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Republican senator: Facebook is 'expanding their monopoly' with Libra

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told Yahoo Finance it sounds like Facebook is “expanding their monopoly” with its new cryptocurrency project.

“We need to see exactly what their specific proposals are, but I'm very concerned about Facebook's behavior on a range of fronts. I'm concerned about their size, I'm concerned about their anti-competitive conduct, I'm concerned about their rampant violations of privacy,” Hawley said.

In a statement to Yahoo Finance, a Facebook spokesperson responded to Hawley’s criticism by saying “Libra is an outside decentralized nonprofit entity of which we are one of 27 members.”

Hawley — one of the Republican party’s most outspoken tech critics — said the FTC needs to “get tough” on Facebook. He said regulators should think about breaking up the company.

“There needs to be an antitrust investigation. I hope one will go forward, but in the meantime, in the immediate future with this consent decree — if it's just a fine of a few billion dollars, that's a speeding ticket to Facebook. They need to get serious,” he said. “Name Mark Zuckerberg. Name him, if he has in fact participated in violating consent decree as reports indicate. And let's consider some tougher penalties, too.”

Reports surfaced this month that the Department of Justice is weighing antitrust action in an effort to rein in Google’s business and search practices, and that the Federal Trade Commission was looking into a possible antitrust probe against Facebook. The social network has been under fire for several years now with allegations of improper use of personal data, and accusations that its platforms are biased against conservative-leaning voices.

‘People can’t escape them’

When asked if he would trust Facebook with his money, Hawley laughed and said “no.”

“I don’t trust Facebook with anything,” he added.

Hawley said the biggest problem with Facebook is that people “can’t escape them.”

[Why the US should go after Facebook before Apple, Amazon, or Google]

“People who say, ‘I'm never having anything to do with Facebook. I'm not going to use their platform’ — well, then it turns out that their network is all over the web. It turns out that their code is everywhere,” said Hawley.

“This is part of what being a monopoly means and having all of this market power is that even when you say, ‘I don't want anything to do with them,’ they keep coming and finding you. And they keep coming and taking your personal information. I mean, we've got to put a stop to this,” said Hawley.

The concern over Libra is bipartisan. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said financial watchdogs should scrutinize Facebook’s cryptocurrency closely.

“Facebook is already too big and too powerful, and it has used that power to exploit users’ data without protecting their privacy. We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight,” said Brown.

But not everyone on Capitol Hill is slamming the project. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told Yahoo Finance she’s not as worried about Libra as some of the other colleagues.

“The financial sector has a tremendous amount of compliance around data security and privacy — and this may be something that Facebook finds out 'oh, there are rules of the road' for other sectors,” said Blackburn.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, is calling on Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to hold a hearing to examine the cryptocurrency project.

In a letter to Waters, McHenry said “While there is great promise for this new technology in fostering financial inclusion and faster payments, particularly in the developing world, we know there are many open questions as to the scope and scale of the project and how it will conform to our global financial regulatory framework.”

McHenry said lawmakers must understand Libra.

“We need to go beyond the rumors and speculation and provide a forum to assess this project and its potential unprecedented impact on the global financial system,” said McHenry in the letter.

In a statement, Waters said Facebook is “continuing its unchecked expansion” with its cryptocurrency plans.

“Given the company’s troubled past, I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues,” said Waters.

Waters said Facebook executives should come to Capitol Hill and testify about Libra.

“We look forward to responding to lawmakers’ questions as this process moves forward,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement.

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

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