Both Democrats and Republicans have become wary of the sheer size of firms like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft in recent years. Democrats have focused more on what they see as anti-competitive tactics, abusive labor practices, and promotion of misinformation and violent extremism, while Republicans have mostly sought to prove said companies are run by members of a semi-secret socialist cabal. Either way, tech firms have found themselves in more hostile territory in DC, with a more limited array of allies. Some type of major legislation or regulatory response designed to limit the companies’ power now seems politically realistic (even if the U.S. government remains unwilling or unable to take dramatic actions like breaking tech firms up).
Representative David Cicilline, the chair of the judiciary committee, told Axios this weekend that he sees prepping numerous proposals on antitrust as a sort of drone swarm tactic that would overwhelm Big Tech’s political firewall by sheer numbers.
Cicilline told Axios that he believes the result of the committee’s work could be 10 or more small bills that he believes would increase the likelihood that individual components could pass—as individual propositions may have broader support from members of both parties—and that would be harder for lobbyists to unite against.
We’ll see, but I’m dubious.
It isn’t that we don’t have a problem with Big Tech, it’s that I don’t trust the Democrats to come up with a “fix” that doesn’t end up locking in advantages for their allies in Big Tech.
The case centers on Facebook’s use of features called “plug-ins” that third-parties often incorporate into their websites to track the browsing histories of users. Along with digital files called “cookies” that can help identify internet users, the plaintiffs accused Facebook of packaging this tracked data and selling it to advertisers for profit.
Facebook said it uses the data it receives to tailor the content it shows its users and to improve ads on its service.
A federal judge dismissed the case in 2017 but the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 revived it, allowing the Wiretap Act and state privacy claims to go ahead.
“Facebook’s user profiles would allegedly reveal an individual’s likes, dislikes, interests and habits over a significant amount of time, without affording users a meaningful opportunity to control or prevent the unauthorized exploration of their private lives,” the 9th Circuit said in its ruling.
Hiding from users that they’re the product is the core of Facebook’s business strategy.
h/t Stephen Green