Today, in a letter to Congress, 17 national advocacy organizations representing consumers, investors and digital rights concerns called on the House Financial Services Committee to hold a hearing scrutinizing the steps tech giant Google (Alphabet) is taking to enter the cryptocurrency and digital assets markets, and how such moves might negatively impact privacy rights, consumer protections and safeguards against economic concentration. The call echoes concerns raised previously by advocates regarding Facebook’s designs on the financial services sector with the introduction of its now scuttled stablecoin, Libra (renamed Diem).
“Google’s announced intentions to invest in crypto markets confirms our fears that Big Tech firms continue to seek inroads into the digital assets space and aim to use their data-harvesting methods to deliver financial services in ways that are likely to increase surveillance, erode privacy and allow these companies to dominate yet another economic and social sphere,” said Mark Hays, senior policy analyst with Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund (AFREF) and Demand Progress Education Fund (DPEF). “Congress should act quickly and decisively to draw a line in the sand, with this hearing being one concrete first step.”
Earlier this year, during Google’s most recent quarterly earnings call, Google (Alphabet) CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged that the company is “definitely looking at blockchain” and added that Google is “looking at how [it] might contribute to the ecosystem and add value.” Far from a rhetorical flirtation, the launch of Google Cloud’s “Digital Assets Team” in January 2022 indicates that Google is serious about capitalizing off of the emerging cryptocurrency and blockchain markets.
AFREF and DPEF aren’t alone in raising these questions. Late last week, Rohit Chopra, director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the agency is asking that companies share their plans for the growing asset class. Chopra said in a TV interview that if cryptocurrencies gain more mainstream adoption, the agency believes, “…it’s probably going to happen – if it happens – by riding the rails of some of the big tech companies or some of the other big players.”
This call for Congress to act comes in the wake of an executive order also released last week by the Biden Administration, which outlined a whole of government effort to study the risks posed by cryptocurrencies and other digital assets. The order enumerated numerous risks posed by use of digital assets, including risks involving consumers and data privacy. AFREF and Demand Progress, in an earlier statement responding to the order, noted the importance of the order but also raised concerns about the burgeoning influence of the crypto industry and urged lawmakers to resist the possibility of crafting weak approaches that fail to adequately address such risks.
“Congress already raised the alarm with Facebook and had an impact; it can do so again with Google and start acting now to make it clear there are unacceptable risks to consumers and our economy posed by the merging of Big Tech, crypto and finance,” said Hays.