Congressman Vows to Pursue Regulation of Big Tech With Open Mind

June 10, 2019by Tom Schoenberg and Susan Decker

WASHINGTON — Legislation and more regulation of technology companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. is possible, but lawmakers are approaching scrutiny with an open mind, the federal lawmaker leading an antitrust investigation of the industry said.

“This is an investigation to collect the best data and best information,” Representative David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat who leads the House Antitrust, Commercial & Administrative Law Subcommittee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Cicilline’s committee is set to hold its first hearing on the dominance of Big Tech on Tuesday, part of a wider probe of the industry that the lawmaker said may lead to legislation. The goal, he said, is to “bring more competition to the space.”

The companies provide platforms for consumers and gather information that is then used by advertising companies, political parties and other groups. It’s become controversial, particularly after private information from Facebook was mined by a British political consultancy tied to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“The data that’s collected is used to generate revenue, so they’re not really free,” Cicilline said.

Consumer advocates and a newspaper trade group are scheduled to testify on the effect of digital platforms on news media organizations, possible anti-competitive conduct of “dominant firms,” and whether current laws and enforcement policies are adequate, a person familiar with the hearing has said.

The U.S. government is ramping up its antitrust scrutiny of Big Tech on several fronts. The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission recently signaled that formal investigations may be forthcoming by divvying up antitrust oversight for Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

Cicilline has also said recently that concentration in the digital markets industry has resulted in anti-competitive behavior, breaches of privacy and consumer’s losing control of their own data. The antitrust subcommittee will seek company records and gather testimony from corporate officials through depositions and hearings, Cicilline told Bloomberg Television in an interview last week.

WARREN’S PLAN

In the past few years, there’s been calls from some lawmakers to at least rein in, if not break up, technology companies that are seen by some as having become too big and powerful in many ways. Senator Elizabeth Warren has made perhaps the most detailed case for breaking up and regulating the four companies, but the Massachusetts Democrat, a 2020 presidential hopeful, isn’t alone in her aggressive views on the industry.

Tech companies have been preparing for scrutiny for a while, hiring lawyers and lobbyists and publicly making their case. History may be on their side: corporate breakups are a significant, and rare, undertaking for the U.S. government. The last major breakup of a monopoly was AT&T in 1982. Microsoft was ordered split up by a federal judge in 2000 after the Justice Department sued the software company in 1998, a decision that was reversed on appeal.

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