June 7, 2021—Attempts to regulate the technology companies at the state level could end up harming consumers in the long run, according to panelists at an online seminar hosted by NetChoice on Thursday.
Eli Dourado, a senior research fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity, says that regulation in the tech industry should be kept to a minimum.
“When I look at the economy, I see IT (information technology) as this one sector that basically works,” Dourado says. “And I see many other sectors that don’t work.” He says that other foundational parts of our economy, such as health, housing, transportation, and energy, have not experienced the same level of growth that the tech industry has.
He said he believes Congress should focus on stimulating growth in these sectors, rather than trying to regulate the fast-growing tech industry.
Following the passing of a net neutrality law in California earlier this year, AT&T announced that it was ending a program that provided free data service to customers because it would be considered illegal under the new rules. The company, however, adding that because the internet has no boundaries, customers in states outside of California should expect to see similar changes.
Dourado also said he believes regulation should be done exclusively at the federal level, rather than have a patchwork of state laws that would impair the ability of companies to seamlessly do business across state borders.
Dourado said regulation and taxation in the tech industry will disincentivize entrepreneurs and stunt company growth. State governments should, therefore, focus instead on attracting technology companies and workers.
The digital tax example
Maryland became the first state to pass legislation for a digital advertising . The law would tax companies’ annual gross revenues from running digital advertisements in the state.
Katie McAuliffe, the director of federal policy at Americans for Tax Reform, says that the Maryland tax, while aimed at Big Tech, will end up being pushed onto small business owners. She said Big Tech will find ways of avoiding the tax, while burgeoning tech companies won’t be able to. The effect would hamper competition in Maryland’s tech industry, she said.
McAuliffe also noted the potentially illegal nature of the tax. The law currently faces a federal lawsuit, and she says that while Connecticut is considering laws similar to Maryland’s, Connecticut’s Attorney General William Trong said he believes the bills will be unconstitutional.
She adds that taxpayers will be the ones who foot the cost of the lawsuits, which is another reason she opposes the bill.
Vague Social Media Laws Create Fear in the Middle East. Can Encryption Tools Help?
Experts discuss how social media is being treated in the Middle East and how to respond.
WASHINGTON, January 25, 2022 – Far from being the savior of democracy in the Middle East, four experts said Monday that social media, and government regulation of it, is beginning to hurt civil rights activists.
The world is witnessing an increase in laws restricting social media access and hence regulating freedom of speech, especially in the Middle East, agreed the panelists, speaking at a Brookings Institution event.
Dina Hussein, the head of counterterrorism and dangerous organizations for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Facebook, and Chris Meserole, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, stated that too many countries are passing vague laws about what is and isn’t allowed on social media.
These new laws are purposefully unclear, they said. This new strategy has made it easier for the government to take down posts and restrict critics’ internet access while leaving up the posts of supporters and government officials.
These laws also spread fear within the regime because the vagueness puts anyone at risk of being arrested for something they post, they said.
When asked what can be done, Hussein said that Facebook promotes honesty through a website that focuses on Facebook’s own transparency and raises awareness of other countries’ laws for their users. In addition, Facebook is personally working to support civil rights activists in the areas of the world that are implementing such laws, Hussein said.
Encryption to avoid surveillance
Meserole said that democratic governments should not be fighting “fire with fire.” Instead, he wants civil rights groups in the Middle East to strengthen their ability to operate without social media. Many activists rely on social media to build their bases and spread their message. So, Meserole emphasized that as the authoritarian regimes increase their abilities to watch, manipulate, and censor social media, democratic governments should invest in technology that will help those who are fighting for civil rights encrypt their media or work outside of the surveillance of government.
Another concern of the guest speakers was the rise in online misinformation and the trend of authoritarian regimes making new accounts to promote their message rather than trying to censor the language of the opposition.
Some people wonder why these groups don’t just eliminate media within their countries. Meserole’s answer is that the government has it is own various benefits to having social media, and so they pass vague internet laws that allow them to have more legal control instead.
FTC Mum on Microsoft-Activision Deal, Proposes Review of Merger Guidelines
The deal would elevate Microsoft in an even more favorable position in the games-as-a-service market.
WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – As Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan does media rounds this past week, she has refused to comment on last week’s news that Microsoft has agreed to buy video game making giant Activision-Blizzard for nearly $70 billion.
