Regulating Tech Companies2 min read

The subject of regulating tech companies has been a sustained topic in mainstream media over the last several years. The topic gained and continued its momentum stemming from several incidents. Here are some of the recent incidents that have increased political awareness:

  • The use of consumer and demographic data collected from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica to help then-candidate Trump during the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Russian interference in the 2016 election which included a coordinated effort involving computer hacks, leaks, and social media disinformation campaigns. While U.S. officials have confirmed the interference, they have not been able to definitively state whether that information did or did not persuade voters.
  • In 2018, several tech executives were summoned to Washington, DC including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify on a variety of tech-related topics.
  • In December 2018, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai spent three and a half hours testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee in what has been characterized as “shallow questions from lawmakers about political bias.”

Even with media coverage of the hearings calling Congress befuddled as to how Google, iPhones and search engines work, there does seem to be more acceptance for steps to be taken to start regulating some of the tech companies.

After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases, it is critical that Congress step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or whether we need new legislation to respond to this challenge.   —  David Cicilline, (D-R.I.)

As America’s are divided over whether or not the government should regulate big tech firms, some tech companies have shown recent signs of change.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently said the company will no longer accept advertisements for political campaigns and will not accept payments for promoted tweets on topics such as immigration, health care, national security, and climate change.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said he will not stop political ads on Facebook, even completely false ads, but did say he might make changes to how their microtargeting works.

Given the increased political awareness following the 2016 election, we should expect the rhetoric and momentum for change to intensify over the next year leading up to the next U.S. Presidential election.

It would behoove the tech companies to follow the lead of Twitter and start making self-imposed changes or risk the U.S. government doing it for them.


Photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg available here under Creative Commons license.