WASHINGTON – Lawmakers say 2022 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in their efforts to tighten regulations on social media and other internet platforms – and are pushing President Biden to step down.
Democrats and Republicans are working on half a dozen or more broad categories of laws dealing with online privacy and child safety, transparency of corporate data collection practices, accountability for content posted on social networks and market dominance by a handful of major players.
But these and other proposals face potentially fierce opposition from big tech companies, as well as partisan differences between Republicans and Democrats. While members of both parties criticize Big Techs, Democrats have often favored tighter restrictions, for example on harmful content, while Republicans have generally advocated leaner approaches and opposed measures that may restrict content. word.
Adding to the pressure in 2022 is the prospect that Republicans could take control of the House or Senate after the November midterm elections, blurring political priorities. This effectively only gives Democratic supporters a few months to push through their measures, many of which are still being drafted.
“The key is whether Biden gets personally involved and prioritizes the shift,” said Cowen Washington Research Group, referring to legislation that would prohibit large tech companies from giving preference to their own products and services over their platforms. The investment analysis firm gives the bill a 65% chance of passing with Mr Biden participating and 40% without.
The White House has largely stayed out of the tech legislation debate this year, focusing instead on measures like the $ 1 trillion infrastructure spending plan and the roughly $ 2 trillion proposal for education, health care and the climate that she dubbed Building Back Better.
In a statement, a senior administration official noted that Biden has long supported measures, including revising Section 230, the law that largely shields internet platforms from liability for content. users on their sites. Mr Biden also called on the Federal Trade Commission to “tackle the unfair data collection and monitoring practices” of big tech companies, the official said.
“President Biden has long said that technology platforms must be held accountable for the damage they cause and has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve this goal,” the official said. “Privacy and antitrust reforms, along with greater transparency, should also be on the table as we address the business models of major platforms and the incentives they create to promote great and source content. of division. “
The statement did not address what Mr Biden would do to advance legislation targeting the practices of tech companies amid growing calls from lawmakers for the White House to support tech-focused legislation.
“So far, the White House has not been a really active presence,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Connecticut), who heads the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection.
“There is a real victory here for the president if he seizes this moment with us,” said Blumenthal, who is drafting legislation to improve online privacy and protect children.
Sen. John Thune (R., SD), the Republican No. 2 in the Senate, has joined efforts to curb big tech, sponsoring legislation that would require platforms to disclose the algorithms they use to rank software. searches and give consumers an option for unfiltered searches.
“The White House has proven that it can get involved in legislative priorities when it wants to, so I hope the president and his team will step up and provide much needed and long overdue leadership on this front,” Mr. .Money in a statement.
Lawmakers say momentum for change has been boosted by internal research disclosures that have shown adverse effects on users of Meta Platforms-owned Instagram and Facebook platforms Inc.
The documents were compiled by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen and reported by the Wall Street Journal in her “Facebook Files” series.
“How many more stories from whistleblowers do we need to receive? Said Senator Mark Warner (D., Virginia). “This is an area where I think they [the White House] getting more involved would be really helpful in getting things done.
Meta Platforms said that many research papers published by Ms. Haugen have been misinterpreted and that the company has “invested heavily in people and technology to keep our platform secure.”
Big tech companies typically say they operate in extremely competitive markets, seek to offer consumers meaningful choices in how their information is handled, and work hard to keep their platforms safe for users, including children. .
Tech companies have also reminded policymakers of their increasingly important role in the economy. Amazon.com Inc.,
for example, touted its massive investments in new infrastructure and hiring last year, and its impacts on revitalizing cities and creating jobs.
As it weighs what to do, the White House faces internal tensions between progressives in the administration who favor tighter regulation and others concerned about the possible impact of a technological crackdown on the economy and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, especially since the Omicron variant has emerged as a threat, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr Biden himself stressed the importance of Big Tech at a December 21 press conference, saying the administration had worked with Alphabet Inc.
Google so that consumers can search for Covid-19 test sites near them with greater accuracy.
Silicon Valley has pushed back the most hostile legislation to Congress in recent years, despite growing bipartisan discontent with many aspects of the internet ecosystem and its impact on consumers, especially children.
But tech reps privately concede that new battles are coming quickly in the New Year.
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The first contradictory bill to pass is likely to be a measure that is perhaps the No.1 concern of many tech giants, a bill designed to prevent companies from prioritizing their own products and services on their platforms.
Sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) And Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), he enjoys wide support among the leaders of the Judicial Committee. It is expected to be adopted by the committee in the first months of 2022, according to lawmakers and tech representatives.
But its prospects beyond are uncertain. Tech lobbyists trying to block it argue it could have unintended consequences, destroying their businesses and disrupting the internet economy.
The key to its final passage by the Senate and the House could lie in building up enough support for other technological regulatory measures to prove to Congressional leaders that it is worth the little speaking time, Ms. Klobuchar.
“We know what we are up against,” she said, referring to the lobbying battles to come. “It won’t all pass … But we have to start moving.”
Mr Biden would make it a priority would help, she added.
Senators on the Commerce Committee, meanwhile, are working on bills strengthening consumer privacy, children’s online safety, platform accountability, algorithm transparency and other issues. But the list is so long that some tech representatives and congressional aides believe lawmakers are in danger of getting bogged down, especially with just a few months to act.
Nevertheless, action appears to remain possible, especially on narrower issues, for example targeted efforts to protect children from online exploitation or limited transparency measures.
“We are at a watershed moment,” said James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that seeks to improve children’s online experiences. “We better seize the moment. “
—Ryan Tracy contributed to this article.
Write to John D. McKinnon at [email protected]
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