When the Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate laid out her plan Friday to break up big tech companies that she said stifle competition, she focused on Facebook Inc. , Alphabet Inc.’s, Google and Amazon.com Inc. but did not mention Apple. Well, Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t just coming for Google, Facebook, and Amazon, she wants to break up Apple too.
Under Warren’s plan, Amazon would not be able to sell Amazon Basics products on the Amazon retail store, Google would not be able to promote its own products in Google search, and Facebook would have to split apart from Instagram and WhatsApp. Her issue with Apple lines up with the same problem she’s raised with Google and Amazon: “These companies get a competitive advantage in search results on their platforms. Apple makes far more than $25 billion a year in revenue, and it operates the iOS App Store, in which it distributes its own apps. It’s got to be one or the other,” she said. “Either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time.”
Warren further pointed out that, because tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are so massive, they have an unprecedented level of influence around the world. In her own words: “Today’s big tech companies have too much power , too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”
How would she break Apple?
Warren actually backed up her plan with a two-pronged explanation of exactly how she’d do it. In another surprising move, she did so in a way that makes sense.
*First, by passing legislation that requires large tech platforms to be designated as ‘Platform Utilities’ and broken apart from any participant on that platform: this means it would give huge tech companies a lot less control over who buys their products, how they do so, and where, in hopes of making the system a bit more competitive.
*Second, my administration would appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers: effectively, this would put tech companies on notice for past mergers that would be considered anti-competitive. With this action, Warren hopes to spur even more competition in the tech industry, while encouraging tech companies to focus on security and privacy concerns rather than expanding their business.
“I want a government that makes sure everybody even the biggest and most powerful companies in America plays by the rules,” Warren said in a statement to the New York Times. “To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”
Warren’s plan is admittedly ambitious, but it’s also far from a bad idea, particularly when you consider the fact that each of the four companies named by Warren (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple) is embroiled in some kind of antitrust issue. This isn’t the first time Apple has come under scrutiny for possible anti competitive practices, including with regard to the App Store specifically. The Supreme Court is currently weighing Apple v. Pepper which originated in 2011 after a group of iPhone owners claimed that Apple keeping third-party apps out of its App Store was driving up prices and hurting competition.
The case has played out a bit differently in court, because instead of focusing on whether Apple’s practices are legal, the courts have instead paid more attention to whether iPhone users are allowed to sue Apple.
As the campaign continues, other candidates are likely to talk more about how they would approach the tech industry as well.