With help from Cristiano Lima, Leah Nylen, Mark Scott and John Hendel
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— Klo’s big plans: Senate Judiciary Antitrust Chair Amy Klobuchar will hold her first hearing one week from today, teeing up future sessions on monopoly power across tech and telecom.
— Arizona, a case study: State legislatures across the country are weighing measures to help app developers sidestep some of Apple and Google’s most hotly debated app store policies.
— Where art thou, Congress? After Virginia this week became the second state to pass its own privacy bill, attention is now turning to a possible privacy measure from Washington state.
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KLOBUCHAR’S ‘SHOT AGAINST THE BOW’ AT MONOPOLIES — The Minnesota Democrat will convene her first hearing as chair of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee next Thursday, she told Cristiano and Leah. She and other lawmakers will use the session to make the case for revamping the country’s competition rules.
“It’s really the first shot against the bow [of] monopoly power and looking at competition policy as a whole,” Klobuchar said of the session. Witnesses have yet to be announced but could include a “combination” of scholars and industry figures. (Tech CEOs can take a breather this time around, she said.)
— “We have to make the point that this isn’t just about one industry,” she said, mentioning cat food and caskets as two unusual but heavily consolidated businesses. Later hearings by the panel will zoom in on specific industries, including tech, telecom and media, and Klobuchar said she is “particularly interested” in competition issues that relate to Apple and Google’s app stores.
— Where she sees bipartisan agreement for changes: Klobuchar predicted that efforts to boost resources for antitrust enforcers would continue to draw broad support across the aisle, and she said she’s open to moving parts of her major antitrust package individually. “You could break my bill into pieces,” she said, adding that a bipartisan group of House lawmakers appear to be moving in a similar direction with their own competition proposals. “We’re using two different but compatible approaches with the House and Senate,” she said.
— On nominations: Klobuchar didn’t rule out nominees for the FTC or DOJ antitrust chief who have worked for one of the tech giants so long as they are “very aggressive” on enforcement. She also called Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland’s understanding of antitrust issues “a huge benefit.” She added that she’s spoken “extensively” to White House officials and appointees, including President Joe Biden, about antitrust issues.
SPEAKING OF APPLE AND GOOGLE’S APP STORES: STATES AT IT AGAIN — In a squeaker of a vote, Arizona’s House of Representatives on Wednesday moved to require Apple and Google to let app developers sidestep the tech giants’ 30 percent fee and use credit cards or other payment methods when consumers want to buy apps or in-app goods. The Arizona bill is just one of many making their way through state legislatures across the country, my colleague Leah Nylen reports: Similar legislation is pending in Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
— The view from Arizona: State Rep. Regina Cobb, a Republican and the bill’s sponsor, portrayed the legislation as a matter of equity, affording all developers the same treatment that major apps like Amazon and Uber enjoy. “They have a monopoly on the market right now,” Cobb said of Apple and Google. “If [legislators] are not going to take a stand at the federal level, we have to do it at the state level.”
But in a reversal of national debate, many Democrats sided with the tech giants. Reps. Reginald Bolding and Domingo DeGrazia, the Democratic leader and whip, respectively, both raised concerns about the bill, including its constitutionality and whether it could lead Apple and Google to start charging nonprofits and smaller developers more for access to their app stores. He asked: “Why are we singling out Apple and Google when we have Amazon and Microsoft” engaging in similar practices?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE COOKIES GO STALE? — Google early last year said it would gradually do away with third-party cookies that follow Chrome users across the web to help serve them relevant ads. The giant expanded on that privacy pivot Wednesday, announcing that once cookies are phased out, Google won’t replace them with other identifying tools that would track individual consumers around the browser — and therefore, it’ll no longer sell ads based on that valuable information.
— Why we’re watching: It’s yet another example of major tech companies taking steps to self-regulate on privacy as states pass their own patchwork of bills and in the absence of comprehensive federal protections; more on that below. But the decision will be felt across the online advertising world, including among rivals in that space, so watch for this to come up more in the Texas antitrust suit focused on Google’s power over the ad tech market.
