In what will be the first major step towards the possible regulation of tech companies, Congress will make its case against the growing power of the big dogs today. The inaugural hearing will be held by the House Judiciary Committee to discuss the anti-competitive practices of tech titans. Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who leads the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial & Administrative Law, has said that the aim of the investigation is to collect the best data and best information.
The federal lawmaker said that the investigation is being conducted with an open mind. Cicilline believes that legislation can fuel competition in the market, which many believe has been stifled by tech companies such as Alphabet, which owns Google, and Facebook.
Cicilline says that the entire marketplace will be examined and the investigation will look into the monopolistic powers of tech juggernauts and come up with a way to steer the market on the right track.
When tech companies first began to gain traction, consumers were in awe of the perceived benefits and thus the lawmakers exercised a hands-off approach towards the digital industry. However, the tone has changed now, with both regulators and consumers growing suspicious of the industry bigwigs. Consumers are particularly worried about how their data is being used and whether it’s in safe hands. The situation was exacerbated after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In return for providing a free platform to consumers, tech companies leverage their data and as Cicilline has pointed out, this information is used to generate revenue.
Today’s hearing will largely focus on how companies such as Google and Facebook have changed the playing field for news media. Cicilline and Republican Rep. Doug Collins have co-sponsored legislation which would enable local news outlets to join hands and negotiate with tech giants on issues such as access and quality.
Consumer advocacy groups as well as a newspaper trade group are reportedly going to testify on anti-competitive practices of tech giants. They will also weigh in on the current laws and regulations to determine if they are adequate.
Apparently, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have divided the investigation, with FTC looking into Amazon and Facebook, and the Justice Department reviewing Apple and Google. As Facebook's co-founder Chris Hughes and many others have said before, Cicilline also believes the power is concentrated in the hands of a few companies right now and this has given rise to anti-competitive behavior and privacy breaches.
The Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has also raised concerns against the dominance of Apple. Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and wants them broken up. President Donald Trump has also highlighted how the U.S. economy could benefit if the country takes the same approach as Europe and slaps billion of dollars in fines on tech companies.
While most tech giants welcome regulation, they disagree that they are a monopoly. Most of these companies have been preparing for this investigation for a while, putting up a team of lawyers and policymakers to present their side of the story. The industry group NetChoice has sided with the internet giants and says that today’s hearing is an attempt by the big media to take government’s assistance to help them survive instead of innovating like social media companies.