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China and Big Tech pose threats to our democracy, but we have the power to regulate one


For all their sanctimonious claims about “connecting the world” to make it a better place, nobody can spread disinformation like Silicon Valley.

Case in point: their shrieking that any regulation could weaken them and cause China to become the technology leader of the world.

{mosads}Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeded this idea when he told Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), that Chinese internet companies are “a real strategic and competitive threat that American technology policy should be thinking about.”

Months later, in an interview with Recode, Zuckerberg doubled down, telling Kara Swisher that regulation would “clip the wings” of companies like Facebook. “The alternative, frankly,” he added, “is going to be the Chinese companies.”

There is no doubt that China is a major and growing competitor, and that their way of running the internet is not the American way. But, America’s long-term global leadership in this area depends on embracing the right public policy here at home.

We can do that by:

  1. Preventing monopoly platforms – like Facebook and Google – from suppressing the development of nascent technology start-ups; and
  2. Protecting the works of American creatives in the digital space

Let’s start with the monopoly problem.

With nearly 92.74 percent market share in search, Google is incontrovertibly a monopoly. Same goes for Facebook, which owns four of the world’s top five web apps: Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook itself.

{mossecondads}With that kind of power and wealth, these companies can dictate the markets everywhere they are used. When Instagram showed itself to be hipper and more visually savvy than Facebook, Facebook bought it. When Snapchat rebuffed Facebook’s advances, Zuckerberg turned Instagram into a potential Snapchat killer.

Similarly, when Yelp’s reviews began to encroach on Google’s business, Google started favoring its own results in search, driving Yelp’s reviews down the page. Its holding company, Alphabet, has also made a staggering number of acquisitions, gobbling up competitors in fields ranging from digital couponing to virtual reality. And both companies employ veritable armies of lobbyists and think tanks to goad politicians and citizens alike into helping preserve their dominance. (Facebook and Google spent $9.79 million and $16.3 million respectively on lobbying the American government in 2018.)

This sort of behavior is terrible for American technology entrepreneurs, systemically blocking any true competitors from thinking outside the box.

Which brings us to #2. At the core of innovative companies, of course, are innovative individuals – who have similarly struggled under the reign of Silicon Valley. For decades, Big Tech’s power players have waged war on copyright, the legal concept that fuels American innovation by ensuring creatives are paid fairly for their work.

Outdated, overbroad safe harbor laws such as Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – both relics of the late ‘90s – relieve internet companies from liability for any content that appears on their platforms. This free pass has enabled them to amass staggering wealth, in significant part, by monetizing content made by others without permission or compensation.

At the same time, platforms are giving safe harbor to piracy operations that siphon revenue away from the creative industries. According to Digital TV Research, the U.S. film and television industry alone will lose $52 billion to online piracy by the year 2022.  – money that would otherwise flow directly into creating content and rewarding millions of American workers. And that number doesn’t include music, video games, software, books, photography or other creative works.

You know what makes a country strong and competitive with China? A strong and competitive export economy. In 2015, U.S. copyright products in overseas markets amounted to $177 billion, exceeding the international sales of other major U.S. industries including chemicals, aerospace, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals.

The status quo for America’s Big Tech companies will not work. We need to take steps now to curb their capacity to limit competition from other internet companies and to harm other American industries and their workers. Our legislators should review and revise these outdated safe harbor laws so that companies like Facebook and Google can be held accountable for the content that appears on their platforms. And to the extent that these internet platform monopolies abuse their privileged status, they need to be regulated or broken up.

These are the best ways to address the risk of Chinese tech dominance – by limiting the monopoly power of our own tech companies and putting a stop to their endless war on copyright.

We shouldn’t buy the fear and disinformation that Big Tech is selling about regulation. No matter what they say, their business practices harm competition and our leaders must ensure that they are law-abiding. It’s time for Washington to get a deeper understanding of Big Tech abuses and take action.

Gale Anne Hurd is a producer of films and television shows, including the “Terminator” trilogy, “Aliens”, “Armageddon”, and “The Walking Dead”.

Tags Big tech Dan Sullivan Google Mark Zuckerberg

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