Big Tech returns to the hot seat with another round of hearings set for next week, this time focused on privacy.
Executives from Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) , Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) and Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) are scheduled to testify on Sept. 26 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Executives from AT&T (T - Get Report) and Charter Communications (CHTR - Get Report) will also testify.
The executives are expected to face questions on how they each handle customer data, as well as how they're complying with new privacy laws such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California's Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, which passed in May. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who chairs the committee, said that the hearing will also address "what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation."
"Consumers deserve clear answers and standards on data privacy protection," said Thune in a statement.
Earlier in 2018, tech companies that process user data -- including Facebook (FB - Get Report) , Alphabet and many others -- had to fall into line with GDPR, adjusting data practices for European users to comply with the sweeping new law, which compels companies to clearly state when data is being collected, stored and shared, among other provisions. In May, California passed a similar law, though it doesn't go into effect until January 2020.
However, given the criticisms that Facebook and others have faced this year, it's likely that the hearing will extend beyond compliance with existing laws.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the Senate for two days in April in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and on Sept. 6, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testified on foreign election interference along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Although it's largely evaded the scrutiny that social media firms have faced, Alphabet's handling of user data was thrust into the spotlight in August when an Associated Press report emerged that Google Maps saves users' locations, even after they've disabled the "location history" features on their phones.
"We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time," an Alphabet spokesperson told the AP in a statement. However, the report rankled lawmakers like Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who called for "comprehensive consumer privacy and data security legislation" after the report came out.
Alphabet declined to send its CEO, Larry Page, to the Sept. 6 hearing, which likely won't help Alphabet avoid further scrutiny on how it handles data.
"They're going to want more follow up from Google," Theresa Payton, former White House CIO under President George W. Bush and CEO of cybersecurity firm Fortalice Solutions, told TheStreet in September. "No company that trades in consumer information, and curates and provides content on the Internet is going to be immune from this line of questioning."
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