New York State Senator Michael Giannares was euphoric when Amazon chose Long Island City in 2018 as the first candidate for its new headquarters, a project that would create 25,000 jobs and $ 2.5 billion in construction spending for his Queens area.
But his support quickly faded when he learned that state and city leaders had promised tax breaks from the world’s richest companies worth $ 3 billion in secret negotiations. Amazon’s public backlash eliminated the investment altogether, but for Gianaris, the episode still highlights the immense power of the tech companies that dominate their industries, overwhelm the traditional companies and use that influence to expand their reach even further.
Consumer activists, small business owners and lawmakers in the United States are increasingly calling for measures to curb companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google that exert an influence on much of daily life.
Usually this task falls to the federal government. But while the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission lifted sizeable antitrust measures against Google and Facebook – with broad support from the state – Congress remains stalled when it comes to enacting new laws related to major tech companies.
So dozens of so-called “techlash” bills are being discussed in dozens of state houses, as lawmakers from both major parties propose new regulations relating to antitrust, consumer privacy, app store fees, and taxes on digital advertising sales. Republican lawmakers also resist what they claim is without evidence Trying to stifle conservative voices On social media.
Gianares, a Democrat, is pushing a landmark antitrust bill in the New York legislature. It would create a new legal standard for antitrust – “abuse of dominance” – and allow for class action lawsuits under state laws.
“Our antitrust laws have atrophied and are ill-equipped to deal with the 21st century and anti-competitive practices,” he said. “The traditional antitrust app isn’t working because Big Tech has gotten too big and too powerful.”
Tech companies aren’t just playing defense. Their lobbyists are pressing lawmakers in the state to oppose restrictions they see as onerous. In other cases, companies are working on writing more appropriate invoices. In many cases, they also prefer federal legislation over a mixture of state laws.
Of concern to two of the largest companies is legislation being considered in various state roles that would limit the ability of Apple and Google to collect large shares of consumer transactions in their app stores.
Critics say the two leading US smartphone companies are using their site as app custodians to increase their profits through fees and undermine competitors who are competing against their music, video and other services.
The rejections are led by companies like Epic, which owns the popular Fortnite video game, Spotify and Match.com. They want to force Apple and Google to allow them to keep revenue subscriptions and in-app sales without being charged.
In an effort to stave off potential government reforms, Apple last year cut half of its standard 30% commission on app purchases for most developers. Google recently followed suit with the cuts due to take effect in July.
State Rep. Regina Cobb, a Republican that sponsors app store legislation in Arizona, said app makers and their customers are being held hostage.
“This is a kind of Chicago-style mafia:” You pay us 30 percent or you can’t play. We will take you out of our platform; Cobb said.
Similar legislation is being considered in Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin. App Store legislation passed away in North Dakota in February after intense pressure from both sides. Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s chief privacy engineer, has spoken out against the bill, saying it “threatens to destroy the iPhone as you know it” by demanding changes that would undermine privacy and security.
Moves by three states – California, Nevada and Virginia – to enact their own comprehensive data privacy laws have encouraged others to follow suit.
In Oklahoma, a bipartisan bill would require corporations to obtain pre-approval before collecting and selling state population data. In Florida, legislation gives consumers ownership of digital information companies that collect through spending, social interactions, news and travel habits.
The Florida bill would require companies to disclose the data they collect, forcing them to delete it at the request of the consumer, and forbidding them from sharing or selling it when asked not to do so. They can be sued if they do not comply.
One of her patrons, Republican Representative Fiona McFarland, said it was a response to the collection, sharing, and sale of ubiquitous personal information.
“It’s everything from these apps on our phones, to payment exchanges, to calendars,” she said.
Facebook says it supports some online privacy laws and provides as much input as possible while writing invoices. The Internet Society, the main trade group in the tech industry that represents Amazon, Facebook, Google and dozens of other tech companies, declined to comment.
In California, a bill called the Anti-Eavesdropping Act seeks to reduce the potential for smart speakers to interfere with private life. Its patron, Republican Rep. Jordan Cunningham, unplugged a smart device in his bedroom six months ago after it lit up unobstructed.
“The only thing preventing all these records from being in the hands of the government is one search warrant,” he said. “These things get hacked all the time, so you know, your data could end up in Russia.”
His bill would expand existing restrictions on smart TVs and would require companies like Amazon, which markets Echo smart speakers, for permission before they can record, copy, or sell information from any conversation.
Nor has the corporate turmoil of traditional businesses – and the tax revenue they once provided to governments – has not gone unnoticed.
Maryland lawmakers this year overruled the veto from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to put in place the first law in the state that taxes digital advertising. The measure, which was initially approved last year, has prompted a number of other states – including Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana and New York – to consider similar legislation.
Proponents say the law seeks to modernize the state’s tax system and make booming tech companies pay their fair share. It would base the tax on revenue from tech companies on in-state digital advertising, raising an estimated $ 250 million annually for education.
“Companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google have seen their profits dramatically increase during the COVID-19 pandemic as our companies on Main Street struggle to keep up with the measure,” said Bill Ferguson, the chair of the Maryland Senate, a Democrat who sponsored the measure.
Opponents have challenged the law in federal court and say it violates the Online Tax Freedom Act, which prohibits states from imposing “multiple and discriminatory taxes on e-commerce.”
The wave of state legislation comes on the heels of a growing public awareness of the power of major tech companies and the ever-increasing corporate influence, said Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.
“However, reactions have escalated against technology companies in terms of the power they possess and the ways in which they do so,” he said.
Reported Calvan from Tallahassee, Florida. Reported Gordon from Washington, DC
Associated Press Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Arizona; Michael Lidtke in San Ramon, California; Barbara Ortotay in Oakland, California; Brian Witt of Annapolis, Maryland contributed to this report.