“There is no doubt that the exponential growth of BIG Tech stokes the fears of the government and citizens alike when confronted with concentrated power.”
Capitol Hill seems to be raging on the issue of regulation and oversight on Silicon Valley. Until very recently, Big Tech was a bi-partisan darling. Congress was able to defer, or at least draw guidance on many big policy issues from these companies, such as encryption and authentications standards.
Then both sides of the aisle started having reasons to resent the industry.
While Democrats blame Facebook and other social media giants for allowing “fake-news” during the election and Russian engineered adds in support of Trump and defacing Hillary, Republicans have been complaining about search engine companies and media platforms such as YouTube of being biased against conservative political voices.
What might policy members do about all this?
There’s a number of ideas floating around. Not long ago there was talk in the administration of treating major internet companies as public utilities, a drastic move that would seriously curb the control that these companies had on their own services.
On the side of the Democrats, party leaders have been discussing the possibility of taking into account a company’s dealings with personal data as a factor that could prevent mergers via antitrust laws. Such a policy could prevent future unions similar to the Google-YouTube tie-up.
There are other considerations as well, such as those tied to national security. Enemies of the United States are able to harness the tools available on the internet to their advantage if providers turn a blind eye. Twitter for instance, provides an invaluable platform for Islamic extremists to spew hate and propaganda and even plan operations. Although the company claims it has buckled down on extremists’ use of the platform, social media as a tool of terror remains a real problem, arguably the single biggest threat of militant Islam to national security.
There is no doubt that the exponential growth of BIG Tech stokes the fears of the government and citizens alike when confronted with concentrated power. Policymakers may be able to capitalize on that fear when trying to gather support for implementing new policies to curb that power.
Interestingly, all of this is happening while internet giant Google is in the midst of trying to fend off one of the biggest fines ever laid on a tech company: a $2.7 billion fine for allegedly using its search engine to filter out competition and divert users to its own services. The company has since appealed the fine, and adamantly claims that its search algorithms are fair and balanced.
Is there anything to support Google’s claims of innocence?
The truth is, it may not matter. The very fact that such a thing is even possible, namely that a giant company is able to actively skew the market in its favor using its near monopoly on internet searches, may be damning enough in the eyes of lawmakers and relevant officials.
This may very well be the beginning of a new trend of using policy to keep Big Tech in line.