U.S. lawmakers have announced two major new proposals to harness the power of big tech, days after revelations from a former Facebook employee highlighted the company’s massive impact.
The first bill, proposed by a group of senators led by Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Chuck Grassley, would ban major tech platforms from promoting their own products and services.
The second bill, introduced by House Democrats, would remove some protections afforded to tech companies by Section 230, part of the Communications Decency Act that exempts them from any liability for what is posted on their platforms.
The proposals are part of a series of bills from this Congress aimed at curbing tech companies, including industry leaders Facebook and Apple. So far, none have become law, although a broader measure to increase the resources of antitrust law enforcement officials has been passed by the Senate.
Klobuchar and Grassley’s bill would specifically prohibit platforms from requiring companies operating on their sites to purchase goods or services from the platform and prohibit them from skewing search results to favor the platform. This is a complementary bill to a measure that was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and must be passed by both Houses of Congress to become law.
The bill would address concerns that tech giants have become gatekeepers, prioritizing their own products, preventing competitors from entering markets, and imposing onerous fees and conditions on small businesses.
“As the dominant digital platforms – some of the biggest companies our world has ever seen – increasingly favor their own products and services, we need to put in place policies to ensure that small businesses and entrepreneurs still have the potential to be successful in the digital marketplace, “Klobuchar said in a statement.
The legislation comes as Congress increasingly works on a bipartisan basis to resolve antitrust issues in major tech. Traditionally, lawmakers have differed on their criticisms of the industry – Democrats claiming companies are monopolies and Republicans criticizing what they perceive to be anti-conservative bias on platforms.
“This bill is welcome proof that the momentum of Congress to tackle the monopoly power of big technology is rapidly gaining momentum on both sides of the aisle,” read a statement from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit organization fighting against corporate monopolies. “We agree with their view that tech giants cannot continue to abuse their power to the detriment of competition, innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Meanwhile, the debate around Section 230 – part of the Communications Decency Act that protects businesses from legal liability for content posted on their platforms – continued. Its impact has long been a hot topic but has become increasingly so under President Donald Trump.
The bill introduced Thursday by House Democrats would create an amendment to Section 230 that would hold companies accountable for custom algorithmic amplification of problematic content.
In other words, it’s just trying to “turn off” Facebook’s news algorithm, said Evan Greer, director of digital rights group Fight For the Future.
The law would only apply to large tech companies with 5,000,000 or more monthly users, but could still have negative consequences for companies large enough to qualify but still have fewer resources than Facebook. .
“Facebook would probably be able to survive this, but the smaller competitors wouldn’t,” Greer said. “This is why Facebook has repeatedly called for changes to Section 230 – they know this will only serve to strengthen their dominance and monopoly power.”
“This bill is well intentioned, but it is a total mess,” added Greer. “Democrats are playing Facebook’s game by offering adjustments to Section 230 instead of thoughtful policies that will actually reduce the damage caused by surveillance algorithms.”
Lawmakers “fail to understand how these policies will actually play out in the real world,” she added.
Earlier this year, more than 70 civil rights, LGBTQ +, sex worker and human rights organizations sent a letter warning lawmakers against changing Section 230.
Instead, they prefer an approach that involves overpowering Facebook and other platforms by attacking the data collection and surveillance practices that they rely on as a business model.
Instead, Democrats should “pass a privacy bill strong enough to kill Facebook’s surveillance business model while leaving the internet’s democratizing power intact,” said Greer.
Reuters contributed to this report