Big tech companies are facing the biggest expansion in potential technology regulation in a generation. And while the jury is out on whether all that sound and fury will signify anything, for the first time there are signs that the big-tech backlash could have a substantive impact.
New laws under consideration in Europe, Asia and the U.S. could put sharp limits on how big tech companies can treat smaller competitors and restrict their use of artificial intelligence like facial recognition. Some proposals could ban common practices such as companies giving their own products a boost in their own rankings, something that could have an operational impact, executives and analysts say.
At the same time, regulators globally are advancing dozens of investigations related to competition and privacy that could lead to more than just speeding tickets for tech giants. Under consideration, according to regulators and executives, are orders or settlements that could cut off trans-Atlantic data flows, kneecap some kinds of digital advertising, delay major product changes or force ongoing oversight of activities.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill for years have threatened to use their subpoena power to force tech companies, like Facebook and Google, to fork over internal documents or compel their executives to testify.
But they have rarely followed through, despite frequent frustration that companies don’t cooperate when lawmakers just ask nicely.
That changed Thursday as the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol deployed one of its most powerful tools, issuing subpoenas to demand information from Facebook parent-company Meta, YouTube parent-company Alphabet, Twitter and Reddit.
The panel said it is seeking records “relating to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic violent extremism, and foreign influence in the 2020 election.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the committee, accused the companies in a statement of not being fully forthcoming and stonewalling even their “basic questions” — offering a rationale for why the panel took a dramatic step usually seen as a last resort.