Nov 3, 2019

GOP senator Josh Hawley: Big Tech execs are "totally untrustworthy"

Hawley at a hearing on data privacy in March. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said in an interview with "Axios on HBO" that Silicon Valley executives "regularly shade the truth" and are "totally untrustworthy."

The big picture: Since joining Congress this year, Hawley has made a name for himself by going after social media companies for censoring conservative viewpoints, failing to protect user privacy and having too much power over the flow of information.

What he's saying: When asked if he trusts the word of tech executives, he responded:

"I've only been in the Senate for 10 months. But the testimony I've heard from Twitter, Facebook and Google in that time is easily the most dishonest testimony of any witness I've heard before any committees that I sit on. They regularly mislead Congress and mislead the public. They regularly withhold sensitive information and engage in deliberate obfuscation. So no, I don't trust them at all."
— Josh Hawley to "Axios on HBO"

Context: Hawley has been blunt about his belief that Big Tech companies have too much power and need more competition. With bipartisan co-sponsors, he's introduced bills to require data portability between companies, to require tech companies to tell users how much their data is worth, and to give users the option not to be tracked.

  • At a Tuesday hearing, he plans to call into question the Chinese business arrangements of tech companies — including Apple and TikTok — and whether those ties pose national security threats. The U.S. government is reportedly investigating TikTok's acquisition of social media app Musical.ly.
  • Hawley invited Apple and TikTok to testify at the hearing, but as of Sunday evening, the companies are declining to appear. In a statement to Axios, TikTok said it remains "committed to working productively with Congress as it looks at how to secure the data of American users."

What to watch: Hawley told "Axios on HBO" that the federal government has not done enough to hold tech execs accountable and that some "structural reforms" may be needed to enforce anti-competitive rules.

  • That includes possibly giving oversight agencies more power and tools to police the companies and considering antitrust action to break them up.
  • "We maybe should look at reforming the FTC," he said, noting the agency's recent enforcement against Facebook was a "slap on the wrist."

When asked what tech industry leaders could do to show they are acting in good faith, Hawley said they need to prove they are not trying to choke off competition.

  • "Until they start taking some tangible action, I think that they don't deserve anybody's trust," Hawley said.

When asked whether he supports Facebook's latest policy on political advertising, he said wants to see how the company actually handles the issue.

  • "This is the thing I've learned with Facebook as well as with all these companies ... is that they'll announce a policy one day, they'll change it on the next day, [and] they'll implement it a third way," he said. "At the end of the day, we've got to think about their control over data information flow. Unless we do that, all of this is going to be, I think, window dressing."

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