Sen. Marsha Blackburn: Big Tech sees YOU as the product – Here's what we can do about it

This morning, I instinctively reached for my phone to check the weather report.

My first cup of coffee paired nicely with a scroll through my Wall Street Journal news app, and I streamed a news program during my workout.

Before I got in the car (but after I used my navigation app to check the traffic) I paused and considered the scope of Big Tech’s influence over even the most mundane aspects of my life.

ARKANSAS AG EXPLAINS MASSIVE ANTITRUST PROBE OF GOOGLE: COMPANY HAS 'INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF POWER'

I’m sure you’ve shared the same thought. Perhaps it was a moment of clarity when YouTube inexplicably suggested you turn on location tracking, or when Facebook refused to clear its own notifications until you authorized access to your phone’s photo album or contact list.

More from Opinion

They’re just “suggestions,” of course, but the level of persistence with which tech companies request unfettered control over customer data makes those asks feel like an explicit demand.

Depending on how closely you’re paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that only a handful of companies are doing the asking.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR OPINION NEWSLETTER

Two of those companies — Facebook and Google — are in hot water for engaging in potentially anticompetitive practices that up until now have ensured their advertising partners occupy prime real estate on your devices.

What started as a Department of Justice antitrust probe into Google’s online dominance (they’re set to control almost 40 percent of the digital ad market in 2019) has exploded into a collaborative investigation involving attorneys general representing 48 states including Tennessee, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

We have an opportunity right now to organically change the way Big Tech does business without impairing investigations of past wrongdoing. I’m sponsoring the BROWSER Act in the Senate in an effort to strike a workable balance between maintaining consumer privacy, and protecting online innovation.

Earlier this month, a smaller coalition of state AGs announced a separate investigation into Facebook’s possible antitrust violations. If you recall, this comes right on the heels of a precedent-setting $5 billion fine the social media giant paid to the Federal Trade Commission following repeated allegations of data mishandling and privacy violations.

This escalation in interest should feel familiar. In 1998, Microsoft found itself staring down the barrel of a similar regulatory cannon after 20 states joined the Justice Department in a lawsuit alleging predatory and anticompetitive behavior.

As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan Tech Task Force, I’ve watched Big Tech evolve and extend its reach into the average American's life. Today, we’re surrounded by screens and speakers and operating systems — everyone seems to want a “smart” home or office. Holding the entities that are placing devices in our homes accountable is just as important as ensuring transparency about what’s being done with the data those devices collect.

Technology touches our lives in intimate ways and makes us vulnerable to the unintended consequences of surrendering our “virtual you” to for-profit corporations. Recent data privacy scandals, coupled with these new probes, are proof that the industry is no longer capable of regulating itself.

From a regulatory perspective, Big Tech is not special; but it is different. Protecting consumers from Silicon Valley’s bad behavior will take more than one sweeping antitrust investigation. Think about it: 20 attorneys general participated in the 1998 Microsoft probe; the 2019 equivalent attracted the attention of almost every AG in the nation.

The American people have voiced their concern — and you can bet that it wasn’t the prospect of an antitrust sting that prompted the average Tennessean to pick up the phone and reach out to me, and my offices, and other lawmakers across the country.

We have an opportunity right now to organically change the way Big Tech does business without impairing investigations of past wrongdoing. I’m sponsoring the BROWSER Act in the Senate in an effort to strike a workable balance between maintaining consumer privacy, and protecting online innovation.

Changing privacy practices will inevitably change the way these companies do business—and could even shake up the market. It won’t solve every point of contention in what’s sure to be a protracted investigation into Silicon Valley’s back offices, but it’s a great place to start.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

These are important steps to take, because in today’s environment, when you are online, you are the product. Unfortunately for tech companies, online consumers harbor higher expectations; they enjoy the convenience but they expect to be able to protect their privacy.

The attorneys general are correct to protect the citizens they represent, and the Senate is correct in addressing these violations. Protecting your right to privacy in the 21st century requires that we hold Big Tech accountable.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN