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Technology

Every Industry Should be Concerned about the News Cartels Meant to Bully Big Tech

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) was introduced in 2021 as a means of protecting local media outlets from becoming obsolete due to the competitive landscape shifting to the online realm. The JCPA claims that the playing field needs to be leveled for news outlets in need of viewers and compensation must be allotted for the content sharing occurring on digital platforms.

This bill, receiving serious consideration from the Senate, would grant broadcasters the ability to collectively collude on matters of revenue generation, sharing privileges, and link click-through access. Essentially, the JCPA will exempt select parties within the news industry from price fixing policies and antitrust penalties – all for the sake of socking it to Big Tech.

The passing of this legislation should be a primary concern for any business professional since it will not only create new forms of industry interference but also set a new precedent regarding antitrust application. And here is why: 

  • The JCPA is targeted since it only focuses on one sector with one bullseye – Big Tech. Historically antitrust policy has had a broad application, but if the JCPA passes, it opens the door for other firms to be specifically called out in the future on similar grounds.
  • The JCPA is preferential in that although antitrust cases are being brought forth against digital platforms, bands of broadcasters will be granted safe harbor from cases being brought against them. They would be absolved from adhering to existing antitrust laws.
  • The JCPA is ex post facto in that changes and charges are to be applied regarding content sharing and link clicking, which were previously free and freely accessible.

The basic premise is that it will “provide a temporary safe harbor for publishers of online content to collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms on which content may be distributed”.

So, first and foremost, we must ask what is meant by “temporary” given that nothing is ever short-lived when agencies and accolades are involved. According to the bill, news outlets with online content will not be held accountable for violations of antitrust law for a four-year term. But, even if those four years are truly locked in place, it is unlikely that any oversight committee, which will be required in this case, will easily disband when that timespan has lapsed – particularly once funding streams and authority status are established.

We must also ask why “safe harbor” should be granted to select firms. Protectionist measures via legislation are a waste of resources given that private actors have historically done a better job at curtailing or even catching bad behavior in a competitive market.

It was Sherron Watkins who exposed Enron, not the SEC, and it was Bernie Maddoff’s sons who turned him in, not federal agents. And just as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook unseated Tom Anderson’s Myspace as the social networking site of choice, someone else will come along and upend Meta’s dominance. That is how the market works over time. This leads to the third and final point: should “dominant online platforms” truly be a concern?

While some assert that cable TV simply can’t compete, and “newspapers are locked in a life-or-death struggle with tech giants” we must acknowledge that change is hard and you can’t stop progress. In 2010, the last full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica was printed, and it hasn’t been missed by consumers or even the company that produced them.

Microsoft’s Encarta made the purchase of printed text obsolete, and now Wikipedia makes Encarta CD-ROMs a thing of the past. And one could argue we have greater access and education at our fingertips for it. 

As conveyed by the deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, “It is up to media firms to discover innovative and effective methods of capturing digital audiences, not lobby governments to siphon money for them.”

Platforms vary in terms of function and service, and Big Tech is not impervious to natural forms of competition given the dynamic nature of market mechanisms and consumer needs. Take, for example, Netflix, which launched in 2007 and skyrocketed to success in 2013 with the release of its first series, House of Cards – coincidentally a storyline based on power struggles and corrupt cronies in Congress. By 2016, Netflix was being touted as monopolizing the streaming service sector and for a few years, the press readily called attention to its success as something to question and even fear.

In 2013, the term FANG stocks came about to represent industry giants with a stronghold in certain lucrative sectors and who could serve as the whipping boy for Big Business on Capitol Hill.  FANG included companies that we love to use but also love to loathe: Facebook (social media), Amazon (e-commerce), Netflix (streaming entertainment), and Google (search engine). 

Although we see these companies being under great scrutiny in the halls of Congress for their supposed monopolization of power, we can see before our eyes how the market is moving despite lobbying efforts and party officials crying foul. Indeed, fast forward to today and the FANG acronym is less applicable not only given name changes (Facebook to Meta) but position changes, whereas success is now dwindling for Netflix.

Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+, Prime Video, Starz, Peacock, Paramount Plus, Apple TV Plus, and more have all emerged despite Netflix’s previous power position. And the same will be true for others in the Big Tech realm over time. Decentralized P2P platforms are increasing in users and Facebook is facing cannibalization from within.

Twitter is another great example of a Big Tech firm that bureaucrats love to bash. Presently, arguments over posting privileges are being raised by Congressional members but if to have a little patience, we can already see the market is making moves. Twitter’s power is waning in comparison to other platform providers in users and reach, and so much of the time spent debating Dorsey’s former firm could be better spent on other matters.

To be sure, Senators have a skewed view of how the market works, and even a limited understanding of where their concerns should lie in regard to the digital media realm – and yet the interest for interference is growing. 

In addition to the JCPA, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are also aiming to further their control over the online realm through the proposed tech accountability package. This package is proposed as a means for curtailing the dominance of certain digital platforms, but in reality, it is a significant power grab – and the power they are after is truly alarming.

These proposals further embed politics in economics, whereas the government will not only serve as a referee but also determine who can or can’t play. Congress will be corralling competition for online content creation and distribution, and the JCPA will substantiate such a mandate.

While economic power is limited by the market (since purpose and profit are determined by the exchange of goods, services, investments, labor, etc.), political power is a tricky beast given the incentives present for incumbents and the power of the purse strings for those in prominent positions.

To be sure, the network effects of political dynasties in DC are a more troublesome matter than the network effects of social media and so we should be very wary of allowing the government to have a larger role in industry matters – even when it comes to Big Tech.

Michigan law makes fight for municipal broadband an uphill battle

For more than a decade, municipalities around the United States have been starting their own government-run broadband networks to bring high-speed internet to their residents. 

They might do so for a variety of reasons: to provide residents faster service at a lower cost, to encourage economic development, to provide high-speed internet to areas that private Internet Service Providers aren’t interested in serving, or to bring more economical connections to urban areas where residents can’t afford the service provided by private ISPs.

But due to laws on the books in Michigan, cities can face significant obstacles in starting their own network.

Michigan is one of 18 states that put restrictions on municipal broadband programs. Under the Metropolitan Extension Telecommunications Rights-of-Way Oversight Act of 2002, public entities can provide telecommunications services only if they have first requested bids for the services and received fewer than three qualified bids. They also must subject themselves to the same terms as those specified in their Request for Proposal.

Read the full text here

New Yorkers need prudence, not bans, on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining

On May 24, 2022, the Consumer Choice Center sent a letter to New York state lawmakers, warning of the potential consequences to consumers if bill S6486D was adopted, a moratorium on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining.

The full letter is available below, or in PDF version here.

Dear Senators,

We write to you to urge you to vote against S6486D, a companion bill to A7389C, which would order a state-wide moratorium on cryptocurrency generation or mining.

If passed, this bill would be a death blow to the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency industry, resulting in thousands of jobs lost in New York, a loss of capital to scale up renewable energy, and would harm all potential benefits to consumers from cryptocurrency projects and initiatives. 

The aim of embracing climate goals to ensure 100% renewable energy usage in cryptocurrency generation and mining is well-intended, but a complete ban will have a devastating impact on innovators and entrepreneurs hosting their facilities in the state of New York, and consumers and investors that rely on their services.

As a consumer group, it may seem odd for us to weigh in on a topic that affects mostly industry players and firms. However, because we believe that Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies more broadly, will serve a vital role in making finance and economics more inclusive and accessible for sending, receiving, and saving value, we hold it in the interest of consumers that the hashrate (the total computing power of the network) continue to grow, and that better public policy on cryptocurrencies is embraced among state legislatures.

If the Bitcoin hashrate grows specifically in the United States, then we will have more control in how mining develops and how it can benefit the country, its citizens, and our energy grids.. This last part is vital for climate goals, which cannot be said for China or other nations.

According to the latest figures from the first quarter of 2022 on Bitcoin mining specifically, 58.4% of miners are using renewable energy sources, and that number has only increased in several years. In New York, many firms are retooling abandoned processing and power generation plants to build cryptocurrency data centers, and are providing economic value in return that is putting renewable energy to work.

