American comedian John Oliver used his “Last Week Tonight” show to expose alleged anti-competitive behavior by Big Tech on Sunday night and advocate for new antitrust bills, including the American Innovation and Choice Act (AICO). and the “Open App Markets Act”. Whether it’s Apple and Google taking huge sums from app store sales or Amazon’s stranglehold on online sellers, Oliver explained how the power of these companies can stifling innovation and how legislators could shake up the industry.
Oliver explained how big tech companies govern the internet. Ending a monopoly is almost always a good thing, whether it’s AT&T, Standard Oil, or any game of Monopoly. When harmful monopolies end, innovation flourishes, he said. It refers to AT&T, because until the 1980s, the American telecom operator held a monopoly on all telephone services in the country. Oliver recalled that once AT&T was dismantled, prices fell and innovation exploded, resulting in advances such as answering machines and modems.
In fact, the takedown would have helped make possible the ubiquity of the Internet. The comedian devoted 25 minutes of his latest Last Week Tonight show to the “general wickedness” of big tech companies and argued in favor of two landmark antitrust bills currently before Congress. It focused on claims by advocacy groups and small businesses that giants like Google and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, engage in anti-competitive and self-referential behavior that promotes their products and services and bolsters their status as rulers without equal.
During the show, he attacked Apple’s roughly 30% commission on the App Store (called “Apple tax” by critics), which he jokingly called “blood money”. “. He then attacked Google, which he criticized for having “exploited its dominant position in the market” for search. Researchers estimate that Google has over 90% of the search market share. Oliver also cited a study that found that two-thirds (about 66%) of all searches on Google never result in a user leaving a related Google property.
Imagine that you are looking for a cooking recipe on Google and you are directed to an Alphabet-owned YouTube video. According to the comedian, it’s self-referencing in action. The practice is for companies to unfairly promote their own products on their own platforms. “Google’s algorithm shouldn’t determine whether someone’s business is real or not,” Oliver said, referring to companies such as Yelp. They accused Google of stealing their content and alleged that the tech giant’s self-referencing limited their visibility and reach.
Apple, for example, prevents iPhone users from downloading apps anywhere other than its App Store, where Apple apps always appear first in searches. Above all, Oliver took aim at Amazon, which has come under heavy criticism for allegedly prioritizing its own product brands over its smaller competitors, which has the effect of crowding out small businesses. In fact, it’s Amazon’s playing field, it sets the rules, and it seems to win most of the time. If they compete with you, you’re pretty much dead,” Oliver said.
He also added that Amazon is basically the only place you can sell anything on the internet. unless you’re looking to get rid of a few human teeth, because then Craigslist is in order, baby! , he said. In 2020, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law released a 450-page report claiming that Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) routinely engage in anticompetitive behavior to to preserve their incredibly lucrative monopolies.
For example, according to the report, 65-70% of all purchases made in online marketplaces in the United States go through Amazon. A recent analysis showed that Amazon directs buyers to products sold by Amazon 40% of the time and when it directs to another supplier, nine times out of ten, it is a supplier who uses the Amazon’s shipping services. And that’s not to mention the roughly 160,000 products that Amazon makes – and promotes – itself, some of which are believed to be cheap counterfeits of products made by small businesses that are then unable to sell their products.
While Oliver acknowledged that small reforms have been made by Apple and Google over the past few years, he said they only came about after relentless pressure from activists and numerous lawsuits. He also criticized recent big tech arguments against new antitrust measures, including the American Innovation and Choice Act (AICO) and the Open App Markets Act. “These bills would open the door to innovation again and bring the Internet back to what it was meant to be from the start: a revolutionary tool that has expanded global access to information,” Oliver added.
For example, the AICO would prohibit Amazon from favoring its own private label products over those of independent sellers. The Open App Markets Act would require Apple and Google to allow users to install third-party apps without going through their app stores. The bills have bipartisan support, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has yet to call them to a vote. He had promised to submit them in “early summer”, but nothing has been scheduled as Congress prepares to vote on a bipartisan gun control bill.
Oliver’s show has also drawn praise from some consumer advocacy groups and small tech companies who have spent years exposing Big Tech’s anti-competitive practices and outsized political power. Fight for the Future, a leading antitrust reform advocate, came out in favor of the show because of its clear presentation of the alleged harms caused by tech companies and highlighting the chief executive’s family ties. Democratic majority in the Senate with the very companies the new legislation would attempt to target.
A crystal clear explanation of the evils of Big Tech monopoly and self-representation, with epic demonstrations of Big Tech’s lies,” tweeted Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future. Greer pointed to a 2017 Last Week Tonight story on net neutrality, which he says played an important role in galvanizing public support for the issue. It’s possible, Greer added, that this week’s episode could ignite a similar spark for antitrust reform. Yet Big Tech is doing everything it can to prevent these bills from seeing the light of day.
Last week, a report revealed that Big Tech has already spent around $36 million on ads to sabotage the AICO bill, while proponents of the measure have spent just $200,000 to support it. The spending is one of the mighty tech industry’s biggest advertising campaigns in recent years and reflects its fear of the disruptive potential of tougher antitrust laws. One of the associations that has spent the most on these lobbying campaigns is the international association “Computer and Communications Industry Association” (CCIA).
Source: Video of the mission (below)
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