Congress, Far From ‘a Collection of Tubes,’ Is Nonetheless Nowhere Close to Reining In Tech

“That’s not a trick question,” Mr. Poe rumbled. “You know, you make $ 100 million a year, you should be able to answer that question.”


Dec. 10, 2021, 8:09 p.m. ET

It wasn’t a completely confused question: Google Maps and other services are available on iPhones, and location tracking through Google services is a serious concern of data protection officers. But on social media and in some media reports, Mr. Poe has been ridiculed for his apparent confusion over Apple and Google technologies.

The fiddling was bipartisan, with Tennessee Democrat Representative Steve Cohen describing Google as an “apparatus” and suggesting Mr. Pichai create an online school so users can understand the search engine where they can be assigned a Google representative . But not like Comcast’s phone customer service, he added, where you get on hold for 30 minutes and “find someone you don’t understand.”

Another example of Buddhist lawmakers stumbling their way through the technology, the onlookers quipped.

The belly blows from the podium in the auditorium helped put the company’s market dominance and data collection in the spotlight. Since then, criticism of tech giants has only intensified. But despite the bipartisan agreement that tech companies have acted ruthlessly and deserve more oversight, none of the bills discussed in those hearings four years ago were passed.

It turns out it’s much easier to hold a hearing that humiliates the world’s most powerful leaders than to legislate. Very light lines of partisan disagreement emerge when rules are written that restrict how much data can be collected by platforms, whether consumers can sue websites for defamation, and whether regulators can slow the advance of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook.

“Bipartisanism is the most powerful force backing the status quo, and the big tech platforms are working hard to start the flames,” said David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance, a media lobby group that has pushed for tighter antitrust tech platforms .

Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has said it supports the regulations. All six cryptocurrency executives who testified recently also said they also support some government oversight of their businesses.

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