What’s more, this wide-ranging energy diversification is happening at a pace faster than any other industry, leading to more investment in renewable energy capacities and delivery systems. This increased demand is leading to more environmentally favorable energy delivery for customers of all public electricity utilities, and will also help bring down costs. And this is being carried out due to the incentives of firms and individuals who participate in adding hash rate to mining: they want to lower their costs and find better alternatives. 

Cryptocurrency generation and mining firms have an incentive to use the most affordable and renewable energy sources available, and the data backs up this claim. This is a win-win scenario for towns and localities with these facilities, for employees of these firms, residents in these towns that benefit from increased commerce, and energy customers overall.

As cryptocurrency mining has proliferated in New York, it has opened up new entrepreneurial activities that will help improve the lives of New Yorkers in small communities and large urban centers alike. Entertaining a ban on these activities, in pursuit of an unclear climate goal, will negate these gains. There is a better path.

It should not surprise you to know that New York’s previous policy decisions, including the highly criticized BitLicense, have locked many New Yorkers out of the new cryptocurrency ecosystem due to the high compliance costs. Some New Yorkers have chosen to change residences in order to acquire cryptocurrency or to invest in crypto businesses, which they can do in any other state, but more specifically Texas, Wyoming, and Florida.

If this moratorium on cryptocurrency generation comes to pass, it will be yet another signal to entrepreneurs and consumers that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not welcomed in New York, and the regulatory framework is too unfavorable to justify investing here.

A number of industry organizations, communities, and unions have already expressed their concerns about the impact this bill would have on their families and livelihoods, fearing potential job loss in case industry gets driven away from the state as a result of this legislation. The loss of future investments and new jobs is another concern expressed by many communities in cities such as Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse.

According to the May 2022 Empire State Manufacturing Survey, the general business conditions index has dropped thirty-six points statewide. The last thing many affected and marginalized communities need is a moratorium that would drive businesses away from the state, and keep millions of New Yorkers from being included in a new system of value.

We understand that the quick rise of cryptocurrency mining raises many questions for residents, particularly when it involves the local economy and environment. However, a more prudent path would be an environmental review conducted by relevant authorities, rather than a wholesale ban and moratorium that would put many projects in legal jeopardy.

As consumer advocates, we are strongly opposed to this bill. We believe that New York residents deserve a chance to take part in the nascent industry that so many other states are hoping to accommodate. Using the force of regulation to drive away investments and jobs, stop economic progress, and shut out millions of New Yorkers from a more inclusive financial system would not only be wrong, but it would also be negligent.

Please vote No on S6486D aiming to place a moratorium on proof-of-work and help New York become a hub of innovation that embraces new technologies. New Yorkers should have the opportunity to participate in one of the biggest innovations of our age. With your vote against this bill and a more prudent direction, we can ensure that will happen.

Sincerely Yours,

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director

Aleksandar Kokotovic

Crypto Fellow

“Crypto” vs Bitcoin and Why It Matters for Policy

By Yaël Ossowski

One frequent social media criticism against our consumer organization is that we discuss smart policy on “crypto” more broadly rather than just Bitcoin.

Realistically, that means we focus on the significant regulatory hurdles to the general “crypto” economy rather than focusing solely on the merits of Satoshi’s invention of Bitcoin and a path to its universal adoption.

Whatever our thoughts on Bitcoin as the one and true asset, the political narrative is about a category of digital assets and digital cash. Regulators don’t care if you’re stocked up on DOGE or BTC, they just know that you have it, it has value, and they want a cut.

At this moment, there are thousands of online crypto services, wallets, and apps that are only available to you based on your passport or your street address.

And this only gets worse if we don’t push smart and innovation-friendly solutions that will keep the confiscatory and bureaucratic tendencies of national and supranational governments at bay.

That’s because the greatest impediment to any growth in the crypto economy, “hyperbitcoinization”, or whatever you want to call it, is the on and off-ramps. Fiat to crypto, crypto to fiat.

