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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 GrahamSpokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome Former Graham challenger Jaime Harrison launches political action committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience 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 CruzOcasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview 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 BlackburnSunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Twitter CEO next week 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 WarrenBiden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus 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 CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results 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 LeeLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation 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.