More than a dozen smaller tech companies, including Proton and DuckDuckGo are urging lawmakers to pass comprehensive antitrust legislation “as soon as possible.” For them, passing the bill would kill two birds with one stone, allowing lawmakers to address anti-competitive conduct and privacy failures in one go.
In a letter to top congressional leaders on Tuesday, executives from a dozen smaller tech companies called on lawmakers to pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, or AICO, a sweeping competition bill that would restrict dominant platforms like Google and Amazon from favoring their own services over those of their competitors. The bill would also provide new funding for antitrust regulators at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to enforce the rules.
“There’s simply no doubt that more competition is a precondition for better privacy online,” Proton CEO and founder Andy Yen said in a statement on Tuesday. “Competition policy may not solve all of our data privacy challenges, but it’s surely a good start, which is why lawmakers must pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act.”
The letter comes as the AICO and its companion in the House have largely stalled. Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised to hold a floor vote for the AICO this summer. But the vote was delayed as Democrats faced pressure to advance other Biden administration priorities, like budget reconciliation, ahead of Congress’ August recess. Before leaving Capitol Hill for the month, Schumer told the New York Post that the AICO wasn’t forgotten and that he would schedule a floor vote for the fall. No votes have been scheduled as of publication.
It’s not entirely clear what’s holding up the bill, but it’s likely that Democrats may not have enough votes in the Senate to approve it. In July, The Washington Post found that several Democrats, like Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), were still “reviewing” the bill and hadn’t pledged to vote to approve it. Democrats hold a razor-thin Senate majority, and the bill can’t succeed without a mix of Republican and Democrat votes, or every Democrat agreeing to approve it.
With the November midterm elections quickly approaching, experts fear that Congress may be running out of time to pass the bill and rein in the power of giant tech companies.
While lawmakers have debated how to address tech issues like privacy and competition for years, they have failed to pass any significant legislation. In their Tuesday letter, Proton and the other companies argued that passing the AICO would be a significant first step, allowing consumers to pick and choose the products and services that provide them with more privacy and security protection.
“Companies like Google and Facebook have abused their positions of power, locking users into endless surveillance and making it difficult to switch to more-private alternatives,” DuckDuckGo CEO and founder Gabriel Weinberg said in a statement on Tuesday. “The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would help empower users to pick the services they want to use and encourage healthy competition online. We urge Congress to schedule a vote now.”