Until people independently charge and get paid in crypto, or create mining collectives in their communities, the on-off ramps will shape adoption, and because these ramps are governed by financial regulators, there will always be a bottleneck.

Or a threat that only certain countries with more relaxed rules will allow on-off ramps, which will necessarily limit market penetration and any crypto future.

The lower we can make the transaction costs (as an economic principle, not dollars and cents) to on-off ramping, the closer we can get to broad crypto adoption. And that means treating crypto as a category in any policy debate or conversation, whatever our personal preference

The arguments of the best cryptocurrencies can and should be fought, and coiners already vote with their wallets, their code, and their clicks. But regulation matters.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our principles for smart crypto regulation here, and support our efforts to promote these principles at the legislative level by supporting our BTCPay server below, or with altcoins on our donate page.

Why Consumers Should Oppose the Latest Senate Antitrust Actions

By Yaël Ossowski

The U.S. Senate is considering two antitrust bills by Sen. Amy Klobuchar that would significantly harm both consumer choice and innovation.

Unfortunately, these bills have been co-sponsored by members of both political parties, creating what looks like a bipartisan consensus in the Senate chamber, but not one favored by the vast majority of American consumers.

Both the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act appear to be general antitrust regulations but are in fact targeted attacks on consumers who benefit from the services of a handful of tech companies.

While there are plenty of reasons to criticize certain tech companies and their business or moderation decisions, inviting the government to control, direct, or otherwise halt innovative goods and services from specific tech companies would create more problems for consumers than it would solve.

Don’t You Dare Sell Your Own Products

The first bill would aim to outlaw “discriminatory conduct” by the platforms targeted, mostly concerning their own products and applications. Think of the vast array of Amazon Basics products, Google’s services other than search, or even Facebook offering Messenger.

These goods and services are offered by companies because the firms have built up specialized knowledge and consumer demand exists for them. Even though these firms sell products and offer services from third parties, they also sell their own, similar to Walmart’s “Good Value” brand or even “George” clothing line.

When it comes to tech offerings, as noted by Adam Kovacevich of the Chamber of Progress, this would basically halt Amazon Prime, it would block Apple from pre-loading iMessage and Facetime, and require Apple and other phone makers to allow third-party apps to be “sideloaded” outside the traditional app store. Not only would this be inconvenient for consumers who like and use these products, but it would also make it harder to innovate, thus depriving consumers of better goods and services that could come down the line.

Don’t You Dare Acquire Other Companies

The second bill more radically alters existing antitrust law by basically baring large-capitalization tech firms from acquiring or even investing in other firms. Again, this

The rise of Silicon Valley has been an unadulterated success for American consumers, owing to the entrepreneurship of startups, companies and investors who see value in them, and the unique pollination of both talent and capital that has made American technology a dominant global player.

This bill purports to ensure consumers are protected from the “evils” of Big Tech, but in reality, it would put American entrepreneurs at a significant disadvantage globally, inviting companies from illiberal countries to offer products to consumers and reducing the options and choices for anyone who enjoys technology products.

Why Consumers Should Oppose

Rather than protect the consumer, these bills would have serious impacts on the overall consumer experience and consumer choice: 

  • They would restrict the innovative growth of US platforms while giving tech firms abroad an advantage
  • They would degrade the consumer experience by reducing the options and services firms could offer 
  • They would empower the federal government to pick the winners and losers of technological innovation rather than consumers
  • They would limit the potential for small businesses to use these platforms to provide goods and services to their customers
  • They would increase the cost of regulatory compliance with federal mandates, which would raise prices for consumers

The American people benefit from a competitive and free market for all goods, services, and networks we use online. Weaponizing our federal agencies to break up companies, especially when there is no demonstrated case of consumer harm, will chill innovation and stall our competitive edge as a country.

If Congress wants to update antitrust for the 21st century they should:

  • Establish more clear penalties for breaches of data or consumer privacy and empower the Federal Trade Commission to act where necessary
  • Punish companies that violate  existing antitrust provisions that harm consumers
  • Better define the scope of the consumer welfare standard in a digital age

The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

The overwhelming majority of users are happy with online marketplaces and with their profiles on social platforms. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability of ordinary people to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up. 

