Big Tech: Public Discourse and Privacy

By Julia Baumel and Zane Heflin — November 25, 2018

The vast reach of America's leading technology companies has given them tremendous influence over our public discourse and privacy, and it's time for Washington and the tech industry to settle on a sustainable and sensible framework for how to manage these concerns.


Our Solutions In Brief

1. Toward Real Transparency

Large tech companies claim they are being more transparent about how they handle your data and decide which content can exist on their platforms, but often they just provide the illusion of compliance: with long, impenetrable terms of service or standards that no one reads. At a minimum, large tech companies should agree upon and adhere to common standards that establish a clear, standardized process for reviewing and removing material from online platforms.

2. Federal Legislation to Protect Online Privacy

Large tech companies have every incentive to collect as much personal data as possible from their consumers. Comprehensive federal privacy legislation should be enacted to give consumers more control over their personal data, and it should include: a “right to be forgotten” online; opt-out mechanisms for data sales and third party data use; data collection disclosure; a right to request all personal data collected by tech companies; and prompt data breach notifications.

3. Algorithmic Accountability

Tech companies necessarily use artificial intelligence (AI) to screen the reams of content that exist and are created across their platforms. However, these AI systems are black boxes. Consumers don’t understand how or why decisions are made, and the AI’s decisions are often wrong. We need real standards to make AI—and the companies behind it—accountable.

4. Congress Needs to Get Smart on Tech

Recent congressional hearings featuring tech company executives have revealed that too many members of Congress don’t appear to understand how big tech companies operate or the scope and scale of the problems they present. 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.

5. Platform Companies Need to Act like Platform Companies

If large tech companies like Facebook and Google are indeed the platform companies they claim to be and not publishers, they need to act like it. That means that in deciding what can exist on their platforms, they should hew closely to the First Amendment as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court: speech should be free unless it incites violence or promotes dangerous obscenity.

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Facts At-A-Glance

  • 2.23 Billion +

    Monthly Active Facebook Users

  • 700 Million +

    iPhone users as of 2017

  • 100 Million +

    Amazon Prime members

  • 90%

    of internet search is controlled by Google

  • 1.14 Billion +

    Microsoft Windows operating system users

  • 67%

    of U.S. adults get news from social media

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