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Google’s Criticism of Antitrust Technology Bill

Google argues that a bill proposed by the US Congress has the potential to compromise user security and damage products such as Search and Maps.

Known as US Online Innovation and Choice Act (AICOA)Bill S.2992 contains bipartisan legislation proposed by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

The intention behind AICOA is to create a level playing field for businesses so that they can compete online. It targets alleged anti-competitive practices, such as a platform favoring its own products and services over those of its competitors.


Google says the bill will do more harm than good. Royal Hansen, Google’s vice president of engineering for privacy, safety and security, wrote a blog post earlier this week with a list of the company’s concerns regarding S.2992.

Do Google’s claims hold water? Let’s examine Google’s arguments and compare them with what is described in the bill.

Google has four main arguments against Bill S.2992:

  • It undermines security by prohibiting the integration of commodity products.
  • It opens Google’s products to exploitation by foreign companies.
  • This limits Google’s efforts to combat misinformation.
  • It does not address valid security concerns.

Does the bill prohibit product integration?

Google doesn’t point to any specific verbiage in the bill that talks about banning product embedding, so I can only speculate what the company is contesting.

I believe Google is referring to section 3.1 of the bill, which states that it will be illegal for platforms to:

“Favoring the Covered Platform Operator’s products, services or industries over those of another business user on the Covered Platform in a manner that would materially harm competition. »

Google could also refer to section 3.2which indicates that it will be illegal for platforms to:

“Limit the ability of another Business User’s products, services or industries to compete on the Covered Platform against the Covered Platform Operator’s products, services or industries.” in a way that would materially harm competition. »

This could affect the integration of Google products, such as how Search, Maps, and Business Profiles are all integrated, as companies with similar products cannot compete on the same level.

Section 3.8 could also attract the ire of Google, which will make it illegal to:

“Substantially restrict or inhibit Covered Platform users from uninstalling software applications pre-installed on the Covered Platform or changing default settings that direct or direct Covered Platform users to products or services offered by the covered platform operator, unless necessary. »

This could impact how Google integrates its products, as it should grant users the ability to decouple Google’s apps from each other.

“I tend to agree with Google’s position,” commented Ericka Johnson, senior partner at Squire Patton Boggs LLP specializing in cybersecurity, by email. “This law seems to have all the best intentions: to promote greater competition between major online platforms. [But] because the bill prohibits the integration of commodities, [Google] may not be able to secure its products by default.

Ultimately, Johnson adds, “This could lead to unintended consequences, particularly for small businesses that may not have the resources to understand the nuances surrounding defending against cybersecurity attacks other than to press the default settings provided. »

However, the bill adds that platforms could prevent users from uninstalling software “for the security or operation of the covered platform.”

Does the bill allow foreign companies to exploit Google’s products?

Google says the bill will force companies to open their platforms to outside parties, which could lead to exploitation by foreign companies seeking to access the data of US companies and citizens.

Google points to section 3.4 of the bill that says it will be illegal to:

“Unreasonably restricting, interfering or delaying a business user’s ability to access or interact with the same platform, operating system, hardware or software functionality as is available for products, services or sectors of activity of the covered platform which compete or would be in competition with products or services offered by the user companies on the covered platform. »

Whether this would have the impact described by Google is a matter of interpretation.

“While efforts to promote competition are generally good for the American economy and society, I think we need to be careful of … unintended consequences,” Johnson notes. “Cybersecurity is a matter of national security and, especially in light of existing cybersecurity threats from Russia, among other countries, I think Congress needs to be careful not to weaken US-based online platforms. . »

Does the bill limit Google’s ability to fight misinformation?

Google argues that Section 2992 will limit its ability to take action against malicious content, as the bill says there must be “non-discriminatory treatment.”

In making its point, Google points out section 3.9 of the bill, which says it will be illegal to:

“…in connection with any Covered Platform user interface, including any search or ranking functionality offered by the Covered Platform, dealing with the Platform Operator’s products, services or industries covered more favorably over those of another business user than under standards requiring neutral, fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all business users.

If Google lost the ability to “discriminate” competitors by ranking them down, it might be possible for entities to spread misinformation more easily.

Does the bill not address valid security concerns?

Here’s what Google says about the bill as it pertains to “valid” security issues:

“…the revised bill states that we do not have to interact with or provide access to entities that present “clear” and “significant” security risks. But this assumes that we know in real time which risks are significant, and might prohibit us from blocking moderate or emerging security risks that do not demonstrably meet the bar of a “significant” threat.

In other words, Google argues that the bill would prevent it from taking action against small threats before they become major security concerns.

“Threat actors are very sophisticated,” adds Johnson, “and will look for any opportunity to exploit a weakness in an organization’s IT infrastructure. »

Section 2.2 of the bill indicates that technology platforms do not have to accommodate entities that represent a “clear risk to national security”. However, I found nothing that explicitly limits Google’s ability to moderate security risks that are not national concerns.

The bill also lists affirmative defenses for violation of any unlawful conduct described in the legislation. One of these defenses includes protecting the security and privacy of users.

Technically, this means Google can block any entity it deems to be a security threat, as long as it can provide sufficient evidence of a security risk to users.

Are Google’s claims valid?

Other tech giants – which would be subject to legislation if the AICOA is passed – echo Google’s concerns.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), for example, has launched a campaign called Don’t Break What Works to raise awareness of the potential impact of L.2992.

Proponents of the bill say the critics miss the mark and that the AICOA is designed to make it easier for small companies to compete with big monopolies.

On the Morning Joe Show on Tuesday, Senator Klobuchar explained what she aims to accomplish by introducing the bill:

“…What the bill does is it says that if you’re going to sell things on your own platforms, you can’t favor them over other competing commercial products. Because that’s what they do. They start buying thing after thing and outdoing themselves, because they own the pipeline through which people buy other competitors. This is not fair capitalism. This is where antitrust comes in. »

Senator Klobuchar’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What happens if the AICOA is adopted?

If Congress passes the AICOA Act, it could impact many of the major technology platforms that people use every day.

Users may see a reduced experience, for example, when it comes to Google search.

Google would potentially not be able to make its own products more visible than others, for example, meaning it would not be able to display a local pack of Google Business profiles when searching for restaurants.

Search might look more like it did back then, when it was just ten blue links with a few ads at the top.

Featured Image: rafapress/Shutterstock



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