GREETINGS TECHLINGS AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. It’s Tuesday, the second leg of Amazon Prime Day, and we’re also now officially halfway through July. How? How?
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TECH’S SUMMER GRILLING — Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple execs testify at a House antitrust hearing today, the first time all four companies face a congressional panel together about competition in the tech sector. The session will also feature a slew of staunch tech critics, including Columbia law professor Tim Wu, who’s called for Facebook to be broken up, and Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-founder Stacy Mitchell, who has lauded Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) campaign proposal to split up all four companies.
— What to expect: Wu will call for government officials to make more use of “retroactive review of mergers that have led to anticompetitive consequences,” according to a written copy of his testimony shared with MT. That argument is likely to resonate with Democrats on the panel, including antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who has said Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram should have faced “more review” and urged the Federal Trade Commission to launch new investigations of those acquisitions.
— But Republicans may strike a more cautious tone. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the panel’s top Republican, said in a statement that while the committee “has a responsibly to scrutinize the business practices of this industry,” panel lawmakers “must do so with a fair and balanced approach.” (Read more on how the House antitrust probe is splitting conservatives here.)
LIBRA BACKLASH THREATENS ITS 2020 LAUNCH — “Facebook is botching its dream of becoming a new powerhouse in finance, failing to win over lawmakers and regulators who say they are far from ready to allow the social media giant’s ambitious cryptocurrency plans to move forward,” POLITICO’s Zachary Warmbrodt reports ahead of the back-to-back Senate and House hearings on the topic that are set to kick off this morning. “The rollout of the Libra project is the latest evidence that Facebook is still struggling to wield influence in both Washington and in the European Union after being dogged by controversies about its data privacy practices and role in facilitating election interference.” Read the full story here.
— P.R. disaster? “When you have Steve Mnuchin and the president and Maxine Waters all being critical, it does not bode well for you in terms of how Washington views what you do,” said Richard Levick, the chief executive of public relations firm LEVICK. The real problem, he said, is that Facebook is “out of trust” in D.C. Facebook’s splashy announcement of Libra likely compounded the scrutiny from lawmakers, one fintech lobbyist told POLITICO. “They’re talking about services that are the most highly regulated things in the economy and they’re treating it in a cavalier way,” the lobbyist said. “No other companies have approached this this way, and I think that’s why this has turned into such a disaster.”
PLUS, CRUZ TAKES AIM AT GOOGLE — Sen. Ted Cruz today holds his long-promised hearing on allegations that Google stifles conservative speech, a Republican talking point that got a high-profile airing at Trump’s “social media summit” at the White House last week. Along with Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president for government affairs and public policy, Cruz’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution will hear from a representative of PragerU, a right-wing advocacy group that filed a lawsuit against Google and YouTube over claims of censorship; Andy Parker, who has fought Google after video of the fatal shooting of his daughter proliferated online; and others. Google, as well as Twitter and Facebook, have denied political bias in the way they handle content.
— Democrats are none too thrilled with the session: “This is a hearing in search of a problem,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the ranking member on Cruz’s subcommittee. “There isn’t a liberal conspiracy to remove conservative content on these platforms.”
— What comes next: A Cruz aide told MT the Texas Republican is exploring legislation to address allegations of bias in tech, including potentially altering the legal protections afforded to online companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. And the Cruz-led subcommittee may look to hold additional hearings to inform any such measure, the aide said. We’ll be tracking to see how Cruz’s push fits in with the recently unveiled Senate Judiciary tech task force, led by fellow panel member Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).