Silicon Valley 'Behemoths' Draw Attention of AG Nominee

Silicon Valley titans may soon find themselves under more scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General nominee William Barr signaled to senators that he is interested in taking a closer look at “huge behemoths” in the tech industry.

Responding to questioning on antitrust matters from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Barr said, “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers. You can win that place in the marketplace without violating the antitrust laws, but I want to find out more about that dynamic.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has made no secret of his concern about Big Tech power and practices, pressed Barr further.

“Big Tech companies, like for instance Google and Facebook who have drawn much attention of late, pose significant challenges not just for competition but also for the larger issues of privacy and a free flow of ideas,” Hawley said.

Responding to Hawley’s question about whether or not DOJ may be empowered by antitrust, consumer protection, or other laws to address Big Tech viewpoint discrimination, particularly against conservative and libertarian voices, Barr said he would need to think more about its antitrust merits but offered, “On the other hand, it could involve issues of disclosure and implicate other laws like that.” He also affirmed in a follow-up remark that he was generally concerned with the possibility of dominant Silicon Valley companies using their market power to discriminate against rival products, services, or viewpoints.

Sen. Marsh Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who previously chaired the House Communications & Technology Subcommittee and has had direct experience as a viewpoint discrimination victim, also raised issues with purported platform giants that are “getting into the content business” and lingering concerns of a company that some thought “functioned more like a government than a platform.” Barr again reaffirmed his desire to dig further into these matters.

  • The full hearing is available here from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Find out more about NRB’s call for a careful congressional review of the “Good Samaritan” protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in light of the growing Big Tech viewpoint discrimination problem.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: January 18, 2019

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