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‘We’re Not Like Facebook.’ Tech Giants Will Squirm in Capitol Hill’s Hot Seat

Amid calls for big tech to be regulated—and even broken up—Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon will face questions from lawmakers at several hearings on Tuesday that could serve as a flashpoint for how regulators deal with big tech in the future.

"These are the early stage discussions focused on understanding the underlying issues to solve the right problems," says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade group that represents media organizations.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, the four tech giants will send representatives to answer questions in front of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the leader of the panel, has pledged to review the alleged anti-competitive practices of the tech giants and "how consolidation is hurting entrepreneurs."

In terms of antitrust, Kint thinks the hearing will show Congress taking a step away from the tech companies. "Look at the long, documented history of Facebook making decisions that benefit the company over consumers," he says. "Despite growing distrust, and in light of that, can we envision giving them that sort of role over the future?"

While the four tech giants will testify together, Kint says he expects they'll be quick to point out their differences and perhaps some will put distance between themselves and Facebook.

"There is a lot of momentum in antitrust around the platforms' use of data privacy," Kint says. "Apple has a pro-consumer viewpoint that is different than Facebook and Google, for instance."

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing called "Google and Censorship Through Search Engines" on Tuesday afternoon. Karan Bhatia, Google's vice president for government affairs and public policy, will answer questions in the hearing, which will be presided over by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has been a vocal critic about perceived conservative censorship. Kint will testify during this hearing, along with a panel of other experts, including Andy Parker, the father of slain journalist Alison Parker, and Dennis Prager, founder of the conservative site PragerU.

In two hearings this week, Facebook's plan to release its Libra cryptocurrency will be scrutinized on Capitol Hill. David Marcus, head of Facebook's cryptocurrency initiative, will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday at 10 a.m., and the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

"Our first goal is to create utility and adoption, enabling people around the world—especially the unbanked and underbanked—to take part in the financial ecosystem," he plans to tell lawmakers, according to prepared remarks released on Monday.

Marcus's testimony comes as politicians and government officials have expressed scrutiny about Facebook's plan to release its Calibra digital wallet and Libra cryptocurrency in 2020.

In his remarks, Marcus says Facebook won't release Libra until all regulatory concerns are "fully addressed." He added that it will be registered with the Department of the Treasury and won't compete with sovereign currencies.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is working on a proposal called the "Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act," which would prohibit large internet companies from becoming a financial institution or offering cryptocurrencies.

Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee he's concerned about Libra.

"While the project's sponsors hold out the possibility of public benefits, including improved financial access for consumers, Libra raises many serious concerns regarding privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability," Powell says. "These are concerns that should be thoroughly and publicly addressed before proceeding."

Ultimately, this week will be about taking another step toward ensuring big tech is accountable, learns from its mistakes of the past, and moves forward with an approach that respects the rights of consumers, Kint says.

"These companies are the most powerful, most valuable and most innovative companies on the planet," he says. "They do have unbelievable amounts of resources and engineering talent and ideas and employee capital to do things better."

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