There is currently a critical debate in Washington that will shape the future of technological innovation for decades to come. In response to an increasingly calcified internet, with only a handful of big players dominating commercial activity, Congress has actually stepped in: The Senate and House are poised to pass bipartisan legislation. that would create a more level playing field for startups and entrepreneurs to compete. The bill, S2992 or American Innovation and Choice Online Act, was introduced by Senators Klobuchar and Grassley to end the overreach of the platform by the world’s biggest tech companies like Facebook and Google.
And we in the indie developer community are watching its progress closely.
The bill would solve an obvious problem: A few dominant tech companies have become the guardians of the internet, bolstering their own products and undermining their smaller competitors.
Consider the history of one of the most popular features on a smartphone, the maps app. A decade ago, Google and Waze were two competing companies offering searchable maps and turn-by-turn navigation. Then Google bought Waze, and now has 81% of the maps market, thanks in part to what’s called “self-preference” – favoring Google Maps and its own ratings of local businesses when users search a location in Google search. And then Google went even further: since 2018, it has increased prices by 1,400% for developers who use the Google Maps platform.
This is just one example where consumers have lost out in a competitive marketplace fighting to serve them, while developers have effectively been extorted, just so a massive company can grow even bigger.
No industry, let alone technology, should be run by such powerful and anti-competitive companies.
It’s easy to see how ordinary internet users miss out on better product and service improvements in the short term. But what we too often miss is how the status quo could hurt innovation in America in the long run. Google, Apple, Meta and Amazon all have similar origin stories: highly motivated and talented founders took risks and rushed to build their small businesses in a new industry that simply didn’t have huge conglomerates. constantly on the lookout, ready to buy or co-opt for anything that smacks of true innovation.
Unless we restore competition to the tech industry, we will lose the next generation of great tech entrepreneurs, because they simply won’t be able to compete with Big Tech.
I was drawn to software engineering in part because of the freedom and creativity inherent in this profession. Many engineers can make a living working for big tech companies. But America will lose unless we create an environment where at least some of our brightest minds go out on their own to disrupt an existing market or create a new one. They will have no incentive if we continue to let technology become a playground for billionaires. We need a level playing field where the best ideas and products prevail, for the good of consumers, but also for the future of the tech industry as a whole.
The AICO reforms are not pie-in-the-sky revisions. They are modest. The bill would reinvigorate competition by prohibiting the biggest tech platforms from artificially favoring their own services over those of their competitors.
We’re talking sideline patches to disallow things like the biggest platforms auto-preferences of their own products on search results. Were not talk about dismantling these companies. Innovators just want a chance to compete, but the market has to be competitive.
It is incredibly discouraging to see politicians in Washington losing touch with what their constituents want when we are so united. The overwhelming majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, support legislation to stop corporations from using their size to hurt small businesses.
Meanwhile, tech companies are doing everything in their power to block AICO, spending millions of dollars trying to scare people into believing that basic pro-competitive reforms will destroy Amazon Prime and iMessage. They even run a deceptive ghost campaign to convince the world that everyday consumers are on their side.
Believe me, independent software engineer: The tech industry’s opposition to bipartisan tech reform is not rooted in honest concern for American competitiveness. It is self-serving and baseless hyperbole rooted in fear of losing the ability to stifle competition and root out their record profits.
Adam Kovacevich is an independent developer based near Atlanta, Georgia.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.