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Facebook, Google and Twitter might face yet another grilling by U.S. lawmakers angry about their algorithms

A powerful House committee wants to explore tech platforms, though it hasn’t secured witnesses.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon
Rep. Greg Walden
Drew Angerer / Getty

U.S. lawmakers might not be finished with companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter: A congressional panel plans to probe the algorithms that power news feeds, search results and other online platforms and services at a hearing now slated for next month.

The new scrutiny comes from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the country’s tech and telecom giants — and it’s one of two hearings that it has scheduled as it eyes issues like “bias,” consumer choice, privacy and data security.

To panel lawmakers, including Republican Chairman Greg Walden, the concerns are manifest. As tech giants like Amazon and Facebook siphon up more information about their users, there are lingering doubts about “what happens to their information, and who has access to it,” Walden said in a Medium post shared early with Recode.

So too are Republicans newly doubtful about the information that appears on those and other websites.

“Firms also control what consumers see when visiting their sites, potentially altering content and choices unbeknownst to the consumer,” Walden continued. “Can consumers be sure that the results they see on Google or other search engines reflect the most relevant results? Can consumers have confidence the news and information they encounter online and through social media platforms are presented to them objectively and without bias?”

To that end, the committee plans to hold a hearing on those questions, likely at the end of November, a panel aide told Recode. (For those who keep close track, it’s likely to be a combination of its tech and consumer protection subcommittees.) So far, though, lawmakers have not settled on the exact companies or witnesses they want to invite to testify, the aide added.

Still, the potential grilling comes weeks after Facebook, Google and Twitter are set to send senior investigators to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to discuss similar issues — all in the context of Russia’s potential meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Nowhere in Walden’s blog post, published Friday, is explicit mention of Russia — but the Kremlin’s potential interference before and after Election Day is sure to draw plenty of questions from the panel’s Democrats.

Earlier this week, for example, the party’s top lawmaker on the House Energy and Commerce Committee charged that Facebook, Google and Twitter had failed to address extremist, racist or Russian-sponsored disinformation on their platforms. In doing so, Rep. Frank Pallone also requested a briefing from all three tech giants’ executives.

Republicans, meanwhile, could similarly seize on the opportunity to needle Silicon Valley’s most recognizable names. After all, a key member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is Rep. Marsha Blackburn. For months, the Tennessee lawmaker angled to advance major online privacy legislation that’s drawn sharp opposition from the tech industry. And Blackburn more recently has tangled with Twitter: The company initially blocked her from promoting an abortion-related ad on the site before ultimately reversing its course.

At a separate hearing, meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to return to the issue of data security.

Already, the panel has probed credit-reporting agency Equifax, where a breach affected about 145 million Americans’ information. In the weeks following its hearing, though, there have been other reported incidents — not only at Equifax, but new revelations about the massive 2013 attack on Yahoo and others — so Republican lawmakers plan to convene a new session on the matter.

Again, they haven’t yet announced witnesses for the expected November session. But the goal, Walden wrote Friday, is to “assess identity verification practices, and determine whether they can be improved to protect personal data on the web even after a consumer’s information has been breached.”


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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