Senators targeting Facebook, Instagram, Twitter with new legislation

social media comments
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New legislation from a bipartisan group of senators led by Mark Warner would require social media giants to make user data portable, with one possible effect being to boost competition to the big players like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“By enabling portability, interoperability, and delegatability, this bill will create long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers the power to move their data from one service to another,” the group, including Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said in a joint statement.

A lot to unpack here. Let’s start with what they’re trying to say by talking about portability, interoperability and delegatability.

Basically, you should be able to move your data – your photos, your message history, your friends list, the like – from one service to another.

The thrust of the legislation has the support of some heavy hitters.

“Markets work when consumers have a choice and know what’s going on. The ACCESS Act is an important step toward reestablishing this dynamic in the market for tech services,” said Paul Romer, New York University professor of economics and Nobel Prize winner in Economics. “We must get back to the conditions that make markets work: when consumers know what they give a firm and what they get in return; and if they don’t like the deal, they can take their business elsewhere. By giving consumers the ability to delegate decisions to organizations working on their behalf, the ACCESS Act gives consumers some hope that they can understand what they are giving up and getting in the opaque world that the tech firms have created. By mandating portability, it also gives them a realistic option of switching to another provider.”

“Interoperability is a key tool for promoting competition on and against dominant digital platforms,” said Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at Public Knowledge. “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.”

“We now understand that the dominant tech platforms’ exclusive control over the data we create as we interact with them is the source of extraordinary market power,” said Brad Burnham, partner and co-founder at Union Square Ventures. “That power distorts markets, reduces innovation and limits consumer choice. By requiring interoperability, the ACCESS Act empowers consumers, levels the playing field and opens the market to competition. Anyone who believes that markets work best when consumers are able to make informed choices should support this Act.”


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