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Platform Product Preference Bill Unfairly Targets Large Online Platforms, CCIA Says

The Computer and Communications Industry Association counts as members Amazon, Google and Facebook.

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WASHINGTON, March 24, 2022 – Proposed legislation that would prohibit large online platforms from engaging in practices like giving their own products preferential treatment over competitors is too narrowly defined to include a small group of big technology companies while excluding others, argued an association representing those large tech companies on Wednesday.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which also aims to ban discrimination against third-party products on the host platform, defines covered companies under the legislation by their value – which some say will exclude other large retailers that may engage in the same practices the legislation hopes to abolish.

“The bill very carefully picks winners and losers,” Arthur Sidney, vice president of public policy at Computer and Communications Industry Association, said on a Broadband Breakfast panel Wednesday about the legislation that was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee for Senate votes. The CCIA, which advocates for small and medium companies, also has among its members Amazon, Google and Facebook, three of the world’s largest companies.

“I do think that the bill penalizes big for being bad, but big…is not bad. It’s just a matter of success,” he said.

The legislation “prohibits certain large online platforms from engaging in specified acts, including giving preference to their own products on the platform, unfairly limiting the availability on the platform of competing products from another business, or discriminating in the application or enforcement of the platform’s terms of service among similarly situated users,” according to the bill.

CCIA’s President Matt Schruers said about the bill in January that targeting “leading businesses will skew competition and leave consumers worse off. By hamstringing successful U.S. tech companies without even imposing corresponding obligations on foreign rivals, this shortsighted legislation will put the data and security of U.S. users at risk.”

Amazon had been accused of violating antitrust laws when it allegedly used third-party sellers’ data to help increase the sales of its own products. On Friday, a Superior Court of D.C. judge dismissed the case against the company. Meanwhile, on this same matter, bipartisan House Judiciary members wrote to the Department of Justice this month alleging Amazon obstructed the committee’s “extensive investigation into competition in digital markets,” which took place last Congress.

Bill provides flexibility to capture other companies

But a government affairs policy counsel at advocacy group Public Knowledge, who sat opposite of Sidney at Wednesday’s event, said the legislation provides flexibility to capture other large companies that may engage in such practices.

“The [bill is] trying to encircle and analyze and scrutinize a market position” instead of targeting certain companies by name,” said Antoine Prince Albert III. “The [bill is] flexible with thresholds to show that a market position would be indicative by a market cap,” he said. Market capitalization is determined by multiplying the price of each share by how many shares it has outstanding.

It is “not targeting individual companies,” Albert said.

In the middle of these two viewpoints was Patrick Hedger, executive director of Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He said that “the market is a little more dynamic than the proponents of this legislation think,” evident by “Meta’s recent collapse in market cap,” whose stock price fell 25 percent after the company’s social media platform Facebook saw a decline in user growth.

If Meta “is at this market cap for the next two years, which is what some of the bill is prescribed for, they will no longer be a covered platform,” he said.

Photo of panelists during the online event

Photo of Drew Clark, Patrick Hedger, Antoine Prince Albert III, and Arthur Sidney at Wednesday’s event

Hedger also raised a bill proposed by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, that contains a data enactment provision in this proposed legislation that means “only companies that are above the market cap at the date of enactment of the legislation will be covered in perpetuity, and not all the other ones that eventually grow to that level.”

This bill, titled the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, aims to “prevent big tech from further suppressing competition through killer acquisitions” and establish “a presumption against mergers and acquisitions of potential competitors by the Big Tech companies,” according to a one-pager about the bill.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event and REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Big Tech and the American Innovation and Choice Online Act

Congress is ratcheting up its campaign against big tech. A specific focus of lawmakers is promoting competitiveness in markets a few big platforms dominate. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act prevents platforms giving preference to their own products and limiting the availability of competitors’ products. Will the bill accomplish its goals? What challenges does it face? Join us for the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event where panelists will hash out these and other issues.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Antoine Prince Albert III, Government Affairs Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge
  • Arthur Sidney, Vice President of Public Policy, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)
  • Patrick Hedger, Executive Director, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
  • Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Antoine Prince Albert III is a Government Affairs Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge, Inc., a DC-based public interest group working to defend consumer rights in the emerging digital culture. At PK, Prince delivers high-impact advocacy strategies on issues like online platform governance and competition, Section 230, artificial intelligence and algorithms, music licensing, and privacy. He is routinely consulted for critical insights on how media and technology function within Black, Latino, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA2S+ communities of the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Arthur D. Sidney, LLM is the VP of Public Policy at CCIA, where he started in June 2020. Formerly, he was chief of staff and chief counsel to Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and served as an international trade attorney with the U.S. Department of Commerce where he focused upon trade remedies. Arthur has served as an adjunct professor at Howard University School of Law, American University, Washington College of Law, and University of Maryland University College now University of Maryland Global campuses.

Patrick Hedger is the Executive Director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan taxpayer and consumer watchdog group. Prior to joining TPA, Patrick was a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Technology and Innovation. Patrick is a twice-graduate of George Mason University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and International Politics and a Master of Public Policy degree.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

Illustration from January 2022 by Bryce Durbin

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Free Speech

Panel Hears Opposing Views on Content Moderation Debate

Some agreed there is egregious information that should be downranked on search platforms.

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Screenshot of Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory.

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2022 – Panelists wrangled over how technology platforms should handle content moderation at an event hosted by the Lincoln Network Friday, with one arguing that search engines should neutralize misinformation that cause direct, “tangible” harms and another advocating an online content moderation standard that doesn’t discriminate on viewpoints.

