Tech Firms Face Lawmakers Over Antitrust, Digital Currency Lawmakers in the Senate and House are questioning lobbyists and officials from Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple on an array of issues, including whether they're so big they stifle competition.
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'Facebook Is Dangerous': Firms In Hot Seat As Congress Probes Big Tech

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'Facebook Is Dangerous': Firms In Hot Seat As Congress Probes Big Tech

'Facebook Is Dangerous': Firms In Hot Seat As Congress Probes Big Tech

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, while the House is looking today at whether Google and other tech giants are too big, across Capitol Hill, senators are debating whether it would be OK if Facebook creates its own currency - safe to say Facebook has not convinced either Republicans or Democrats so far. Some lawmakers are downright hostile to the idea that a company that has broken public trust repeatedly, especially in its handling of user data, would venture into high-stakes global finance. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports on today's hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Facebook has proposed with partners to create digital money, a currency called the Libra. The move requires approval by regulators who are overseen by lawmakers who were on fire at today's hearing and using fire metaphors.

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SHERROD BROWN: Facebook is dangerous.

SHAHANI: Senator Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat...

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BROWN: Like a toddler who has gotten his hands on a book of matches, Facebook has burned down the house over and over and called every arson a learning experience.

SHAHANI: Money is a massive experiment in trust. We trust the dollar. We use it and don't burn it because we trust that it's backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. Facebook does not have a great track record in trust, as David Marcus, the man at the company who oversees the new currency project, admitted repeatedly as he sat in the hot seat.

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DAVID MARCUS: Trust is primordial, and we've made mistakes in the past. And we have been working and are continuing to work really hard to get better.

SHAHANI: Primordial, meaning from the beginning of time. The endearing origin story of Facebook, the miracle of capitalism - started in a college dorm - was absent. Senators offered an alternative origin story that early on, Facebook killed the local newspapers that keep those with power accountable; that by making hate speech go viral, it helped fuel genocide in the country Myanmar; that Facebook turned a blind eye to Russian interference in the 2016 elections; that the company has lied repeatedly about how it handles users' personal data. Senator Martha McSally, Arizona Republican...

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MARTHA MCSALLY: Mr. Marcus, I don't trust Facebook, and it's because of the repeated violations of your users' privacy, repeated deceit. And I am not alone.

SHAHANI: Facebook's Marcus promised that if given permission to mint money, the company would monitor and report money laundering, but Facebook would not exploit users' spending data to target ads though Facebook has said one thing and done another before. The company promised to keep customer data private. Then, charged with lying, it entered a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011. And now caught up again, Facebook faces a $5 billion fine.

Marcus made this case. Digital currency is not a data grab. Rather, it will make Facebook more popular by making it a shopping destination kind of like Amazon. As he tried to explain to Senator McSally, that is a service to an estimated 90 million businesses on Facebook.

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MARCUS: If they now have the ability to sell to more constituents across the Facebook platform and more people have access to the services and products of those 90 million businesses, then more commerce will happen on the Facebook platform.

MCSALLY: Oh, that's wonderful public good that you guys are committed to. I know I'm way over time here, and that was extremely sarcastic. Thank you.

SHAHANI: Timing matters. The announcement by Facebook that it plans to create its own currency may be too soon after Wall Street's financial crisis or too soon after Facebook's data scandals, which are still ongoing. Though Senator Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, did offer some encouragement for the tech giant's foray into digital currency.

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PAT TOOMEY: To announce in advance that we have to strangle this baby in the crib I think is wildly premature.

SHAHANI: Tomorrow Facebook's Marcus appears before the House Financial Services Committee. This is one of a handful of hearings this week examining the power of big tech.

Aarti Shahani, NPR News.

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