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on. The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states.

A Crypto Surveillance Mandate In the Infrastructure Bill Must Be Rejected

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A Crypto Surveillance Mandate In the Infrastructure Bill Must Be Rejected

Washington, D.C. — Today, the US House is expected to take a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that contains vast implications for cryptocurrency users.

Hidden inside is an amendment to tax code 6050I that could make receiving and failing to correctly report a digital asset (be it a cryptocurrency, NFT, or another type of digital asset) a felony. According to the amendment of 6050I, any US citizen who receives over $10,000 must report within 15 days the sender’s personal information such as Social Security number and tax ID. Failure to do so could result in mandatory fines and lead to a felony charge with up to five years in prison. 

As noted by University of Virginia School of Law Adjunct Professor Abraham Sutherland, it “relies on a 1984 law that was written to discourage in-person cash transfers and to encourage the use of financial institutions for large transactions”. By regulators once again applying old rules to an emerging asset class they are risking not only harming the consumer and the whole nascent industry but also further eroding the privacy of US citizens. 

“If passed, this amendment will stifle innovation and result in huge loss of value for consumers and businesses alike while further centralizing control over transactions that US citizens make. It will hurt a flourishing economy, and it will also have long-term effects in a future where digital assets are not going away,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

CCC’s Crypto Fellow Aleksandar Kokotović echoed those sentiments: “Not only US companies and investors would be hurt by this amendment, but also domestic consumers and retail investors, who would be severely discouraged from participating in the digital asset class economy which is now setting standards for decades to come.”

In an asset class that didn’t exist in 1984 when the original law was written, it is completely possible that the person receiving the funds would not have a specific individual or legal entity to report but rather that the ‘sender’ is a decentralized exchange or a group of individuals. This is just one example of the anachronistic stipulations of this amendment that are worrying consumers.

“Turning even small retail investors such as students into potential felons or subjecting them to outdated laws will only serve to limit the unparalleled economic growth currently provided by the sector, or risk pushing all investment and entrepreneurship to other jurisdictions,” added Kokotović.

As legislators and regulators seek to understand, contain, and regulate cryptocurrencies, last week the Consumer Choice Center published its list of common-sense principles for smart crypto regulation that will safeguard innovation, protect consumers, and adapt for technological and financial change.

“We recognize the importance of crypto regulation for keeping bad actors in check and providing a sound institutional framework. We also recognize that the nascent crypto finance space is ever-changing and rapidly evolving, and that overzealous regulation could cripple future potential,” said Ossowski. “We offer bedrock principles on smart crypto regulation for lawmakers, hoping to promote sound policies that will encourage innovation, increase economic inclusion across all income groups, all the while protecting consumers from harm,” he added.

In the coming weeks, the Consumer Choice Center will be meeting with legislative and regulatory officials to ensure these principles are upheld in any future regulation or guidance.
 

CONSUMER CHOICE CENTER’S PRINCIPLES FOR SMART CRYPTO REGULATION:

  • Prevent Fraud
  • Technological Neutrality
  • Reasonable Taxation
  • Legal Certainty & Transparency

The policy primer can be read in full here.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Why Democratic Control of the FCC Won’t Bode Well for Internet Freedom

By Yaël Ossowski

Late Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden revealed his nominations to the Federal Communications Commission.

As one would expect, his two nominations — Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn — come from Democratic circles and have upheld progressive priorities for telecom policies.

Rosenworcel has been a commissioner since 2012 and served as acting chair since Ajit Pai left at the beginning of Biden’s term. She would be the first female chair of the FCC.

Sohn has been active in left-leaning nonprofits, but also worked as a counselor to former FCC chair Tom Wheeler. She has made a career in advocacy, government, and academia championing “open, affordable, and democratic communications networks,” according to the White House release.

What both nominees represent, if confirmed by the Senate, would be a return to a Democratic-majority FCC intent on revitalizing 2015-era “net neutrality” proposals. Activists are already celebrating a return to progressive policymaking at the nation’s telecom regulator.

