GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech

GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech
© Greg Nash

GOP senators on Tuesday signaled they are divided over whether to pursue antitrust enforcement against the country's largest tech companies. 

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about data privacy and competition policy on Tuesday, some Republican lawmakers slammed the enormous market power of companies like Facebook and Google, while others questioned whether "breaking them up" would be useful.  

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the committee, expressed concern that Google and Facebook "own 70 percent of digital advertising in the world," asking witnesses for potential "antitrust remedies" to apply to advertising practices. 

But he stopped short of calling for any specific actions. "My job is to make sure we have a viable industry when all of this is over with," Graham said. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Sanders meets with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Cruz knocks Chick-fil-A over past donation: It has 'lost its way' MORE (R-Texas) focused his remarks on the "size, power [and] market cap" of Google, calling the company "larger than Standard Oil was when it was broken up and larger than AT&T was when it was broken up."  

"There are many on this committee, including myself, concerned about potential anticompetitive conduct from Google," Cruz said.

Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week Overnight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East MORE (R-Tenn.) echoed his sentiments, saying she is concerned "there are openings for market abuse and exploitation of consumer data and also for being able to use these platforms and then drive out competition." 

"That concerns us tremendously," she said. 

The hearing, which focused on the digital advertising ecosystem, comes amid a larger conversation on Capitol Hill and among Democratic 2020 contenders over whether to break up the largest tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon. Some policymakers have called for disbanding the companies as part of larger efforts to regulate their rampant collection of users' data. 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenArtist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 Democratic strategist: 'Medicare for All' exposes generational gap within party Yang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations MORE (D-Mass.) was the first presidential candidate to call for breaking up the companies in an expansive policy proposal earlier this year. Other 2020 contenders and Democratic lawmakers have since followed suit. 

Earlier this month, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes reinvigorated the antitrust conversation when he called to break up Facebook in a lengthy New York Times op-ed. 

The calls have exposed rifts among Republicans, with some GOP lawmakers arguing in favor of antitrust enforcement while more business-friendly members have urged against assuming that "big is bad." 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick MORE (R-Texas) at the hearing said he thinks "the discussion of breaking up a Google or breaking up a Facebook is not what we should be doing." He called for giving users "more information" about how the companies use their data rather than imposing stringent regulations on how they operate.

"[Users] can vote with your feet," Cornyn said. "You can either break them up by no longer interacting with them or you can build them up because you’re comfortable with their … standards." 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC Senators defend bipartisan bill on facial recognition as cities crack down Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans MORE (R-Utah) engaged in a similar line of questioning, asking the witnesses why consumers remain on the platforms if their practices are harmful. 

"They like the content, the convenience associated with that platform," Lee said. 

Democrats on the committee, including 2020 contender Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down MORE (D-Minn.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), called for some antitrust enforcement. Blumenthal previously supported the calls to break up Facebook.

"The problem here is that Google and Facebook have misused their monopolistic powers," Blumenthal said. "We need both antitrust enforcement and new privacy protections." 

The hearing comes as lawmakers in both chambers seek to hammer out the nation's first comprehensive privacy law.