At today’s hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, Sen. John Hickenlooper chose not to ask the witness about the substance of her revelations or policy recommendations, but how it all could affect the company’s profits.
“What impact on Facebook’s bottom line would it have if the algorithm was changed to promote safety and to save the lives of young women rather than putting them at risk?,” said Hickenlooper.
After Haugen answered that Facebook could still be profitable while doing more to protect women, the senator went on to speculate that perhaps the company could be more profitable if fewer people believed it was bad for their mental health. After this line of questioning, which never veered from a focus on Facebook’s bottom line, Hickenlooper yielded the floor.
While the profit models of monopolistic tech corporations is an important topic, it’s also one that hits especially close to home for Sen. Hickenlooper. According to a review of his financial disclosures, Hickenlooper currently owns Facebook stock worth $250,001 to $500,000, a fact first noted by congressional information service Legistorm. The senator previously indicated in his candidate filing that his Facebook shares were worth between $100,001 and $250,000 as of May 2020.
Hickenlooper, who is worth at least $7.8 million, owns stock in several other tech companies including Microsoft, Automatic Data Processing, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Intel, and NVIDIA.
The senator is not a co-sponsor of the major Democratic antitrust bill, the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act, introduced in February by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). The only bill Hickenlooper is co-sponsoring in the “science, technology, communications” policy area, according to Congress.gov, is a bill from Republican Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.) that according to a summary from Sen. Hickenlooper and Wicker would “require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to establish a testbed to develop and demonstrate innovative supply chain technologies and applications, and establish a grant program to promote the participation of U.S. companies in international standards-setting bodies.” The bill is intended to help U.S. companies develop new products to compete with Chinese competitors.
Following her testimony to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, Haugen was questioned by a second Facebook shareholder. Sen. Jerry Moran’s most recent financial disclosure shows he and his spouse each own up to $15,000 worth of the company’s stock. News coverage of Sen. Moran’s questioning, on instances where Facebook had knowledge it was harming users like teenage girls, did not mention his household’s investment in the platform.