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Legislation would allow social media users control of third-party management of privacy

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Social media users expect account privacy, but do not always get privacy.

In fact, many do not realize how easily their information is shared with third parties.

After changes at certain large social media companies, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act was reintroduced yesterday to encourage market-based competition with major social media platforms to make their data portable and services interoperable.

The legislation would allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, who is Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led a bipartisan group of colleagues in reintroducing the bill. He is joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

“Consumers are currently locked in to the social media platforms that they use, unable to move to a different platform for fear of losing years’ worth of data and interactions,” the senators said. “Interoperability and portability are powerful tools to promote innovative new companies and limit anti-competitive behaviors. By making it easier for social media users to easily move their data or to continue to communicate with their friends after switching platforms, startups will be able to compete on equal terms with the biggest social media companies. This bill will create long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers more power.”

The bill would increase market competition, encourage innovation and increase consumer choice by requiring large communications platforms, designated as more than 100 million monthly active users, to:

  • Make their services interoperable with competing communications platforms;
  • Permit users to easily port their personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format;
  • Allow users to delegate trusted custodial services, which are required to act in a user’s best interests through a strong duty of care, with the task of managing their account settings, content, and online interactions.

“Markets work only when consumers know what they give up and get in any transaction with a seller and have the option to take their business elsewhere. By supporting organizations that can uncover what tech firms are actually doing and by mandating portability, the ACCESS Act will restore the conditions needed for the market in tech services to work,” Paul Romer, Boston College University Professor and Nobel Prize winner in Economics, said.

The economic and social fabric of the United States relies on online communications platforms, but network effects and consumer lock-in have solidified a select number of companies’ dominance in the digital market and enhanced their control over consumer data, even as the social media landscape changes by the day and platforms’ user experiences become more and more unpredictable.

“Interoperability is a key tool for promoting competition on and against dominant digital platforms. For social networks in particular, interoperability is needed to make it easy for users to switch to a new social network. Until we have clear and effective interoperability requirements, it will be hard for users to leave a social network that fails to reflect their values, protect their privacy, or offer the best experience. Whatever our reasons for switching to a new social network, the ACCESS Act can make it easier by requiring the largest platforms to offer interoperability with competitors. We all stand to benefit from the greater competition that an interoperable world can create,” Charlotte Slaiman, Competition Policy Director at Public Knowledge, said.

The legislation is “a critically important step forward for empowering consumers with the freedom to control their own data and enable consumers to leave the various walled gardens of the today’s social media platforms,” Beeper Founder and CEO Eric Migicovsky said. “The ACCESS Act literally does what it says—it would give consumers the option to choose better services without having to balance the unfair choice of abandoning their personal network of family and friends in order to seek better products in the market.  The Senate needs to move forward as soon as possible to vote on the ACCESS Act.”

“Consumers must have control of their own personal data. You should be able to easily access it, share it, revoke access, and interact with is how you see fit. Putting individuals in charge of what is best for them is vital to balance out the ongoing wave of technological innovation. This has broad implications beyond just social media – Congress must pass the ACCESS Act,” David Pickerell, Co-founder and CEO of Para, said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.