At a glance.
- Notes on the US House Judiciary Committee's Big Tech antitrust hearings.
- New director of MI6 named.
- US Treasury Department readies security report on TikTok.
Big Tech testifies on Capitol Hill.
Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook completed (by WebEx) yesterday’s testimony before the US House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Messrs. Bezos, Cook, Pichai, and Zuckerberg hewed to foreseeable lines during their testimony (the Telegraph thought they emerged “unharmed”), but observers thought the Congressional inquisitors generally well-prepared.
The House subcommittee was interested in both anti-competitive practices and the roles the platforms have assumed in moderating content and influencing elections. The Wall Street Journal sees the central issue raised in the session as the economic and social power big data analytics have enabled Big Tech to concentrate.
The chiefs’ answers to both questions about alleged anti-competitive practices were to disclaim any attempt to use data they collect on their customers or partners to favor their own business at the expense of those customers or partners. They also said it wasn’t their practice to acquire potential or actual competitors to clear the field for their own products or services. To questions about content moderation (with Democrats seeming mildly in favor of more of it, Republicans decidedly wanting less of it) the executives gave mixed responses that expressed an interest in enabling the free sharing of ideas, feelings, and experiences, but within the limits of safety and unspecified community standards.
The Representatives seemed well-briefed, equipped with news reports, corporate email exchanges, and stories from disgruntled competitors and customers. In fairness to Big Tech, the questions they were asked were sometimes complex, presumed that those testifying would have significant amounts of detail at their fingertips, and were in most cases tendentious. They had the character of a cross-examination, whose purpose isn’t to elicit new information, but rather to get things you already think you know into the record. The answers stayed as close as possible to the statements the companies came in wishing to make. At several points those testifying promised to return responses once they had the opportunity to check the information on which their answers would depend. Those follow-ups will cover specific cases of alleged anti-competitive practices, details on the composition of their fact-checking and other content-moderation staffs, their use of data analytics, and the specifics of content-moderation policies, or community standards, in force at their companies.
Two things seem likely. First, it will be difficult for online services to hang onto the Section 230 immunities they currently enjoy while they exercise more gatekeeping with respect to content. The roles of publisher and neutral public square are likely to prove, ultimately, incompatible. And second, Big Tech’s antitrust problems are unlikely to go away. As investigators continue to examine tech companies as incipient monopolies, those companies’ access to and use of massive quantities of data from partners, customers, and competitors will be the entering wedge of antitrust action.
MI6's new director has been named.
Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, familiarly known as MI6, will receive a new director. SecurityWeek reports that Richard Moore, an MI6 alumni who went on to a subsequent career as a diplomat, will succeed Alex Younger, who has led the agency since 2014. Moore currently serves as political director of the Foreign Office, before which post he served as the British ambassador to Turkey, the BBC reports. He will move into MI6 this autumn.
US Treasury Department prepares its recommendation on TikTok.
The Treasury Department is finishing its review of whether TikTok, the Chinese owned social network that specializes in sharing short, whimsical videos, constitutes a national security threat, the Wall Street Journal reports. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said yesterday that he intends to render his report to the President this week.