Following a “listening session” the White House said it convened to invite experts to comment “on the harms that tech platforms cause and the need for greater accountability,” the Biden administration published a list of what it regards as “core principles for reform” in technology policy.
First and foremost, the White House lists the promotion of competition as vital to “address the power of tech platforms through antitrust legislation.” Key antitrust legislation– the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO)– is presently stalled in the Senate.
Legislation is pending on most of the key proposed areas for reform, including privacy, protections of children, reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, transparency measures, and algorithmic accountability. But none of the bills targeting theses issues shows much sign of reaching the President’s desk.
Commenting on the challenge in getting antitrust legislation over the finish line at this week’s CODE Conference, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said reforms are difficult to achieve in the face of industry lobbying. “It is an incredible amount of money I’m up against,” said Sen. Klobuchar, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I have two lawyers. They have 2,800 lawyers and lobbyists. So I’m not naive about the David versus Goliath.”
Here are the six principles listed by the White House:
1. Promote competition in the technology sector. The American information technology sector has long been an engine of innovation and growth, and the U.S. has led the world in the development of the Internet economy. Today, however, a small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants, to engage in rent-seeking, and to gather intimate personal information that they can use for their own advantage. We need clear rules of the road to ensure small and mid-size businesses and entrepreneurs can compete on a level playing field, which will promote innovation for American consumers and ensure continued U.S. leadership in global technology. We are encouraged to see bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to address the power of tech platforms through antitrust legislation.
2. Provide robust federal protections for Americans’ privacy. There should be clear limits on the ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain our personal data, including limits on targeted advertising. These limits should put the burden on platforms to minimize how much information they collect, rather than burdening Americans with reading fine print. We especially need strong protections for particularly sensitive data such as geolocation and health information, including information related to reproductive health. We are encouraged to see bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to protect privacy.
3. Protect our kids by putting in place even stronger privacy and online protections for them, including prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services. Children, adolescents, and teens are especially vulnerable to harm. Platforms and other interactive digital service providers should be required to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of young people above profit and revenue in their product design, including by restricting excessive data collection and targeted advertising to young people.
4. Remove special legal protections for large tech platforms. Tech platforms currently have special legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that broadly shield them from liability even when they host or disseminate illegal, violent conduct or materials. The President has long called for fundamental reforms to Section 230.
5. Increase transparency about platform’s algorithms and content moderation decisions. Despite their central role in American life, tech platforms are notoriously opaque. Their decisions about what content to display to a given user and when and how to remove content from their sites affect Americans’ lives and American society in profound ways. However, platforms are failing to provide sufficient transparency to allow the public and researchers to understand how and why such decisions are made, their potential effects on users, and the very real dangers these decisions may pose.
6. Stop discriminatory algorithmic decision-making. We need strong protections to ensure algorithms do not discriminate against protected groups, such as by failing to share key opportunities equally, by discriminatorily exposing vulnerable communities to risky products, or through persistent surveillance.
“These principles are the culmination of months of work by the Administration and engagement with numerous stakeholders,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. She said it was the largest gathering at the White House focused on tech issues since the start of the Administration. She said the President has directed federal agencies to explore ways to address tech reform.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a rulemaking hearing today, for instance, on commercial surveillance and data privacy.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.