Tech

Congress Is Losing Patience With Big-Tech Resistance, Klobuchar Says

WASHINGTON—Congress is growing impatient with big technology companies for resisting legislative remedies aimed at addressing social harms from internet platforms, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Tuesday.

“Every single thing we propose, they are against,” Ms. Klobuchar (D., Minn.) said at The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live conference. “The more that time goes on, I’m not the only one that starts wondering if we should not just have the narrow changes” and start aiming for more ambitious legislation, she said.

Sen. Klobuchar heads the Senate antitrust subcommittee, and recently announced a far-reaching bipartisan plan to crack down on perceived “self-preferencing” in which dominant tech companies promote their own goods and services. That could be a potential threat to the business models of giants such as Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc., among others.

Tech industry leaders have said they are open to updating outdated laws, but say many of the measures proposed in Congress threaten the viability of the industry.

“The type of government industrial intervention proposed is what we’d expect to see from China, Russia, and other countries that compete with the U.S. in technological innovation, except that these policies would actually hold back U.S. companies as they compete with China and other countries,” Arthur Sidney, a vice president with the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said in a statement.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month.



Photo:

Jabin Botsford – Pool via CNP/Zuma Press

Tech companies have raised similar concerns about other congressional proposals to overhaul regulation of the tech industry, including privacy, accountability, transparency and children’s safety issues.

Efforts by Congress to toughen tech regulation often have stalled in the past, but Sen. Klobuchar said the push for change has been given a boost from the disclosure of internal documents from

Facebook

whistleblower Frances Haugen in the Journal’s Facebook Files series. Ms. Haugen subsequently testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing.

Ms. Klobuchar and other senators have accused Facebook of disregarding internal research that showed its Instagram app is harmful for significant numbers of teen girls. Facebook contends that the research shows that the app adds value and enriches the lives of teenagers.

The disclosures have fueled parental concerns about social media, Ms. Klobuchar said, giving new life to legislative efforts to provide added protections for children online.

Lawmakers from both parties are also beginning to consider a blanket repeal of the internet companies’ federal immunity from liability for content posted by users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, she said, as opposed to simply modifying the measure.

“This is our big year,” she said. “This isn’t just big company versus big company, these are real people and it’s our democracy at stake here.”

Write to John D. McKinnon at [email protected]

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