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Antitrust hearings in Congress are promising.



A man in a suit with eyebrows frowned as if worried or thinking hard.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testified via video conference, before the “Online Platforms and Market Power”
; hearing of the House of Representatives Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Judicial Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

Frankly speaking, congressional hearings on technology policy issues. They often evolve into political infighting among members, coupled with opaque and even misleading responses from witnesses. And, of course, it is often clear that some members do not understand their knowledge at all.

We don’t have to go beyond Mark Zuckerberg’s first hearing before Congress to see this. In 2018, at a hearing held immediately after Cambridge Analytica’s disclosure, certain members of Congress showed the Facebook CEO that they had a complete lack of understanding of the way Facebook and other Internet giants work.

The events that occurred at the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on antitrust issues on Wednesday involved the top four participants of big technology, namely Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. These events showed almost the same trend. Republicans and Democrats fought over speech regulation and censorship; a congressman conflated Facebook and Twitter. It is quite reasonable that many listeners leave the hearing with the feeling that the hearing generally lacks focus, because the topics range from technical to highly political topics.

But that being said, we believe that there are good reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of the hearing, and we can even expect Congress to conduct appropriate reviews of large technology companies as we move forward. This is why.

First, we see the relationship between the two parties. For the longest time, it seems that Democrats and Republicans will discuss the issue of the dominance of the market by the technology industry from diametrically opposite angles. In the past few years, Republicans, including Donald Trump, his cabinet members and members of Congress, have been complaining about regulation of speech, which makes anti-conservative bias a key issue facing the technology industry. They attacked technology executives, especially Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (Jack Dorsey), for restrictive measures taken by their companies (such as verifying personal data or deleting specific posts), and even Delete the account of the far-right person. Trump himself is accepting such actions from Twitter, which marked his tweets about mailed votes and George Floyd’s protests as misleading and inciting violence, respectively. Indeed, this week, Republican representatives of Ohio’s Jim Jordan and Florida’s Matt Gates further ignited the fire. The former held a shout with Rhode Island Democratic Committee Chairman David Sicillin and started this Field hearing.

However, there are many encouraging moments that show that Congress’s attention to regulation is not limited to speech issues. It may be a little quieter, but committee members’ attention is focused on the industry’s preference for economic exploitation, consumer personal data, and technologies that may become competitors through so-called anti-competitive practices and quality degradation. service. Democrats and Republicans such as North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong (Kelly Armstrong) are interested in these concerns, and they have put forward sharp techniques on issues such as Google’s anti-competitive antics to suppress third-party cookies in the Chrome browser. problem. Walking down the road with the spear, we might hope to see more of this political unity on both sides of the aisle.

The next good sign is the technical awareness of members. What is refreshing is that the committee has expressed great concern about many deep technical issues of various companies. For example, Facebook’s Zuckerberg has come under fire for the nature of his company’s acquisition of Instagram. In the text submitted for the record, the founder of Instagram revealed that he is worried that if Instagram is not sold to Facebook, Facebook will enter a “disruptive mode”-this implies that Facebook will do everything possible to reduce the existence of Instagram. Zuckerberg’s detailed description of the incident shows that the Commission Company is very aware that large technology companies can use their control of the digital sector to extend and maintain their economic dominance in the industry. This “monopoly leverage” is precisely an act investigated by the committee. This is a corporate decision that helps maintain the systematic economic exploitation of consumers, restricts the pace of market innovation, and inhibits the overall quality of services provided in the technology market. The last manifestation is the negative externality pattern of the technology business , Such as the spread of hate behavior on the Internet and foreign false information. The committee showed similar timidity in urging Amazon to take action to restrict small business sellers in its market. Google acquired DoubleClick and subsequently shared data between DoubleClick and other Google services; Apple exceeded the percentage of revenue derived from App Store sales.

As we move forward, the committee can develop in one of two general directions. It can establish evidence against individual companies and file antitrust cases. But this can also give people a broader understanding of the overall operation of the Internet, especially the operation of surveillance capitalism, and an attempt to promote legislation aimed at establishing a new regulatory system. Many experts assert that it is difficult to imagine that the latter will have a huge impact on the future of the industry. Antitrust cases can take a long time, and any effort to disrupt large-scale technology may cause the company to face legal challenges. Given the development of antitrust issues, these challenges may be successful-if limited reforms are carried out at the end of the tunnel. We believe that the committee is working on a unified theory of the working principles of the Internet, that is, the pillar of its success lies in unconstrained data collection practices until the end of behavioral analysis, using complex but opaque algorithms to plan content, describing characters and targeted advertisements, and Pursuing positive platform growth in suspicious ways in some cases.

A legislative proposal that covers a wider range of issues and is addressed through regulatory policies, solves the problems that have become basic business practices, and effectively returns power to individual consumers, which is ultimately the most meaningful thing Congress can do thing.

Future Tense is a partner of Slate, New America and Arizona State University, researching emerging technologies, public policy and society.




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