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 TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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 LeeOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale 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.

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“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 HawleyIs Big Tech biased? Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns Bipartisan senators to introduce bill forcing online platforms to disclose value of user 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.