Overnight Tech: Google takes heat during antitrust hearing

LEDE: Google search results became a hot topic during a Senate antitrust hearing Tuesday afternoon, as Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) pressed witnesses to say the Federal Trade Commission should reopen an investigation into the tech giant.

Blumenthal particularly grilled Tim Wu, a former FTC advisor who initially defended the agency's 2013 decision to drop its investigation of Google's alleged search bias but who said the agency should take a second look after he published additional research last year -- specifically surrounding local search results.

"Shouldn't the FTC change its view as well?" Blumenthal asked.

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At another point the senator asked: "If in fact Google is preferring its own properties, and if in fact there is consumer harm, which was not apparent to you before, shouldn't there be a basis for Section 5 enforcement action?"

"These cases are complicated, but I do think the FTC should be looking at this or the Justice Department or both," Wu said, adding that he understood the agency's hesitation to jump back into a review so soon.

2013 FTC FLASHBACK: Google changed a number of its practices after settling with the FTC in early 2013. But the FTC dropped its investigation into allegations of search bias after concluding that Google's conduct was justified because it improves customer experience. At the time, Blumenthal -- who is a former state attorney general who helped out with a major antitrust case against Microsoft -- expressed disappointment that "this result may well leave unresolved and perhaps unremedied" some of the allegations.

LIFELINE PROPOSAL ON TRIBAL LAND COMING: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he wants to start and finish a proposal this year that would limit a loophole that has allowed people in some metropolitan areas to receive larger-than-normal subsidies for Internet and phone service through the Lifeline program. The enhanced benefits were originally intended to encourage providers to build telecom infrastructure in native American populations, but large areas like Reno and Tulsa also benefit. The reform, which could save hundreds of millions of dollars, was a small part of a deal between Democrats and Republicans that ultimately fell apart last week.

HOUSE PANEL MARKING UP LIFELINE CAP BILL NEXT WEEK: The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will consider a bill next Wednesday that caps the FCC program that provides phone and Internet subsidies to low-income Americans. It sets the cap on the fund at $1.5 billion and makes other changes to the program. The subcommittee will also consider three other bills related to the program. "Collectively, these bills will advance our efforts on two important fronts -- public safety and a more accountable FCC," said subcommittee chair Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in a statement.

THUNE KEEPING EYE ON HOUSE ACTION: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-S.D.) is not ruling out a debate on the cap in the upper chamber. As one House committee vowed to take up legislation this month, Thune said he would keep his eye on it: "I'm interested to see exactly how the House is approaching it," he said, expressing hope they "could come up with a legislative solution that brings at least some amount of fiscal responsibility and fiscal accountability to what the FCC did."

FTC UNVEILS TOOL FOR HEALTH APP MAKERS: The Federal Trade Commission is helping app developers who focus on healthcare make sure their products fall within the laws. The commission set up a new tool that app makers can use to see which government regulations might apply to them. The FTC has taken action against a number of app makers recently who were accused of trumping up the health benefits of their apps.

WHATSAPP TURNS ON ENCRYPTION: WhatsApp, the globally popular messaging application owned by Facebook, turned on end-to-end encryption for its messages today. The move comes off of a heated argument between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over what Apple should have to do to help law enforcement access encrypted iPhone data. And indeed, U.S. News and World Report says that FBI general counsel James Baker is already raising concerns about WhatsApp's decision.

 

ON TAP:

At 5:30, the Center for Democracy and Technology holds its annual dinner.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

PayPal is walking away from plans to build an operations center in North Carolina out of opposition to a new law that many advocates call discriminatory to transgender people.

Europe's antitrust regulator says they are "advancing" probes of Google's ad business and Android operating system.

Thursday night National Football League (NFL) games will be live streamed over Twitter this fall, the NFL confirmed Tuesday morning.

The FBI's top lawyer on Tuesday refused to disclose what the agency found on San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone, which it broke into last week.

A working group of Europe's privacy regulators is expected next week to hand down an opinion that could potentially kill a recent U.S.-EU data flow agreement.

 

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