The biggest giants of technology will once again be in the seat of Congress this week, facing hearings on antitrust and Facebook. Pound currency. However, in each case, the real question they will face is whether the government of the United States should increase its efforts to regulate them.
The hearings, held on Capitol Hill, have academic degrees such as "Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 2: Innovation and Entrepreneurship." That, scheduled for Tuesday with the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives, is to discuss antitrust issues with representatives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Meanwhile, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing called "Examine digital currency proposed on Facebook and data privacy considerations" to analyze the Libra currency of the social network that the company expects to change the way it we do the daily purchases.
These audiences represent the latest in constantly evolving dance between technology giants and legislators on the Capitol, one that is fast becoming a problem in the next US presidential race. What is at stake is how the government will regulate the technology industry, which has become one of the largest and most powerful groups in the world. Amazon and Apple are worth almost a trillion dollars, while Google and Facebook attract audiences that add up to billions.
For decades, the scandalous companies of Silicon Valley represented the new American dream, creating multi-million dollar companies at a great moment. But the last couple of years has brought a constant flow of corporate scandal and embezzlement.
Facebook and Google have struggled with questions about privacy, freedom of expression and electoral interference. Meanwhile, Amazon and Apple have grown so much and are so powerful that some lawmakers say they have become monopolies that need to be divided.
Regulators have already begun issuing record fines to companies, including a, and the Federal Trade Commission of the United States expects this year.
However, that has not been enough to satisfy many politicians. President Donald Trump, who has used social media to change the political world, has become one of the noisiest critics in the industry.
"This new technology is so powerful and so important, and should be used fairly," he said last week at a social media summit with conservative allies.
Facebook and Google did not respond to requests for comments. Representatives of Amazon and Apple referredarguing against concerns about anti-competitive practices.
There is no clear answer
The proposed solutions are as varied as those faced by technology companies. Some, such as Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, have proposed legislation on data portability and privacy, as well as a bill to force greater transparency with respect to political announcements. Others, such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, convened hearings on censorship and argued that technology companies should be regulated differently due to concerns about the perception of political bias.
Then there is Libra's cryptocurrency on Facebook, which adds a new wrinkle for lawmakers to consider. Trump has already called Libra and Bitcoin, saying that their value "is highly volatile and based on air."
The large number of issues is the reason why, despite all this scandal and pressure, legislators have reached a small agreement on how to move forward.
All they seem to agree so far is that something must be done.
"The big technology companies of today have [too much power over] our economy, our society and our democracy, "Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic and presidential candidate, wrote in March.
"In almost every respect, the giant technology companies are bigger and more powerful than Standard Oil was when it broke, they are larger and more powerful than AT & T when it broke," Cruz said during an April hearing.
The great question
This week's hearings will be particularly thorny because each of them will address concerns about the perceived monopolistic actions of technology.
Warren has argued, for example, that technology companies have grown so much that competition has become more difficult, tilting "the playing field against everyone else." Trump and Cruz, meanwhile, have focused on concerns about freedom of expression.
But none of these arguments touches what historically the government looks at competition issues: prices that harm consumers.
Amazon is criticized for often underestimating competition in price, while prices in Apple's App Store are similar to those in the Google competition platform. Meanwhile, Facebook and Google are mainly known for offering free services such as Instagram, WhatsApp Messenger and Google Maps.
"What is antitrust violation when something is free?" said David Balto, former policy director of the Federal Trade Commission. He worked on the team that accused Microsoft of monopolistic practices two decades ago (a judge agreed, but the company escaped a break).
That has not stopped the chorus against technology from growing stronger. Almost every one of the more than two dozen of the top Democratic candidates for the presidency has said that the technology should be analyzed more closely.
That includes Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who told The New York Times earlier this year: "Public policy is far behind the explosion of technology, which is really one of the weaknesses of where we are now as a country".