Federal Government Targets Tech Giants for Reform
Federal lawmakers in recent weeks have taken the strongest stand to date against tech giants such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, which have long been criticized for monopolizing the industry. The actions include lawsuits and hearings that could have significant ramifications for the technology world and initiate tech reform.
In a lawsuit backed by attorneys general from 11 states, the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint against Google in an attempt to break up what it views as a monopoly in the marketplace. The DOJ lawsuit claims it is aiming to prevent Google from “unlawfully maintaining monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising in the United States through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices, and to remedy the effects of this conduct.”
The lawsuit specifically targets Google’s practice of establishing contracts with other tech companies to ensure its search engine is utilized as the default on a range of smartphones, including Apple’s iPhones. Google has paid Apple up to $12 billion for the search engine deal that the DOJ is targeting. The move was hailed by lawmakers of both parties who believe Google has been stifling competition for years. Because Google is such a massive company with a variety of businesses, the DOJ chose to target this specific search engine aspect in an effort to create an “open-and-shut case” and avoid the case getting bogged down by other issues. However, the case is unlikely to be heard before 2022.
Tech Reform Congressional Hearings
In late October, Republican lawmakers invited the top executives from Google, Twitter and Facebook to testify. The hearings centered around Section 230, which are federal laws that exempt social media sites from being held liable for the content that users post on the sites. During the hearings, Republicans argued that the tech giants unfairly silence conservative voices and should be more even-handed when it comes to managing political content, while Democrats argued that the companies should do more to police and remove offensive or dangerous content from their platforms.
During the hearings, which were held virtually due to COVID-19, the tech CEOs defended the actions of their respective companies and argued that there is no inherent political bias when it comes to moderating content on their platforms. They pointed to the money and efforts dedicated to strengthening content on the site after coming under fire following the 2016 presidential election for not doing enough to combat misinformation.
Although it is too early to tell if any of these moves will result in breaking up Silicon Valley tech giants, it represents a serious shift from the hands-off approach of recent years. This will continue to be a big issue for the next administration and Congress in 2021 and beyond, and the tech world will continue to pay close attention to potential tech reform.