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Government’s Reactive Nature Hobbling Tech Regulation, Expert Says

Congress may need another big tech breach to move earnestly on regulation, says consultant.

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Screenshot of Steve Haro at FiscalNote event

April 12, 2021 – The reactive nature of Congress to data crises means another breach of citizens’ privacy may be needed to spurn the next big legislative move, said a former congressional chief of staff.

“We still have questions to answer how to deal with technology dominance. We are not there yet because, unfortunately, Congress, for the most part, tends to act in response to crisis,” said Steve Haro, who is currently a government affairs consultant and was a former assistant secretary of commerce.

During a discussion sponsored by FiscalNote and CQ Rollcall, experts joined in a conversation on the current state of public policy for the tech industry and how influential Congress and the Biden-Harris admission will be on dealing with big tech.

Among the discussed issues was how the government will deal with intermediary liability provision Section 230.

Lawmakers have wondered whether the provision — which protects platforms from legal liability for posts by their users — offers too much protection to social networks when it comes to content moderation and disinformation. This central premise has spurned calls for a reform of Section 230; a number of Democrats have proposed their own bill to keep much of the protections except for paid posts.

“I do not believe 230 needs change, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns,” Haro said. “I believe there is collective agreement this is still a necessary law, and it has worked. It has allowed the internet to build do what has become, good or bad.”

Haro pointed to the congressional hearings into Facebook’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal three years ago, which saw the scraping of millions of user accounts without their consent. The result did not see substantial progress on regulations. “We might need another crisis to spur Congress into action,” Haro said.

Michael Drobac, principal at the law firm Dentons, said “we are not there, and I would say the thing that has been most present and clear is that in most of these hearings” the members of Congress are still trying to understand the technology to make a meaningful impact.

“The reality is that section 230 is as important today as it was when it was passed,” Haro said.

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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