The tech industry says it wants regulation. What would that look like?
Nov 12, 2021

The tech industry says it wants regulation. What would that look like?

When it comes to protecting user privacy, lawmakers and tech industry groups are in broad agreement.

All this week, we’ve been talking about what it will take to update our laws and regulations to address some of the thorniest issues in tech and society. Today, a tech industry perspective on what that regulation should look like.

“A national privacy framework is essential and is long overdue,” said K. Dane Snowden, president and CEO of the Internet Association, a trade group that represents internet companies including Amazon, Facebook and Google. Industry and lawmakers tend to agree agree on the need for new privacy rules, he added.

“You know, we’re calling for more transparency. We think meaningful control and choice over your data, ability to correct your data, to delete your data, and also to port your data. These are things that should be in any national privacy framework,” Snowden said.

And the word “national,” there, is key. Tech companies don’t want to follow a dozens of different state laws.

“Presently, there is a patchwork of privacy regulations in different states,” said Peter Leroe-Muñoz with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has been representing the tech industry’s policy interests for more than four decades.

“This is confusing for consumers. And it’s also hard for companies to navigate multiple, and sometimes conflicting, compliance requirements,” he said.

One piece of tech regulation the industry doesn’t want touched is part of a law signed by President Clinton back in 1996. “This law is truly revolutionary legislation that will bring the future to our doorstep,” President Clinton said then.

That was before Facebook or Google were even companies.

And today, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act still shields these tech companies from liability for decisions they make around content. Some want it repealed, arguing it allows for tech companies to “censor” voices they don’t like.

Snowden, whose association represents those companies, said getting rid of Section 230 would be a step backwards, where platforms either moderate everything or nothing.

“So you have a curated view from the company about what you can see and do on the internet or it would be moderate nothing, which means, all the scams, all the trolls, all the bad information, all the pornography,” Snowden said. “And I don’t think anyone wants either of those two choices.”

Worth noting here: Those in favor of repealing Section 230 say the law could be modified to find a middle ground.

Right now, the tech industry is also weighing in on a number of bills addressing competition. One piece of legislation, with bipartisan support, would prohibit tech platforms from favoring their own products. For example, if you buy paper towels or undies on Amazon, it wouldn’t be able to promote its house brand, Amazon Essentials, over other brands.

According to Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that goes too far. “The idea that we’re going to have government come in and regulate that. If government has that power, then they’re gonna be regulating what you see on store shelves when you walk into a grocery store or a retail store,” he said, adding that America’s existing anti-trust laws are enough to support fair competition in the tech sector.

No matter what comes out of Washington, there’s no question the tech industry will continue spending tens of millions of dollars to shape what the laws eventually look like.

Related Links: More insight from Kimberly Adams

While we were digging in on tech regulation this week, there was other big news here in Washington, D.C. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in the House, and is now just waiting on the President’s signature to become law. One provision in the soon-to-be-law will provide $65 billion to expand broadband infrastructure, bringing high-speed internet to more people. CBS News has a piece looking at what it’s going to take to get those funds out the door.

And as much as lawmakers love to hate on Big Tech, they also love to use it. Bloomberg ran a piece this week about why it’s so hard for officials to get off Facebook, even as they criticize the platform. One reason: It’s where a lot of the voters are. And speaking of Facebook/Meta, The New York Times and others this week covered the company’s plan to eliminate tools that allow advertisers to target people with promotions based on how they interact with content “related to health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation and thousands of other topics.”

And it just so happens that news came out on the same day a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill, first reported by Axios, that would require platforms to let users opt-out of having algorithms pick the content that shows up in their feeds. It’s called the Filter Bubble Transparency Act.

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