By Margaret Harding McGill
Lawmakers mulling how to tighten antitrust laws' reins over online platforms will grill Google and Facebook Tuesday about a key asset in the digital age: data.
Why it matters: The intersection of data collection and competition policy is a particularly vulnerable point for the tech giants, whose power comes from amassing troves of information about users.
Driving the news: The Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee's Tuesday hearing will focus on whether data collection by tech companies and data brokers hurts competition.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who leads the subcommittee, already introduced broad antitrust reform legislation earlier this year and told Axios she's also working on targeted, tech-specific measures, such as a bill outlawing discriminatory conduct.
- Concerns about data collection have focused more on privacy, but Klobuchar said it's also important to look at data in the competitive realm.
- "Think of the barrier to entry when these dominant platforms are able to basically target ads in a way that no one else does because they have all the data," Klobuchar told Axios.
- "The second piece of it is it allows them to create certain algorithms because they have data that no one else has. And so it's a major barrier to entry against the platforms, and I think a very interesting competitive theory."
What they're saying: Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director for Public Knowledge, will tell lawmakers the vast amount of data tech companies have acquired helps them freeze out new competitors.
- "This should be a dynamic industry where innovation can flourish, but because of the hands-off approach policymakers have taken in the past, new disruptive innovators have not had a fair shot," Slaiman wrote in her testimony.
The other side: Google and Facebook, both facing antitrust lawsuits already from federal authorities, will testify at the hearing.
- Expect Google to tout its data privacy protections and user control options and argue that data alone does not guarantee a successful product.
- "Rather, it is the investment, innovation and method that matters, not just the amount of data a company may have," Markham Erickson, Google vice president of government affairs and public policy, writes in his opening statement.
- Facebook did not respond to a request seeking comment.