While Biden’s nominations are no surprise — every president generally nominates commissioners from their own party — consumer advocates should be worried about the policy goals they will seek to pass.

Net Neutrality

The most pressing would be a reform of Title II regulations through “net neutrality”, effectively labeling Internet Service Providers as public utilities, essentially as protected monopolies.

As I wrote in the Washington Examiner in 2017, the basic premise of net neutrality reforms is to regulate ISPs like water suppliers or telephone companies, subjecting them to more active enforcement, standards, and regulations set by the FCC, so that all online traffic be considered “neutral and free from prioritization”.

What’s more, a Title II classification would treat ISPs are monopolies, which even by the most strained definition, cannot be true. There are close to 3,000 ISPs in the United States, all serving different populations and regions, though some players have larger coverage than others.

Sweeping these companies into the regulatory lens of the FCC under the auspices of public utilities would mean more restrictions and regulations on content and delivery of content on the Internet — a far cry from Internet freedom.

As a general principle for an open net, net neutrality is an important one. When internet providers have been accused of unfairly blocking or throttling consumers, they have rightfully been challenged by lawsuits and enforcement actions from the Federal Trade Commission. And we should generally want a system that won’t discriminate against Internet users based on the content they host or provide (we can also thank Section 230 for liability protections for online platforms).

However, since these regulations were proposed in 2014 under the Obama administration, there has never been a clear rationale provided as to why Internet companies should be regulated under the FCC rather than the FTC, as is the status quo. And from what we can tell, that change would likely impact consumers more than anyone.

For one, a public utility classification would mean much far-reaching power of centralized Internet regulation than exists currently, putting the innovative nature of the Internet at risk.

Providers would be tasked with significant regulatory compliance that would necessitate more administrative costs and fees. This would also threaten the expansion of start-ups and independent companies in the digital space, souring the efforts at creative entrepreneurship. All would be harmful to consumers.

With every successive administration in Washington, we can only imagine that enforcement of the rules and changing of the rules would be enough to create regulatory uncertainty for thousands of online businesses and the users who depend on them.

Second, as our experience from the history of public utilities demonstrates, there would likely be intense consolidation that would empower large companies with the means to comply with regulations and stunt innovative new start-ups. It would also disincentivize increased private investment in broadband services, as we have written about at the Consumer Choice Center, and exacerbate the effects of Biden’s infrastructure proposal on public broadband if it passes this fall.

While consolidation of ISPs is a grave concern to progressive Internet activists, this would only be made worse once a giant bureaucracy such as the FCC is given regulatory authority over them. As my colleague Elizabeth Hicks noted in the Detroit Times, often it is state and local regulations that impede greater competition among ISPs, not because of lax authority at the federal level.

Online Privacy

Both Rosenworcel and Sohn have also indicated that they would support a proposal for greater Internet privacy enforced by the FCC. While that would be great on principle, we would hope that a federal plan would punish bad actors and establish clear guidelines to ensure transparency and protect innovation, as we proposed in our data and consumer privacy policy note.

However, Sohn’s previous public statements, including when she was a fellow at the Open Society Foundation, demonstrate she’d want a wholesale restriction on the sharing of data, even among willing consumers and providers. That would put many vital services at risk.

What’s more, such a proposal would likely aim to further empower government enforcement on data privacy rather than embrace market innovations that already do just that.

Prices

Another significant area where a Democratic-majority FCC could seek action would be on the pricing of Internet services. Sohn has been quite vocal about fixing ISP prices and regulating the bundling of various services. This would undermine the competitive environment of ISPs and likely lead to lower quality and rationed services for users, degrading everyone’s Internet experience.

Sohn’s history at various nonprofit groups that have targeted and lobbied the FCC for more enforcement was indeed impactful, and it is not difficult to see how much of the outrage about net neutrality was due to these efforts. Unfortunately, this also coincided with serious death threats and security concerns for commissioners opposed to these plans.

If both nominees to the FCC are confirmed, it is clear that the battle for the open Internet will once again be relitigated. And if the past proposal is any indication, it will face significant opposition.

