The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter will face skeptical lawmakers again next month when a congressional committee questions them about the ways disinformation spreads across their platforms.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Thursday that it will hold a hearing on March 25 with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
The committee has been examining the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that shields the platforms from lawsuits over much of the content posted by their users. The attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, which included participants with ties to QAnon and other conspiracy theories that have spread widely online, has renewed concerns that the law allows the platforms to take a hands-off approach to extremist content.
“For far too long, Big Tech has failed to acknowledge the role they’ve played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audiences,” a group of the committee’s top Democrats said in a statement. “Industry self-regulation has failed.”
Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook, said the company “believes it’s time to update the rules of the internet, and this hearing should be another important step in the process.”
The House Judiciary Committee announced its own set of hearings on the tech industry on Thursday. It said it would hold multiple hearings on how to update antitrust laws to address the power of the tech giants. The committee questioned chief executives before concluding a lengthy investigation into the companies last year.
The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing will take place on Wednesday.
Uber suffered an important labor defeat in its largest European market on Friday when Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that drivers must be classified as workers entitled to a minimum wage and vacation time.
The case had been closely watched because of its ramifications for the gig economy, in which companies like Uber rely on a sprawling labor force of independent contractors to provide car rides, deliver food and clean homes.
Uber and other gig-economy companies say their model gives people flexibility to choose when they work, while critics say it has eroded job protections and the traditional company-employee relationship.
The court ruled that although Uber said it was only a technology platform that connected drivers with passengers, it behaves more like an employer by setting rates, assigning rides, requiring drivers to follow certain routes and using a rating system to discipline drivers.
“Drivers are in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that they have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill,” Lord Robert John Reed, president of the Supreme Court, said in reading the judgment. “In practice the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.”
Uber fought the effort by drivers in Britain to be classified as workers for the past five years, appealing the decision all the way to the country’s top court. The ruling on Friday’ is expected to initially affect only the 25 drivers who brought the case, but is seen as setting a precedent for others across the country.
Following the decision, an employment tribunal will decide how to reward the drivers and how the ruling will affect other drivers going forward.
Uber sought to play down the decision, saying it would press the employment tribunal to limit its scope.
The company said the ruling should only affect a small number of drivers, and that it would not require it to reclassify all its drivers as workers.
The company said that it would argue to the tribunal that it had made a number of changes to its business model to provide more protections for workers since 2016, when the case was first filed, like offering insurance to drivers if they become sick or injured, and allowing drivers to reject taking certain rides without punishment.
“We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the U.K. to understand the changes they want to see,” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said in a statement.
But some employment lawyers said the decision had broader consequences than Uber was suggesting, and that it represented an important moment in the broader labor debate about gig workers, whose role in the economy has grown during the pandemic.
The case has “much wider implications than the Uber case alone and is likely to be seen as a watershed moment in employment rights for workers in the gig economy,” said Schona Jolly, a human rights and employment law barrister with Cloisters Chambers in London.
Nigel Mackay, a partner at Leigh Day, the law firm representing the drivers, said the decision would have a broad impact and that Uber must begin providing a minimum wage and holiday time to drivers or risk facing a wave of similar cases from others. He said none of the changes made by Uber since 2016 “would impact on the central findings of the Supreme Court that Uber drivers are workers.”
“Any Uber driver can now join the claim to seek compensation for Uber’s failure to provide paid holiday and to ensure the drivers are paid at least the national minimum wage,” he said.
Uber drivers are currently paid per ride, with Uber taking a 20 percent fee from each fare. Drivers must pay for their car, insurance and taxi license.
Uber and other gig economy companies have been fighting off efforts in other parts of the world to classify workers as employees with mixed success.
In France, Uber lost a decision in the country’s top court last year that a driver had the right to be considered an employee. But in California, Uber and other companies funded a successful ballot measure in the November election to exempt them from a law that would have required them to employ drivers and pay health care, unemployment insurance and other benefits.
Britain, where Uber has roughly 60,000 drivers, has been one of the company’s most important markets, but also a source of legal trouble. In London, where Uber cars are as ubiquitous as traditional black cabs, the city transportation regulator has twice taken steps to revoke Uber’s taxi license in recent years before the company agreed to new safety policies.
Mr. Mackay said he hoped the decision would provide support for workers and lawyers seeking stronger legal protections for gig workers in other countries.
“People around the world will be following this decision,” he said.
Renault, the French carmaker, reported a loss of 8 billion euros, or $9.7 billion, in 2020 as the pandemic gutted sales, but the company said that was profitable in the later part of the year.
Most of the annual loss stemmed from Renault’s stake in its troubled partner, Nissan. Losses at the Japanese carmaker drained €5 billion from the bottom line, Renault said. In addition, Renault car sales plunged 20 percent for the year, to just short of three million vehicles.
“After a first half impacted by Covid-19, the group has significantly turned around its performance in the second half,” Luca de Meo, Renault’s chief executive, said in a statement, without giving a figure. He said that 2021 was “set to be difficult given the unknowns regarding the health crisis as well as electronic components supply shortages.”
In 2021, shortages of semiconductors, a problem for almost all carmakers, could cut production by as much as 100,000 vehicles, Renault said.
Mr. de Meo, who became Renault’s chief executive in July, last month announced a plan to return to profitability that includes cuts in production capacity, sales of fewer models and increased parts sharing among vehicles to simplify manufacturing.
The chief executives of Robinhood, Reddit, Citadel and Melvin Capital Management were among the witnesses at a hearing on the GameStop trading frenzy held by the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday.
Vlad Tenev, the chief executive of Robinhood, was the target for both Democrats and Republicans, fielding more than half of the lawmakers’ questions. “I love your company because it does, when correctly managed, provide investment opportunities for individuals who are currently frozen out of the markets for one reason or another,” said Representative Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio. He added: “At the same time, though, I believe a vulnerability was clearly exposed in your business model.”
Representative Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat, capped his sharp questioning of Mr. Tenev, in which he relayed the story of a 20-year-old college student who killed himself last summer believing that he’d lost more than $700,000, by dialing the Robinhood help line and letting everyone listen in as a short message was played and the call was terminated. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said Robinhood’s decisions had “harmed customers,” and accused it of passing on hidden costs to its customers.
Keith Gill — known on YouTube as Roaring Kitty — testified that his interest in the company was based on his belief that the market was underestimating the brick-and-mortar retailer’s value. His testimony included winking references — such as dangling what appeared to be his oft-worn red headband off a picture of a kitten visible over his shoulder and the statement “I am not a cat” — to internet meme culture.
Several harsh questions were directed at Kenneth C. Griffin, the chief of Citadel. Members of Congress asked skeptical questions about Citadel’s practice of paying to trade against customers at online brokers like Robinhood. Mr. Griffin tried to explain the intricacies of the business but was often cut off. “Our folks are tired of bailing you all out when you screw up and gamble with the retirement fund. And that’s exactly what happens every single moment,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, said to him.