Tech giants and consumer privacy Senate hearing

Tech companies come to Capitol Hill

Tech giants including Google, Apple, Twitter and Amazon await their Senate hearing “Examining Safeguards for Consumer Data Privacy” on September 26 where they will answer questions on their consumer data and privacy mechanisms. 

Committee chairman Sen. John Thune said the hearing will allow the companies to “explain their approaches to privacy,” and how they plan to address GDPR requirements, and privacy requirements the state of California passed in June, and “what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation.”

Facebook has, as yet, not been asked to join. They had a date in the hot seat back in April after the Cambridge Analytica scandal was unearthed.  That’s when people and politics started to wake up to big tech’s scary control over data, and Mark Zuckerbot’s subsequent appearance before Congress would have been hilarious if it weren’t so depressing. Instead of grilling the Zuck with informed questions, the majority of Senators fawned over the Great American Success as they asked embarrassingly ill-informed questions.

That was bad, but at least Zuck turned up, unlike Google who shunned a hearing by the Senate Select Committee on foreign interference on elections on September 5. Google tried to send its top lawyer to the hearing, but the Committee wanted either CEO Larry Page or Sundar Pichai to testify alongside executives from Twitter and Facebook. 

Google is now 20 years old. In the last 10 years its image has gone from nerdy tech company with moral integrity to profit machine that will shun all ethics in favor of money and power. In July, the European Union slapped Google with a $5 billion fine for antritrust abuse of Android. A fine it easily paid, by the way, whilst laughing at how petty the amount was. At the beginning of August, Google drew internal and external criticism after its plans for a censored search app in China leaked to the press.  Now, its CEOs don’t bother showing up to Senate hearings.

Will someone from Google show up on September 26? It said, yes. Maybe, the bad press for snubbing their nation’s legal system bothered its conscience, and you know how Google hates to be evil. Well, it used to anyway.  

But what can we expect to see at these hearings? US politicians have woken up to tech companies and they’re keen not to seem as clueless as they came across when grilling Mark Zuckerberg. The question everyone is asking is will they introduce regulation? It seems all these Senate hearings could be a way of gathering evidence as part of a case for lawmakers to do just that.

These companies run the world and have more data on people that the Stasi ever did on the citizens of East Germany. The fact that they STILL are allowed to self regulate is beyond a joke.  The US government wanted its country to have the best IT infrastructure and businesses so the industry was allowed to thrive, regulation free, and it has.

But can it go on? Mark Zuckerberg said himself after his Senate hearings: “I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” and Apple's CEO Tim Cook, also requested more government intervention. “I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary.”  

It is interesting that these two titans of the IT industry are calling for some form of regulation. It is easy for them. They are big enough to survive and thrive no matter what regulatory measures the government puts in place. Regulation can be a market barrier for smaller and less sinister companies.  Regulations cost companies money to administer. Eventually smaller companies will fold leaving the industry to just a few dominate companies.

But the hacking of the US election was an eye opener to what kind of mischief people can get up to with a lot of user data. Google reaches billions of people with its search, news, maps and web browsing services. YouTube, which Google owns, is the biggest video site in the world, and is the top station for dodgy spreaders of fake news. About 45 percent of Americans get news from Facebook, while 18 percent get it from YouTube, according to the Pew Research Center. With so much influence and so much data, surely there should be some form of responsibility put at their door?