An “eraser button”? Targeted ideas could help curb Big Tech

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Breaking Big Tech? How about lowering the shield of tech companies from liability in cases where the content they deliver to users causes damage? Or create a new regulator to strictly supervise the industry?

The ideas gained official attention in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia as controversy enveloped Facebook – which renamed itself Meta on Thursday – Google, Amazon and other giants. The revelations of deep-rooted issues revealed by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, supported by a wealth of internal company documents, have given momentum to legislative and regulatory efforts.

But while regulators are still considering major measures such as dismantling certain companies or limiting their acquisitions, the more realistic changes may be more tangible and less ambitious. And also the kind of thing that people might actually see appear in their social feeds.

Lawmakers are therefore getting creative in introducing a multitude of bills intended to take down Big Tech. A bill proposes an “eraser button” that would allow parents to instantly delete all personal information collected from their children or adolescents. Another proposal prohibits features specific to children under 16, such as automatic video playback, push alerts, “like” buttons and number of followers. A ban on collecting personal data from anyone between the ages of 13 and 15 without their consent is also being launched. And a new digital “bill of rights” for minors that would similarly limit the collection of personal data from adolescents.

For online users of all ages, personal data is of the utmost importance. It is at the heart of the lucrative business model of social platforms: collecting data from their users and using it to sell personalized ads aimed at identifying specific groups of consumers. Data is the financial lifeblood of a $ 1,000 billion social media giant like Facebook. Uh, Meta. Ad sales generate almost all of its revenue, which reached around $ 86 billion last year.

This means that proposed legislation targeting personal data collected from young people could affect the bottom line of social media companies. Executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat offered in-principle approvals at a Congressional hearing on child safety on Tuesday, but did not pledge to support the legislation already proposed. Instead, they offered a lobbyist speech in Washington, saying they were eager to work with Congress on the issue. Translation: They want to influence the proposals.

Senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., And Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Proposed the two bills that deal with protecting children online. They say they are hearing more and more stories of teens overdosing on opioids obtained online or dying by suicide when their depression or self-hatred was amplified by social media.

Of all of Haugen’s many condemnations of Facebook, his disclosure of internal company research showing that using the Instagram photo-sharing app appeared to harm some teens seems to have resonated the most with the public.

When it comes to children, Republican and Democratic lawmakers – desperately divided over perceived political biases and hate speech on social media – strongly agree that something needs to be done, and quickly. “One thing that unites Democrats and Republicans is ‘Won’t someone think about the children, please,'” said Gautam Hans, technology lawyer and free speech expert and professor. at Vanderbilt University. “It’s very salable on a bipartite basis. “

In the UK, efforts for stricter rules to protect social media users, especially younger ones, are more advanced. Members of the UK Parliament have asked Haugen for advice on how to improve UK online safety legislation. She appeared in London before a parliamentary committee on Monday, warning members that time is running out to regulate social media companies that use artificial intelligence to deliver “engaging” content to users.

The European Union’s privacy and competition regulators have been much more aggressive than their American counterparts in curbing the tech giants. They have imposed multibillion-dollar fines on some companies and passed sweeping new rules in recent years. The UK created a new regulator for Facebook and Google this spring.

U.S. regulators didn’t step up a gear until 2019, when the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $ 5 billion and YouTube $ 170 million in separate cases for alleged privacy violations. . Late last year, the US Department of Justice and a number of states filed landmark antitrust lawsuits against Google for dominating the online search market. The FTC and several states have filed a parallel antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, accusing it of abusing its market power to crush smaller competitors.

Beyond child protection measures, US lawmakers on both sides have launched a slew of proposals designed to crack down on social media; target the anti-competitive practices of large technology companies, possibly ordering break-ups; and to access algorithms deployed by technology platforms to determine what appears in user flows.

All of these proposals face a heavy burden towards final promulgation.

The Malicious Algorithm Justice Act, for example, was introduced by senior House Democrats about a week after Haugen testified about how social media algorithms push extreme content towards users and ignite anger to stimulate user “engagement”. The bill would hold social media companies accountable by removing their liability protection, known as Section 230, for personalized recommendations to users deemed to cause harm.

Some experts who support tighter social media regulation say the legislation could have unintended consequences. They suggest that it does not spell out enough what specific algorithmic behaviors would result in the loss of liability protection, making it difficult to see how it would work in practice and leading to wide disagreement on what it could actually do.

For example, Paul Barrett, who teaches a seminar in law, economics and journalism at New York University, calls the bill “very radical” in a way its authors might not understand, and suggests that he could destroy the liability shield almost entirely. But Jared Schroeder, a First Amendment scholar at Southern Methodist University, said that while “there is a noble purpose” behind the bill, constitutional guarantees of free speech would likely hamper any attempt to prosecute them. social media platforms.

A spokesperson for Meta, owner of the Facebook service, declined to comment on the legislative proposals on Friday. In a statement, the company said it has long advocated for updated regulations, but provided no details.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – do that, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg – suggested changes that would only give internet platforms legal protection if they can prove their systems for identifying illegal content are up to par. . This requirement, however, could be more difficult for small tech companies and startups to meet, leading critics to claim it would ultimately work in Facebook’s favor.


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