Americans Deserve ‘Full Accounting’ From Big Tech CEOs on Their Practices
By Jeff Benson
Nearly two weeks ago, The New York Post published what it deemed a bombshell story allegedly linking Hunter Biden to a Ukrainian-influence campaign on his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Many social media users didn’t hear about it until later.
Twitter blocked the article for purportedly breaching its privacy policies, while Facebook slowed down dissemination so the report could be fact-checked.
The incident put further strain on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives online publishers broad discretion to moderate content submitted by users.
“It is conceivable that Big Tech is using the personal information of its users to customize content in order to push the platform’s desired narratives on political, social, cultural or economic issues.”
But it also put an already-scheduled Senate Commerce Committee hearing — on this exact issue — into the spotlight.
Earlier this month, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, had pushed for subpoenas of three Big Tech CEOs to testify on the question “Does Section 230’s Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and Google-YouTube head Sundar Pichai all will testify at Wednesday’s hearing.
Wicker last month also introduced the Safe Data Act with three fellow Republicans — Sens. John Thune, S.D.; Deb Fischer, Neb., and Marsha Blackburn, Tenn.
The bill seeks to provide more consumer choice and control over their data and hold companies accountable for their data practices.
Wicker told Digital Privacy News by email that Wednesday’s Big Tech hearing was necessary so Americans could hear directly from CEOs about their privacy and other practices.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Birthplace: Pontotoc, Miss.
Education: University of Mississippi (B.A., J.D.).
First Elected to Senate: 2006.
Key Committees: Commerce, Science and Transportation (chair); Armed Services, Environment and Public Works.
U.S. House Service: 1994-2006.
Personal: Married, three children.
Legislatively, what are your main concerns with Big Tech?
I am concerned that Big Tech is using the liability shield provided under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to censor and suppress political speech selectively on their platforms.
I am also concerned that Big Tech companies are misusing consumers’ data or engaging in data-collection and processing practices that are unknown or unwanted by consumers.
What privacy issues relate to the content-moderation rules outlined in Section 230?
The data-privacy and content-moderation policy issues before the Commerce Committee stem from a lack of transparency about the data-collection and processing practices of Big Tech.
“Americans deserve a federal privacy law that provides strong and meaningful data protections for users and holds businesses accountable for their misuse of consumers’ data.”
It is conceivable that Big Tech is using the personal information of its users to customize content in order to push the platform’s desired narratives on political, social, cultural or economic issues.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai went before a House Judiciary subcommittee in July to discuss antitrust efforts. How do you see antitrust laws being applied, or adapted, to these platforms?
The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over antitrust laws.
As such, it is currently exploring whether and how to apply antitrust laws to Big Tech companies — and rightly so.
This is a discussion Congress should have.
As chairman of the Commerce Committee, I am focused on reforming Section 230, which is squarely within our jurisdiction.
What are your views on digital privacy? How have you voted to protect personal privacy?
Americans deserve a federal privacy law that provides strong and meaningful data protections for users and holds businesses accountable for their misuse of consumers’ data.
I recently introduced the Safe Data Act with Sens. Thune, Blackburn and Fischer — which would give consumers more control over their data and strengthen the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to take action against bad actors in the marketplace.
I look forward to advancing my bill through the legislative process.
You recently chaired a committee hearing called “Revisiting the Need for Federal Privacy Legislation.” What did you take away from that?
There is no time to delay enacting federal data privacy legislation into law.
The Safe Data Act strikes the right balance in terms of establishing strong and meaningful protections for consumers and creating clear, workable rules for businesses.
“There is no time to delay enacting federal data privacy legislation into law.”
I hope Democrats will come back to the table to get federal data-privacy legislation enacted into law.
What’s the solution — either from government, the free market, or by other means — for maintaining Americans’ online privacy, when Google and Facebook control so much information?
When it comes to consumer choice, innovation, investment and job-creation, the U.S. internet economy has greatly benefited from a light-touch regulatory framework.
“When it comes to consumer choice, innovation, investment and job-creation, the U.S. internet economy has greatly benefited from a light-touch regulatory framework.”
A light-touch regulatory framework traditionally provides strong protections for consumers, clear rules for businesses, and meaningful enforcement authorities to regulators.
This same approach can be applied to maintaining Americans’ online privacy.
Finally, the Big Tech hearing is scheduled a week before the election and in the midst of a Supreme Court nomination process. Why is now the right time to deal with this?
I have been working on Section 230 reform and data-privacy legislation for the last two years.
These are matters of tremendous economic, social and electoral significance.
“It is imperative that the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content-moderation and data-privacy practices.”
After declining to come before the committee earlier this Congress, on the eve of a momentous and highly-charged election, it is imperative that the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content-moderation and data-privacy practices.
Jeff Benson is a Nevada writer.
Sources (external links):
- New York Post: Smoking-gun Email Reveals How Hunter Biden Introduced Ukrainian Businessman to VP Dad
- The Wall Street Journal: Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Pichai to Testify on Content Policies
- The Washington Post: Facebook and Twitter Take Unusual Steps to Limit Spread of New York Post Story