As the world embraces a more collaborative way of working, with many companies moving their businesses online, the tech world is undergoing an intense scrutiny, with one question lingering on everyone’s mind – what will happen to Big Tech under a Biden-Harris administration – and while there are several speculations, one thing is certain: their favourite law – Section 230 – seems to be under imminent threat.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, introduced in 1996 by two US congressmen, Chris Cox (Republican, California) and Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon), often described as the foundation of modern Internet, it is the federal law which gives tech companies immunity, and protects platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc., from becoming liable for their users’ content if they choose to moderate it.
Flourishing under the 44th president Barack Obama, and enjoying decades free of major regulation, in the recent years, the tech industry and its growing power seem to have lost the support it once had in The White House, becoming a major issue during the 2020 United States presidential elections.
This is mainly attributed to privacy and antitrust issues, as well as the monopoly a few key players hold.
While president Donald Trump and president-elect Joe Biden do not agree on much, revoking Section 230 appears to be on both their agendas.
In august 2019 president Trump drafted an executive order which would require the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to create rules that would limit Section 230 shields. Critiques of the lawmaker’s proposals deemed the order as unrealistic.
On October 6, the House Judiciary Committee released a 449-page report written by Democrats, following a 16-months investigation into the antitrust issues, which was centred around the monopoly of the four major players in the tech field: Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple.
The report, which contained the word monopoly 120 times according to a BBC report, and which accused the US giants of charging high fees, forcing the start-ups companies the Section 230 was meant to protect, into unfavourable contracts, concluded:
“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog start-ups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them.”
Although the recommendations were not considered to be bi-partisan, there seems to be some common ground between the parties.
Republican congressman Jim Jordan rejected the report and said it enhanced “radical proposals that would refashion antitrust law in the vision of the far left.”
Republican Ken Buck has said he agrees with most of the findings: “Antitrust enforcement in Big Tech markets is not a partisan issue. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – I would rather see targeted antitrust enforcement over onerous and burdensome regulation that kills industry innovation.”
Bill Russo, the deputy press secretary of the US president-elect, had a series of tweets last week in which he attacked Facebook over its handling of disinformation during the US election. For some this is an indication on the approach a Biden administration would take.
While Conservatives view Section 230 as a matter of censorship and bias, Democrats are more concerned with tackling issues such as disinformation, intrusion, and monopoly.
Even if president Trump and president-elect Biden, both said they want Section 230 revoked, the underlying reasons are very different, and so will be the process in which it is going to be handled.
Experts say revoking Section 230 entirely seems improbable, but we will definitely see stricter regulations regarding data privacy and antitrust issues.
Over the past couple of years, tensions between Europe and the United States have increased exponentially, however since the EU Court of Justice invalidated the EU-US Data Protection Shield 2016/1250 in July 2020, there have been ongoing negotiations between the European Commission and the US.
A Biden-Harris administration could be aligned with the EU in their views of controlling Big Tech powers.