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Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple will be under fire on Capitol Hill this week

·Chief Political Correspondent

Silicon Valley will have a big presence in Washington, D.C., this week as big tech companies get ready for the spotlight, with several high-profile Congressional hearings scheduled for this week.

On Tuesday, July 16, alone, lawmakers will hold the first hearing on Libra (Facebook’s cryptocurrency offering), four big tech companies will go before a House antitrust panel, and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing looking at Google.

This comes as tech giants are under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties — over data privacy, antitrust issues, and accusations of partisan censorship.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported the FTC agreed to a $5 billion settlement with Facebook (FB) over its privacy missteps.

Libra hearings

David Marcus, Facebook’s head of Calibra, will face questions from lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday and the House Financial Services committee on Wednesday.

Last week, lawmakers on both committees expressed their concerns about Libra as they questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Both hearings began with a question about Libra, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers grilled Powell about how the Fed will approach the cryptocurrency project.

Powell said Libra raises “serious concerns” and the initiative could not go forward until those concerns are addressed.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) is calling on Facebook to halt the project until lawmakers and regulators have time to examine it. She told Yahoo Finance nothing Facebook could say in the upcoming hearing will change her mind on that.

Waters said there’s too much Washington doesn’t know yet, but she hopes to get answers in the hearing.

“We're going to begin this discussion. We're going to unveil what they're doing, how they're doing, who all is involved in it, and where they hope to go with all of this,” Waters said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “I think we need time. I think that I would like them to support a moratorium, but we have got to find out exactly how far they've advanced at this point. There's a lot we don't know.”

The skepticism about Libra is bipartisan. After Powell’s comments, President Trump weighed in, tweeting that he’s not a fan of cryptocurrencies and Libra will have “little standing or dependability.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, called on the Fed to protect consumers from “Facebook’s Monopoly Money.”

Representations of virtual currency are displayed in front of the Libra logo in this illustration picture, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Representations of virtual currency are displayed in front of the Libra logo in this illustration picture, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Big tech antitrust hearing

On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook, Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL) and Apple (AAPL) representatives will go before House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee. This is the second hearing in the panel’s bipartisan big tech antitrust investigation.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) is leading the hearing, and has promised a “top-to-bottom review” of the big tech companies’ potentially anti-competitive behavior. He has also urged the FTC to investigate Facebook.

Experts from Yale and Columbia Universities are set to testify at the hearing as well.

When asked for comment ahead of the hearing, Amazon told Yahoo Finance the retail market is “fiercely competitive.” The company argues it not only competes with other retailers, but brick-and-mortar stores as well.

Amazon claims it makes up just 1% of global retail and 4% of U.S. retail sales.

Still, Amazon’s e-commerce sales are expected to reach more than $221 billion in the United States this year — nearly 40% of total U.S. e-commerce sales — according to eMarketer. That’s significantly more than eBay’s $35.89 billion or Walmart’s $27.47 billion.

The antitrust panel held a hearing looking at big tech’s impact on journalism last month. The companies’ chief executives will likely be called to testify at some point in the investigation.

Facebook, Google and Apple did not provide comment.

Google and censorship hearing

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing on Tuesday afternoon called“Google and Censorship through search engines.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will lead the hearing. Cruz has consistently argued that tech companies censor conservative voices.

Cruz, the chairman of the subcommittee on the Constitution, held a censorship hearing with Facebook and Twitter (TWTR) in February — but at the time, the committee declined a witness from Google, because the company was not offering a senior enough official.

Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president of public policy, is scheduled to testify on Tuesday. Andy Parker, gun control advocate and father of Allison Parker — a local TV reporter who was killed during a live broadcast —is also set to testify.

Dennis Prager, of conservative media organization PragerU, is on the witness list as well. PragerU attended a White House event last week, billed as a “social media summit” (featuring far-right internet personalities, conservative think tanks and social media critics — but no major social media companies).

US President Donald Trump (L) hugs US social media personalities "Diamond and Silk" during the Presidential Social Media Summit at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP)        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump (L) hugs US social media personalities "Diamond and Silk" during the Presidential Social Media Summit at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

At the event, President Trump blasted social media companies — alleging they are biased against conservatives. The president went on to complain that he’s not gaining Twitter followers quickly enough.

Tech companies have repeatedly denied being biased toward any political party, and have insisted they do not consider political affiliation when deciding to remove user content from their platforms.

“I’ve never seen evidence of tech firm bias against conservatives. If someone wants to show me some empirical data, instead of some alt-right member’s paranoid claims, I’d appreciate it. In the meantime, it would be great if President Trump would get serious about antitrust,” said Cicilline in a statement.

Trump told reporters he planned on inviting the big social media companies to the White House sometime over the next month. He said a date had not yet been decided.

Senate Judiciary big tech task force

A spokesperson for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told Yahoo Finance that the Senate Judiciary’s big tech task force will be “up and running” this week. The spokesperson would not elaborate on the task force’s plans, but said Blackburn would be leading it.

In an interview last month, Blackburn told Yahoo Finance the tech task force will be a learning opportunity for senators — and warned that senators should not start the process with predetermined ideas like breaking up the big tech companies.

“We need to go where the facts are going to lead us,” she said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called to break up Facebook, Amazon and Google.

Blackburn has been vocal about the need for federal data privacy legislation, introducing a bill called the BROWSER Act, which would give users more control of their data. She told Yahoo Finance the bill is a starting point, but the task force will continue to explore what else Congress needs to do about data privacy.

“Looking at that very first question that we need to answer: who does own the ‘virtual you,’ which is you and your presence online, who owns your data? It should be the consumer,” said Blackburn.

Blackburn recently met with Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes to talk about data privacy and the Yelp CEO to talk about Google and anti-competitive behavior.

Blackburn was also at the White House event on Thursday. She tweeted afterwards that “Big Tech MUST be held accountable.”


Tuesday, July 16:

  • Senate Banking Committee holds Libra hearing at 10:00 a.m.

  • House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee holds big tech hearing at 2:00 p.m.

  • Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution holds Google hearing at 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 17:

  • House Financial Services Committee holds Libra hearing at 10:00 a.m.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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