WATCH: John Oliver takes on Big Tech monopolies

June 13, 2022

Last night, John Oliver, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, dedicated a full episode to Big Tech anti-monopoly bills S. 2992 and S. 2710, which are poised for a Senate vote later this month. Oliver specifically called out Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, questioning whether his ties to Big Tech were making him hesitate to move the bills to the floor for a vote. 

Some choice quotes from the piece:

  • On Amazon’s stranglehold on the online marketplace: “Basically, it is Amazon’s playground, they make the rules, and they do seem to win a lot of the time. And as this expert points out, if they are competing with you, you’re basically dead.”
  • On Big Tech’s opposition to S. 2992 and S. 2710: “These companies have pushed some wild arguments, from claiming the bills will help China, to saying they’ll somehow hurt people of color, and we don’t have time to go through very bullshit bogeyman they’ve come up with. But none of them really stand up, and some of them have fallen apart spectacularly. Apple, for instance, claims that they have to have exclusive control of the apps you can download otherwise it will expose users to serious security risks—ignoring the act that these bills have explicit carve-outs for that, if Apple can prove that those risks genuinely exist.”
  • On the opportunity, and the stakes: “It’s not that tech companies are inherently bad because they are big. It is that they are engaging in anti-competitive behavior. And here’s where, unusually, I actually have some good news. Because there are two bills before Congress right now with bipartisan support that could curtail some of Big Tech’s excesses. But […] if they don’t pass in the next month, they are unlikely to pass at all.”
  • On monopoly power: “Ending a monopoly is almost always a good thing.”

Tech observers will recall that John Oliver’s segment on net neutrality marked a turning point in that fight, helping supercharge the already massive and cross-partisan support for rules cracking down on Big Telecom’s monopoly abuses. 

Now, Big Tech is getting the same treatment. In the segment, John Oliver clearly lays out the harms of Apple, Google, and Amazon’s self-preferencing. He also points out that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has family ties to Big Tech giants. This clearly represents a conflict of interest: Schumer is seen as the key decider of whether the bills will move forward, since everyone knows if they hit the floor, they will pass.  

Oliver first lays out Big Tech’s monopoly status, noting that Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon basically run the web. For example, “[Amazon] essentially is the only place to sell anything on the internet. Unless, that is, you are looking to offload some human teeth. Because then, it’s Craigslist all the way baby!”

“These bills [S. 2992 and S. 2710] would crack the door back open for innovation and nudge the internet back toward what it was supposed to be from the start: A revolutionary tool that expanded global access to information,” Oliver says in the segment. “We have a very small window right now to actually do something about this,” he adds, noting that if the bills don’t get a vote before midterms, they are likely dead in the water.

The segment comes as Fight for the Future, a massive coalition of civil society groups, and a large number of small and medium sized businesses have declared

Antitrust Summer is a follow-up to our #AntitrustDay action, which drove thousands of calls and emails to legislators in support of Big Tech antitrust bills AICOA (S. 2992) and OAMA (S. 2710). Participants are using the Antitrust Summer page to drive emails and calls to legislators. DuckDuckGo plans a homepage promotion to drive traffic, and other participants will be amplifying on social media, through their apps, and across their email lists.

Fight for the Future had a long-planned team retreat this week, but we canceled it in order to go all-in on getting these bills passed, because we believe they are essential for securing a tech future with basic human rights, meaningful choice, and free expression.

Fight for the Future has also launched a separate effort, Dems for Big Tech, calling out the small handful of Democrats who have been reportedly trying to delay or derail a floor vote on these Big Tech accountability bills: Senators Hassan (D-NH), Bennet (D-CO), Feinstein (D-CA), and Padilla (D-CA). We are leading a crowdfunding campaign to put up billboards in New Hampshire and Colorado specifically spotlighting Hassan and Bennet, who Politico reported were privately urging Senate leadership not to move forward.

Last week, we unfortunately had to add Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) to that page, after he made comments to Bloomberg indicating he does not support moving these bills to the floor at this time.