White House Creates Guiding Principles For Big Tech Platforms



The White House held a “Listening Session On Tech Platform Accountability”. A varied group of people were invited, including Assistants to the President of various parts of the federal government, some people involved in civil rights causes, Chief Executive Officer of Sonos, Patrick Spence, and Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Corporation and Chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation.

The listening session resulted in a list of six “Principles for Enhancing Competition and Tech Platform Accountability”:

Promote competition in the technology sector. The American information technology sector has long been an engine of innovation and growth, and the U.S. has led the world in development of the Internet economy. Today, however, a small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants, to engage in rent-seeking, and to gather intimate personal information that they can use for their own advantage.

We need clear rules of the road to ensure small and mid-size businesses and entrepreneurs can compete on a level playing field, which will promote innovation for American consumers and ensure continued U.S. leadership in global technology. We are encouraged to see bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to address the power of tech platforms through antitrust legislation.

Provide robust federal protections for Americans’ privacy: There should be clear limits on the ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain our personal data, including limits on targeted advertising. These limits should put the burden on platforms to minimize how much information they collect, rather than burdening Americans with reading fine print. We especially need strong protections for particularly sensitive data such as geolocation and health information, including information related to reproductive health. We are encouraged to see bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to protect privacy.

Protect our kids by putting in place even stronger privacy and online protections for them, including prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services. Children, adolescents, and teens are especially vulnerable to harm. Platforms and other interactive digital service providers should be required to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of young people above profit and revenue in their product design, including by restricting excessive data collection and targeted advertising to young people.

Remove special legal protections for large tech platforms. Tech platforms currently have special legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that broadly shield them from liability even when they host or disseminate illegal, violent conduct, or materials. The President has long called for fundamental reforms to Section 230.

Increase transparency about platform’s algorithms and content moderation decisions. Despite their central role in American life, tech platforms are notoriously opaque. Their decisions about what content to display to a given user and when and how to remove content from their sites affect Americans’ lives and and American society in profound ways. However, platforms are failing to provide sufficient transparency to allow the public and researchers to understand how and why such decisions are made, their potential effects on users, and the very real dangers these decisions may pose.

Stop discriminatory algorithmic decision-making. We need strong protections to ensure algorithms do not discriminate against protected groups, such as by failing to share key opportunities equally, by discriminatorily exposing vulnerable communities to risky products, or through persistent surveillance.

The part that I think it going to upset the big social media companies the most is the bit about Section 230. Investopedia describes it as: “a provision of federal law that protects internet web hosts and users from legal liability for online information provided by third parties. In addition, the law protects web hosts from liability for voluntarily and in good faith editing or restricting access to objectionable material, even if the material is constitutionally protected.”

It is unclear to me if President Biden is interested in having Congress make legislation of the “six principals” – or if he will sign it. What I’m certain of is that this is likely going to make a whole lot of people talk about Section 230 on social media.


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