social media

Forcing TikTok’s divestiture from the CCP is both reasonable and necessary

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, a bipartisan group of US House legislators introduced a bill that would force ByteDance Ltd. to sell its US version of TikTok or face massive fines and federal investigations. This would have big ramifications for the video-sharing app, which is estimated to have over 150 million users in the US.

In practice, HR7521 designates the popular social media application TikTok as a “foreign adversary controlled application,” invoking the government’s ability to force the firm into new ownership by any private, legal entity in the United States —  a full forced divestiture.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the consumer advocacy group, Consumer Choice Center, responded:

“In recent years, the default mode for the federal government has been to wage a regulatory war against American tech companies, all the while leaving the Chinese Communist Party-linked app TikTok to grow uninhibited,” said Ossowski. “While consumers generally do not want wholesale bans on popular tech, considering the unique privacy and security concerns implicit in TikTok’s ownership structure as well as its accountability and relationship to the CCP, the solution of a forced divestiture is both appropriate and necessary.”

Reports have already revealed that European TikTok users can, and have, had their data accessed by company officials in Beijing. The same goes for US users. Given the ownership structure of TikTok, there isn’t anything that can be done about this to shield American consumers from privacy violations. A forced divestiture would bring TikTok under the legal authority of the US and thus alleviate many of the concerns that consumers have about their security on the app. 

We praise Reps. Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi for spearheading this effort in a constitutionally nuanced and legal way that does not risk furthering the anti-tech attitudes of so many in Washington,” concluded Ossowski. “Upholding consumer choice is among our core principles, as is ensuring that the ethos of liberal democracies continues to guide the arc of technological progress.

READ: The best answer to TikTok is a forced divestiture 

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

‘Kids Online Safety Act’ is a Trojan Horse For Digital Censorship

Washington, D.C. – This week, a bipartisan cohort of US Senators unveiled a new version of the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill that aims to impose various restrictions and requirements on technology platforms used by both adults and minors.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. responded: 

“This bill is constitutionally dubious and would create new powers that should frighten not only every parent but also every user of digital platforms such as social media. In writing new federal rules to “protect” kids online, the real effect will be to significantly degrade the experience for all users while putting their sensitive personal information at risk.”

The Consumer Choice Center believes strongly that if Congress were to pass such a bill, lawmakers would be aligning with the idea that the government should have the final say over young people’s access to the Internet, thus diminishing the role of parents in their kids’ lives. 

“There are ways to protect kids online, but that begins at home with parental authority and supervision. It’s a false choice to accept the gatekeeping of an entire generation from technology that has become so integral to daily life and contributes to their development as responsible citizens,” added Ossowski. 

Privacy and consumer advocates are sounding the alarm about what this law would mean in practice. Rules emanating from Washington granting “duty of care” to government officials will erode parental authority and consumer choice online. The bill seeks to control “design features” and limit developers’ inclusion of personalized recommendation systems, notifications, appearance-altering filters, and in-game purchases for apps used by minors. It’s a crackdown not just on features that work functionally for certain apps, but also on features that make them fun for users.

“KOSA is fundamentally wrong,” concluded Ossowski. “We as a society should trust that parents have the ultimate right to decide whether or not their children access certain websites or services, not indifferent government officials sitting in Washington. No one knows what is in the best interests of their child more than parents.”  

Media inquiries and interview requests can be sent to Media Director Stephen Kent: Stephen@consumerchoicecenter.org


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

Submission to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Kids Online Health and Safety

Submission to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Kids Online Health and Safety

We hereby submit these comments to better inform and educate the Task Force on Kids Online Health & Safety on the pressing issues of keeping kids safe online while remaining steadfast to the open, innovative nature of digital technologies such as the Internet.

  1. The Role of Technological Solutions

As a consumer advocacy group that champions tech innovation and consumer choice, we believe wholeheartedly that, where necessary, technological solutions should be a principal alternative to restrictive regulation that will impose direct and indirect costs and create barriers to online information and connection.

With many social situations or platforms, we know that there exists much concern about young people, teens especially, and their behavior online. There has been a constant barrage of academic research, political proposals, and messaging campaigns that center on restricting parts of online life to young people for their safety.

