Mark Zuckerberg grimly undergoes questioning by a Congressional committee. Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Congress May Question Google, Amazon on Data

The scrutiny of Facebook last week during the Congressional grilling of Mark Zuckerberg may be a sign of the beginning of more oversight of internet companies as they wield greater power and impact a $650 billion advertising market, according to a story in The New York Times on April 13.

Google’s advertising business is more than double that of Facebook—and it also collects data about people and purchases on its online services. Facebook’s massive exposure of 87 million user’s personal data drew a spotlight because of its probable impact on the 2016 presidential election—other companies have yet to fall from grace, but that may only be a matter of time.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had originally asked Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, to testify, but that hearing was combined with one from another committee, which didn’t include the two. However, according to the NYT story, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent the two CEOs letters with 14 questions about the way the companies manage and monitor user privacy. Grassley asked for a written response by April 25.

Through its seven products, Google collects a wide array of data including YouTube choices, internet searches and location history. YouTube, Gmail and Android have more than 1 billion users each. Google was fined $17 million for violations in 2011-2012 to settle a case involving bypassing privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to track users and show them ads. It also lifted passwords, email and other private information during its Street Mapping Project.

Many tech companies are keeping quiet about the privacy issue, since they all benefit from the information they collect on users to sell ads. According to Forrester Research, Google raked in $95.4 billion on advertising last year, compared to Facebook’s $39.9 billion and Amazon’s $2.5 billion.

The irony of the invasion of Zuckerberg’s privacy while being asked inane questions by Representatives who seemed to have a tenuous grasp on the whole internet thing wasn’t lost on techies and the industry⎯which savaged him with memes. The fall-out would have been amusing if it weren’t so serious, with the future of tens of billions of dollars of income hanging in the balance.

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