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Consumer Reports Applauds House Legislation to Address Dominant Online Platform Abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House Judiciary Committee today introduced a package of bills to address concerns with the market power exerted by large online platforms to block competition and deny consumers choice and value. The bills address a number of serious problems identified in the Antitrust Subcommittee’s year-long bipartisan investigation into competition in the online marketplace, and described in the Subcommittee report released last October.

Sumit Sharma, senior researcher, tech competition at Consumer Reports said, “As consumers and citizens, we increasingly depend on technology and online platforms for our information, communications and commerce. A few online platforms dominate all these spheres given their large scale, network effects, financial power and the ability to set rules for the marketplaces they operate in. Addressing this market power requires new rules to enable a market structure where competition can emerge and grow, and to ensure that large platforms operate consistently with a duty of care for consumers. These bills include market rules that would do exactly that.”

The bills include a number of significant reforms that Consumer Reports has called for:

  • Mandating interoperability for large online platforms, under appropriate conditions like user privacy safeguards. This should help lower barriers to entry and growth for competing companies and enable effective consumer and business choice among alternatives. This should mean that consumers can choose among competing services without losing contacts, photos, and other valuable content that they have accumulated while using the dominant platform. This would give consumers the right to keep and control their own valuable content.
  • Imposing non-discrimination requirements on large online platforms (marketplaces or distribution platforms). This requires a dominant online platform operator to provide the same level of functionality to other providers, so that businesses who use the platform can compete with the platform owner and its affiliated businesses on similar terms. This should help ensure that the best services get consumers’ attention and dollars, irrespective of which company produces the service, so consumers can buy or use services that best serve their needs. 
  • Requiring large online platforms to justify acquiring another company by showing that the acquisition target is not an actual or potential competitor, and that the acquisition would not further entrench the large online platform’s dominance. This would prevent anti-competitive acquisitions by already-dominant online platforms from slipping past the enforcement radar, as many are concerned has happened in the past.
  • Increasing pre-merger filing fees on the largest mergers. This would help provide antitrust enforcers with needed resources to perform their vital mission of policing the marketplace and ensuring that consumers and competition are protected.

“These proposals will strengthen the ability of antitrust enforcers to protect and promote an open online marketplace, where competition can provide meaningful choices and options to consumers and to all who seek to reach them,” said George Slover, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports. “We look forward to working with Congress to achieve these important objectives and help right the power imbalance that has grown with the rise of a handful of dominant online platforms.”

A nationally-representative survey conducted by Consumer Reports in July 2020 found widespread public concern about the power of large online platforms to exert too much control over consumers and competing businesses. The survey’s findings are cited in the Subcommittee report.

Contact: Cyrus Rassool, cyrus.rassool@consumer.org