The Federal Trade Commission is currently conducting an antitrust investigation of Google over concerns that the company is unfairly favoring its own services in search rankings. Rockefeller is also a vocal critic of Facebook and other Web companies for their handling of consumers' private information.
During the hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Rockefeller, the panel's chairman, said he doesn't trust Web companies and advertisers to voluntarily protect users' privacy.
"It's not in their interest," Rockefeller said.
He argued that Congress should pass legislation requiring Web companies to allow users to opt out of online tracking, but he admitted the bill is unlikely to come up this term. He said there are other pressing issues for the Senate to address, pointing to pending cybersecurity legislation, but he said he hopes to bring up the legislation next year.
During the hearing, Rockefeller ripped into Berin Szoka, president of libertarian think tank TechFreedom.
Szoka argued that new baseline privacy legislation is unnecessary and the government should not try to pressure companies to adopt stringent privacy policies.
"You're in love with the law, and I think you're in love with yourself," Rockefeller said to Szoka. "My question to you, when you go through your complex legal machinations, which I'm sure you're very well-paid [to do], do you ever think about the effect on consumers?"
Rockefeller said he is not sure how Szoka got on the witness panel, but "you obviously slipped by me."
"I believe the rule of law protects the citizens," Szoka responded.
At the end of the hearing, Rockefeller admitted that he was "very rude" and told Szoka he would write him a letter of apology if he wanted one. But the Democratic senator denied Szoka when he asked for a moment to speak.
"And I'll write a letter of apology for that," Rockefeller said.