Tech Under Fire From Congress; FaceApp-What About Your Pics; EU Investigates Amazon for Antitrust

Three separate Congressional hearings yesterday took aim at the power big tech companies have amassed, with politicians from both sides of the aisle calling for more government oversight of the tech giants’ reach and expansion plans. The Wall Street Journal reports that legislators were probing several areas, including Facebook’s upcoming Libra cryptocurrency, Google’s alleged censorship, and antitrust concerns about Facebook, Google, and Apple.

“In an effort to promote and continue this new economy, Congress and antitrust enforcers allowed these firms to regulate themselves with little oversight,” House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D., R.I.) said at the outset of a hearing featuring executives from the four companies. “But as a result, the internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship.”

In their testimony, the companies said that they still face competition in markets from advertising to apps, and that their online platforms have facilitated the growth of many other smaller companies.

The Department of Justice and the FTC have privately divvied up jurisdiction for potential antitrust probes of the four companies (Amazon being the fourth). Facebook has already been fined $5 billion by the FTC, which will barely whack a month’s worth of the social network’s revenue.

Not all Congressmen were hostile to the tech companies. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), the House Antitrust Subocmmittee’s top Republican, told colleagues: “Just because a business is big doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

That view wasn’t held by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who accused Google of “playing Big Brother” by collecting swaths of data on Americans who use its search engines and controlling public discourse through its dominance of internet search.
Mr. Cruz said the tech giant’s frequent response—that its results are produced by algorithms—is inadequate. Algorithms are “written and maintained by people.”

FaceApp made the rounds a couple years ago, but the improved app is back with a vengeance…as anyone with a Facebook newsfeed can attest. There were concerns about what happens to your photos you modify then, as well as now…the app that makes you look younger or older via AI is from a team of Russian developers, and they have admitted that you have to upload the pic so their servers can modify it. According to techcrunch.com, the developers won’t say this, nor will they say if they keep a copy of the photos. Rumors that the app accesses all of your photos appears to be untrue, though…at least on iOS. Apple has a setting that prevents that. It only accesses the photo you explicitly tap. Since your profile photo on Facebook can be seen by anyone, what’s the big deal? While that’s true, in the case of FaceApp, the pic is in a system that has AI designed to modify your photo…young/old/ethnicity. Think about that!

On the heels of Prime Day, the European Union has launched an antitrust investigation into Amazon. Businessinsider.com says they are looking into whether Amazon’s data use from independent retailers using Amazon to sell through is a breach of EU competition rules. Amazon could be fined up to $23 billion of it is found in violation of EU laws. Amazon’s role as both a platform for merchants and a seller itself has been a big area of contention, and the EU commission will take a ‘close look’ at Amazon’s ‘dual role.’ This is not unlike the position of Apple with its App Store, which is also being looked at.

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