House antitrust leaders meet with Facebook whistleblower

By | October 22, 2021

The leaders of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee met with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen on Thursday afternoon, two people familiar with the meeting told POLITICO.

Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.) talked with Haugen about Facebook and the social network’s competition-related issues, the people said. Haugen’s inside knowledge could help the lawmakers as they negotiate possible tweaks to a package of bills aimed at reducing the market power of the tech giants.

Haugen’s views on antitrust: Haugen told the Senate Commerce Committee in early October that she does not believe Facebook should be broken up because it would limit the platform’s ability to moderate dangerous and illegal content. Instead, she called for regulation, including oversight of social media companies’ algorithms.

“A company with such frightening influence over so many people, over their deepest thoughts, feelings and behavior needs real oversight,” Haugen said during her testimony. “These systems are going to continue to exist and be dangerous even if broken up.”

Jumping in: But Cicilline and Buck — who headed a 19-month investigation into competition in online markets that zeroed in on Facebook’s acquisitions and conduct toward rivals — have argued that her disclosures are another sign of the need to update the country’s antitrust laws.

“In the absence of competition or accountability, Facebook and other unregulated tech monopolies have no incentive to change, making the Internet less safe and less secure,” Buck and Cicilline wrote in a joint op-ed following her testimony before Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee earlier this year advanced a package of antitrust bills that seek to make it easier for the government to rein in the power of the tech giants. The package would make it easier to break up companies, bar them from discriminating against rivals and require them make it easier for consumers to take their data when switching to other services.

A bipartisan group of senators this week introduced a companion to one of the House antitrust bill focused on discrimination.