The word "competition" has a different meaning in Washington (DC) and other centers of regulation around the globe than it does in Silicon Valley. Industry leaders view acquiring startups, keeping customers inside their existing ecosystems, and trying to dominate new platforms as part of the natural process of business competition.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)'s major move towards crafting data privacy rules is the latest signal of a potential end to Big Tech's expansive use of online data. As people grow warier of the online trails of digital data they leave behind, the lack of data privacy protections in the US has increasingly become a glaring source of concern for many. The FTC voted 3-2 along party lines to seek comment on the harms of "commercial surveillance" and whether privacy rules are needed.
Antitrust action is desperately needed to reel in the practices of Big Tech companies, especially around privacy, according to Google's former head of advertising. Competition in tech is needed to ensure people are able to have private online experiences, because large companies like Google will never truly care about user privacy, Sridhar Ramaswamy said. Ramaswamy spent 15 years running Google's lucrative advertising business before launching Neeva, a subscription-based search engine.
A glut of major tech policy bills await action as Congress' summer recess looms — and anything that doesn't pass by then is unlikely to pass at all in a midterm election season. The ambitious tech agenda this Congress started out with 18 months ago is getting squeezed out by other legislative priorities, including gun control, the Jan. 6 investigation, and the economy. Here's what's in the queue:
Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan has a chance to work her way down her Big Tech to-do list, nearly a year into her tenure, now that she has a Democratic majority in hand. The Senate voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie — to confirm privacy expert Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC. The Democrats' majority at the five-person agency now opens the door for Khan's agenda, expected to include:
Regulators around the world are exploring forcing Big Tech companies to pay more for the internet service they rely on to make their billions. A growing number of governments think tech giants should up their contributions to the basic internet service that makes their success possible. That money could prop up local economies or help close the digital divide.
Moves to restrict Kremlin disinformation after Russia's invasion of Ukraine are further splintering the global internet even as they help stem the tide of propaganda.
Lawmakers and lobbyists anticipate a major fight over antitrust bills meant to tame Big Tech before the midterms put an unofficial end to the legislative effort. The bills could remake how Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google operate and treat competitors — if they make it over the finish line.
As technology's role in American life increases, people on both sides of today's political divide have grown wary of its influence. A majority of respondents to a survey by Axios and the Illinois Institute of Technology expressed concern about the use of artificial intelligence, the reach of algorithms, the state of their online privacy, the size of tech firms and dependence on smartphones. Three-quarters of those polled said tech companies are too big (80 percent of liberals and 83 percent of conservatives).
Lina Khan's first six months leading the Federal Trade Commission has shown she's either shaken up a sleepy bureaucracy or pushed long-standing norms too far, depending on who you ask. As President Biden's first year ends, many are watching Khan's FTC to see whether it really can fundamentally change how the US regulates big companies and how tech should treat consumers.