For months, politicians have been echoing calls from Elizabeth Warren, a senator and presidential candidate, to break up big tech. Now, Capitol Hill is going to hold a hearing on it.
Representatives from Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon will appear at a hearing with US House Committee on the Judiciary next week to discuss antitrust issues, according to a reports by Politico and The Washington Post (subscriptions required).
The Post reported that the companies will be sending legal and policy executives, including Kyle Andeer, Apple's vice president for corporate law and chief compliance officer and Matt Perault, the head of global policy development at Facebook. Neither the companies nor a spokesman for the committee immediately responded to requests for comment.
The hearing will mark another opportunity for lawmakers to discuss their growing frustration with tech companies, which have until recently been able to largely operate without meaningful regulation. But Democrats and Republicans alike have signaled an appetite to punish big tech firms following a series of high profile scandals -- including disinformation campaigns by Russian and Iranian operatives aimed at disrupting the US political process and its elections.
"The era of the wild west in social media is coming to an end," Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said during a hearing late last year with Facebook and Twitter. Congress, he said, will have to take action. "Where we go from here is an open question."
While lawmakers agree something needs to be done, they haven't been able to decide exactly what to do. Some hearings on tech issues have sometimes devolved into partisan bickering. Others have exposed some senator's and congresspeople's lack of understanding about how tech companies operate.
Still, there is an increasing push from Washington DC to hold tech companies accountable. Aside from hearings on Capitol Hill, the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice have begun plotting potential investigations of their own against tech companies. And President Donald Trump often criticizes tech companies over issues such as free speech.
European regulators have been more aggressive in their efforts to reign in big tech. In March, a European commission hit Google with a $1.7 billion fine for "abusive" online ad practices. And last year, the EU's executive arm fined Google a record $5 billion for unfair business practices around Android, its mobile phone and tablet software.
The House Committee's hearing next week though will likely focus on antitrust issues that have grown out of an investigation began last month. When the committee first announced its probe in June, it said it wanted to explore whether companies were engaging in "anti-competitive conduct."
"The growth of monopoly power across our economy is one of the most pressing economic and political challenges we face today. Market power in digital markets presents a whole new set of dangers," said Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island and chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, in a statement at the time. "After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases, it is critical that Congress step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or whether we need new legislation to respond to this challenge."