AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths'

AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths'
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE’s pick to lead the Department of Justice, William Barr, suggested during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the agency should take a closer look at tech giants’ dominant market power and handling of user data.

During an exchange with Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report — Emergency declaration to test GOP loyalty to Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times The 10 GOP senators who may break with Trump on emergency MORE (R-Utah), Barr said that he wanted to better understand the dynamic between Silicon Valley and the nation’s antitrust officials who have allowed tech companies to grow so big.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m sort of interested in stepping back and reassessing, or learning more, about how the antitrust division has been functioning and what their priorities are,” said Barr, who previously served as attorney general under the George H.W. Bush administration. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers.”

He added that he doesn’t know if internet giants have run afoul of antitrust laws.

Barr only said that he wanted to learn more about the DOJ’s antitrust approach and did not indicate whether he would push for a tougher stance towards Silicon Valley if confirmed. 

Still, his comments suggest he is in line with a growing number of lawmakers and consumer advocates that are concerned about the influence companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google wield through their market power.

In a later exchange with Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyWhite House braces for Mueller report Google calls failure to disclose hidden microphone 'an error' Senators demand answers from Facebook on paying teens for data MORE (R-Mo.), who as a state attorney general launched investigations into Facebook and Google, Barr echoed his concerns about their effects on competition and how they handle user privacy.

He declined to address whether the DOJ should involve itself in a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Facebook's handling of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, since it's an active probe that he may have to oversee.

But he made clear that he has a personal interest in the issue of privacy and questions about Big Tech's market power — and believes the DOJ should look into them.

“I would like to wade into some of these issues," Barr told Hawley. "I also am interested in the issue of privacy and the question of who owns this data. It’s not an area I’ve studied closely or become an expert in, but I think it’s important for the department to get more involved in these questions.”

Updated at 2:27 p.m.