As per policy, the FTC and the Department of Justice, which on Tuesday jointly held a press conference on merger reform on the same day of the announced consolidation, said they could not comment on the deal, which would increase the Xbox maker’s gaming market share and allow it to better compete with Japanese behemoth Sony.
During the press conference, Khan, installed as chairwoman in June as an already outspoken critic of certain big tech practices, announced that the organizations would be launching a review of merger guidelines. Khan stressed that the current guidelines do not adequately protect consumers and promote competition in the era of the digital economy.
“While the current merger boom has delivered massive fees for investment banks, evidence suggests that many Americans historically have washed out with diminished opportunity, higher prices, lower wages, and lagging innovation,” she said. “These facts invite us to assess how our merger policy tools can better equip us to discharge our statutory obligations and halt this trend.”
She reiterated those goals on a CNBC interview on Wednesday. The purchase of the highly influential Call of Duty franchise maker will have to go through her office. It also presents another stress test for the office, as it is already engaged in an existing lawsuit against Facebook practices. Both Facebook and Amazon have asked for Khan to be recused from investigations in their companies because of her past positions on them.
The deal would significantly expand Microsoft’s Game Pass platform, which offers free games to play for a monthly subscription. Microsoft announced on the day of the proposed deal that Game Pass surpassed 25 million subscriptions.
“Upon close, we will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalog,” said Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said in a statement.
Despite its numerous successful intellectual properties, Activision Blizzard has been marred with scandal in recent years. In 2021, the company was sued by California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for promoting a “frat boy” culture, whereby female employees were not only allegedly discriminated against, but also subjected to sexual assault and misconduct.
Attorneys General Suing Google Over Location Data Collection
The D.C. attorney general is leading other state AGs alleging Google mislead consumers into believing they could disable location tracking.
WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has filed a lawsuit Monday against Google alleging “deceptive and unfair practices” related to obtaining consumer location data.
Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office argues that Google has been in violation of D.C.’s “Consumer Protection Procedures Act” since at least 2014. According to the complaint, Google is alleged to have lied to consumers, intentionally giving them the impression that they can disable Google’s ability to collect and retain user location data.
“In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing, and profiting from their location,” the complaint reads.
The documents outline that Google’s primary source of revenue is earned through digital advertising, and thus, Google was incentivized to harvest consumers’ personal data to better target ads – an effort that is significantly improved by collecting location data from users.
“Location data is among the most sensitive information Google collects from consumers,” the complaint says. “Location can also be used to infer personal details such as political or religious affiliation, sexual orientation, income, health status, or participation in support groups, as well as major life events, such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of children.”
Racine’s office is leading the effort with attorneys general in Texas, Indiana and Washington filing their own complaints, he said on Twitter.
The complaint further explains that due to reporting done Associated Press in 2018, it was revealed that Google explicitly deceived customers by allowing them to believe they have opted out of location tracking when the reality is their decision has no bearing on what kind of data Google collects.
“The AP story exposed that Google’s promise to consumers was false. Even when consumers explicitly opted out of location tracking by turning the Location History setting off, Google nevertheless recorded consumers’ locations via other means,” the complaint said.
The ubiquity of Google products and services only compounds the risk, the plaintiff argues, as Google products are found “essentially everywhere consumers go.”
“Google uses this window into consumers’ lives to sell advertising that is ‘targeted’ to consumers according to personal details Google has learned about them, including their demographics, habits, and interests.”
The complaint states that it is in Google’s best financial interest to obfuscate exactly what data is being collected, how it is being collected, and why. “The Company’s exhaustive surveillance practices are most effective, and therefore most lucrative, where consumers have no clear idea how to limit Google’s access to their personal information.
“The District files this suit to correct the deceptive and unfair practices that Google has used and uses to obtain consumers’ location data, and to ensure that consumers are able to understand and control the extent to which their location data is accessed, stored, used, and monetized by the Company.”
The AG’s office is not only seeking to compel Google to cease these practices, but also forfeit all revenue generated by them.
- Vague Social Media Laws Create Fear in the Middle East. Can Encryption Tools Help?
- With State Plan and Federal Funds, California in Good Position to Close Digital Divide
- AT&T Speeds Tiers, Wisconsin Governor on Broadband Assistance, Broadband as Public Utility
- Biden Encourages House to Pass Technology Innovation Funding Bill
- Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program
- FTC Mum on Microsoft-Activision Deal, Proposes Review of Merger Guidelines
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