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Tech Giants Warn Antitrust Bills Will ‘Break’ Popular Services, Threaten Security

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  • Several tech companies and trade groups released statements and messaging campaigns this week warning against the consequences of antitrust legislation due to be marked up Thursday.
  • Google’s Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker wrote a blog post Tuesday arguing the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, and the Open App Markets Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, could break popular services like Google Search, as well as degrade security and privacy.
  • “The bills put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches,” Apple said in a letter to lawmakers. “In addition to making privacy and security protections nearly impossible to defend, the bills would actually allow predators and scammers to sidestep Apple’s privacy and security protections completely.”
  • Several dozen smaller tech companies have issued statements in support of the bills, with a group including Yelp, Patreon, Y Combinator and Proton Technologies signing onto an open letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley urging the committee to approve Grassley’s bill.

Several tech companies and trade groups released statements and messaging campaigns this week warning against the consequences of antitrust legislation due to be marked up Thursday.

Google’s Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker wrote a blog post Tuesday arguing the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, and the Open App Markets Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, could break popular services like Google Search, as well as degrade security and privacy.

“The bills could hamper our ability to integrate automated security features if other companies offer similar features,” Walker wrote. “For example, we might be prevented from automatically including our SafeBrowsing service and spam filters in Chrome and Gmail to block pop-ups, viruses, scams and malware.”

The Klobuchar-Grassley bill is a companion to House legislation led by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline and Republican Rep. Ken Buck designed to prevent online platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Apple’s App Store and Google from prioritizing their own goods and services. If passed, the bill would prevent major tech companies from mandating that businesses pay for priority placement on their platform and collecting data on businesses to disadvantage their products.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), wears a protective mask during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg on January 21, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), wears a protective mask during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg on January 21, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds – Pool/Getty Images)

The Blumenthal-Blackburn bill is intended to prevent app stores, including Google Play and Apple’s App Store, from requiring developers to use the tech giants’ in-app payment systems as a condition of distribution.

Walker also argued the bills “would give the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies unprecedented power over the design of consumer products,” and that the bills could degrade innovation.

Walker’s security concerns were echoed by Apple, who sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday raising potential security issues that would result from the legislation, according to CNBC.

“The bills put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches,” the letter reportedly said. “In addition to making privacy and security protections nearly impossible to defend, the bills would actually allow predators and scammers to sidestep Apple’s privacy and security protections completely.”

Apple argued the bills would require it to “sideload” apps, or allow apps on its devices to be downloaded from outside its App Store, which it argued could allow unvetted apps containing malware and other risks to consumers.

Klobuchar’s office disputed the allegations in a statement to CNBC.

“All of Apple’s arguments about ‘sideloading’ really amount to a desperate attempt to preserve their app store monopoly, which they use to charge huge fees from businesses they are competing against,” a spokesperson for her office told the outlet. “Let’s be clear – this multi-trillion dollar company is more that capable of  protecting privacy and security while still giving consumers greater choice by allowing competition. The legislation includes strong provisions that all platforms to safeguard user privacy and security.”

Several trade groups representing major tech companies have also launched campaigns, claiming the bills would destroy consumer-friendly services.

The Computer and Communication Industry Association’s (CCIA) initiative, called “Don’t Break What Works,” argues the bills threaten to break popular services including Amazon Prime, Amazon Basics, Google Maps and others. CCIA launched an ad campaign Wednesday claiming the bills would stall U.S. technological innovation.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: (L-R) Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) discuss the Build Back Better Act that Democrats are trying to pass in the Senate during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol December 7, 2021 in Washington, DC. In a letter to his Senate Democrat colleagues on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hopes to pass the Build Back Better legislation by Christmas. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) discuss the Build Back Better Act that Democrats are trying to pass in the Senate during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol December 7, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Lawmakers’ offices shared manager’s amendments to the American Innovation and Choice Online Act with tech companies on Wednesday, intending to address some of the main issues with the bill; however, Walker said the amendments fail to properly address security concerns and solve none of the chief problems Google has with the legislation.

“At the end of the day legislators could come to a conclusion that more competition is worth that increased security risk, but to make that determination you first have to acknowledge that there is a trade-off,” Dirk Auer, director of Competition Policy at the International Center for Law & Economics, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Several dozen smaller tech companies have issued statements in support of the bills, with a group including Yelp, Patreon, Y Combinator and Proton Technologies signing onto an open letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley urging the committee to approve Grassley’s bill.

“For too long, dominant technology companies have made it difficult for other businesses to compete in the digital marketplace by abusing their gatekeeper status to give themselves and their partners preferential treatment and access on their platforms,” the letter read. “The Committee must act now to restore competition to the digital marketplace by voting “aye” on favorably reporting Senate Bill S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act.”

The bills are scheduled to be marked up Thursday. Klobuchar and Grassley did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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