While there is a definitive trend as to the framing of social media use as negative for young people, the existing research is much more nuanced and likely more balanced when we consider the benefits.

A 2022 study in Current Psychology found that in classifying users into 3 categories: active, passive, and average use of social media, each documented benefits that outweigh potential harms, even more so for the larger category of “average” users.

For every media outrage story about questionable online content or behavior, there are dozens more unreported of improved social well-being, more social connection, and genuine happiness, especially among young people. This is especially true because, for the most part, teens and young people have gravitated from purely physical social lives to a hybrid social life online as well, unlocking new opportunities to explore, learn, and expand their knowledge and understanding.

This was also admitted by the American Psychological Association, which this year published its own recommendations for parents of teens to monitor online safety.

The solutions offered by the APA and several partner organizations are important, and likely do have merit and efficacy with young people online. Contrasting with many proposals existing in legislation, these recommendations are to be overseen and executed by parents and communities, and would negate the need for punitive measures issued by governments. 

We believe this is an important factor for any remedy affecting online safety for teens and young adults. Voluntary measures, whether that be parental screening, communication, or oversight, when used in conjunction with technological tools, will have a more balanced and effective result than any government-imposed restriction.

Parental screening of application downloads, online profiles, and general education about behavior and content online has thus far proven to be the most measured approach to kid safety online, and it should continue to be.

  1. The Wrong Path of State Intervention

Proposals that lead to agency or government intervention into these efforts, we believe, would do more harm than good.

As we have seen in several state proposals in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, preemptively limiting youth access to online social media use not only elicits legal questions, but also severely restricts the ability for young people to explore the benefits of online platforms and networks.

These proposals have been akin to a labyrinth of weaponized policies that prevent teens from engaging with friends and family online, would burden future social media upstarts, and would lead to worse precedents that put free speech on the Internet at risk, as well as leading to significant hacker exploits.

Proposals such as the now enjoined SB396 in Arkansas make it more difficult for young people to begin to use the Internet and all the benefits it provides, but it also enshrined into law the idea that governments should pick which social media networks young people can or cannot use rather than parents.

We believe this is paternalistic, sets a terrible precedent for online speech and access, and amounts to nothing more than heavy-handed government control of who is allowed online and when.

It elicits the question of whether the final arbiter of whether young people access the Internet at all, and that parents should have diminished say in their kids’ digital lives. We believe that is fundamentally wrong. 

Unfortunately, we see in these legislative attempts few good-willed efforts at remedying online safety concerns, and instead legislative retribution against certain social media companies based on political persuasion.

What’s more, many of these proposed solutions would likely create more substantive harm from digital exploitation of information and data than current voluntary or technological tools available to parents.

These proposals, including federal proposals from the US Senate such as the Kids Online Safety Act, require social media websites to collect sensitive photos, IDs, and documentation of minors, mandating enormous privacy risks that will be a cyberhacker’s dream.

We believe that as a society, we should trust that parents have the ultimate right to decide whether or not their children access certain websites or services, and that those decisions are not overruled by legislative proposals.

  1. The answer is technology

As we have stated, and as the research demonstrates, there are immense benefits to social media that are practiced and explored each and every day for people of any age category.

Whether it be for creative purposes, democratic expression, social connection, commerce and business, or education, there are a myriad of benefits to social media that, when paired with responsible adult supervision and guidance, will continue to be a positive force for society as a whole.

Where necessary, when parents and communities can implement technological solutions that help improve the benefits of social media use – whether it be in voluntary parental filters, download authorization, or educational materials – this will be the best and most effective method for protecting young people online. Keeping the Internet as an open ecosystem for exploration, learning, and connection will bring many more benefits to the next generation than restrictive bans or limits imposed by law. 

We hope your commission will take these points to heart, and will continue to advocate for responsible use of technology and the Internet for young people and their parents.

Link to the PDF

Canada’s news cartel and social media link tax breaks an open internet and harms digital journalism

This week, I was invited on The News Forum’s “Daily,” a Canadian daily news show, to discuss the impact of C-18, which allows a media cartel to force social networks to pay a “link tax” for allowing articles on their platforms.

At the Consumer Choice Center, my colleague David Clement has previously written about this here and here, and it’s been a point of interest on Consumer Choice Radio for some time.

