms for violating the deal, "to enjoin any conduct that violates these requirements, to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, and to be paid for losses and damages." Violators will face statutory damages of 5% of global revenues.
Next, Warren will force tech giants to divest themselves of former competitors that they acquired: Amazon would have to sell off Zappos and Whole Foods; Facebook would have to sell of Instagram and Whatsapp; and Google would have to sell off Waze, Doubleclick and Nest.
Then there's a bunch more squishy stuff, like "we must ensure that Russia — or any other foreign power — can't use Facebook or any other form of social media to influence our elections" and "We must help America's content creators — from local newspapers and national magazines to comedians and musicians — keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook" (this rhetoric is scarily similar to the notional basis for Europe's terrible Article 13 proposal, but there are some ways to imagine it going well, if we keep in mind that enriching media companies has little relationship to enriching creators).
This proposal sits pretty neatly alongside Warren's other recent policy prescriptions, like an annual tax on household wealth over $50m and empowering the US government to manufacture generic drugs.
So what would the Internet look like after all these reforms?
Here's what won't change: You'll still be able to go on Google and search like you do today. You'll still be able to go on Amazon and find 30 different coffee machines that you can get delivered to your house in two days. You'll still be able to go on Facebook and see how your old friend from school is doing.
Here's what will change: Small businesses would have a fair shot to sell their products on Amazon without the fear of Amazon pushing them out of business. Google couldn't smother competitors by demoting their products on Google Search. Facebook would face real pressure from Instagram and WhatsApp to improve the user experience and protect our privacy. Tech entrepreneurs would have a fighting chance to compete against the tech giants.
Here's how we can break up Big Tech [Elizabeth Warren/Medium]
(Image: Tim Pierce, CC-BY-SA)