At the time of the original net neutrality rules, even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seen as one of the most powerful Internet freedom groups, was skeptical about how far-reaching the net neutrality provisions were.

We can only imagine that now, buoyed by progressive victories on Capitol Hill and louder voices for regulating content and platforms on the Internet, these proposals will prove harmful to the interests of online users and consumers.

Yaël Ossowski is the deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Facebook failures may be real, but the case for increased censorship is weak

Once the so-called Facebook whistleblower revealed her identity and story, it was only a matter of time before the public imagination of one of the largest social networking sites would go off the rails.

What Frances Haugen released to the Wall Street Journal in her initial leaks, which it dubbed the “Facebook Files ,” detailed how Facebook had made decisions on which accounts to censor, survey data on Instagram use among teens, and the status of the civic integrity team tasked with countering misinformation around political topics.

Many of the revelations are fascinating, and some damning, but they point to a company bombarded with external and internal demands to censor accounts and pages that spread “misinformation” and “hateful” content. Who determines what that content is, and what classifies as such, is another point.

In the days since, Haugen has become a hero to critics of the social media giant on both the Right and the Left, animating these arguments before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection on Tuesday.

It created the perfect theater for Washington lawmakers and media outlets, elevating conjecture, hyperbole, and feverish contempt for an online platform used by billions of users.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are united in confronting Facebook, though they are animated by different reasons. Generally, Democrats say the platform does not censor enough content and want it to do more, evoking the “interference” in President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. Republicans, on the other hand, believe the censorship is pointed in the wrong direction, often targeting conservative content creators, and would like to see more even-handedness.

“Facebook has caused and aggravated a lot of pain and profited off the spreading of disinformation, misinformation, and sowing hate,” said committee chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who days before received ridicule for asking Instagram to ban the “finsta” program. (Finstas are fake Instagram accounts created by teenagers to avoid the prying eyes of parents.)

Facebook’s mistakes, especially when it comes to content moderation, are vast. I have joined countless others in pointing out the troubling examples of censorship that are all too often politically motivated. Considering it is a Silicon Valley firm staffed with tens of thousands of employees who likely lean left, it is not surprising.

But the incentive to censor content exists because of the huffing and puffing in Congress, whistleblowers like Haugen, and media pressure to conform to a narrow version of online free speech that has no parallel elsewhere.

Whether it is through the lens of antitrust, to break apart Facebook’s various divisions such as Instagram and WhatsApp, or by reforming Section 230 to make firms liable for all speech on their platforms, it is clear that heavy-handed social media regulation will have the greatest impact on users and generally make Facebook unbearable.

As much as some might like to castigate the unicorn start-up with tens of thousands of employees and a hefty stock price, it derives its power and influence as a platform for billions of individuals looking for connections.

A number of the posts on Facebook may be atrocious or wrong, and they deserved to be called out by those who see them. But in free societies, we prefer to debate bad ideas rather than relegate them to the darkened reaches of society, where they will only fester and grow unabated.

Expecting or forcing Facebook to ramp up censorship will make the platform a de facto arm of our federal agencies rather than a free platform for connecting with friends and family.

While there are many positive reforms that could be invoked in the wake of the Facebook moment, a national privacy and data law, for example, we know it will be the users of these platforms who will ultimately suffer from misguided regulation.

If we believe in free speech and an open internet, it is our responsibility to advocate sane, smart, and effective rules on innovative technologies, not laws or edicts that only seek to punish and restrict what people can say online. We as users and citizens deserve better.

Originally published here

The fight over Facebook’s content censor button will make all users lose

By Yaël Ossowski

Once the so-called Facebook whistleblower revealed her identity and story, it was clear the narrative about the future of one of the largest social networking sites would soon go off the rails.

What Haugen revealed in her initial leaks to the Wall Street Journal, which they dubbed the “Facebook Files,” were documents and research on how Facebook had made decisions on which accounts to censor, survey data on Instagram use among teens, and the status of the civic integrity team tasked with countering misinformation around political topics.

