On Friday, I was heartened to see Senator Elizabeth Warren enter the digital platform competition debate in a big way. Her proposal has already generated a ton of great conversation about how digital platforms ought to be regulated. The agenda-setting role of presidential candidates is significant, and I’m so glad this important topic is on the agenda now. The proposal includes more wonky detail than many campaign proposals, though of course, it is not fully drafted legislation. I want to take this opportunity to discuss the proposal in depth and think about how policymakers can move forward from here. Congress should start now on providing the additional analysis that is generally needed before any specific action is taken.
Today, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced a proposal to promote competition by making “big, structural changes to the tech sector -- including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.” Public Knowledge commends Sen. Warren for showing a serious commitment to addressing the competition concerns we see in digital platforms, and her recognition that structural regulation is crucial to promoting competition, innovation, and economic freedom on the internet.
Recently, Microsoft announced that NewsGuard, a service that has helped over 500 news sites improve their reporting and journalism methods and employs professional journalists to create consumer-friendly ratings of the trustworthiness of news sites, will be available by design, but not by default, in its Edge browser for iOS and Android. Although NewsGuard has been available as an extension for the desktop version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge for some time already, we believe that Microsoft’s latest move is a positive step in the increasingly important mobile news market.
It seems almost every week there are new revelations about Facebook’s data use and sharing policies. The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating Facebook for a potential consent decree violation related to the release of user data to Cambridge Analytica. The new allegations of data misuse in the New York Times this week may also be a violation of the consent decree. They are at least worthy of FTC investigation. And the cache of previously sealed litigation documents published by a British Member of Parliament earlier this month seem to indicate that Facebook may have been strategically withholding this valuable data from “strategic competitors” such as upstart Vine. Taken together, the two stories paint a frightening picture. Was Facebook granting access to private user data to cement its market position, offering it up to the powerful and wielding it as a cudgel against potential competitors? At the close of the current investigation, the FTC should demand remedies that protect users’ privacy while encouraging competition on the Facebook platform and against Facebook itself.
The Federal Trade Commission is hosting a series of historic public hearings on the future of antitrust law that begin today. Gene Kimmelman, the President of Public Knowledge, is participating in the hearings. To continue these efforts to examine developments in competition throughout the economy, the FTC should launch two important studies to examine: 1) the impact of big data on platform power, and 2) the impact of consolidation on America’s workers. Americans are concerned about competition, but we don’t have the information we need in order to know whether it is stronger agency enforcement or possibly other policy tools that are needed to address these concerns.