Democrats likely to probe tech companies Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram over data privacy
Congressional Republicans have made no secret of their displeasure with tech companies, dragging executives before committees to explain themselves, their businesses and their decisions.
It’s not likely to get any better in the new year when Democrats claim control of the House.
While they may not have the same complaints Republicans have about ideological bias, panels run by Democrats are likely to probe Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and the like over data privacy and the role their users have played in political battles.
“We’re in an age where no one likes tech,” Sasha Moss, a federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, told The Washington Times.
The latest hiccup for tech came earlier in December when reports prepared for the Senate intelligence committee found Russian operatives had spent years embedding themselves into American social-media communities, giving them a prime perch to influence American elections.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, signaled he’ll prod social media companies to take a more active role in analyzing the way they’ve been used by Russian operatives.
Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the incoming House Energy and Commerce chairman, has said his panel will work on privacy and data security. And Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, currently the top Democrat on a key subcommittee, has suggested the need for a federal data-protection agency.
Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said there would “absolutely” be hearings touching on new privacy violations like Facebook’s data partnerships, and whether they tread on antitrust rules. He said he thinks that could even be an area of bipartisan cooperation with the GOP.
“Broadly speaking this tremendous concentration of economic power in the hands of few and large entities are reducing choices, increasing prices for consumers,” he said.
Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, said major companies are already altering their policies to adapt to signals they get from Capitol Hill. For example, after the Honest Ads Act was introduced in the Senate back October 2017, Facebook and Twitter took steps to alter their political ad policies to comply with what lawmakers wanted.
Mr. Szoka said that may only have invited more rules from Congress, despite the entire industry arguing it doesn’t need the oversight.
“The fact that Facebook and Twitter have caved if anything they make it more likely that that legislation will move,” he said.
Ms. Moss said she is worried that moves aimed at the big companies will stifle other companies and/or popular applications.
“The internet exists outside of Facebook or Google or Amazon,” she said. “There are some things like Patreon, Easy, Uber and Lift that will be affected too.”
For their part Republicans will continue to hold the Senate and pursue their own angles on investigations and House Republicans, even in the minority, said they’ll try to keep social-media bias front-and-center.
That was a priority for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who is poised to become the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee. “I think we should continue to point out what appears to be some kind of bias,” he said.
Those matters will play out on investigations.
When it comes to legislation, Ms. Moss suggested there could be bipartisan work addressing cybersecurity through IT modernization.
Mr. Szoka said he could see Democrats pushing beyond the bounds of bipartisanship, passing their own priorities through the House then complaining when they die in the Senate.