As a past associate deputy attorney general of the United States, I believe that Wednesday’s Senate hearing on Examining Safeguards for Consumer Data Privacy, while representing a step in the right direction, missed the mark.
Consumers feel lost and powerless. Their most personal information is being mined to create the most profitable and powerful companies in human history.
Some of that information has been lost or stolen. On Friday, for example, Facebook announced that the personal information of nearly 50 million users has been exposed in an attack on its computer network.
Adding insult to injury, these corporate behemoths are seemingly undertaking efforts to suppress views that they disagree with.
Faced with the looming threat of legislative action from Congress, the companies' testimonies embraced the inevitable and they even seemed to see the hearing as an opportunity to increase their market share and influence.
After all, there’s a reason why earlier this year Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said that “I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” and added that “a lot of times regulation puts in place rules that a large company like ours can easily comply with but that small start-ups can’t.”
Indeed, it does.
In today’s political climate with the tech behemoths, perhaps the best example of successful Justice Department behavioral remedies are the ones that were created over 70 years ago to reduce the power of Big Hollywood, now one of the most significant enemies of the Trump administration.
And yet, most of the senators at Wednesday’s hearing seemed all too intent on supporting half-measures that will solidify Big Tech’s stranglehold over the marketplace. This is allowing the continuation of what appears to be the social media status quo that artificially bolsters the Democratic Party’s agenda by suppressing conservative thought in the modern-day public square.
Sen. Debra Fischer, R-Neb., asked what can be done to ensure Congress' proposed laws do not harm smaller competitors. However, all she received in response were deflections and indirect answers – likely because there is no safe response to this meaningful question.
As contended by former Federal Trade Commissioner Pamela Harbour, the holding of private data helps these companies expand upon their market power.
And so, the congressional bills discussed that would “give consumers more control over their private data” won’t unleash the seemingly suppressed right-leaning views on the Internet today. This is because the anti-conservative Big Tech companies in question will still be the ones possessing that user information, growing in dominance and influence because of it.
Rather than solidify the market power of the corporate giants, a better solution that gets to the root of the Big Tech power problem is for the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to mandate formal behavioral remedies that are specific to the bad actors in question. This would prevent the companies from continuing to artificially increase in size and scope while discriminating based on political views.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to understand the need for such guardrails. He conducted a meeting Tuesday with 14 attorneys general offices to discuss whether tech companies are “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas.”
Historically, Justice Department action has proven successful in reining in the abuses of cases resembling that of Big Tech today. When I worked in the Reagan administration, the Justice Department rightfully agreed to an antitrust settlement agreement with the Bell Systems phone monopoly, which came about due to federal and state bureaucrats helping the company limit prospective competition.
But in today’s political climate with the tech behemoths, perhaps the best example of successful Justice Department behavioral remedies are the ones that were created over 70 years ago to reduce the power of Big Hollywood, now one of the most significant enemies of the Trump administration and conservative movement at large.
The Hollywood settlement agreements initially came about because the major movie studios made a habit of colluding to limit competition and raise consumer prices. Music publishers conspired to do the same by combining into ASCAP and BMI, two organizations that together control almost 100 percent of music’s public performance copyrights.
Because of active Justice Department policing and enforcement of the settlements that were ultimately agreed to, such as when it recently settled a civil contempt complaint against ASCAP for violating the terms, consumers and businesses alike have been protected from discrimination and other forms of predatory behavior. As a result, there are now fairer playing fields in the entertainment industry with more competition and less roadblocks to upstarts’ success.
If the negative behaviors of Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the rest of Big Tech are to be curtailed, the Trump Justice Department must follow a similar anti-trust approach with this conservative adversary. It can’t allow members of Congress to run the show by implementing new regulatory regimes that incite unintended consequences, helping no one more than the tech behemoths themselves.
Here’s hoping that the Trump Justice Department continues its current trajectory by following through with what it seems to be its gut Reaganesque inclinations. The conservatives that are being bullied into silence in the digital age’s public square, as well as the aspiring competitors that wish to check Big Tech’s market dominance, depend on it.