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Take on Big Tech: Solutions in Brief

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Personal data is more valuable than it has ever been, and data privacy has never been a more pressing issue. In 2018 there were over 1,200 data breaches in the United States; those breaches exposed over 400 million records of sensitive personally identifiable information. Yet the United States has no national legal framework governing how data can be collected and used, or what security standards must be enacted to protect it.

Today, the New Center released a policy paper entitled “Take on Big Tech: Protecting Privacy and Public Discourse,” which features several recommendations to achieve these goals.

Alongside concerns about data privacy are questions about the effects that big tech platform companies are having on our public discourse. As the primary news source for tens of millions of Americans, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are increasingly shaping how we think. Yet they face no accountability for their content moderation practices which, though well-intended, can unintentionally censor legitimate speech and provide insufficient transparency about what is or isn’t an acceptable form of expression.

We’ve allowed private companies tremendous influence over our privacy and public discourse, but Washington and the tech industry have yet to settle on a sustainable or sensible framework for how to manage these concerns. This needs to change. The New Center proposes:

Federal Legislation to Protect Online Privacy

  • A “right to be removed” online. Americans should have the option to remove their personal data from an online platform’s database, just as consumers once had the option to have their phone number removed from the local phone book.
  • Opt-out mechanisms for data sales and third-party data use. Customers should have the option to withdraw consent and prevent internet companies from selling their information or using it for targeted advertising.
  • Data collection disclosure. Internet companies should be required to explicitly disclose to consumers information about the types of personal data they collect, how they use that data, and the types of third parties with whom they may share the data.
  • A right to request all personal data collected by tech companies. A company should be required to provide the requested information via a file download.
  • Prompt data breach notifications. Internet companies should be required to notify all affected consumers in the case of a data breach within 72 hours.

A Federal Privacy Watchdog with Teeth

If Congress passes a nationwide data privacy bill, we will need a federal commission that can actually enforce it. This could be done in one of two ways. Congress could remove the restrictions in place on the FTC and restore its rulemaking abilities under the Administrative Procedure Act, and the FTC could reorient itself to prioritize its oversight of the tech industry. Alternatively, a new Federal Data Privacy Commission singularly focused on privacy could take the mantle from the FTC.

Moving Toward Real Transparency

At a minimum, the next president should make clear he or she expects large tech companies to agree upon and adhere to common standards that establish a clear, standardized process for reviewing and removing material from online platforms. These standards should include meaningful notice for removed content, a clear system of appeals, regular reports made available to the public, and compensation for people who have content unjustifiably removed.

Make AI Accountable

Tech companies necessarily use artificial intelligence (AI) to screen the reams of content that exist and are created across their platforms. However, the use of AI should require a set of standards that include legal responsibility for the operator, liability for consumer inquiry, transparency in their use, and fines for not promptly fixing faulty AI systems.

The Restoration of the Office of Technology Assessment 

Once, Congress had a resource for objective analysis on pressing matters raised by new technologies, the Office of Technology Assessment. The OTA was shuttered in 1995, right before the advent of the modern internet. It needs to be brought back, and the next president should include it in their first budget request to Congress.

To download the full “Take on Big Tech: Protecting Privacy and Public Discourse” policy paper, click here.