Friday morning, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) vowed that, if elected president in 2020, she would break up tech behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Only a few hours later, she arrived in Long Island City in New York City to pitch her proposal to a community that recently felt threatened by one of those companies.
“Hello, Long Island City,” Warren shouted to the crowd. “I understand that you’ve had a visitor.”
“Amazon came. Amazon left,” she continued. “That is the problem in America today. We have these giant tech companies that think they rule the earth.”
Over 1,000 people weathered the cold to hear Warren’s proposal. She came out swinging at Amazon, and the crowd hollered and applauded as she called out the company for acting anti-competitively.
“They think they can scoop up all of our personal data and sell it to whoever they want”
“She’s one of the only politicians that has put out a policy that matches the scale of this consolidation of corporate power in the tech space,” one person in the crowd told me.
In her proposal, Warren says that, if elected, she would appoint regulators who would work to spin off former acquisitions by companies like Facebook and Google back into their own companies again. In the case of Facebook, that would mean forcing the company to divest Instagram and WhatsApp. In addition, she proposed legislation that would bar platforms that bring in more than $25 billion in revenue annually from acting as “participants” on their platform.
To many, the legislation appeared to be a direct jab at Amazon. If Warren’s proposal is approved, Amazon wouldn’t be allowed to sell its own goods on its website, solely third-party products.
Long Island City (LIC), situated in the Queens borough of New York City, was a symbolic choice of location for Warren’s campaign event Friday night. Last year, Amazon courted dozens of cities across the country for the location of its second headquarters searching for the sweetest set of incentives from local officials. In November, Amazon announced that it would be slicing its new HQ in two, split between LIC and Northern Virginia. Virginia welcomed the company with little criticism, but shortly after the announcement, local New York City politicians and advocates rallied against the decision. A few months later, Amazon backed out.
Warren was introduced by two members of the New York legislature who pushed the hardest against Amazon, Sens. Mike Gianaris and Jimmy Van Bramer. Both were at the forefront in advocacy efforts to either renegotiate the deal or push Amazon out entirely, and supported Warren as she criticized the company’s behavior.
“[Big tech companies] think they can come to towns and states and bully everyone into doing what they want,” Warren said. “They think they can scoop up all of our personal data and sell it to whoever they want and for whatever purposes. They think they can run their business and just roll right over every small business, every entrepreneur, and every start-up that might threaten their position. And what does our government in Washington do? Nothing.”
Over the past year, discussions on the state of US antitrust law have taken on new relevance. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now beginning to rethink how regulators can combat anti-competitive behavior — especially when it comes to tech companies. Criticism of the companies has become commonplace in Congress, but no politician has been as explicit about the importance of breaking up giant tech corporations as Warren.
“I want a government that isn’t here to work for giant tech companies,” Warren said. “I want a government that’s here to work for the people.”