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If the Democrats win the Senate, Big Tech better be ready for a bigger fight

Senators set to become leaders under a Democrat majority have sought to establish new antitrust law, break up tech companies

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By Jon Swartz

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“Americans all across the country are seeing how Big Tech has used its massive power to harm our economy and our democracy,” Warren said in a statement to MarketWatch. “When Democrats win in 2020, it should be a top priority for us to stop these giants from rigging the rules in their favor and against everyone else.”

The tone and rancor of a recent three-and-a-half-hour meeting with a Google executive illustrates how much has changed in an increasingly soured relationship between Silicon Valley and the Beltway. Trillion-dollar valuations and record revenue and profits by its biggest names — compounded by competitors’ claims of monopolistic business behavior and consumer outcry over privacy violations and misinformation — has turned both major political parties against the industry.

“You are in the thankless task of defending the indefensible. Google deserves antitrust action. It has been a stunning abuse of market power,” Blumenthal told Donald Harrison, president of global partnerships and corporate development at Google, during a Sept. 15 committee hearing entitled, “Stacking the Tech: Has Google harmed competition in online advertising?”

An imminent Justice Department antitrust action against Google “could be the beginning of a reckoning in antitrust laws,” Klobuchar said. “I just want our capitalistic system to work. You simply can’t have one company dominate this market.”

Read more: Antitrust questions bruise but don’t break Big Tech CEOs in historic hearing

“Democrats would intensify the momentum [of antitrust actions] on Facebook, Google, and Amazon,” Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, told MarketWatch. “It would be a continuation of the late-summer hearings. Those three companies are in the crosshairs. Apple is a little bit to the side.”

One company with an especially large target is Facebook, the subject of scathing comments from Klobuchar in her presidential campaign kickoff event in Minnesota in February.

“We need to put digital rules in the law to protect privacy,” said Klobuchar, an ardent critic of Facebook who is also co-author of a data-privacy bill. “For too long, the big tech companies have said, ‘Don’t worry, we have your back.’”

Klobuchar’s animus toward Facebook could receive support from a theoretical Biden Administration. The former vice president called Facebook “the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process” last month in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Not everyone is convinced a Blue Wave will translate into punitive actions against some of the world’s most-valuable companies. Paven Malhotra, a Silicon Valley lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, told MarketWatch that “a Democratic president and Senate is unlikely to make tech a high priority.”

“They will continue a DOJ action against Google, I imagine, but it may get lost with actions to reverse actions over the past four years on health care, education policy, trade, climate change and everything else.”

Jon Swartz is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco, covering many of the biggest players in tech, including Netflix, Facebook and Google. Jon has covered technology for more than 20 years, and previously worked for Barron's and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @jswartz.

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