United States Senators Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren on July 27 proposed a new bill that envisions the creation of a Digital Consumer Protection Commission with the ambit of reining in Big Tech.
“I have heard too many stories from families who feel helpless in the face of Big Tech. Stories about children being bullied to the point of committing suicide. Human trafficking. Exploitation of minors. All the while the social media platforms look the other way. Today, we take the first step and provide consumers with the tools they need to begin leveling the playing field. A regulatory commission will give consumers a voice against Big Tech and the power to punish them when appropriate.” — Lindsey Graham
Why does this matter: The US is home to the most prominent tech companies (Google, Meta, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.), but its regulations for these companies lag behind global counterparts like the European Union. Over the last few years, multiple bills have been proposed to address issues concerning Big Tech, but they all still remain just that—proposals. There is nothing to indicate that this latest bill, the Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act, will be any different, but what the bill proposes is still worth studying because it appears to be an all-in-one bill covering aspects ranging from privacy to competition to content moderation, and could be useful for other countries that are framing their own regulations for tech companies.
It’s time to rein in Big Tech. And we can’t do it with a law that only nibbles around the edges of the problem. Piecemeal efforts to stop abusive and dangerous practices have failed. Congress is too slow, it lacks the tech expertise, and the army of Big Tech lobbyists can pick…
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 27, 2023
What does the bill propose?
According to the press release shared by Elizabeth Warren, the bill provides a framework for the following:
1. Establishment of Digital Consumer Protection Commission: The proposed Digital Consumer Protection Commission will be “an independent, bipartisan regulator charged with policing the biggest tech platforms, like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, to protect consumers, promote competition, secure Americans’ privacy, guard national security, and prevent harm online.” It will consist of five commissioners appointed by the US President for five-year terms. The Commission will have the power to carry out investigations of misconduct, impose penalties, prescribe rules, etc.
2. Licensing of dominant platforms: The bill requires dominant platforms to be licensed and allows the Digital Consumer Protection Commission to revoke licenses of companies that engage in repeated and egregious violations of the act, including anti-competitive and anti-consumer conduct. The definition of “dominant platforms” will be based on factors such as revenue, user base, ownership and control, etc.
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3. Measures to increase transparency: Dominant platforms must:
- Publish clear terms of service and content moderation criteria.
- Provide timely notices and appeal options when restricting user access to content or failing to remove or block prohibited material.
- Establish a process for user’s right to appeal when platforms violate their terms of service, “including their content moderation policies, such as by failing to remove CSAM (child sexual abuse material) and other harmful material.”
- Establish user-friendly and prompt appeals processes.
4. Measures to address competition concerns:
- Dominant platforms cannot engage in practices like “self-preferencing, tying arrangements, pre-dispute arbitration agreements and class-action waivers, non-compete agreements, and no-poach agreements.”
- The Commission has the power to authorize prospective mergers as well as retrospectively review past Big Tech mergers and order breaking up or divestiture of existing monopolies.
- Dominant platforms cannot maintain or create a platform conflict of interest like “Amazon’s owning its marketplace and competing on that platform.”
- Dominant platforms must provide transparent and accessible interfaces to users for data portability and to business users for interoperability.
5. Measures to ensure the privacy of users:
- Users have the right to access their personal data and to know when their personal data is collected and processed, as well as correct or request erasure of their personal data.
- Platforms can process personal data only if it is necessary for “contract performance, legal compliance, protection of vital interests, performance of a public task, or pursuit of legitimate interests” and the processing should be “limited to what is necessary for the articulated purpose.”
- Platforms must implement reasonable security measures and maintain a comprehensive information security program that protects personal data and in case of a breach, the Commission can impose penalties of up to 75 percent company’s revenue.
- All data processors must mitigate harms including self-harm, addictive behaviours, discrimination, physical harm, cyberbullying, harassment, CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material), and predatory, unfair or deceptive marketing practices.
- Platforms should limit targeted advertising based on users’ personal data.
- Dominant platforms cannot sell personal data to a data broker, except in accordance with other laws permitting such transfers and rules promulgated by the Commission.
6. Measures to ensure national security:
- Dominant platforms must be owned by US citizens or have a US subsidiary.
- Dominant platforms should limit the processing of data of US citizens in restricted countries.
- Dominant platforms must publicly identify any post generated by a non-human user (bot), as well as the country of origin of the post, and showcase this along with the content.
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