Analysis | Tech companies may face a flurry of probes if GOP retakes House – The Washington Post

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Below: TikTok tries to assuage security concerns, and Google takes a stand on abortion data. First:

Tech companies may face a flurry of probes if GOP retakes House

Republican officials have long accused social media companies of stifling conservative viewpoints. But if the GOP retakes the House in this year’s midterm elections, those grievances may fuel an onslaught of congressional investigations. 

Top House Republicans signaled in a Friday op-ed that they plan to probe how tech companies initially limited the circulation of a 2020 New York Post article detailing emails purportedly sent from the laptop of Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, if they regain the majority.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and James Comer (Ky.) claimed that Facebook, Twitter and media outlets “colluded to hide details about The Post’s article just as Americans were making up their minds about the presidential election.”

“A Republican majority will be committed to uncovering the facts the Democrats, Big Tech and the legacy media have suppressed,” they wrote.

While GOP allegations of Silicon Valley “censorship” are not new, recent remarks by Republican leaders suggest they’re becoming a bigger part of the party’s platform.

When Republicans controlled the Senate in 2020, they repeatedly hauled in the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter to testify about the Post incident — after threatening to subpoena the companies if they did not comply with their requests for testimony. 

And in 2018, when Republicans last controlled the House, they summoned Google CEO Sundar Pichai to appear to address previous allegations of “bias” by the company. 

But these sessions were largely one-off hearings by different congressional panels across both the House and Senate — not a dedicated investigation.

That’s poised to change if Republicans retake control of Congress, particularly the House, whose leaders have increasingly dragged tech companies into their core messaging railing against “cancel culture” and an alleged “silencing” of conservatives.

In November, Jordan raised the specter of creating an investigatory panel within the House Judiciary Committee to “go after big tech,” among other issues. “What big tech in collusion with big government is doing in this ‘cancel culture’ world we live in is so wrong,” he said. Jordan reiterated his desire to “investigate” the topic during an April appearance on Fox News

The remarks suggest that tech companies may face an investigation closer in sweep to the sprawling antitrust probe a bipartisan group of House Judiciary lawmakers led last Congress than the more-sporadic hearings under past GOP rule. 

While House Republicans may turn the screws on tech companies if they retake the chamber, they have indicated they have little interest in advancing the legislative proposals most threatening to giants like Facebook and Google.

McCarthy and Jordan are vocal opponents of a surging antitrust push to ban the tech companies from giving their own products a boost over those of their competitors. 

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who is leading the bipartisan antitrust push along with other lawmakers, has lamented that if his party retakes the House, his bills are doomed. 

“The antitrust bills that we are currently considering will not move forward under Republican leadership, and that’s been a very clear signal that has been sent, and I believe the tech companies are trying to run out the clock,” Buck told me in March.

He added, “The best we can hope for with antitrust in the future is either a watered-down version or trying to perhaps address some other area that hasn’t been raised yet.”

The remarks suggest that a potential GOP-controlled House may mean more “investigative” hearings, but potentially fewer laws targeting tech companies.

Our top tabs

Under fire, TikTok addresses national security concerns

Facing mounting scrutiny from Republican lawmakers, a TikTok executive on Sunday sought to address concerns about a BuzzFeed News report finding that U.S. user data on the app was repeatedly accessed from China, where its parent company ByteDance is based.

In a rare interview on CNN, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas Michael Beckerman said the company has “never shared information with the Chinese government, nor would we.” He added that TikTok has “U.S.-based security teams that manage access” to the app. 

On Thursday, the company confirmed in a letter to nine GOP senators that China-based employees who clear security protocols can access information on TikTok’s U.S. users, as Bloomberg reported. U.S. officials have voiced concern about the Chinese government either gaining or seizing information on U.S. users from TikTok, one of the world’s most popular social networks. 

TikTok’s attempts to reassure Republican leaders drew more blowback. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.): 

Google to delete user location history for abortion clinic visits

The search engine giant said Friday that it would delete its users’ location history when they visit abortion clinics and other sensitive locations, my colleague Gerrit de Vynck reported Friday. The move marked the company’s first public response to “calls for the data giant to limit the amount of information it collects that could be used by law enforcement for abortion investigations and prosecutions,” Gerrit wrote. 

“If our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit,” Jen Fitzpatrick, a senior Google executive, said in a blog post. 

The post also “reiterates Google’s position that it pushes back against what is sees as overly broad or illegal government requests for data, but does not specifically say how the company will respond to abortion-related requests,” Gerrit wrote.

Bezos bashes Biden’s calls for gas stations to lower prices

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Saturday slammed a tweet by Biden urging gas stations to lower their prices, the Wall Street Journal’s Rina Torchinsky reports. Bezos said the remarks reflected “either straight ahead misdirection or a deep misunderstanding of basic market dynamics.” (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

White House officials pushed back on Bezos’s remarks. “We obviously take great exception at the idea that this is somehow misdirection,” John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, said on Fox News Sunday. “The president is working very, very hard across many fronts to try to bring that price down.”

Hill happenings

Bill to grant crypto firms access to Federal Reserve alarms experts (Tory Newmyer)

Inside the industry

People searching for abortion online must wade through misinformation (Rachel Lerman)

Push to rein in social media sweeps the states (Politico)

Zuckerberg prepares Meta employees for tougher times (New York Times)

Competition watch

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after E.U. complaints (Reuters)

Privacy monitor

Texts, web searches about abortion have been used to prosecute women (Cat Zakrzewski, Pranshu Verma and Claire Parker)

Is your new car a threat to national security? (Wired)

Fireworks are out, drone shows are in this Fourth of July (Axios)

Remember RadioShack? It’s now a crypto company with wild tweets. (Yiwen Lu)

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