As Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States, digital rights groups called on him and lawmakers to limit the power of tech companies and protect consumers’ online privacy.
Advocacy groups want Biden to ban facial recognition technology on day one – which critics say can perpetuate discriminatory policing – and not appoint to his administration people with close ties to major technology companies.
“We look forward to the opportunity the President-elect has to lead the way in privacy and hold tech companies that abuse privacy practices to account,” Jane Chung said Wednesday. , an advocate for consumer group Public Citizen.
“We need regulators who protect consumers, workers, and communities of color from predatory surveillance and bad privacy practices – and who represent the interests of people, not businesses.”
Privacy concerns are increasing amid data breaches and public discomfort with how information is collected and used. US regulators have imposed heavy fines on Facebook Inc and Google Inc’s YouTube unit for breach of privacy.
Public Citizen and 10 other US-based digital rights and racial justice groups also want the new administration to create an independent data protection authority and support a federal privacy law for the first 100 days of its mandate. .
The United States does not have a comprehensive digital privacy law, but Democratic and Republican lawmakers proposed legislation in 2019 to protect consumers and ensure businesses collect the minimum amount of personal data necessary for their purpose.
The state of California enacted a sweeping privacy law in 2018, often seen as a model for a possible federal executive, which Biden chief of staff Bruce Reed helped negotiate with industry. of technology and lawmakers.
Reining in Big Tech
Before former US President Donald Trump stepped down on Wednesday, his outgoing antitrust chief called on Congress to pass legislation that would place new restrictions on mergers of dominant companies, echoing an earlier proposal made by Democrats to representatives room.
Makan Delrahim, who is resigning from his post as head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said on Tuesday the division had drafted legislation that would make it harder for large companies to acquire small businesses that could pose future threats competitive.
“My aim is to create a clear rule for the parties and for the courts,” Delrahim said in a speech Tuesday, referring to legislation considered by lawyers to be unambiguous. New merger legislation could “effectively combat excessive market concentration,” he said.
Delrahim’s remarks represent the support of a Republican administration official for a proposal made by House Democrats late last year. An antitrust panel investigating giant tech companies in October called for new legislation to curb acquisitions of dominant companies, especially in the tech sector.
Antitrust law enforcement officials have been criticized for giving tech giants free rein to buy up small businesses to consolidate their control in digital markets.
Digital rights groups are scrutinizing the staff Biden exploits for his work on tech issues, as antitrust law enforcement has become an issue Biden’s transition team has paid attention to.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Alphabet’s Google on October 20, accusing the $ 1 trillion company of dominating search and advertising, and the Federal Trade Commission is also pursuing antitrust action against Facebook.
Google largely denied the wrongdoing and said its search engine and other products were dominant because consumers preferred them.
Facebook attorney general Jennifer Newstead said antitrust laws did not exist to punish “successful businesses” and that WhatsApp and Instagram had succeeded because Facebook had invested billions of dollars in growing the apps.
Renata Hesse, who has held several positions in the Justice Department since 2002, has held positions in the private sector and advised on matters involving Amazon and Google, is among the main contenders for the prominent antitrust post.
On Monday, 40 advocacy groups sent a letter to Biden, asking him to “avoid appointing to key antitrust law enforcement positions people who have served as lawyers, lobbyists or consultants for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google ”.
Biden’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some privacy advocates see a vigorous antitrust investigation as a key lever to promote greater digital privacy for consumers.
“We need people at DOJ… who will take a close look at the tech industry and push forward the various ongoing antitrust investigations and lawsuits,” said David Segal, head of Demand Progress, a digital rights advocacy group that signed Monday’s letter.
“But recent reports indicate that people with close ties to the industry are being seriously considered for key positions.”
Other jurisdictions are also tightening their regulatory grip on large tech companies.
Google is back in the sights of the European Union, just two years after antitrust regulators ended nearly a decade of investigations with $ 9 billion in fines.
This time around, the European Commission is examining Google’s practices in the “ad technology value chain,” according to a questionnaire sent to publishers and ad agencies seen by Bloomberg, the news agency reported this week.
He says officials are focusing on how the US giant interacts with advertisers, publishers, ad technology companies and their rivals.
Regulators are also conducting a separate investigation that cites EU concerns over how “Google collects, accesses, processes, uses or monetizes data” collected from tracking people’s online behavior, the document said.