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Sonos, Yelp Tell White House to Back Big Tech Antitrust Bill

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(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. need to be regulated so smaller businesses can compete, a panel that included the chief executive officers of Sonos Inc. and Yelp Inc. told White House advisers Wednesday.

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The panel convened for about an hour virtually and spoke in favor of bipartisan legislation from Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, according to two people familiar with the matter. That legislation would prohibit dominant platforms from giving an advantage to their own products. The White House stopped short of endorsing the bill during the meeting, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Amazon and Google were the primary focus of the discussion since they control search engines that can favor their own products, the people said.

Among other things, the business leaders critiqued the Amazon practice of punishing brands that sell products on competitors’ sites for lower prices, by burying them in search results, one of the people said. The major technology companies have warned that the bill would harm products consumers love, as well as put them at a disadvantage versus international competitors.

“The administration will continue to take all responsible actions within its power to promote competition,” the White House said in a statement following the meeting. The White House representatives told the companies that “they look forward to working with Congress to make bipartisan progress on the issue, and to engage with companies across the technology sector to promote a more dynamic, innovative, and competitive economy.”

“This is a critical week for the fate of antitrust policy in the United States, with consideration of Senator Klobuchar and Senator Grassley’s legislation in a markup hearing,” Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman wrote in a blog post. “The narrowly tailored legislation would go a long way in preventing the most egregious self-dealing by companies like Google.”

Representatives for Amazon and Alphabet didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Sonos confirmed its CEO’s attendance and referred to a letter it sent backing the bill.

Molson Hart, whose Viahart Toy Co. sells its products on Amazon and who was part of the panel, said the speakers also discussed the importance of holding Chinese merchants to the same tax obligations as online merchants based in the U.S.

“The White House wants to foster a competitive and innovative tech landscape, one that is beneficial to not only businesses small and large, but also American consumers,” Hart said.

The Klobuchar-Grassley bill is set to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, including an amendment that would expand the criteria for a covered platform. In addition to the $550 billion market capitalization-threshold, the change would make the legislation apply to any company that has $550 billion net annual sales or 1 billion worldwide monthly users.

These new criteria would capture Chinese biggest social media companies: ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat. This and other changes included in the amendment seek to address criticism that the bill would advantage foreign competitors over U.S. technology giants and would risk user privacy and safety by opening some platform functions to competitors.

Google’s Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker on Wednesday said the changes in the amendment “concede every concern that has been raised about the bill -- and solve none of them.”

A Tencent spokesperson declined to comment, while representatives for ByteDance didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The amendment was first reported by Politico.

The bill already applies to Amazon, Google, Apple Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc. There was some debate in the House Judiciary Committee over whether a similar bill would include Microsoft Corp.

(Updates with comment from Yelp CEO, in fifth paragraph)

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