The new head of a congressional antitrust panel has vowed to take on big technology companies that “threaten our democracy”, the latest sign of a growing cross-party Washington consensus that Silicon Valley has grown too powerful.
Democratic congressman David Cicilline is set to spearhead efforts to check the influence of Amazon, Facebook, Google and other “big tech” firms, a rare bipartisan cause that unites figures such as Donald Trump, senators Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, albeit for wildly divergent reasons.
“We need to have a serious conversation about the dominance of these platforms,” Cicilline, who will serve as chairman of the House judiciary committee’s antitrust, commercial and administrative law subcommittee, said in a statement made available to the Guardian. “There’s no question that these new gatekeepers have the incentive and ability to harm the competitive process, undermine innovation, and threaten our democracy.”
After a swath of privacy and data manipulation debacles over the past few years, the utopian vision of Silicon Valley companies in California has been shattered and their “move fast and break things” mantra has lost much of its charm. The star players are facing demands for greater accountability and transparency. America is playing catch-up with the European Union whose competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has ordered Apple and Amazon to pay back taxes, fined Facebook over its acquisition of WhatsApp and imposed billions of dollars’ worth of antitrust penalties on Google.
In the US, executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter have now all testified before Congress during the past year. Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, has called on Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation to protect consumers. In the meantime, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly close to finishing a privacy investigation into Facebook, which could lead to a major fine.