Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled the third major proposal of her presidential campaign Friday, a plan to make it easier for entrepreneurs to compete in the tech sector by breaking up dominant tech giants including Amazon, Google and Facebook.
“Today’s big tech companies have too much power ― too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else,” Warren wrote in a post published on Medium.
“I want a government that makes sure everybody ― even the biggest and most powerful companies in America ― plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish,” she continued. “To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”
Warren, who hopes to secure the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is scheduled to make a campaign stop in New York City Friday night in Long Island City, Queens, where Amazon was slated to build its highly publicized new headquarters before pulling out amid protest last month.
Seth Pollack, a Queens native who worked on Zephyr Teachout’s campaign to become New York attorney general in 2018, said Friday that Warren’s announcement felt like something of a turning point.
“It feels like these issues are kind of finally, belatedly becoming part of the mainstream conversation,” he said.
Like many of the other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Warren has pledged her support for proposals like student loan relief, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. But the Massachusetts senator has set herself apart from the pack by also announcing specific and out-of-the-box policy ideas, including universal child care and an annual wealth tax on people with more than $50 million to their names.
“I am a capitalist. Come on. I believe in markets,” she told CNBC last year. “What I don’t believe in is theft, what I don’t believe in is cheating. That’s where the difference is.”
Her newest proposal falls right in line with that idea. In Friday’s post, Warren breaks her proposal down into “two major steps.” The first would be passing legislation that designates tech platforms with annual revenues surpassing $25 billion as utilities that “would be prohibited from owning both the platform utility and any participants on that platform.”
“Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search would be platform utilities under this law,” she writes. “Therefore, Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. Google Search would have to be spun off as well.”
Additionally, Warren proposes disallowing these so-called “platform utilities” from sharing data with third parties.
The second major proposal of Warren’s plan would be appointing regulators dedicated to using current rules to “unwind anti-competitive mergers,” like those between Amazon and Whole Foods, Facebook and Instagram. “Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market ― which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy,” she said.
Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a D.C.-based nonprofit that studies the effects of economic concentration, told HuffPost that “Warren’s proposal zeroes in on the core problem with these platforms.”
“They have become the infrastructure for our economy, and if you control the infrastructure and you’re also a competitor to the companies that rely on that infrastructure ― that’s a problem,” she said. “It’s a conflict of interest.”
Mitchell said Amazon “routinely” uses its power as a platform operator to undermine competition in areas where it’s also a retailer or manufacturer, by elevating certain companies in the search results and burying others. “It should be in a market economy that the consumers collectively pick which products and which companies succeed, but increasingly Amazon is choosing who wins,” she said.
Pollack, the Queens native, said he personally understands how that can affect a family.
“My dad worked for a medium-sized local business, and they had been struggling for years due to big-box retailers,” he said. “There was a moment when they thought, ‘Oh, this Amazon Marketplace would change the game.’ But now they have to compete against Amazon too.”
That appears to be having a larger effect on the economy. According to Mitchell, the number of new startups created in recent years has dropped precipitously, which she sees as a sign of growing concentration of power in the economy.
“When you have a small number of companies that have this kind of stranglehold on the economy, it eliminates the oxygen for all sorts of other businesses,” she said.
In Friday’s post, Warren argued that her proposed changes would give entrepreneurs a “fighting chance” against the biggest companies on the internet without taking away the benefits consumers enjoy from the internet’s largest players.
“The steps I’m proposing today will allow existing big tech companies to keep offering customer-friendly services, while promoting competition, stimulating innovation in the tech sector, and ensuring that America continues to lead the world in producing cutting-edge tech companies,” she wrote.
This story has been updated with comments from Pollack and Mitchell.