US bill aimed at Big Tech approved by the Senate panel despite fierce lobbying

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (Reuters) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would prevent technology giants like from giving preference to their own businesses on their websites, despite fierce lobbying from top executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The largest technology companies, including Meta Platforms Inc̵[ads1]7;s Facebook (FB.O) and Apple Inc (AAPL.O), have been under pressure in Congress over allegations that they abused their oversized market power. A large number of bills aim to curb them, but none have been allowed.

Lawmakers voted in favor of an amended version of a bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican, which expanded the definition of companies covered by the bill to include companies such as the popular video app TikTok and specified that companies were not required to to share data with companies that the US government considers to be national security risks.

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Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said during the hearing that he spoke with Cook on Wednesday, saying he “expressed significant concern about the bill.”

Cruz, who voted for the measure, said Cook expressed a “reasonable” concern that the bill would make it more difficult for Apple to let consumers protect their privacy by choosing not to allow apps to monitor or track their online activities.

Klobuchar, chair of the panel’s antitrust panel, said after the vote that she had also spoken to both Cook and Google chief Sundar Pichai.

“I had discussions with them and I presented my case and I listened to them. They will most likely never like this bill,” she said, adding that she was open to change, but not to gossip about the measure. “We are not going to promote a bill that does nothing.”

The Cowen Washington Research Group said that despite the committee’s 16-6 vote to approve the measure, many of the supporters expressed reservations that it had less than a 50% chance of being allowed.

Another bill, which was withheld, would prevent large app stores, such as Apple, from requiring app providers to use their payment system and prohibit them from penalizing apps that offer different prices through another app store or payment system.

Both bills have a version in the House of Representatives.

Legislation targeting Big Tech sparked a firestorm of opposition from powerful business groups.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, criticized the Klobuchar / Grassley initiative and predicted it would not pass the Senate. “Antitrust policies should aim to promote consumer welfare – not punish specific companies,” he said in a statement.

The law firm Consumer Reports supported the Klobuchar / Grassley bill to “restore the power symmetry between Big Tech, consumers and small businesses.”

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Reporting by Diane Bartz; Edited by David Gregorio, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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