A big crackdown may be headed for Big Tech, thanks to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Friday.
The EO’s scope looks expansive, codifying or recommending as many as 72 actions across 10 agencies targeting big business in agriculture, banking, transportation, healthcare and other sectors, including technology.
The move signals tougher scrutiny over Big Tech, in an effort to thwart practices that the White House and numerous legislators believe hamper competition and consolidate market power.
“Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism,” said Biden at a signing event on Friday. “It’s exploitation.”
Notably, the mandate cements the powers of the Federal Trade Commission to more deeply probe mergers and acquisitions by large internet platforms — which could muck up the works for Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, which are prone to buying up emerging competitors.
A White House factsheet on the matter laid out the context: “For decades, corporate consolidation has been accelerating,” it said. “In over 75 percent of U.S. industries, a smaller number of large companies now control more of the business than they did 20 years ago.”
On the labor front, the sheet cites research singling out “industry consolidation” for “decreasing advertised wages by as much as 17 percent. Tens of millions of Americans — including those working in construction and retail — are required to sign non-compete agreements as a condition of getting a job, which makes it harder for them to switch to better-paying options.”
President Biden also aims to limit the use of non-compete agreements as a hiring requirement, a practice that’s standard among tech companies and other sectors. He believes NDAs make it tougher for people to change jobs, curbing their wage potential.
That’s just for starters. The administration also pressed the FTC to set out rules governing data surveillance and collection and, according to the order, institute “right to repair” protections for third-party fixit shops, which are often tightly restricted by the likes of Apple and Microsoft. The administration took the opportunity to address the Federal Communications Commission as well, urging it to restore net neutrality regulations dismantled during the Trump administration. Under net neutrality, internet service providers would be required to treat all data equally.
Other measures encompass a broad array of consumer issues — from permitting over-the-counter sales of hearing aids and reducing the price of prescription drugs to paving the way for more transparent baggage fees.
The totality of the mandates and guidance plants a stake in the ground for the current administration, though it’s not clear how much of the executive order will stand. Objectors in and out of tech are likely already weighing their options to push back against at least some measures. But either way, the order is sweeping in its scope.