UNITED STATES OF PRIVACY, THROUGH EUROPE’S LENS — States are rushing ahead with Europe-style privacy measures to give people greater say over how Big Tech (and other players) use their online data, my colleague Mark Scott writes in POLITICO’s transatlantic tech newsletter, Digital Bridge.
— California, the first state to pass its own consumer privacy bill, revamped those rules in November and is in the final stages of naming members of a new privacy agency that will have greater enforcement powers. That mirrors similar watchdogs common in Europe and elsewhere, Mark notes.
— Virginia, which this week became the second state to pass its own data privacy bill, and other states have focused enforcement powers with states’ attorney generals, arguing that trial lawyers should be kept far away from protecting people’s data. That has won approval from tech companies (Amazon helped to write Richmond’s rules), though lawmakers stress the protections are similar to those available under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.
— Now attention turns to Washington state, where lawmakers are in a mad dash to get something on the books. “This is years of work at the state level,” Reuven Carlyle, the state senator pushing Washington’s bill, told Mark. “The chances of meaningful privacy legislation in Congress in the next few years is unlikely.”
BIDEN ERA FACES FRESH FIGHT OVER AUTO AIRWAVES — Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told a Transportation Department nominee on Wednesday that he’s still unsatisfied with the FCC’s November vote to carve up the automotive safety airwaves of the 5.9 GHz band. That Trump-era proposal, which included a cut for Wi-Fi and liberalized what auto safety tech the spectrum could be used for, could now face new scrutiny under Democratic leadership.
— A lingering Trump-era spat: Last year’s interagency feuding over this chunk of spectrum pitted the Trump Transportation Department against the FCC — and Peters’ remarks suggest that fight isn’t over yet. They also echo frustration from another senior Democrat: Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, who will be in a position to grill FCC nominees over this issue in the coming months.
— Peters’ take: “This is spectrum that can save people’s lives,” the Michigan Democrat told Polly Trottenberg, Biden’s nominee to be deputy DOT secretary, during her nomination hearing on Wednesday. “It’s a safety feature versus, perhaps, allowing people to download a movie quicker. In that kind of tradeoff, I would rather save lives.”
— One challenge ahead: Biden’s DOT and FCC will need to wrestle with this fallout and whether to re-litigate last year’s FCC decision. Biden’s DOT wants to work closely with the FCC and Commerce Department to continue testing the feasibility of different ways of sharing these airwaves while maintaining “priority use” for vehicle safety communications, a department spokesperson told John Wednesday.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) was named vice chair of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, succeeding Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), who held the title last Congress. … Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) was named vice chair of the House Judiciary intellectual property subcommittee. … Biden is tapping Dilawar Syed, president and CEO of the AI health care company Lumiata, to be Small Business Administration deputy administrator.
Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Google, is joining TechNet’s executive council. … Ryan Shores, who helped lead the Justice Department’s investigation into Google, has rejoined the law firm Shearman & Sterling. … Katherine Mooney Carroll, a former banking and regulatory partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, is joining Stripe as global head of policy in Washington. … Allan Ruiz, former executive secretary of Comtelca, the regional telecommunications commission for Central America, is joining the tech public policy firm Access Partnership as senior advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Salesforce is joining TechNet as a new member.
Loopholes for days: Facebook is lifting its political ad ban today, but some groups never stopped running them in the first place. “Scores of right- and left-wing political groups purchased tens of thousands of dollars in political ads that broke the company’s rules between January and March this year,” a new POLITICO analysis found.
On alert: The QAnon conspiracy theory appears to have inspired a possible plot to attack the Capitol today, NYT reports.
‘An overlooked disinformation machine’: “TikTok played a key role in MAGA radicalization,” WIRED reports.
Talking games: Parler has moved to withdraw one lawsuit against Amazon (in Seattle federal court) while filing another against the tech giant (in Washington state court). “Similar to the federal lawsuit, Parler accused Amazon of ending service to the social-media platform for anticompetitive reasons,” WSJ reports.