A Q&A with Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons.
Spring 2018, soon after Facebook acknowledged that the data of tens of millions of its users had improperly been obtained by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, a top enforcement official at the Federal Trade Commission drafted a memo about the prospect of disciplining the social network. Lawmakers, consumer advocates and even former commission officials were clamoring for tough action against Facebook, arguing that it had violated an earlier Federal Trade Commission consent decree barring it from misleading users about how their information was shared.
Google’s chief executive, in perhaps the most public display of lawmakers’ unease with his company’s influence, was grilled about everything from search result bias and the data Google collects about its users to plans for a censored service in China. Sundar Pichai, an engineer who rose through Google’s ranks to become its leader three years ago, faced more than three hours of questions from the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans expressed concerns about unfair treatment of conservatives, and lawmakers in both parties zeroed in on privacy issues.
Democrats and Google executives worked arm in arm for years, particularly during the Obama administration. But when Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, testifies before Congress, some of the toughest questioning is likely to come from Democrats. The hearing will provide an early glimpse of how Democrats plan to approach Silicon Valley giants in the coming year as they assume control of the House of Representatives.
In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.
The Federal Trade Commission kicked off a series of hearings to discuss whether the agency’s competition and consumer protection policies should change to better reflect new technologies and companies. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons expressed openness to a new approach. “The broad antitrust consensus that has existed within the antitrust community, in relatively stable form for the last 25 years, is being challenged,” Chairman Simons said.
House Commerce Committee Republicans accused Twitter of being biased against conservatives. The charge drew rebukes from Democrats during a Congressional hearing that illustrated how partisan lines are increasingly being drawn on social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, repeatedly denied the accusations as Republicans suggested Twitter’s algorithms suppress conservative viewpoints and discriminate against Republican voices. Rep Mike Doyle (D-PA) called the idea that social media services exhibit a partisan slant a “load of crap.”
For months, Facebook, Twitter and Google have grappled with criticism over the misuse of their services by foreign operatives and the disproportionate influence of their platforms on people’s thinking.
In recent months, apparently, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft and others have aggressively lobbied officials in the Trump administration and elsewhere to start outlining a federal privacy law. The law would have a dual purpose, they said: It would overrule the California law and instead put into place a kinder set of rules that would give the companies wide leeway over how personal digital information was handled. The efforts could set up a big fight with consumer and privacy groups.
The Department of Justice approved the Walt Disney Company’s $71 billion bid for the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, potentially complicating Comcast’s desire to make a rival offer for Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire. The government’s approval was filed in federal court on the condition that Disney, which already owns ESPN, divest all of Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, which include valuable channels like the Yankees’ YES network.