Biden’s call to “unite against major tech abuse” sounds familiar •

by Ana Lopez

President Biden published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday Letting Big Tech know that its administration was working – in fact has been working – to contain the worst abuses. But these “broad principles for reform” sound pretty familiar.

The op-ed begins by thanking the tech sector for its hard work (and contributions to GDP, it is understood) and immediately begins to lament the depredations of children and the otherwise vulnerable.

“I am concerned about how some in the industry collect, share and exploit our most private data, deepen extremism and polarization in our country, tilt the playing field of our economy, violate the civil rights of women and minorities, and even put our children at risk. put game. risk,” the president wrote.

He lists three key areas where the federal government needs to intervene: privacy, algorithmic accountability, and competition.

On the privacy front, he’s concerned that companies “collect, use, and share highly personal data,” mostly for ad targeting. He says the White House is “developing new privacy rules for commercial data.” Good! The industry has been calling for federal rules for years – of course, because they didn’t like California’s, but they certainly asked for it. The time to establish these was a long, long time ago – they take forever to figure out and then they lead to dozens of lawsuits defining their finer outlines, as we’ve seen in the European Union’s efforts for GDPR.

We’ve seen privacy laws come and go, but like everything else they fall prey to partisan politics and that seems unlikely to change. But at least we’re getting a taste of the challenges ahead with the California Consumer Protection Act and other state-led efforts. And the FTC may be getting ready to take a chance, too.

The second issue is that technology should “take responsibility for the content they distribute and the algorithms they use.” To do this, he proposes reforming Section 230, a can of worms that everyone has had on their desks for years but no one seems to want to open. Do too little and nothing will change; do too much and the tech sector teeters under a hail of lawsuits. Easier to complain than try to thread that needle, it seems. Algorithm transparency might be easier to achieve, especially if one were to connect it to AI-related policies and questions about protected classes and categories.

Finally, there is the need to “bring competition back to the technology sector”. On this, Biden is clearly counting on the ascendant Lina Khan, FTC chairman and nemesis of Amazon, Meta and now Microsoft.

“We recently received a significant financial boost for our antitrust enforcers,” Biden writes. Khan and others have complained that the FTC lacked the funding, authority, and staffing (not to mention the propensity, under some governments) to take on industry giants who buy up competitors like nothing. Setting up a new antitrust team with a new antitrust philosophy (ask Khan about it) could actually accomplish what Biden wants.

But of course this isn’t the first time someone has complained about things like Facebook buying Instagram and WhatsApp. Systemic advantages granted to those who can afford to lobby the government made all of this possible – remember that many of the “great US corporations…choked by the dominant incumbents” came and went as Biden became Vice President or was a senator. So we’ve heard this song before. What comes next? Usually nothing.

While Biden’s opinion adds nothing to the debate about the excesses of technology and potential remedies, it’s not supposed to. Instead, it serves as a public statement of his (reluctant) opposition to the problems of the tech world. “You brought this on yourself, my friends,” he seems to be saying. Perhaps this legislature will be filled with the long-promised tricks and folds that technology desperately needs and has asked for. Unfortunately, as he notes in the last paragraph:

“There will be many policy issues we disagree on in the new Congress, but… let us unite behind our shared values” for technology reform, he writes. Good luck, Mr. President! This time for sure.

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