The harmful consequences of Congress’s anti-tech bills
Update: Ahead of the committee vote on the bill, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have circulated an amendment to the Senate bill. Below is our statement from Kent Walker:
These changes concede every concern that has been raised about the bill — and solve none of them. For example, the amendment acknowledges the real security flaws in the bill by saying that platforms won’t be forced to share user data with companies on the U.S. sanctions list. But it says nothing about provisions that could require sharing data with countless other bad actors and foreign companies. The bill still covers leading American companies, while giving a free pass to foreign companies. It still includes all the provisions that hamper our ability to offer security by default on our platforms, exposing people to phishing attacks, malware and spammy content. And it still includes the provisions that could prevent us from providing consumers and businesses useful, free services. In fact, the amendment seems to punish free services in favor of services consumers have to pay for, as it seems to exempt "fee for subscription services" (like Microsoft’s subscription-based software). This raises its own set of troubling issues, would hurt consumers who benefit from free services, and doesn’t address the bill’s real problems.
Every day, millions of Americans use online services like Google Search, Maps and Gmail to find new information and get things done. Research shows these free services provide thousands of dollars a year in value to the average American, and polls show that 90% of Americans like our products and services.
However, legislation being debated in the House and Senate could break these and other popular online services, making them less helpful and less secure, and damaging American competitiveness. We’re deeply concerned about these unintended consequences.
Antitrust law is about ensuring that companies are competing hard to build their best products for consumers. But the vague and sweeping provisions of these bills would break popular products that help consumers and small businesses, only to benefit a handful of companies who brought their pleas to Washington.
Harming U.S. technological leadership
These bills would impose one set of rules on American companies while giving a pass to foreign companies. And they would give the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies unprecedented power over the design of consumer products. All of this would be a dramatic reversal of the approach that has made the U.S. a global technology leader, and risks ceding America’s technology leadership and threatening our national security, as bipartisan national security experts have warned:
- Americans might get worse, less relevant, and less helpful versions of products like Google Search and Maps (see below for some examples).
- An “innovation by permission” requirement could force American technology companies to get approval from government bureaucrats before launching new features or even fixing problems, while foreign companies would be free to innovate. Foreign companies could also routinely access American technology as well as Americans' data.
- Handicapping America’s technology leaders would threaten our leading sources of research and development spending — just as bipartisan voices in Congress are recognizing the need to increase American R&D investment to stay competitive in the global race for AI, quantum, and other advanced technologies.
- That’s why national security experts from both parties have aligned in warning that current anti-tech bills could threaten America’s national security.
Degrading security and privacy
Google is able to protect billions of people around the world from cyberattacks because we bake security and privacy protections into our services. Every day, Gmail automatically blocks more than 100 million phishing attempts and Google Play Protect runs security scans on 100 billion installed apps around the world.
These bills could prevent us from securing our products by default, and would introduce new privacy risks for you. For instance:
- The bills could hamper our ability to integrate automated security features if other companies offer similar features. For example, we might be prevented from automatically including our SafeBrowsing service and spam filters in Chrome and Gmail to block pop-ups, viruses, scams and malware.
- Breaking apart the connections between Google tools could limit our ability to detect and protect you against security risks that use security signals across our products.
- These bills may compel us to share the sensitive data you store with us with unknown companies in ways that could compromise your privacy.
- And when you use Google Search or Google Play, we might have to give equal prominence to a raft of spammy and low-quality services.
Breaking features that help consumers and small businesses
When you come to Google Search, you want to get the most helpful results. But these bills could prohibit us from giving you integrated, high-quality results — even when you prefer them — just because some other company might offer competing answers. In short, we’d have to prefer results that help competitors even if they don’t help you.
- If you search for a place or an address, we may not be able to show you directions from Google Maps in your results. As just one example, if you search for “vaccine near me,” we might not be able to show you a map of vaccine locations in your community.
- When you have an urgent question — like “stroke symptoms” — Google Search could be barred from giving you immediate and clear information, and instead be required to direct you to a mix of low quality results.
- When you search for local businesses, Google Search and Maps may be prohibited from highlighting information we gather about hours of operation, contact information, and reviews. That could hurt small businesses and local retailers, as well as their customers.
- The bills would also harm small businesses if tools like Gmail, Calendar and Docs were not allowed to be integrated or work together seamlessly.
A boost for competitors, not consumers
While these bills might help the companies campaigning for them, including some of our major competitors, that would come at a cost to consumers and small businesses. Moreover, the bills wouldn’t curb practices by our competitors that actually harm consumers and customers (they seem to be intentionally gerrymandered to exclude many other major companies). For example, they don’t address the problem of companies forcing governments and small businesses to pay higher prices for enterprise software. And of course, the online services targeted by these bills have reduced prices; these bills say nothing about sectors where prices have actually been rising and contributing to inflation.
The wrong focus
There are important discussions taking place about the rules of the road for the modern economy. We believe that updating technology regulations in areas like privacy, AI, and protections for kids and families could provide real benefits. But breaking our products wouldn’t address any of these issues. Instead, it would eliminate helpful features, expose people to new privacy and security risks, and weaken America’s technological leadership. There’s a better way. Congress shouldn’t rush to judgment, and should instead take more time to consider the unintended consequences of these bills.