Internet Freedom Swirling Around Drain as Dems, Reps Threaten Antitrust Action on Google, et al
Yesterday's hearings didn't clarify much except that Washington is in a mood to regulate tech giants.
Yesterday's House Intelligence Committee hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai didn't really deal much with its stated topic of "Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and Its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices." But statements by leading Republicans and Democrats make clear that new forms of regulation are likely to be applied in the coming months or years.
Here's what Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), who chaired the hearing, had to say to Fox afterward:
"It's clear that companies like Google are doing more to edit the content that appears on their platform, making them more hands-on. If it were just, 'here's out platform, put whatever you want on it,' that's totally free speech. But if it's not free speech, why do they get a free pass on protection against libel, for example?" he asked, urging Americans to view the questions and answers from the hearing.
Goodlatte said Congress did not get all the answers it wanted from Pichai, but he agreed to provide further information. Goodlatte said Congress must be involved if there is even a "suspicion" that bias by Google employees could be influencing search results.
Fox host Sandra Smith pointed out that as many as 90 percent of web searches go through Google and asked Goodlatte whether antitrust actions were in order. "I would prefer not to regulate," said the congressman, "but I do think the application of our antitrust laws—which promote fair competition—needs to be reviewed."
Then there's Rep. David Cicilline (D–R.I.), who is expected to become the head of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee when the Democrats take over in January. In a conversation with Bloomberg, he promised to drag execs from Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other tech giants back to Washington and grill them over all sorts of actions he considers anticompetitive. At one point, he says a "Wild West" atmosphere in the tech sector might have been OK at one point, but now the government really needs to be much more involved.
For all of the tech giants' many failings—massive data breaches, crap customer service, inscrutable policies about acceptable behavior, and so much more—things are far more likely to get worse and worse when you effectively give seats on their boards to 535 people in D.C. who don't know an iPhone from an Android.