Silicon Valley’s ability to operate without the confinements of the government’s regulations seems to be ending. Technology executives have been questioned at several hearings throughout 2019, with federal regulators instilling record fines of firms in the area. The lawmakers have declared action throughout 2020 on several issues including online privacy, competition, and bias as well as encryption.
American technology organizations including Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple are preparing for higher levels of federal scrutiny with Rep. Zoe Lofgren commenting that “as the internet companies matured without a lot of regulation, some issues have emerged where attention is needed.”
Lofgren, a Democrat who has been representing Silicon Valley since 1994 and introduced an online privacy bill, also acknowledged that she believes it is “fair enough to examine what kind of rules should be set in certain elements of the tech economy.”
It seems that Washington has been captivated not only with those in the technology industry, but also the companies that have increased economic growth. Not only did Washington seem to appreciate being connected with such a youthful and growing market, they also utilized them by creating new tools so they could reach their voters which in turn was essential for the political campaigning we have seen in recent years.
However, the public are starting to react negatively to the way these companies are using their personal data and the government are threatening sanctions including fines when an organization violates their users’ privacy or if they attempt to curb their competition.
In the last year the Federal Trade Commission issued fines worth a staggering $5 billion to Facebook due to them “deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information.” But Facebook were not the only company to be fined, with Google receiving a $170 million fine after they violated children’s privacy on YouTube, a company that Google also owns.
However, Americans could actually gain more control regarding their own online data, which would reduce the ability for companies to collect their information, with specified laws; including the ones that Lofgren has proposed. These laws would put limits on what companies can and cannot do with users data, and reduce the amount of advertising they can sell; specifically targeted advertising which currently keeps the internet free.
Both Republicans and Democrats have slammed the idea of “Big Tech” and it seems that the pressure will continue to increase throughout the next twelve months.
President and chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group – who represents the majority of the technology firms in the area – Carl Guardino commented:
“Whenever the word ‘Big’ is placed before your industry, it’s not a good thing. It’s now ‘Big Tech’ and you know it’s not used as a term of endearment.”
It’s not just American users of the technology that can see issues, foreign users do too. Washington is currently threatening to disband large companies, such as Facebook, and Elizabeth Warren – a Democratic Party presidential candidate – is allegedly putting together a bill that would see the country’s rules regarding competition and antitrust become stricter.
There are also talks that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether they can stop further amalgamation of Instagram and Whatsapp by Facebook with the theory that if they can stop it now, they will be stopping the potential requirement to dismantle a social network giant in the future.
The potential dangers of the workings of the technology companies seem to have finally been seen by Washington and they have decided to make sure they stay in control of commerce and communications.
Open Markets Institute deals with antitrust issues and their director of enforcement strategy, Sally Hubbard, commented:
“The traction has definitely really intensified over the last year. There’s also just a growing awareness that these companies are causing a wide range of harms, whether it’s harms to our democracy, harms to innovation, harms to entrepreneurship. They are playing the game and controlling it, too.”
However, concern has been growing over the role China appears to be playing in advanced global communications, with many questioning if a country which is seen as authoritarian, can actually be trusted with our data. The American government has already warned other countries to stop working with Chinese companies, specifically the telecommunications leaders Huawei, who has seen their equipment being used to create 5G networks throughout the world.
It seems that these rules could be what is needed to ensure the safety of the people who currently go online. With 4.3 billion people around the world – and a further 900,000 joining the online community each day – it is important that Washington get this issue right as their new laws could not only determine the future of ‘Big Tech’ but also the future of the way we use online communication altogether.