Marsha Blackburn: Privacy at stake — hold ‘Big Tech accountable’

Screengrab Fox News

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that if Americans want to protect their privacy, they must “hold Big Tech accountable.”

In an op-ed run Sunday by Fox News, Blackburn took notice of the scope of Big Tech’s influence over the most mundane aspects of our lives, be it navigational apps, or news and weather apps.

(“Big Tech” is Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, also known as the the “Big Four,” or the “Gang of Four.)

Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Tech Task Force, Blackburn singled out two social media companies, Facebook and Google, writing that they “are in hot water for engaging in potentially anticompetitive practices that up until now have ensured their advertising partners occupy prime real estate on your devices.”

She noted Google’s online dominance — they’re set to control almost 40 percent of the digital ad market in 2019, according to the lawmaker. Fifty attorneys general from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have begun an antitrust investigation into the company.

Readers were also reminded about a separate investigation into Facebook’s possible antitrust violations.

“Technology touches our lives in intimate ways and makes us vulnerable to the unintended consequences of surrendering our ‘virtual you’ to for-profit corporations,” Blackburn wrote. “Recent data privacy scandals, coupled with these new probes, are proof that the industry is no longer capable of regulating itself.”

The freshman senator introduced the Browser Act back in April, which would require communications and technology companies “to provide users with clear and conspicuous notice of their privacy policies and the ability to opt-in to the collection of sensitive information and to opt-out of the collection of non-sensitive information. It also prohibits these companies from denying their service to users who refuse to waive their privacy rights.”

If passed, tech companies like Facebook and Google would have to get consent from users before collecting and selling their information to advertisers.

“Changing privacy practices will inevitably change the way these companies do business  — and could even shake up the market,” Blackburn said. “It won’t solve every point of contention in what’s sure to be a protracted investigation into Silicon Valley’s back offices, but it’s a great place to start.”

Stressing that “these are important steps to take,” Blackburn reminded folks that “in today’s environment, when you are online, you are the product.”

“Protecting your right to privacy in the 21st century requires that we hold Big Tech accountable,” she concluded.

Congress continues to mull the possibility of breaking up these companies because of alleged antitrust violations, but that’s not likely to occur anytime soon.

The House Antitrust Subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is currently investigating big tech companies for potential antitrust violations.

Bloomberg reported Sunday that the panel “is seeking information from customers of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook about the state of competition in digital markets and the adequacy of existing enforcement.”

One tech company that is sometimes included in the Big Four — Microsoft — is all for the federal government establishing “guardrails,” although he is speaking on election influences.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said the internet giants may cannibalize the fabric of this country if regulations are not established, according to NPR.

“We need to work together; we need to work with governments to protect, frankly, something that is far more important than technology: democracy. It was here before us. It needs to be here and healthy after us,” Smith said.

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