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Videos Big Tech and the Starfish Problem: Why Antitrust Alone Won’t Save Us

July 2, 2019 Array

Our June 26th event in San Francisco. Learn more at publicknowledge.org/StarfishProblemEvent.

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There’s nothing wrong with saying that you “own” data. Public Knowledge has supported data ownership as a colloquialism that reflects an intuition: Data about us provides information regarding the intimacies of our very identity and existence. Speaking in this way, we should certainly “own” or have control over that data to protect our fundamental right to privacy.

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This week, Congressman Pascrell (D-NJ), Congressman Pallone (D-NJ), and Senator Blumenthal reintroduced the BOSS Act in a renewed attempt to bring transparency and fair practices to the online market for event tickets. Public Knowledge applauds the Act, which looks to end the worst abuses of the consolidated ticket sale/resale market while maintaining an individual ticket holder’s right to do what they want with the ticket they purchased.

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Many conservatives feel that major online platforms discriminate against them. But their proposed policy solutions, which usually involve modifications to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, cannot have the effect that they want. However, policies adapted from traditional media policy might help ensure that users of all political viewpoints have the ability to freely communicate online.

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Today marks the one year anniversary that the repeal of net neutrality, led by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, went into effect. We’re reflecting on what has happened in the past year, and urging the U.S. Senate to step up and pass the Save the Internet Act to restore strong net neutrality consumer protections and enshrined them in statute.

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In 2011, Public Knowledge fought hard against the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, until it was finally called off just nine months after its announcement. The merger, which would have led to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, faced tremendous opposition. Today, we see many of the same industry talking points for the T-Mobile/Sprint proposed merger: false claims about deployment of next-generation networks, market concentration, pricing, and rural broadband access. So we were glad to see that the Yale School of Management added a section on the AT&T/T-Mobile proposed merger as a case study to its Antitrust Enforcement Data project. The project, featuring a wide range of data, serves as a resource for information and economic analyses on antitrust enforcement.

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The previous post was about what Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does, and why it does it. One theme is that Section 230 is a very broad and powerful statute. But the law can change, and given that digital platforms have a very different role in society and the economy now than they did in 1996, when the law was passed, maybe it should. This post will list some proposals that I am not necessarily endorsing, but which may be worth considering. But before that, it’s also important to realize that Section 230 has limits even under the law today.

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Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes internet platforms from any liability as a publisher or speaker for third-party content -- and is one of the most important and wide-reaching laws that affect the internet. With the increased attention on online platforms in the past few years, it has become one of the most controversial. It’s also widely misunderstood, or misconstrued, both by its supporters and detractors. Much of the discourse around this law has focused on two extremes -- on the one hand, from those who want to defend it at any cost and view it as a general charter against platform regulation, and on the other hand, from those who simply want to repeal it without realizing what the consequences of this could be. At the same time, both the press and politicians tend to either overstate or misunderstand what 230 does.

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A late 1970’s television commercial for stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton closed with the tagline, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” On technology-related policy matters in the 21st century, when Harold Feld talks, people listen. We now have the advantage of Harold’s speaking between two covers. The volume you hold in your hands is a tour de force of the issues raised by the digital economy and internet capitalism. Whether you agree or disagree with Harold, these thoughts will stretch your intellect and stimulate your thinking.

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Misinformation -- how it develops, how it spreads, and why people believe it -- is an unavoidable topic in current information policy debates. And though headlines have largely focused on the high-profile impacts of misinformation on everything from public health to voting behaviors and technological literacy, there’s another, more important question at stake: How do we combat it when it emerges?

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