Jonathan Kanter, who has represented Big Tech rivals like Yelp and News Corp, skated through his nomination hearing without incident, as both Democrats and Republicans lauded his tougher stance on regulating digital behemoths.
It’s no surprise Democrats are backing their president’s pick, a favorite among progressives and anti-monopoly advocates. But the fact that Republicans raised few, if any, objections to him while some, such as Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), went as far as to say they will vote to confirm him speaks to how united lawmakers are in wanting tougher oversight of Big Tech.
“Mr. Kanter has been a forceful critic of Big Tech companies. So have I,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican and former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The market size and power of companies like Facebook and Google enable them to exert substantial control over how Americans get and share information.”
The controversy-free session largely mirrored the confirmation process for FTC Chair Lina Khan, a star of the progressive movement who rose to prominence by arguing that current antitrust standards are ill-equipped to deal with online powerhouses like Amazon.
Khan was confirmed with a broad bipartisan mandate in June by a 69-to-32 margin in the Senate.
Surprisingly, however, Kanter’s Senate reception may have been friendlier still.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) questioned whether Khan, 32, was too inexperienced for the agency during her nomination process, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah.), the top Republican on the Senate’s antitrust panel, previously called her views on antitrust “wildly out of step.”
But at Kanter’s hearing Wednesday, they largely held back their fire. Both pressed the nominee about his more expansive views on competition policy that regulators shouldn’t make enforcement decisions merely based on consumer welfare, a hot-button antitrust debate. Neither took major umbrage at Kanter’s responses.
The tech industry’s efforts to get lawmakers to raise political and ethical issues with Kanter’s nomination ahead of the hearing appears to have fallen flat.
NetChoice, a tech trade group that counts Amazon, Google and Facebook as members, circulated a memo ahead of the hearing accusing Biden of trying to “con Republicans” again.
It’s a reference to Biden’s surprise appointment of Khan as chair of the FTC, shortly after she was confirmed as a commissioner. The thinking goes that by not alerting all lawmakers of his intent to elevate Khan as chair, Biden bamboozled and burned her GOP backers.
Khan’s early stewardship at the FTC since has also perturbed some Republicans, including her fellow commissioners and lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, such as Lee. Those factors raised questions about whether Senate Republicans would be reluctant to endorse yet another progressive tech critic to a key federal oversight role.
By the time the hearing kicked off, those issues were largely a blip on the radar for the panel.
“I'm sure tech lobbyists were trying to get their questions in the door with these folks, and it didn't seem like any of them were keen to bite,” said Sarah Miller, executive director and founder of the anti-monopoly group American Economic Liberties Project.
Miller, who was tapped last year to assist with President Biden’s transition, said she’s still pinching herself about just how united lawmakers have been on Biden’s tech picks.
“I’m still kind of surprised, considering I’ve been working on this issue for a while, at the level of bipartisan support and openness for nominees like Khan and Kanter,” she said.
For his part, Kanter offered glimpses of the views that have endeared him to tech critics across the political spectrum on Wednesday.
He told Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) he’d take any and all extra funding for the division, one of her signature issues. When he was pressed about his views on competition policy, he stressed the need to “adapt” to deal with evolving markets.
Kanter also emphasized the importance of keeping pathways open for whistleblowers to come forward, timely remarks during a week where the topic has been on everyone’s minds.
“Monopolies have the ability to intimidate even other big companies, let alone individuals, so as a general matter I’m very supportive of any effort to ensure that the enforcement authorities have access to the relevant information and the relevant witnesses,” Kanter said.
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'There’s more to come,’ a lawyer for Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said
John Tye, an attorney working for Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, indicated that much of the information that Haugen obtained from Facebook still hasn't been made public.
“It’s obviously pretty substantial, and there’s been a lot of elements that haven’t even been reported yet, so there’s more to come,” Tye told my colleague Cat Zakrzewski at a Washington Post Live event.
Tye also said he's received a “surge of inquiries” from tech workers who could be whistleblowers. But he added that “a lot of increase doesn’t translate into a lot of cases or disclosures necessarily. Every case is individual, but for sure, we’ve got lots of increase.”
CrowdTangle’s founder is leaving Facebook months after the company broke up his team
CrowdTangle founder and CEO Brandon Silverman’s departure comes as Facebook faces growing pressure to share data about the most popular content on its platforms from regulators and researchers, the Verge’s Alex Heath reports. Silverman in April stunned the CrowdTangle team when he told them that they were being broken up, moved to the company’s “integrity team,” and would no longer report to Silverman, the New York Times reported in July.
Silverman’s departure will have “no change on day-to-day functioning of the CrowdTangle product experience,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said.
In his farewell post, Silverman wrote that he’s “not sure what the future holds for CrowdTangle or data transparency here at Facebook, but I’m optimistic.”
European regulators will hit Apple with an antitrust charge over its NFC technology
European regulators have narrowed their focus to Apple's NFC chip technology, which allows the Apple device users to pay for things wirelessly through Apple Pay, Reuters's Foo Yun Chee reports, citing a person familiar with the matter. The European Commission has three other cases against Apple. The commission declined to comment. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Regulators and lawmakers from South Korea to Germany have put Apple's payment systems in their crosshairs.
Rant and rave
Twitter's announcement that it's testing prompts to warn users of intense or heated conversations drew mixed reactions. Writer, activist and consultant Charlotte Clymer:
Writer Andrea Grimes:
Communications consultant and pollster Frank Luntz:
Inside the industry
- Silicon Flatirons hosts an event on encryption today at noon.