The tech industry could face a reckoning on privacy if a blue wave puts the House in Democrats' hands. It’s the one issue that seems to offer the richest opportunity for legislating if Democrats flip the chamber, coming amid pressure over the tech industry's growing pile of privacy scandals. “There will be a tug of war on this,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT).
In the US and European Union, a series of two-decade-old legal provisions dating to the web’s early days allow internet companies to host content posted by users without being legally responsible for it. Thanks to that immunity, US companies have built massive profit engines around material such as Facebook posts, Instagram photos and YouTube videos, without having to screen them ahead of time. But now lawmakers and regulators in the US and European Union are starting to chip away at those protections, driven by growing concern about hoaxes, hate speech and other online bad behavior.
As the Senate Commerce Committee prepares to bring in tech and telecom officials for a hearing on consumer privacy, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) has suggested Congress should legislate. That would be welcome to many tech and telecom heavyweights wary of a patchwork of state privacy rules (like those recently passed in California) that could be more onerous to deal with than a single federal framework.
Two days after saying an “invite will be on its way” to Google to respond to allegations of bias against conservatives, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said the plan is still in progress. “Well, I gotta sit down and talk to them about it, but there’s a number of committees that have jurisdiction, there’s three off the top of my head, and they could come and we could make it three committees, or one committee, but they need to come and testify,” he said. According to Rep McCarthy, his office has been “in communications” with Google.
Twitter said that not even President Donald Trump is immune from being kicked off the platform if his tweets cross a line with abusive behavior. The social media company's rules against vitriolic tweets offer leeway for world leaders whose statements are newsworthy, but that "is not a blanket exception for the president or anyone else," said Twitter legal and policy chief Vijaya Gadde.
While President Donald Trump has few direct ways of going after Google, his administration and allies in Congress could find ways to make life difficult for the company. Antitrust officials at the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission, for example, could investigate whether the search giant is abusing its market dominance. Trump's Republican allies in Congress could subject the company to more unpleasant, high-profile hearings.
Republican leaders and lawmakers are setting their sights on a new target as they head into a difficult midterm election: an increasingly-powerful tech industry they view as biased against conservatives.
The U.S. technology industry has grown into one of America's most powerful and prestigious business sectors, now including 4 of the 5 most valuable companies in the world. But as the United States becomes a more diverse country overall, tech has increasingly come under fire for its striking lack of diversity. Even the most sincere efforts to fix the problem face one big obstacle, however: There are frustratingly few corporate policies that have been shown to work, over the long term, to improve diversity.
House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced plans to introduce a net neutrality bill soon. “Everybody is for a free and open internet, and that is what we want to preserve," Chairman Blackburn said in a video released on her Twitter page the same day as the FCC vote. "You can look for legislation next week where Congress will do its job.
The White House has already said President Donald Trump plans to sign the resolution using the Congressional Review Act to rescind the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules. That leaves an open question of how the agency and Congress will choose to address the issue in the future. In his reaction to the House vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seemed to suggest his next step would be to undo Title II, rather than create new rules that align with existing ones at the Federal Trade Commission.
Title II classified broadband internet access service providers as common carriers and put them under the FCC's regulatory jurisdiction. It's the same policy that bolsters the network neutrality rules, meaning revoking Title II could be tied to rolling back net neutrality. House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) is in step with Chairman Pai on leaving privacy to the FTC. "I hope the FCC will take up and review what was done under the Wheeler regime on Title II," he said, referencing the previous FCC chairman. "Repealing Title II solves the whole problem. I think we gotta get this back to where we can legislate in this space, and take the bill we drafted a few years ago that would put into statute prohibitions on bad behavior, on throttling, and paid prioritization and blocking, there's bipartisan agreement on that. But when the Obama administration forced the FCC to go straight to Title II, that created all these problems."