Lawmakers Need Biden to Play Larger Position Pushing Tech Laws

WASHINGTON – Legislators say 2022 is emerging as a pivotal year in their drive to tighten regulations on social media and other internet platforms – urging President Biden to step off the sidelines.

Democrats and Republicans are working on half a dozen or more major categories of laws that deal with online privacy and child safety, the transparency of corporate data collection practices, accountability for content posted on social media, and dominance of a handful of key players deal.

However, these and other proposals face potentially fierce opposition from major tech companies, as well as partisan differences between Republicans and Democrats. While members of both parties are critical of Big Tech, the Democrats have often advocated tougher restrictions – for example on harmful content – while Republicans have generally advocated lighter approaches and opposed measures that could restrict speech.

The prospect that Republicans could take control of the House or Senate after the November midterm elections add to the pressure in 2022, raising political priorities. That effectively gives Democratic advocates only a few months to enforce their measures, many of which are still being worked out.

“The key is whether Biden interferes personally and prioritizes passage,” said the Cowen Washington Research Group, citing laws that would prevent large tech companies from preferring their own products and services on their platforms. The investment research firm gives the law a 65% chance of getting passed with Mr. Biden’s involvement and 40% without it.

The White House has largely stayed out of the tech legislation debate this year and is instead focusing on measures such as the $ 1 trillion infrastructure spending plan and the roughly $ 2 trillion education, health and climate proposal. Dollar it’s called Build Back Better.

In a statement, a senior administrative official noted that Mr Biden has long been a supporter of measures, including the revision of Section 230, the law that largely shields internet platforms from liability for user content on their websites. Mr. Biden has also asked the Federal Trade Commission to tackle “unfair data collection and surveillance practices” by large technology companies, the official said.

“President Biden has long said that technology platforms must be held accountable for the damage they cause and is a strong advocate of fundamental reform to achieve that goal,” the official said. “Data protection and antitrust reforms as well as more transparency should also be on the table when we address the business models of the major platforms and the incentives they create to promote sensational and divisive content.”

The statement failed to address what Mr Biden would do to drive legislation against the practices of tech companies, while lawmakers increasingly demanded that the White House stand its weight behind technology-based legislation.

“So far, the White House has not really been active,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., note), who heads the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee.

“The president has a real win here if he uses this moment with us,” said Blumenthal, who is working on legislative measures to improve online privacy and protection for children.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee, develops legislative measures to improve online privacy and protection for children.


Photo:

Michael Brochstein / Zuma Press

Senator John Thune (R., SD), the No. 2 Republican of the Senate, has joined efforts to contain big tech and supports laws that would require platforms to disclose the algorithms they use to rank search queries and Consumers an option for unfiltered searches.

“The White House has shown that it can participate in legislative priorities at any time, so I hope the president and his team will take the much-needed and long-overdue leadership on this front,” Thune said in a statement.

Legislature says the momentum for change has been boosted by disclosing internal research showing negative effects on users of the Instagram and Facebook platforms owned by Meta Platforms Inc.

The documents were collected by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen and published by the Wall Street Journal in its “Facebook Files” series.

“How many more whistleblower stories do we have to be greeted with?” Said Senator Mark Warner, D., Virginia. “This is one area that I think of them in [the White House] getting more involved would be really helpful in getting things done. “

Meta Platforms said that many of the 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”.

Large tech companies generally say they operate in highly competitive markets, seek to provide meaningful choices for consumers in how they use their information, and work hard to keep their platforms safe for users including children.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testified at a Senate hearing in October.


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Pool / Reuters

Tech companies are also reminding policymakers of their increasingly important role in business. Amazon.com Inc.,

for example, last year extolled its massive investment in new infrastructure and recruitment and its impact on urban regeneration and job creation.

As it weighs what to do, the White House is facing internal tensions between progressives in the administration who advocate stronger regulation and others who over the potential impact of a technical crackdown on the economy and the fight against Covid -19 pandemic, particularly since the Omicron variant emerged as a threat, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr Biden himself underscored the importance of Big Tech at a December 21 press conference, saying the administration had worked with Alphabet Inc.’s

Google so that consumers can search for Covid-19 test sites near them with greater accuracy.

Silicon Valley has pounded most of the unfriendly laws in Congress in recent years, although bipartisan dissatisfaction with many aspects of the internet ecosystem and its impact on consumers, especially children, has grown.

But tech reps privately admit that new battles are coming quickly in the New Year.

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The first adversarial bill to be passed is likely to be what may be number 1 for many tech giants, a bill to prevent companies from preferring their own products and services on their platforms.

It is sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) And Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and has widespread support among Justice Committee leaders. It’s likely to be passed by the committee in the first few months of 2022, according to lawmakers and technology officials alike.

But the outlook beyond that is uncertain. Technology lobbyists trying to block this argue that it could have unintended consequences that could ruin their businesses and disrupt the internet economy.

The key to its final passage by the Senate and House of Representatives could be to garner enough support for other technical regulatory measures to prove to congressional leaders that this is a tight session, Ms. Klobuchar said.

“We know what we’re up against,” she said, referring to the upcoming lobbying campaigns. “Not everything will pass … But we have to move.”

Mr. Biden would make it a priority, she added.

The trade committee senators, meanwhile, are working on bills to strengthen consumer privacy, child safety online, platform accountability, algorithm transparency, and more. But the list is so long that some tech officials and congressional aids believe lawmakers are in danger of getting bogged down, especially if they only have a few months to act.

Nevertheless, it still seems possible that measures will be taken, particularly on narrower issues, such as targeted efforts to protect children from online exploitation or limited transparency measures.

“We are at a turning point,” said James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that aims to improve the online experience for children. “We should better use the moment.”

Write to John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com

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