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Democrats circulate draft antitrust bills that could reshape Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google

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U.S. House Impeachment manager David Cicilline (D-RI) speaks on the second day of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 10, 2021 in Washington, DC.

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A group of House Democrats is circulating discussion drafts of antitrust bills that would force the biggest tech companies to change parts of their business models and curtail large acquisitions, according to copies obtained by CNBC.

While the drafts could still change significantly prior to their introduction, as currently written, they could require business model overhauls for Apple and Amazon by limiting their ability to operate marketplaces for products and apps while selling their own goods and apps on those same stores.

The bills would also make it harder for those companies plus Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to complete large mergers, and would force them to make it easier for users to leave their platforms with their data intact. CNBC couldn’t immediately learn when the drafts will be introduced.

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The draft bills come after a 16-month investigation by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust into the four companies, which culminated in a nearly 450-page report from Democratic staff last fall. While Republicans on the subcommittee diverged from some of the Democrats’ more extreme proposals, several agreed with the main findings of monopoly power and anticompetitive behavior in the Democratic report and on the need to rein in Big Tech’s power with antitrust reform.

The drafts don’t indicate whether any Republicans are supporting the bills.

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What the draft bills say

Specifically, the five discussion drafts would prevent platforms from owning businesses that present a conflict of interest, bar large platforms from favoring their own products over those of competitors that rely on their sites, make it harder for large platforms to complete mergers, raise filing fees for acquisitions and mandate ways for users to transfer their data between platforms.

One of the bills, sponsored by Rep Joe Neguse, D-Colo., appears to be companion legislation to the bipartisan Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act in the Senate, which passed in that chamber on Tuesday as part of a larger $250 billion tech and manufacturing bill. That bill would raise the fees companies pay to notify the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice Antitrust Division of large mergers with the goal of raising money for those agencies.

The other four drafts obtained by CNBC include:

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  • Ending Platform Monopolies Act: Sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the vice chair of the subcommittee, this bill would make it unlawful for a platform with at least 500,000 monthly active U.S. users and a market cap over $600 billion to own or operate a business that presents a clear conflict of interest. The draft defines an unlawful conflict as one that incentivizes a business to favor its own services over those of a competitors’ or disadvantage potential competitors that use the platform. Lawmakers have previously expressed concern that both Amazon and Apple, which run their own platforms for sellers and developers, respectively, could undermine competition due to a conflict of interest for their own competing products or apps.
  • Platform Competition and Opportunity Act: This proposal from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., would shift the burden of proof in merger cases to dominant platforms (defined with the same criteria as the previous bill) to prove that their acquisitions are in fact lawful, rather than the government having to prove they will lessen competition. The measure would likely substantially slow down acquisitions by dominant tech firms.
  • Platform Anti-Monopoly Act: This bill, proposed by Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., would prohibit dominant platforms from giving their own products and services advantages over those of competitors on the platform. It would also prohibit other types of discriminatory behavior by dominant platforms, like cutting off a competitor that uses the platform from services offered by the platform itself, and ban dominant platforms from using data collected on their services that isn’t public to others to fuel their own competing products, among several other prohibitions.
  • Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act: This proposed bill from Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., would mandate dominant platforms maintain certain standards of data portability and interoperability, making it easier for consumers to take their data with them to other platforms.
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Representatives for those lawmakers did not respond or did not provide comment on the discussion drafts.

Axios first reported on the drafts.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: Big Tech may face even more scrutiny for antitrust and monopoly in 2021—Here’s why

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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