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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Why 2022 could be a ‘watershed year’ for tech regulation

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Welcome back to The Technology 202 and happy 2022! If you’ve already bailed on your New Year’s resolution, don’t worry, we’ve all been there. 

Below: More on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter suspension, and the 5G standoff between the federal government and the telecom industry. First up:

Why 2022 could be a ‘watershed year’ for tech regulation

Up until now, the so-called techlash that ushered in historic scrutiny of Silicon Valley companies has been mostly toothless, producing few new rules in the United States to rein in their conduct. 

But 2022 may finally be the year that policymakers turn their fiery tech rhetoric into significant regulation of the industry — if they don’t run out of time, first. 

In Congress, lawmakers face an increasingly tight window ahead of the 2022 midterms to pass sweeping legislation aimed at curbing alleged antitrust abuses by the tech giants, addressing social media harms and giving federal enforcers more tools to police the sector.

At key agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, newly appointed Democratic leaders are poised to bring oversight of tech companies to new heights — but their plans could be stymied by delays to crucial nominees and other looming hurdles. 

Even in the face of those potential pitfalls, several top advocates who for years have called on Washington to get tougher with Silicon Valley say they expect this year to be a turning point for efforts to rein in the tech industry.

“I don’t think there’s any question that 2022 will be the watershed year when it comes to tech policy and regulation … 2022 is the year that the rubber is going to meet the road,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a group that advocates for greater federal oversight of kids’ online safety and data privacy.

Here are three key battles to watch in 2022 — and how top lawmakers, advocates and industry leaders predict they will shake out:

The sprint to pass new antitrust laws on Capitol Hill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers for months has been trying to build momentum for legislation to crack down on alleged anticompetitive behavior by tech behemoths like Facebook and Apple. Some of their proposals, if passed, would mark the most significant legislative restrictions ever placed on the tech giants at the federal level in the United States.  

“I expect our fight to rein in big tech will intensify, and we will start to see results,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is leading antitrust efforts in the Senate. “There is bipartisan momentum behind promoting competition and establishing digital rules of the road, and I know we can get something done.”

Lawmakers’ efforts could be tabled indefinitely if Democrats don’t retain control of Congress in this year’s midterms due to significant Republican opposition to the bills. Proponents of the push say that makes 2022 crucial for getting the proposals over the finish line. 

“The House and Senate digital marketplace reform efforts could produce significant benefits in the coming year, but to do so, those efforts need to begin moving in earnest as it is an election year and the gatekeepers are more than capable of running out the clock,” said Greg Guice, director of government affairs at consumer group Public Knowledge.

Short-term delays, but long-term threats at the FTC

Under the leadership of aggressive new Democratic enforcers, the FTC is set to consider expanding its power to crack down on privacy abuses and algorithmic discrimination by tech companies through an internal process known as rulemaking

That’s one of several areas in which the agency is poised to take a tougher stance against industry practices under Lina Khan, the new chair. But the efforts are likely to face opposition from industry groups and Republicans, who have voiced concern about the agency expanding its authority without more concrete direction from Congress.

Adam Kovacevich, CEO of left-leaning tech coalition Chamber of Progress, predicted that “common ground could be found on data discrimination issues, but not on efforts to limit online advertising.” His group counts Amazon, Google and other tech companies as financial backers.

The agency’s agenda is also likely to be delayed, at least initially. Democrats failed to secure majorities at either the FTC or the Federal Communications Commission before the new year due to delays in the Senate for key nominees, which could hold up both agencies’ priorities. The agency is also still waiting to see if it will receive a major funding boost for privacy enforcement via President Biden’s social spending bill, which is currently in limbo.

A reinvigorated push to regulate social media

Still fuming over Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s damaging revelations about the platform and its risks, lawmakers are hoping to seize on those bipartisan concerns to pass new laws to better protect kids and teens on social media and the Internet.

“These Wild West style CEOs can expect to see legislation that will force transparency and accountability to their online customers,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate panel investigating Haugen’s disclosures.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chairs the panel, said Congress faces “a pivotal turning point” in the bid to rein in the tech giants in 2022.

But like with the antitrust efforts, lawmakers will need to contend not only with a shortened legislative window during an election year, but also a crowded agenda on Capitol Hill. That includes ongoing negotiations over President Biden’s massive social spending bill. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jim Steyer is president of Common Sense Media. He is the founder. Ellen Pack is president.

Our top tabs

Twitter permanently suspends Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account over repeated violations of covid-19 misinformation policy

After banning Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Twitter cited a “strike” system that bars users from sharing information that is “demonstrably false or misleading and may lead to significant risk of harm” five or more times, Brittany Shammas reports. On messaging app Telegram, Greene called Twitter an “enemy to America.”

Greene’s ban comes nearly a year after Twitter permanently banned President Donald Trump. That ban came after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

LegiStorm’s Keturah Hetrick explained what the ban means for Greene’s campaigning on Twitter:

The pro-Trump Internet has descended into infighting

Popular right-wing Internet personalities are “grappling with the pressures of restless audiences, saturated markets, ongoing investigations and millions of dollars in legal bills,” Drew Harwell reports. As a result, a chaotic melodrama is playing out online, with secretly recorded phone calls, attacks in podcasts and posts calling out their rivals.

“The infighting reflects the diminishing financial rewards for the merchants of right-wing disinformation, whose battles center not on policy or doctrine but on the treasures of online fame: viewer donations and subscriptions; paid appearances at rallies and conferences; and crowds of followers to buy their books and merchandise,” Drew writes.

Telecom executives blasted a U.S. government request to delay launching 5G technology

The letter by AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg came in response to federal officials’ request last week that U.S. telecommunication companies delay their 5G implementation by no more than two weeks, the Wall Street Journal’s Drew FitzGerald and Andrew Tangel report. In November, AT&T and Verizon delayed their 5G rollouts over the Biden administration’s concerns about the technology potentially interfering with airplane safety systems.

In their letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Stephen Dickson, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Stankey and Vestberg pointed to France and offered to implement 5G limits like those in the country.

“Airlines have been bracing for significant flight cancellations and diversions due to potential FAA flight restrictions because of the regulator’s aviation-safety concerns,” FitzGerald and Tangel write. “Pilots and airlines had been awaiting details of potential FAA flight restrictions that limit the use of systems that rely on radar altimeters.” The Transportation Department did not respond to a request for comment from the Wall Street Journal.

Rant and rave

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, shared a New Year’s photo dressed in disco garb that was promptly ridiculed. Writer Parker Molloy and Caroline McCarthy, an executive at digital advertising company true[X]:

Writer Adam Aziz:

Facebook parent Meta’s Tom Gara:

Inside the industry

Facebook ad ban may squelch medical research recruitment (Politico)

Privacy monitor

China harvests masses of data on Western targets, documents show (Cate Cadell)

Agency scanner

Amid tension with Russia, Biden administration wants to extend the life of the International Space Station (Christian Davenport)

Trending

Apple’s new ad invites you to imagine dying alone without a Watch on your wrist (The Verge)

Airbnb hides guest first names in Oregon to stop discrimination (Gizmodo)

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