Social media and digital platforms have long been on the watch list of multiple branches of the government due to the shifting power of balance. The Senate judiciary subcommittee antitrust hosted a hearing, which targeted the world’s biggest search engine company, Google, A Silicon Valley behemoth.
This was expected since the house has already held an exhaustive hearing on how the tech tycoons are mobilizing the power to their chief executives. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook hold the world’s biggest resources of human data and have the ability to sway elections of public officials, derailing the democracy of government, which has come to the news after several controversies on whether these platforms were manipulating data for their own gain.
This Senate hearing was centered around Google’s effect on the competitors in the ad market. Google holds a substantial amount of the ad revenue that occurs digitally, and a big portion of the company’s revenue comes from the same place.
However, the center of the controversy was allegations made by Republican Party senators regarding whether or not the platform was censoring conservative views and making conservative platforms less accessible to people when searched online.
Serious matter of concern
Senator Mike Lee, Republican subcommittee chairman from Utah, started the hearing with the accusation that there was a perceived bias on the platform against Conservatives, but he had additional concerns as well.
It has been well noted that if a private company engages on censorship in their platform that in no way violates the antitrust law, still the senator wanted to point out that this behavior was concerning and showed a clear bias which can sway public opinion according to what was convenient for the company.
He also alleged that the only way a company can treat their customers like that is if they were confident that their customers did not have a better alternative, which suggested a gross imbalance of power hierarchy.
Even though Google is the first target in this watershed moment for antitrust regulation, big tech has become a testament to the failure of United States laws to stop companies from gathering excessive power. Other companies being questioned for their part on the same crisis include Facebook, which is cannibalizing smaller companies killing competition in the market. Apple has been asked for its policies on the App Store. Amazon is under investigation for collecting data from various third-party sellers on its website.
But Google has received more attention, including a hearing of CEO Sundar Pichai, who defended the company on regulating their advertising technologies and research algorithm. This has become a bipartisan issue where senators from both sides of the party line grill Google on their mergers and acquisitions. Executive Donald Harrison was asked how they use the data they collect from Gmail, Google search, and their other services too target and personalize their ads. The concern here is that Google is using all the unfair advantages of data collection and creating a market dominance that makes them unparalleled and refutes any chance of competition from ever taking place.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic representative, pointed out that Google was in an unfair position because it collected the information from both advertisers and publishers.
Google has defended itself, citing that creating the best experience for its customers is the key goal of the company. Regulation has always been required in sectors where there has been a failure, which the company cites is not the case in their situation.
Donald Harrison from Google has also placed that they will not be using the data gathered from the Fitbit acquisition to create a personalized advertisement for the user. He has assured the senators that the company focuses on the health care of the customers and not the advertisements.
Regarding the accusation that Google was suppressing conservative viewpoints, Harrison reminded the senators that the advertising policy of the company was neutral and did not consider any political affiliation. Their policies are supposed to equally apply to all content creators irrespective of their political bias. The outcome of the tech companies versus the United States is going to be a long one considering major overhaul is required to facilitate the changing requirement of our time.