Many of the revelations are indeed fascinating —and some damning — but they generally point to a company constantly embattled with external and internal demands to censor and shut down accounts and pages that spread “misinformation” and “hateful” content. Who determines what that content is, and what classifies as such, is another point.

Among her allegations in her first public interview on 60 Minutes, she posited that the disbanding of the civic integrity team, of which she was a part, was directly responsible for the January 6th riot at the Capitol building. 

In the days since, Haugen has become a hero to critics of the social media giant on both the right and the left, animating these arguments before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection on Tuesday. 

It created the perfect Two Minutes Hate session in Washington and on major media, allowing unchecked conjecture, hyperbole, and feverish contempt for a platform that allows ordinary people to post online and small businesses to run ads on their products.

Unusual for DC, Republicans and Democrats are united on confronting Facebook, though they are animated by different reasons. Generally, Democrats say the platform does not censor enough content and want it to do more, evoking the “interference” that led to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. Republicans, on the other hand, believe the censorship is pointed in the wrong direction, often targeting conservative content creators, and would like to see more even-handedness.

The picture painted by all lawmakers, however, is of a company adding to general societal discord.

“Facebook has caused and aggravated a lot of pain and profited off the spreading of disinformation, misinformation, and sowing hate,” said committee chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who days before received ridicule for asking Instagram to ban the “Finsta” program (Finstas are fake Instagram accounts created by teens to avoid the prying eyes of parents).

The comments of Blumenthal and others were indeed hyperbolic, considering the vast majority of Facebook product users post images, videos, and text to their friends and family and can in no way be considered objectionable, but it helps lead to their ultimate aim.

But considering the premise of these hearings and investigations on Capitol Hill is to frame and inform future legislation, it is clear that regulation will soon be directly targeted at social media content and users, not the company itself, will be the ones to suffer.

As much as one would like to castigate the Silicon Valley firm with tens of thousands of employees and a stock ticker, it derives its power and influence as a platform for billions of individuals with something to say. A select number of the posts on Facebook may be atrocious or wrong, and they deserved to be called out, but they still are the posts of individuals and groups. Users have the option to flag posts for inappropriate content.

What makes many of the allegations leveled at Facebook interesting — albeit insincere (content designed to elicit an angry response, body image issues, unverified stories, etc.) — is that many of these can also be lobbed at traditional institutions: clickbait partisan journalism, Hollywood and the modeling industry, and tabloids that operate as rumor mills. In the age of social media, however, these are dying breeds.

The fact that many media outlets are openly advocating against social networks, technologies that directly compete with them, also makes this quite conflicted as we have seen in Australia.

When regulations do come to pass, and we can only assume they will, the only significant action will be to restrict what can and cannot be posted on the platform. Whether it is the mandatory hiring of a certain number of moderators, a veto process for third parties, or mandatory ID verification, which advertisers are already subject to, it will mean limiting and censoring the platform. This will harm users and consumers.

While there are many positive reforms that could be invoked in the wake of the Facebook moment — a national privacy and data law, for example — likely it will be the users of these platforms who will ultimately suffer.

The new Internet age has led most of the world to untold levels of growth and prosperity. Being able to connect with friends and family wherever they may be is a public good that we have only begun to understand and appreciate.

If we allow regulators to deploy content censorship buttons and restrict our ability to post and interact online, who is to say that only the “bad guys” will be caught up in the net?

If we believe in free speech and an open Internet, it is our responsibility to push for sane, smart, and effective rules, not those that only seek to punish and restrict what people can say online.

Yaël Ossowski is the deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

The arguments for and against universal chargers

European Commission pushing to establish USB-C as standard for all phones

The European Commission is under fire from tech giant Apple after unveiling plans to make USB-C connectors the standard charging port for all phones and small electronic devices sold across the EU. 

The bloc’s executive body “believes a standard cable for all devices will cut back on electronic waste”, reported France 24. But Apple and other critics argue that “a one-size fits all charger would slow innovation and create more pollution”, the news site continues.

The new rules could “affect the entire global smartphone market” if approved by the European Parliament and member states of the EU, which is home to more than 450 million people including “some of the world’s richest consumers”.

Read the full article here

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