Latest antitrust threat to Apple: A Digital Platform Commission

Latest antitrust threat to Apple: A Digital Platform Commission

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It seems scarcely a week goes by without a new antitrust threat to Apple, and the latest is a proposed federal Digital Platform Commission. Its remit would include addressing anti-competitive behaviors by digital stores, which would include the App Store.

US Senator Michael Bennet argues that although the DoJ and FTC already do “admirable work,” they don’t have the tech expertise required to offer robust oversight …

Bennet made the argument in a press release.

Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, the first-ever legislation in Congress to create an expert federal body empowered to provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.

The new Federal Digital Platform Commission would have the mandate, jurisdiction, and broad set of tools to develop and enforce thoughtful guardrails for a sector that has been left for too long to write its own rules, with serious consequences for everything from teen mental health to disinformation to anticompetitve practices that have hurt small businesses […]

Today, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission largely oversee digital platforms. Despite their admirable work to enforce existing antitrust and consumer protection laws, they lack the expert staff, resources, and tech-oriented culture necessary for robust and sustained oversight.

Engadget notes that the proposal is for a five-person commission, with the tech credentials needed to do an effective job.

A five-person federal body [would be] appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. They would be experts in relevant fields, including computer science, software development and technology policy.

The primary focus of the proposed commission is tackling disinformation on social media platforms, but it would also have the power to tackle antitrust issues. It would be tasked with advancing seven issues:

  1. Access to digital platforms for civic engagement and economic and educational opportunities.
  2. Access to government services and public safety.
  3. Competition and consumer welfare, such as lower prices and better quality of service.
  4. Prevention of harmful levels of concentration of private power over critical digital infrastructure.
  5. A robust and competitive marketplace of ideas.
  6. Protection for consumers from deceptive, unfair, unjust, unreasonable, or abusive practices committed by digital platforms.
  7. Assurance that the algorithmic processes of digital platforms are fair, transparent, and safe.

To ensure that the commission has teeth, it would have power to fine tech giants up to 15% of their total global revenue.

  • The Commission may issue an order to cause a person violating this Act to cease and desist or pay restitution, where applicable.
  • Establishes a civil penalty for any digital platform that knowingly violates this Act.
  • Directs the Commission to establish a civil penalty for a violation of this Act in an amount it deems necessary to deter future violations.
  • Caps the total amount of civil penalties imposed on a digital platform during a year to no more than 15% of its total global revenue in the preceding year.

The Washington Post says that although there is widespread support from consumer advocate groups, political realities may make it difficult to push through the Senate.

Consumer advocates have called for such a body for years [but] the proposal is a long shot in a Senate where Democrats have a fragile 50-50 majority — and Republicans have historically been wary of bills that would create new regulatory bodies. Though the legislation aims to address a wide range of harms, any government effort to force greater transparency of companies’ content moderation practices and algorithms could raise free speech concerns under the First Amendment.

You can read the bill in full here.

Image: Conny Schneider/Unsplash

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