Republican Senator Josh Hawley continues to argue his case against Big Tech, that has in the past included a probe into possible antitrust behavior of Google, and support for the idea of breaking Facebook up into smaller parts.
This last policy is shared by many of his Democratic counterparts, but Hawley’s criticism goes beyond this.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Hawley questions the value of tech giants’ innovations in recent years, and more than that, claims that their activities now only serve their self-interest, at the expense of that of the public.
Instead of bringing real improvement to people’s lives and society, to the senator, these new services and features look more like “sophisticated exploitation” of Americans.
According to Hawley, the industry is now stagnant useful ideas-wise and is instead making money off previous, true innovations, by locking users more and more deeply into their “addiction” to a handful of dominant social media websites, where their data is collected for advertising purposes.
This, in turn, harms society, Hawley writes, and paints a bleak picture:
“Teen suicide is up. Twenty-two percent of millennials report that they have no friends. More than a few researchers have noticed a connection.”
Senator Hawley wrote:
What “innovation” remains in this space is innovation to keep the treadmill running, longer and faster, drawing more data from users to bombard us with more ads for more stuff.
But here’s the problem. As we spend more time on that digital treadmill, our real-world relationships atrophy, sometimes to disastrous effect. Teen suicide is up. Twenty-two percent of millennials report that they have no friends. More than a few researchers have noticed a connection.
Hawley’s solutions presented in the op-ed include making sure that Americans can go online without Big Tech surveillance, protection of privacy, especially that of children, and limit some design patters that he sees as addictive, such as autoplay and infinite scroll.
Then there’s the issue of political bias exhibited by social media as they police content – the senator wants new laws to deal with this problem by threatening to remove a platform’s safe harbor protections from the Communications Decency Act Section 230. Currently, this legislation exempts “interactive computer service providers” from liability for the content hosted on their platforms – something they would otherwise face as publishers.
Hawley also observed that startups nowadays get founded with the ultimate goal of being acquired by the giants – who, according to him, nip competition in the bud either by buying or copying smaller companies.
Lastly, the senator appeals on Big Tech to return to the path of real innovation and meaningful new products and thus prove themselves useful to society and deserving of their role in it.