This is something that Australia already introduced in 2021, which I wrote about, and the US is currently discussing a similar proposal in the U.S. Senate, which my colleague Bill Wirtz also recently covered, as well as our fellow Dr. Kimberlee Josephson.

In the U.S., the bill is the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, spearheaded by competition foe Amy Klobuchar. A version in California, the California Journalism Preservation Act, is in committee in the State Senate, and it’s expected that Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign it.

The principal idea of this plan — no matter the country or language — is that tech companies are eating traditional media’s lunch. To “level the playing field,” tech firms must pay traditional media each time a story (or link) is shared on their platform. It looks like it’s Rupert Murdoch vs. Mark Zuckerberg, or pick your legally media titan vs. tech start-up CEO. But realistically, it’s government officials, working with legacy media outlets, versus YOU, the consumer.

This is, of course, not just an attack on free speech and bad public policy, but it also represents a fundamental shift in how we view the democratic nature of the Internet.

News outlets need social media to share stories, find their audiences, and to continue to support them. At the same time, it’s up to news outlets to come up with innovative models to thrive and compete. In Canada, like in many European countries, government subsidies have taken the place of real innovation.

But across the internet, platforms such as Substack, Patreon, Locals.com, YouTube, and now even Twitter are allowing individuals and media teams to offer up news products that consumers genuinely enjoy.

At the Consumer Choice Center, we advocate for consumers who embrace innovation, competition, and a wide variety of choice. New models of creative destruction are something we celebrate, and we as consumers benefit every step of the way.

We will continue to push back against the idea of news cartels, link taxes, or other unfair regulatory practices that seek to prop up one industry at the expense of another. Not only is it wrong, a waste of funds, and impractical, but it also seriously diminishes our ability to freely choose our chosen media as consumers.

That’s at least one thing worth fighting for.

The impending war with big tech

The last few weeks have seen a substantial ramping up of rhetoric from Westminster towards big tech. Facebook’s dramatic show of power against – and subsequent capitulation to – the Australian government over its new law obliging it to pay news outlets to host their content made for gripping viewing, and it has since become clear that senior ministers across the British government were tuning in to the action.

Matt Hancock came bursting out of the blocks to declare himself a ‘great admirer’ of countries which have proposed laws forcing tech giants to pay for journalism. Rishi Sunak has been bigging-up this year’s G7 summit, which will be held in Cornwall. From the way he is talking, it sounds like he is preparing to lead an army of finance ministers from around the world into battle with Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, Oliver Dowden, the cabinet minister with responsibility for media and technology, indicated that he has been chatting to his Australian counterparts to learn more about the thinking behind their policymaking process. He followed that up with a series of stark and very public warnings to the businesses themselves,promising to “keep a close eye” on Facebook and Twitter, voicing his “grave concern” over the way big tech companies are operating and threatening sanctions if they step out of line.

This one-way war of words comes against the backdrop of a menacing new regulatory body slowly looming into view. The Digital Markets Unit, a quango which is set to form part of the existing Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will be the chief weapon in the government’s armoury. As things stand, we know very little about what it is intended to achieve.

Big tech in its current form is a young industry, still struggling with teething problems as it learns how to handle owning all the information in the world. There are plenty of areas where Facebook, Google, Amazon and countless others are arguably falling short in their practices, from users’ privacy to threats to journalists, which Dowden and others have picked up on.

But the natural instinct of state actors to step in has the potential to be cataclysmically damaging. The government is running out of patience with the free market and seems poised to intervene. Countless times, haphazard central policy has quashed innovation and sent private money tumbling out of the country. Against the backdrop of the forthcoming corporation tax rise, there is a fine balance to strike between effective regulation and excessive state interference.

The nature of government interventions is that they block innovation, and therefore progress. Superfluous regulation is like a dazed donkey milling about in the middle of the road, bringing the traffic to a halt. Of course, the donkey is then given a charity collection bucket and the power to oblige passers-by to contribute a slice of their income for the privilege of driving society forwards, generating unfathomable wealth and providing us all with access to free services which have improved our quality of life beyond measure.

As the government ponders the appropriate parameters of the new Digital Markets Unit and seeks to place arbitrary limits on what big tech companies can do for the first time in the history of their existence, it should consider users’ interests first. There is a strong case to be made for shoring up the rights of individuals and cracking down more harshly on abuse and other worrying trends. But let’s not fall into the same trap as our cousins Down Under in making online services more expensive to use and passing those costs down to consumers.

As the much-fabled ‘post-Brexit Global Britain’ begins to take shape, we have a valuable opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world on how to go about regulating the technology giants. The standards we will have to meet to do that are not terribly high. In essence, all the government needs to do is avoid the vast, swinging, ham-fisted meddling which has so often characterised attempts at regulation in the past and Britain can become something of a world leader in this field.

Originally published here.

Latest round of online deplatforming shows why we need increased competition and decentralization

Another week means another politically-charged rampage of deplatforming of social media profiles and entire social media networks.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters, President Trump was promptly suspended from Twitter and Facebook and later dozens of Internet services including Shopify and Twitch.

Even the image-sharing site Pinterest, famous for recipes and DIY project presentations, has banned Trump and any mention of contesting the 2020 Election. He’ll have to go without sourdough recipes and needlework templates once he’s out of office.

Beyond Trump, entire social media networks have also been put in the crosshairs following the troubling incursion on Capitol Hill. The conservative platform Parler, a refuge for social media dissidents, has since had its app pulled from the Google and Apple stores and had their hosting servers suspended by Amazon’s web service company AWS.

This pattern of removing unsavory profiles or websites isn’t just a 2021 phenomenon. The whistleblower website Wikileaks – whose founder Julian Assange remains in prison without bail in the UK awaiting extradition to the United States – was similarly removed from Amazon’s servers in 2012, as well as blacklisted by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and their DNS provider. Documents reveal both public and private pressure by then U.S. senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman was instrumental in choking Wikileaks off from these services.

Then it was politicians pressuring companies to silence a private organization. Now, it’s private organizations urging companies to silence politicians.

However the pendulum swings, it’s entirely reasonable for companies that provide services to consumers and institutions to respond quickly to avoid risk. Whether it’s due to governmental decree or public backlash, firms must respond to incentives that ensure their success and survival.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Gab, or Parler, they can only exist and thrive if they fulfill the wishes and demands of their users, and increasingly to the political and social pressures placed on them by a cacophony of powerful forces.

It’s an impossible tightrope.

It is clear that many of these companies have and will continue to make bad business decisions based on either politics or perception of bias. They are far from perfect.

The only true way we can ensure a healthy balance of information and services provided by these companies to their consumers is by promoting competition and decentralization.

Having diverse alternative services to host servers, provide social networks, and allow people to communicate remains in the best interest of all users and consumers.

Such a mantra is difficult to hold in today’s hostile ideological battleground inflated by Silicon Valley, Washington, and hostile actors in Bejing and Moscow, but it is necessary.

In the realm of policy, we should be wary of proposed solutions that aim to cut off some services at the expense of others.

Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for example, would be incredibly harmful to users and firms alike. If platforms become legally liable for user content, it would essentially turn innovative tech companies into risk-averting insurance companies that occasionally offer data services. That would be terrible for innovation and user experience.

And considering the politically charged nature of our current discourse, anyone could find a reason to cancel you or an organization you hold dear – meaning you’re more at risk for being deplatformed.

At the same time, axing Section 230 would empower large firms and institutions that already have the resources to manage content policing and legal issues at scale, locking out many start-ups and aspiring competitors who otherwise would have been able to thrive.

When we think of the towering power of Big Tech and Big Government, some things can be true all at the same time. It can be a bad idea to use antitrust law to break up tech firms as it will deprive consumers of choice, just as these companies are guilty of making bad business decisions that will hurt their user base. How we respond to that will determine how consumers will continue to be able to use online services going forward.

All the while, every individual Internet user and organization has it in their power to use competitive and diverse services. Anyone can start up an instance of Mastodon (as I have done), a decentralized micro-blogging service, host a private web server on a Raspberry Pi (coming soon), or accept Bitcoin rather than credit cards.

Thanks to competition and innovation, we have consumer choice. The question is, though, if we’re courageous enough to use them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

Scroll to top