Sep 12, 2018

Google's turn in the D.C. hot seat

Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Google’s so far successful strategy of keeping its head down in Washington while lawmakers brutalize Facebook and Twitter is facing new tests as pressures mount from federal legislators and state authorities.

The big picture: While the other Silicon Valley giants are likely happy for a break for the spotlight, the fates of all of the online platforms have always been intertwined. Regulation for one could be regulation for all, and scrutiny of individual companies' privacy practices or moderation failures in the past has drawn attention to industry-wide issues.

Google’s Tuesday was a cascade of new troubles.

  • The Washington Post broke the story Tuesday morning that Arizona’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, was investigating the search giant’s handling of consumer data.
  • By early evening, Brnovich’s spokesperson Katie Conner was out with a statement: “Our office has been working on this civil investigation for quite some time. While we cannot confirm the company or companies at the center of this probe, we decided to move forward and retain outside counsel after a series of troubling news reports, including a recent story that highlighted Google’s alleged tracking of consumer movements even if consumers attempt to opt out of such services.”
  • On Capitol Hill, Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that Google would be asked to testify, less than a week after the company frustrated lawmakers who wanted to see its CEO testify at a Senate hearing. In a tweet, McCarthy said that an “invite will be on its way.”

Driving the news:

  • The recent report that Google mobile services can continue to track users when they think they've turned location tracking off has breathed new life into privacy concerns about the company.
  • Unproven allegations of anti-conservative bias leveled by President Trump and others on the right are fanning Republican legislators' ire.
  • Fears that the company has too much market power have driven antitrust actions in Europe and a widening conversation about tech monopolies in the United States.
  • Reports that Google is working to get back into China have wrangled politicians on both sides of the aisle — as well as Google's own employees.

Yes, but: Scrutiny of Facebook and Twitter isn’t going anywhere — and they share with Google many of the same issues that have drawn criticism and inquiries.

  • State attorneys general who have active investigations into the major internet companies will brief Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a September 25 meeting announced last week, potentially sparking a federal probe, per Bloomberg on Tuesday evening.
  • Brnovich’s spokesperson also noted that he has raised concerns about Facebook as well.

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