Debate about what to do with certain content on technology platforms has picked up steam since former President Donald Trump was removed last year from platforms including Facebook and Twitter for allegedly inciting the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.

Search engines generally moderate content algorithmically, prioritizing certain results over others. Most engines, like Google, prioritize results from institutions generally considered to be credible, such as universities and government agencies.

That can be a good thing, said Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory. If search engines allow scams or medical misinformation to headline search results, she argued, “tangible” material or physical harms will result.

The internet pioneered communications from “one-to-many” broadcast media – e.g., television and radio – to a “many-to-many” model, said DiResta. She argued that “many-to-many” interactions create social frictions and make possible the formation of social media mobs.

At the beginning of the year, Georgia Republic representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was permanently removed from Twitter for allegedly spreading Covid-19 misinformation, the same reason Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was removed from Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube.

Lincoln Network senior fellow Antonio Martinez endorsed a more permissive content moderation strategy that – excluding content that incites imminent, lawless action – is tolerant of heterodox speech. “To think that we can epistemologically or even technically go in and establish capital-T Truth at scale is impossible,” he said.

Trump has said to be committed to a platform of open speech with the creation of his social media website Truth Social. Other platforms, such as social media site Parler and video-sharing website Rumble, have purported to allow more speech than the incumbents. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk previously committed to buying Twitter because of its policies prohibiting certain speech, though he now wants out of that commitment.

Alex Feerst, CEO of digital content curator Murmuration Labs, said that free-speech aphorisms – such as, “The cure for bad speech is more speech” – may no longer hold true given the volume of speech enabled by the internet.

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Big Tech

Twitter Whistleblower Says Company Needs to Work to Permanently Delete User Data

Meanwhile, Twitter shareholders approved a deal to sell the company to Elon Musk, who wants out.

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Photo of Peiter Zatko at Tuesday's Senate Judiciary hearing

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2022 – Twitter’s former head of security and now company whistleblower told a Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday that Twitter must put more resources into trying to permanently delete user data upon the elimination of accounts to preserve the security and privacy of users.

Peiter Zatko, who was fired from Twitter in January due to performance issues, blew the whistle on the company last month by alleging Twitter’s lack of sufficient security and privacy safeguards poses a national security risk. He alleged that the company does not delete user data when accounts are deleted.

On Tuesday, Zatko told the Senate Judiciary committee that the company needs to take the step of ensuring that the personal information of users are deleted when they destroy their accounts.

He alleged company engineers can access any user data on Twitter, including home addresses, phone numbers and contact lists, and sell the data without company executives knowing.

“I continued to believe in the mission of the company and root for its success, but that success can only happen if the privacy and security of Twitter users and the public are protected,” Zatko said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Twitter investors approved SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, despite the billionaire trying to back out of the deal allegedly over a lack of information about the number of fake accounts on the platform. The company and Musk are currently in court battling over whether he must follow through on the deal.

Musk’s lawyer has asked the court to delay the trial — scheduled for mid-October — to allow his client to investigate the whistleblower’s claims, according to reporting from Reuters.

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Big Tech

A White House Event, Biden Administration Seeks Regulation of Big Tech

Participants voiced concerns over alleged abuses by big tech companies.

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Photo of President Joe Biden

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2022 – President Joe Biden on Thursday called for a federal privacy standard, Section 230 reform, and increased antitrust scrutiny against big tech.

“Although tech platforms can help keep us connected, create a vibrant marketplace of ideas, and open up new opportunities for bringing products and services to market, they can also divide us and wreak serious real-world harms,” according to a White House readout from the administration’s listening session on Thursday.

Participants at the White House event voiced concerns over alleged abuses by big tech companies.

A new data privacy regime?

The Biden administration called for “clear limits on the ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain our personal data.” It also endorsed bipartisan congressional efforts to establish a national privacy standard.

Last June, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., introduced the American Data Privacy and Protection Act. The bill gained substantial bipartisan support and was advanced by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July.

In the absence of federal privacy laws, several states drafted privacy laws of their own. The Golden State, for instance, implemented the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018. The CCPA’s protections were extended by the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020, which goes into effect in January 2023.

Biden maintains his position seeking changes to Section 23o

“Tech platforms currently have special legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that broadly shield them from liability even when they host or disseminate illegal, violent conduct or materials,” argued the White House document.

Biden’s hostility towards Section 230 is not new. Section 230 protects internet platforms from most legal liability that might otherwise result from third party–generated content. For example, although an online publication may be guilty of libel for a news story it publishes, it cannot be held liable for slanderous reader posts in its comments section.

Critics of Section 230 say that it unfairly shields rogue social media companies from accountability for their misdeeds. And in addition to Biden and other Democrats, many Republicans are dislike the provision. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, argue that platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube discriminate against conservative speech and therefore should not benefit from such federal legal protections.

Section 230’s proponents say that it is the foundation of online free speech.

Ramping up antitrust

“Today…a small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants,” Thursday’s press release said. This sentiment is consonant with the administration’s antitrust policies to date. Indeed, Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, was a vocal antitruster in the academy and has greatly expanded the scope of the agency’s antitrust efforts since her appointment in 2021.

In the Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, is sponsoring the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bill that bans large online platforms from engaging in putatively “anticompetitive” business practices. The measure was approved by the Judiciary Committee earlier this year, and, though it was stalled over the summer to make way for other Democratic legislative priorities, it may come for a vote this fall.

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