By Robert McMillan
Democrats and Republicans have an issue they both agree on: tech companies have too much power and antitrust authorities should move to curb it.
Where they disagree, however, is how to rein in the companies, especially when it comes to regulating perceptions of political bias on the platforms.
Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri both called for stronger antitrust enforcement and privacy protections for users of technology products during a panel discussion Monday at the WSJ Tech Live conference.
Sen. Hawley said authorities should bring an antitrust case against Google-parent Alphabet Inc. and probably Facebook Inc. He also urged reform of the Federal Trade Commission to strengthen its enforcement of antitrust rules.
Rep. Cicilline agreed that laws and federal agencies needed to be modernized to give the government new-enforcement capabilities. "What we really want is antitrust enforcement that brings real competition back into the marketplace," he said.
Google has said its products increase choice and are designed only to be most helpful for users. Facebook has been preparing for an antitrust case with company lawyers arguing a breakup would defy established law, cost billions of dollars and harm consumers
Even as they agreed on the power tech companies wield, the two lawmakers disagreed on the question of conservative bias.
Sen. Hawley said that Facebook's actions last week to throttle a New York Post article based on email messages allegedly taken from the laptop of Joe Bidens' son, Hunter Biden, amounted to an abuse of monopoly power. "I believe in a free press and when you have a monopoly on Facebook that is attempting to stop the distribution of the news, we have a problem," he said.
Rep Cicilline disputed the idea that Facebook was biased against conservatives, saying that conservative voices are regularly among the most dominant on the platform. "If there's a conservative bias on this platform, they're doing a pretty lousy job," he said.
But the two lawmakers did agree that privacy protections was an area where the U.S. government could push back on tech companies power. "Consumers ought to have more control over their data," Mr. Hawley said.
Privacy in the U.S. has been regulated by a patchwork of state regulations and while lawmakers have proposed a variety of federal privacy laws, none has succeeded in being enacted.
Microsoft's chief privacy lawyer, Julie Brill, said during the panel that if the U.S. didn't move forward with privacy regulation, it risked being left behind other economies that already have laws on the books. "If the U.S. doesn't move forward and relatively quickly, we will lose our thought leadership on this topic," she said. "I think America has something important to add to this conversation"
There's another reason to push for updated laws and policies on privacy -- to put regulations in line with regulations in Europe and other democratic regions, said Alex Stamos director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, and formerly Facebook's chief security officer. "Our biggest risk now is the Chinese tech industry in a number of different ways," he said. "We need to have a united voice in how we want to regulate tech"
Write to Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires