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 GrahamTrump to meet with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Top Foreign Affairs Republican: 'It would benefit all of us' for Omar, Tlaib to visit Israel 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 CruzO'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account O'Rourke says Trump 'terrorizing' immigrants in campaign relaunch speech 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 BlackburnTaylor Swift defends staying out of the 2016 election: 'I just knew I wasn't going to help' The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Senate passes sweeping budget deal, sending it to Trump 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 WarrenWarren unveils Native American policy plan Poll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April Obama has taken active interest in Biden's campaign: report 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy O'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate O'Rourke says Trump 'terrorizing' immigrants in campaign relaunch speech 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 LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid 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 KlobucharNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Biden, Sanders, Warren support dips in new poll 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally 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.