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Big Tech Companies Talk the Talk on Privacy at CES 2021: Will They Walk the Walk?

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Photo of panelists during CES 2021

January 12, 2021 – Privacy is of paramount importance as the world accelerates its adoption of new technology during a tumultuous pandemic, big tech companies said during a panel at the Consumer Technology Association’s CES 2021.

Technology has become increasingly more important in our lives, said Anne Toth, director of the Alexa Trust program at Amazon. The bar has been raised for companies to demonstrate why their products are trustworthy and keep their privacy safe, she explained.

She claimed that Alexa, Amazon’s artificially intelligent smart home device, creates important interactions for people and is an essential part of their lives, she said, especially for those with accessibility needs.

Our experience with the world is becoming more mediated by technology, explained Keith Enright, chief privacy officer at Google. Users feel more nervous than they have been in the past because they rely on technology more than ever, he said.

Our experience with the world is becoming more mediated by technology, explained Keith Enright, chief privacy officer at Google. Users feel more nervous than they have been in the past because they rely on technology more than ever, he said.

That’s why people need reassurance that their privacy is secure online, and that’s why he said Google is phasing out third-party cookies on their Chrome browser.

Twitter also said that reassurance comes in the form of transparency, said Damien Kieran, chief privacy officer for the tech platform. It is important that people know what data the company collects and how they use it, he said.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation brings awareness of privacy to the U.S.

Contrasting the United States with Europe, Enright explained that the EU has been a leading voice in privacy law, and yet America has been following in their footsteps.

Kieran described Twitter as a global experience, a tool that can be used across any part of the world. That kind of user experience relies heavily on data transferring freely across borders, he explained, and privacy protection laws may lead to data becoming fragmented and difficult to access, which could create a challenge for companies and users as they use technology.

Because GDPR is a new law that went into effect in 2018, Toth explained that people’s awareness of their own data has drastically increased since then, especially in America since the U.S. does not have similar regulation.

Will Congress and the Biden administration look to new federal privacy regulation?

The pressure to pass a federal privacy law in the U.S. is increasing, according to Enright, and the incoming Biden administration may push for one. Although no general federal privacy rules exist right now, many states control the flow of data.

“The reality that we are all increasingly dealing with is data is driving everything. And therefore virtually any set of legal requirements are increasingly either being revised or reinterpreted to meet legal requirements affecting the movement and governance of data,” he said.

But it creates a bipartisan political challenge, Enright explained, because members of Congress might likely want extra legislation attached to it.

Kieran expressed concern that the U.S. must get privacy laws right. Otherwise there will be the balkanization of data and technology services that  no one wants to see, he said.

The panelists also commented on a Federal Trade Commission’s order in December 2020 requiring social media companies to gather information on how they gather and use consumer data.

All of the tech players agreed that better informed federal regulators are a good thing. They said they were optimistic that the FTC’s having hired more technologists will advise better policy making.

Big Tech

Proposed Antitrust Legislation Not the Way to Regulate Big Tech, Panelists Say

Legislation currently before Congress will hurt American tech’s global competitiveness, event hears.

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Screenshot from the Foreign Policy event on Thursday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Critics at a Foreign Policy magazine event blasted the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission and lawmakers to crack down on Big Tech, saying legislative efforts could impact America’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

On Thursday, panelists were divided on how Washington should approach antitrust legislation proposals, referencing six antitrust bills introduced to Congress in June 2021 that target big tech companies. Those bills – including the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, H.R. 3816, Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, H.R. 3826, Ending Platform Monopolies Act, H.R. 3825, Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, H.R. 3849, Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, H.R. 3843, and State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, H.R. 3460 – aim to rein in the power of Big Tech through anticompetitive measures, new merger and acquisition review, and providing government enforcers more power to break-up or separate big businesses.

Sean Heather, senior vice president of international regulatory affairs and antitrust from the U.S. Chamber of Congress, criticized current antitrust laws saying it will hurt U.S. competition in the global world. He said “the answer is not to do it through antitrust” or implementing “sweeping judgement” that puts all businesses under one rubric. Instead, he suggested “targeted legislation” that would address individual issues of each business.

Clete Willems, from the Atlantic Council’s geoeconomics center, said that many of the proposed antitrust laws are ineffective. He stated a major flaw of these bills is that they penalize big technology companies because of their size, instead of for abuses of market power in common business practices.

Willems said that the bills simply ban “big tech companies because they are big but are not tying it to abuse of market power. That to me illustrates the fundamental problem with this agenda.”

Some panelists echoed flaws presented by Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in April, saying that antitrust regulation could hamper U.S. competition in the tech world or negatively hurt customers, as FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips said in May.

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Antitrust

‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’

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Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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Big Tech

Young American Views on Social Media Regulation Shaped by Use, Panelists Discuss

A March Gallup and Knight study found young Americans are less concerned about hurtful online discourse.

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Photo of Gallup Event

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2022 – Panelists at a Gallup event on Wednesday said young American’s use of social media primarily as an entertainment source shapes their views on tech regulation.

The view comes after a March study by Gallup and Knight said that young Americans aged 18 to 34 are less likely to stay within partisan boundaries about tech regulation. The study of 10,000 adults sought to compile American views on internet regulation and found that young adults are less likely to be very concerned about hurtful discourse online than adults 55 and older.

The report outlined a dichotomy between older and younger generations, with the report indicating that younger Americans are more motivated to participate in “traditional” civic behaviors like attending protests or donating to social causes as a result of social media than their older counterparts.

The older generation, on the other hand, generally use social media as a news source, the report claimed.

The study comes amid debate about what types of antitrust action needs to be taken by Washington on big tech companies with respect to content management. Some Americans are concerned that social media platforms allow for the spread of misinformation and hate speech. The study was conducted to better understand how U.S. citizens view regulation of online content and the responsibility for the internet’s governance.

The study developed six broad sample groups. One of these groups was “the unfazed digital natives,” characterizing 19 percent of the population. This group was the youngest of segments and favored, regardless of party affiliation, “individual responsibility and a hands-off approach by the government. Nevertheless, they support some degree of content moderation by social media companies.”

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