The rally against big tech is the rare topic that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on, yet several federal proposals with bipartisan support have stalled in Washington, including a sweeping privacy law and an antitrust package likely next year amid a probable GOP -Most mothballed the house. When it comes to overseeing big tech, Congress is essentially deadlocked. The actual action takes place at the state level.
Texas and Florida have been trying to enforce new social media laws that are currently tangled in court, with the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling. Both are trying to prevent companies like Facebook and Twitter Inc. from blocking certain types of political speech — which will likely do more to appeal to their Republican bases than adequately clean up harmful online content. Nonetheless, like the new California rules, they underscore the growing importance of state-level firepower in regulating technology. With Congress doing so little, more state lawmakers should try to fill the gap and pass much-needed legislation addressing privacy violations, online harm, and market abuse by these companies.
This would align with Big Tech’s own playbook.
For years, industry lobbyists have targeted state legislators to quietly push for watered-down privacy laws, deftly forestalling stricter policies that could threaten their business models by forcing changes to their advertising or data collection practices.
Privacy laws recently passed in Virginia, Utah and Colorado, along with similar bills under review in another 22 states, have no real enforcement power. That’s because tech firms themselves initiated or advised the legislation.
Amazon.com Inc., for example, provided the Virginia legislature with the original text of a bill that became that state’s privacy law. “Amazon gave us the first cut of a draft to look at,” Virginia Senator David Marsden recently told Protocol.
A powerful technology industry group known as the State Privacy and Security Coalition (SPSC), whose membership includes Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Amazon, also has “substantial expertise” and advice to state lawmakers on the Privacy legislation offered. According to the transcript of a February 2022 hearing, a group lobbyist helped Utah Republican Senator Kirk Cullimore add a substitute language to his state’s privacy law.(1)
Curiously, the best effort to protect consumer privacy right now comes from a big tech company. Apple Inc.’s app-tracking transparency pop-up, which rolled out on iPhones worldwide last year, has done more than any law to curb targeted advertisers on our phones, and an estimated $14 billion in ad sales this year alone from Facebook (and improving Apple’s business). in process).
Highly profitable technology companies shouldn’t be our ultimate privacy advocates, nor should they dictate the direction of privacy policies. That is the job of democratically elected legislators.
California provides a helpful template. Its own privacy law, introduced in 2020,(2) became a de facto US standard because tech companies realized it would be easier to follow its rules universally rather than weeding out California users.
The same could happen with the state’s new Age Appropriate Design Code. It forces internet companies to redesign their websites or algorithms if they violate the privacy of under-18s or expose them to harmful content, and is stricter than the UK rules on which it is based.
Facebook, for example, has been accused of continuing to monitor teens for ad targeting, even after it said it wouldn’t do so under new UK child protection rules. California law is making it harder to get away with. The Attorney General can impose penalties of up to $7,500 on any minor affected by a company that violates the laws.
Stricter state regulations for the technology industry would not only provide national impetus for the final passage of federal legislation; They could also force tech companies to be more accepting of federal regulation and see it as a tastier alternative to a bewildering patchwork of state policies. And if Congress does eventually standardize something, even if it takes a few years later, there would be less risk that certain regulations could be watered down. Federal laws would be more powerful.
Oddly enough, according to Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of Accountable Tech, a grassroots group campaigning for more regulation of social media companies, groups that advocate for better privacy or online protection aren’t anywhere near on the same level as tech companies Lobbying government agencies. “I was a bit surprised because I haven’t heard from many of our allies that they are seriously looking at finding out where there might be opportunities,” he said.
This could be a missed opportunity for interest groups. California has shown that states can do far more than Congress when it comes to tackling big tech dominance. Federal laws attempting to do the same thing next year are nearly impossible. States could and should make a necessary difference.
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(1) Anton van Seventer, a lobbyist for the State Privacy and Security Coalition, was quoted in the transcript as having contributed to the passage of the law.
(2) California’s privacy law was originally passed in 2018 but was strengthened after a ballot initiative that made it so lawmakers could not reverse it.
This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is the author of We Are Anonymous.
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