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US senator proposes banning acquisitions by Big Tech

Josh Hawley wants to ban companies with a market value of $100 billion from acquiring or merging with other companies.

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Republican Sen. Josh Hawley has unveiled a bill that would make it harder for tech companies to acquire competitors.

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US Sen. Josh Hawley, a staunch critic of Big Tech, unveiled an antitrust bill on Monday that would prohibit all mergers and acquisitions by companies with a market value greater than $100 billion, which includes Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, referenced an alleged anti-conservative bias by large tech companies as he introduced his Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act. Hawley is one of several Republican lawmakers who have alleged that Twitter, Facebook and other social networks harbor anti-conservative bias. The social networks have denied those charges.

"A small group of woke mega-corporations control the products Americans can buy, the information Americans can receive and the speech Americans can engage in," Hawley said in a statement Monday. "These monopoly powers control our speech, our economy, our country and their control has only grown because Washington has aided and abetted their quest for endless power."

Google, Facebook and other tech giants have come under increased scrutiny over their size and scale. Legislators and regulators are concerned about how their power might ultimately harm consumers, especially by choking off competition from smaller players in Silicon Valley. Google is facing three antitrust suits. In December, a pair of complaints were filed against Facebook seeking to break up Instagram and WhatsApp from the social networking giant.

The bill, which seeks to reform the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts, would make it clear that evidence of anticompetitive conduct is sufficient to bring an antitrust claim, which would make it easier for federal regulators to pursue the breakup of dominant companies.

Hawley also argues that antitrust claims should be pursued without devolving into a debate over the definition of a specific market. He cited Facebook's acquisition of Instagram as an example of a justified antitrust action that need not be mired by specialists defining a "social networking market." Amazon and Google were also namechecked in Hawley's examples of activities that would be banned by the bill.

The bill would empower the Federal Trade Commission to label companies exercising dominant market power as "digital dominant firms" and prohibit them from acquiring potential social media competitors. Such companies would also be prohibited from prioritizing their own search results without explicitly disclosing that information. 

Hawley is the author of a book titled The Tyranny of Big Tech, due for release later this year, in which he describes the threat companies such as Google and Facebook pose to American democracy.

"At a time when these platforms are determining elections, banning inconvenient political views, lining politicians' pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars, and addicting our kids to screens, I want to draw attention to the robber barons of the modern era," Hawley said in a release. "This is the fight to recover America's populist democracy. That is why I am writing this book."

Hawley's press release on Monday also called out the banking and pharmaceutical industries, saying acquisitions and mergers have "gobbled up our freedom and competition."

Hawley's bill would also require companies that lose antitrust cases to federal antitrust lawsuits to forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct.