“It seems to be … more and more difficult to pass new legislation because I have had many discussions about the privacy law at the federal level,” he told The Technology 202 during an hour-long interview at the E.U.'s D.C. headquarters last Friday. “There are many requests to do that, but it's very difficult. There may be other priorities. That is a political choice, of course.”
Instead, Reynders says he wants to swap notes with top regulators at the Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about how those agencies can use the tools at their disposal to better protect consumers online.
Reynders, who met with leaders from those and other agencies during a swing through Washington last week, said he’s hoping to formalize some of those efforts into cooperation agreements between the U.S. and E.U., while also building out other informal exchanges. And he says the two sides are making progress on thorny unresolved issues, like data flows.
As Commissioner for Justice, his portfolio includes hate speech and extremism online, privacy, consumer protection and artificial intelligence, all hot-button tech policy issues.
Here are other highlights from our interview with Reynders, edited for length and clarity:
You mentioned there’s been progress toward striking a new deal on transnational data flows to replace the Privacy Shield, the U.S.-E.U. pact that was struck down by the courts. Do you have a better sense of a timetable for reaching an agreement after your meetings?
We will try to see if it’s possible to have a political, clear vision before the end of the year. I must say that we have seen real improvement. I have received at the technical level many proposals with real innovation to try to give a concrete answer to the different concerns of the [European General Court]. We want to see if it's possible to define the necessity and the proportionality of the access to some data, and the safeguards to protect that, and then what kind of enforcement of the individual rights [is needed]. It’s a good evolution in a very difficult and sensitive issue.
Senior administration officials recently said they are relaying their concerns and recommendations about the E.U.’s Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. What has been the message from the White House on those proposals?
I must say, not only from the officials [but] also from different companies and different economic actors, the first reaction in the U.S. is to say, “It’s very complicated.” The second remark is that we have the same challenges [with the platforms]. I'm all the time impressed by [the] huge discussions in the U.S. about the necessity to regulate the platforms, and then [we] don’t see regulation coming. So we need to explain what we are doing with the regulation, and maybe in the U.S. what is possible to do with different regulatory bodies in charge of the antitrust policy, competition policy, consumer protection or in financial services.
You’ve talked about wanting to bolster cooperation with the U.S. on consumer protection online, among other issues. What does that look like practically?
We have an agreement to organize the cooperation about consumer protection, but is it possible to restart negotiation to adapt such an agreement to the actual online world? Because in the last 10 years, we’ve seen many changes. Data protection was a part of the problems [that stopped] the negotiations [around 2012], but I’m sure that it must be possible to restart.
The most efficient way in the medium, long-term is to restart those negotiations to update such [an] agreement. But without that, it’s possible to continue a more informal cooperation case-by-case, but it will be more efficient to put that in an agreement.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is set to testify for the European Parliament. What have you taken away from her revelations and what do you hope to hear from her?
We have already had some contacts with her. It’s very important for us to understand better, what are the internal situations in the different platforms? And so with such information coming from hearings with the CEO of Facebook and now with the whistleblowers, we try to understand, what are the real risks in the functioning of the platforms, and what are the needs to put into place different mechanisms to protect against citizens and to protect the consumers?
You’ve talked about wanting to expedite privacy cases brought under the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law. Where do those efforts stand?
I’ve said it before, we don’t want to open the Pandora’s box about amendments [to GDPR] because we don’t know what could be the way out on that. But we try to focus on enforcement. So we asked the member states to give [enforcers] more resources. It’s very important to have better coordination and also to try to see how fast [it] is possible to go in some investigations. Of course, we need to have a real intensive and high-quality investigation. We are fighting against some backlogs in the Justice field. So it’s not [about going] too fast. It’s just to say, we need to avoid the problems that we have had in the Justice system.
Our top tabs
Facebook outpaced Big Tech rivals in third-quarter lobbying
Facebook nearly spent a company record on federal lobbying in the third quarter of 2021, newly disclosed filings show. The company’s $5.09 million lobbying bill — up from $4.77 million in the previous quarter — came as the company sought to quell criticism of its market power and revelations about the harms of its platforms. It’s the second time the company has ever spent more than $5 million on lobbying in a single quarter, filings show. The company declined to comment.
Facebook also outpaced other major technology companies:
Pranksters defaced Trump’s new social media network soon after he announced it
They were able to post a picture of a defecating pig to a “donaldjtrump” account on its test site, leading to the site being taken down, Drew Harwell reports. The episode shows how challenging it will be for Trump to build a stand-alone Internet business.
“But the site’s early hours revealed lax security, rehashed features and a flurry of bizarre design decisions,” Drew writes. “An open sign-up page allowed anyone to use the site shortly after it was revealed, sparking the creation of the “donaldjtrump” account and the pig posting. A Washington Post reporter was able to register and post under the account name “mikepence” without any stops in place. New sign-ups were blocked shortly after.”
The U.S. government will drop tariff threats on five countries in exchange for them dropping digital taxes
The deal represents a concession from the United States, which wanted the European taxes targeting U.S. tech giants to be removed immediately after a sweeping global tax agreement was reached, the New York Times’s Alan Rappeport reports. European countries declined to do so, arguing that it wasn’t clear whether the Biden administration would be able to get the tax deal through Congress.
“Through the deal reached on Thursday, Austria, France, Italy, Spain and Britain will remove their digital services taxes once that part of the global agreement, known as Pillar 1, is enacted,” Rappeport writes. “That is expected to occur sometime in 2023. Taxes that are collected from companies between now and then will be eligible for a credit.”
The global tax deal is partly designed to prevent countries from luring companies with low tax rates. It includes provisions for taxing U.S. Internet giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google.
Rant and rave
Former president Donald Trump's new social media venture, Truth Social, has been a hot topic on another social media network, Twitter. Lawfare senior editor Quinta Jurecic picked apart the site's terms of service:
Our colleague, Drew Harwell:
Even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey weighed in:
Inside the industry
- CR Wooters has been named Uber's head of federal affairs. They joined Uber's D.C. office as director of federal public affairs in March.
- House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) discusses law enforcement algorithms at a Brookings Institution event on Monday at 3 p.m.
- Facebook holds an investor call on its third-quarter earnings on Monday at 5 p.m.
- Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube executives testify before the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee on their effects on children on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft and Twitter hold investor calls on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.
- Nadine Dorries, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, delivers a keynote address at a Brookings Institution event on technology governance on Wednesday at 12:45 p.m.
- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing on social media amplification of domestic extremism and other content on Thursday at 10:15 a.m.
- Apple and Amazon hold investor calls on Thursday at 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.