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Consumer Reports Commends House Antitrust Report on Competition in Digital Markets

Washington, D.C. — The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust has released its long-awaited staff report, “Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets.” The report is the culmination of a year-long bipartisan investigation into the power and practices of four online platform giants – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – that are exerting an increasing dominance over commerce and communications. 

The report identifies a number of abuses of market power, and cites some potential avenues for reining in these platforms in order to make room for meaningful competition that benefits consumers, sellers, content providers, and the overall economy.

Consumer Reports recently released a nationally-representative survey that found clear majorities of Americans are concerned about online platform power and support some form of government regulation of the companies. Today’s Subcommittee staff report includes findings from the Consumer Reports survey.

Marta Tellado, President and CEO of Consumer Reports, said, “The House staff report lays out clearly how our online marketplace is increasingly stacked against us, and is not serving consumers fairly. A handful of powerful companies are restricting and controlling the choices of everyone else, in order to enrich and entrench themselves. When we hear from American consumers through our survey research, we know that a majority of people are aware, and they care, about the power and control that these companies have built up. There is a better way, and people across the political spectrum continue to tell us they want these companies held accountable for how they treat consumers.”

George Slover, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, said, “The Subcommittee staff report documents a number of abuses of market power on the part of these platforms, and outlines some possible avenues for addressing them. For starters, we need to strengthen our antitrust laws, including the prohibitions against mergers and acquisitions that harm competition and consumer choice, and against exclusionary conduct by a dominant platform that interferes with other companies trying to compete. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee and others to ensure that the online marketplace works for consumers, and works for all who seek to reach consumers. We commend Chairman Cicilline, Ranking Member Sensenbrenner, and the Members and staff of the Subcommittee for their bipartisan perseverance on behalf of consumers and the economy.”

Sumit Sharma, senior researcher, tech competition at Consumer Reports said, “There is no denying that consumers have benefitted from the development of online services compared to a world without these services. However, the question today is whether competition among online platforms is effective and benefits consumers and citizens. The factual findings in the Subcommittee staff report clearly demonstrate that this is not the case. Competition online is not just a click away – large platforms with market power have successfully used incumbent advantages and business models to maintain high market shares and restrain effective competition. The result is less innovation and choice for consumers. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee and others on implementing remedies that increase consumer choice and agency online.”

Consumer Reports’ Digital Lab issued the survey report “Platform Perceptions: Consumer Attitudes on Competition and Fairness in Online Platforms” on September 24. The major findings of the survey include:

  • 85% of Americans are concerned about the amount of data online platforms are collecting and storing about them.
  • 81% are concerned that platforms are collecting and holding this data in order to build out more comprehensive consumer profiles.
  • 75% say the practice of an online platform giving higher placement in search results for their own products either is unfair (23%), or is fair only if it is openly disclosed (52%).
  • And 83% say this about the practice of an online platform giving higher placement to companies that pay extra for that – that it’s unfair (25%), or is fair only if it is labeled as a paid ad.
  • But 46% have difficulty distinguishing between what is a paid ad versus an objective search result, and 58% are not confident that they are getting objective and unbiased search results when using an online platform to shop or search for information.
  • 79% say that it’s unfair for tech platforms to be strategically buying up other companies, because it’s undermining competition and consumer choice.
  • A clear majority of consumers – about 6 out of 10 – support more government regulation of online platforms (60%), and mandating interoperability features (61%) so consumers can switch without losing valuable connections and information they have built up.
  • Three quarters of consumers (75%) said online platforms should not be allowed to manipulate their search algorithm to exclude competing sites or otherwise interfere with a seller’s or consumer’s own website,
  • And three quarters (74%) also said online platforms should be required to use objective and impartial evaluations when showing results, and be clear about how those evaluations are made.

Consumer Reports conducted the nationally representative online survey of 3,219 adult U.S residents this past summer to assess their experiences and opinions about online platforms. 

Media contact: Cyrus Rassool, cyrus.rassool@consumer.org