Tech’s road to economic demise is paved with good intentions

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTalk grows that Trump will fire Dan Coats Harris on election security: 'Russia can't hack a piece of paper' Schiff: Evidence of collusion between Trump campaign, Russia 'pretty compelling' MORE (D-Va.) recently laid out his plan to “solve” modern day tech issues. But despite his good intentions, he has proposed policies that would break down our greatest economic engine – the tech industry.

The 20-page white paper call “Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms” represents noble ideas that would result in knee-capping American innovation, promoting increased market consolidation, and undermining privacy – all while leaving the problems the paper seeks to solve unaddressed.


These proposed policies fail to understand their implications on the tech market and how they could undermine the future of the U.S. economy.

Take, for example, the White Paper’s calls to make Internet platforms liable for content posted by users. This would effectively demand that social media services scrutinize every video, post, and picture uploaded, requiring platforms to be arbiters of all user-generated content posted on their services. It also requires the huge costs of hiring hundreds of reviewers and engineers to analyze all content posted. While Facebook and Google might be able to afford to comply with such burdensome regulations, new market entrants most certainly could not.

The White Paper also mandates platforms give researchers open access to user data. While noble on its face, such access would leave valuable data vulnerable to untrustworthy actors. This is the type of access that gave rise to the Cambridge Analytica scandal when a Cambridge Professor abused research data.

Some of the White Paper’s other proposals would violate our Constitution.  Government mandated take-downs of otherwise lawful content violates the First Amendment. Suggestions of gargantuan fine levies for even small violations by small businesses violate Eighth Amendment protections against excessive fines.

The White Paper’s policies for “algorithmic fairness” – requiring all online actions to be treated equally – would mean the removal of personalized content, search results, and offers - even threatening the customized coupons we get at the supermarket.

Of course, some of the best ways for companies to comply with the demands of the White Paper would be to collect more information about users to identify false postings. The White Paper’s proposed limitation on collection without prior consent would lock-in existing large companies as market dominators, since consumers would only trust established brands, rather than new ones.

And regardless of the benefits for the largest tech companies from the White Paper’s barriers to competition, even large companies would face incredible costs of compliance, undermining their competitiveness on the international stage.

Despite the numerous problematic proposals in the White Paper, we should also consider its stronger points. Certain proposals for transparency in political advertising are reasonable, for example. But if we are to discuss whether and how to further regulate the tech industry, we must appreciate the harms and risks of all suggested policies, not just their goals.

It’s important to remember where good intentions can lead and to remember that internet businesses already operate under hundreds of laws and regulations, too.

And finally, it’s important to remember that dismantling America’s innovation powerhouse would leave a vacuum, both domestically and internationally, that foreign companies allied with governments less liberal and democratic than our own, would likely fill.

The White Paper’s path may be paved with good intentions, but we know where this road leads. Let’s not follow it.

Steve DelBianco is president and CEO of NetChoice, an association of eCommerce businesses and online consumers who share the goal of promoting convenience, choice, and commerce on the net.