Elizabeth Warren Proposes Breaking Up Big Tech

Presidential candidate sets sights on Amazon, Facebook and Google

"It’s a little like baseball," said Warren. "You can be an umpire [a platform] or you can own teams [brands]. But you can’t be an umpire and own one of the teams that’s in the game." Getty Images

Look out, Amazon, Facebook and Google—Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is coming for you.

The Massachusetts senator, who is running for president in what has already become a crowded and chaotic Democratic primary, said Friday that if she is elected president, she intends to break up the biggest technology companies “to restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last.”

“Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy,” Warren wrote in a Medium post outlining her proposal. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. … 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.”

Warren intends to appoint federal regulators who would reverse some major recent mergers and acquisitions in the tech sector, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Zappos and Google’s acquisition of Waze and DoubleClick.

Her plan also includes a new designation for some large tech platforms’ marketplaces and exchanges, like Amazon Marketplace and Google’s ad exchange. Under Warren’s rules, those companies would be labeled “platform utilities” and would be prohibited from owning other companies that participate on the platform and from sharing or transferring data with third parties. Under the plan, Amazon Marketplace and Google’s ad exchange would be required to be split and spun off from the companies.

Warren compared Amazon, Facebook and Google to companies like Standard Oil and JPMorgan, which legislators broke up using antitrust laws, and to Microsoft, which was sued over anti-monopoly laws and eventually broken up. Taking the same approach to existing tech giants, Warren wrote, would help encourage continued competition in the market and allow disruptive startups and small businesses to join the fray without fear of being snuffed out.

“We must ensure that today’s tech giants do not crowd out potential competitors, smother the next generation of great tech companies and wield so much power that they can undermine our democracy,” Warren wrote.

Warren also advocated for data privacy rules that “give people more control over how their personal information is collected, shared and sold” and encouraged the support of content creators to “keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook.”

Warren did not elaborate on whether she had specific policy plans to address these issues. A Warren campaign spokesperson did not immediately return requests for additional information about those plans.

Representatives for Amazon, Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Warren has long advocated for regulatory measures to address the power of big corporations; she made a national name for herself in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis by advocating for tough regulations on Wall Street and breaking up big banks.

Other legislators have indicated an appetite to break up big tech, including Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat who heads up the House Antitrust Subcommittee, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

In the European Union, Google has repeatedly faced record fines for anti-competitive business practices, and Facebook has been embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit alleging anti-competitive business practices. On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg detailed plans to combine the messaging services of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, a move some legislators slammed as anti-competitive.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is considering hitting Facebook with a record fine over privacy violations. It’s unclear whether that legal fight would press for a breakup.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
Publish date: March 8, 2019 https://stage.adweek.com/digital/elizabeth-warren-proposes-breaking-up-big-tech/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT