NetChoice, a tech industry group funded by Google and Facebook’s parent company Meta, launched a new litigation center Tuesday, signaling a shift in its playbook as battles over Silicon Valley regulation shift from Congress to the courts.
The center will also track lawsuits and local laws — a major hurdle for the industry as it scrambles to respond to the patchwork of legislation creating ad hoc rules for tech companies, after years of inaction in Congress.
It is designed to respond to the newest regulatory threat: judges who, in the absence of comprehensive federal laws, are increasingly making decisions about social media and competition in the tech industry.
“Online free speech and online free enterprise are under attack … from every corner of this country,” Chris Marchese, NetChoice counsel who will serve as the center’s new director, said in an interview. “Industry has to have a consistent voice.”
Nicole Saad Bembridge, who works as NetChoice’s associate counsel, will serve as the center’s associate director. NetChoice is also hiring another attorney to work on the center by the end of the month, and they anticipate they will hire more lawyers as litigation involving the tech industry increases.
Nearly five years after a Facebook data privacy scandal kicked off increased scrutiny of Big Tech’s practices, the industry’s defenses against regulation are maturing. NetChoice’s new center is modeled after the litigation arm of the Chamber of Commerce, which brings lawsuits and briefs on behalf of the powerful business lobbying group.
The tech industry is increasingly batting back a wave of litigation that could force broad changes to its business practices. Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, a lawsuit that argues tech companies should be legally responsible for the harmful content that their algorithms promote. Tech companies are also fighting a raft of new antitrust lawsuits, including a January lawsuit challenging the dominance of Google’s ad business.
NetChoice emerged as a key representative for Silicon Valley in several court battles over the future of online speech. Nearly two years ago, NetChoice joined with another trade group, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, to challenge a Florida social media law that would impose fines on companies for de-platforming political candidates.
NetChoice and CCIA also brought a lawsuit challenging a similar Texas law, which bars companies from removing posts based on a person’s political ideology. The arguments over these laws are expected to be heard by the Supreme Court in the term beginning in October, after circuit courts gave conflicting rulings over their constitutionality.
The industry has also challenged laws in Democratic-led states. In December, NetChoice brought a lawsuit challenging a landmark California children’s safety law, which requires tech companies to adopt new policies to protect children and their privacy online.