NEW YORK—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stomped on the Long Island City grave of Amazon HQ2 on Friday night.
In a cold warehouse adorned with graffiti on the concrete walls, the Massachusetts Democrat rallied in Queens to assail the big tech companies and their influence in the borough where Amazon had intended to build half of its second headquarters before abruptly reversing itself in the face of rising local and national resistance.
“We have these giant tech companies that think they rule the earth,” Warren said before a diverse crowd huddled in their coats. “They think they can come to towns, cities, states and bully everyone into doing what they want. They think they can scoop up all their personal data and sell it to whoever they want for whatever purposes. They think they can run their business to just roll right over every small business, every entrepreneur, every start-up that might threaten their position.”
“This is the boldest and most aggressive plan so far,” Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute who is writing a book on monopoly power in the 20th century, told The Daily Beast. “It’s an important moment for democracy and it’s a practical smart plan that would actually work.”
That moment, which came weeks after Amazon, citing “state and local politicians” who opposed the move, scuttled their plans, led to Warren declaring that “it is time to break up America’s tech companies.”
The company’s reversal left Gov. Andrew Cuomo raging at his fellow Democrats in the state, after he’d negotiated behind closed doors along with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to bring the tech titan and 25,000 jobs to the Queens neighborhood just across the river from Manhattan.
“Amazon dances around the country and says ‘sector three what can you offer’” she said later, in response to an audience question, drawing a comparison between Amazon and The Hunger Games, the popular book and film series that hinges on a televised fight to the death.
Earlier in the day, Warren had introduced her plan to break up major tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. It’s yet another policy proposal she has introduced in the Democratic presidential primary, adding to a set of ideas that have galvanized the terms of the debate on the left.
“Twenty-five years ago, Facebook, Google, and Amazon didn’t exist,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a Medium post discussing her proposal. “Now they are among the most valuable and well-known companies in the world. It’s a great story — but also one that highlights why the government must break up monopolies and promote competitive markets.”
Charging that these companies have “bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else,” Warren proposed two concrete measures to ameliorate the tech sector and allow for more competition therein.
First, Warren said that she intends to pass legislation that would designate a new category for companies with an annual global revenue of $25 billion or more that “offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties.” They would be deemed “platform utilities,” and would be prevented from both owning the platform and any of its participants and also would have to “meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users.” The platform utilities would also not be permitted to share or transfer data to third parties.
Her plan would create a separate designation for companies with annual revenue of between $90 million and $25 billion, which would be required to meet the same standards standard but would not have to separate from a participant on the platform.
As a means of enforcement, Warren suggests that federal regulators, state attorneys general or private parties would have the right to sue and if a company is found to have violated these requirements, they would have to pay a fine of five percent in annual revenue. Some of the examples she provides that would turn into platform utilities include the Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange and Google Search.
Additionally, Warren proposed that appointed regulators would work to undo recent mergers including Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook’s ownership of WhatsApp and Instagram and Google’s ownership of Waze, Nest and DoubleClick.
“Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy,” she wrote.
The announcement comes as other contenders for the Democratic nomination have entertained the idea of reining in the influence of these companies, fuelled by a series of revelations about Facebook’s violations of consumer privacy protections. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), another presidential candidate, pointedly questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a 2018 hearing on this very topic.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has worked on a series of bills that focus on oversight with big tech companies and even emphasized this approach in her launch speech. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has also spoken about the monopolistic power of Amazon and specifically targeted its CEO Jeff Bezos in a successful effort to get him to raise wages for workers at the company.
The tech giants have long been a focus for Warren, who warned of their influence in a 2016 speech as part of New America’s Open Markets Program.
“Google, Apple, and Amazon provide platforms that lots of other companies depend on for survival,” she said at the time. “But Google, Apple, and Amazon also, in many cases, compete with those same small companies, so that the platform can become a tool to snuff out competition.”