2019 Will Be a Year of Regulation for Big Tech
Whether big tech and little tech like it or not, 2019 will be a year of regulation. Virginia Senator Mark Warner’s 15-point framework is likely to be the basis for starting talks about policy for tech regulation. Based on his early proposal, we see three main regulatory introductions as most likely:
1. A US-version of GDPR. Europe set the standard in consumer data protection with GDPR, and it would be surprising if the US didn’t follow suit if not innovate. At a minimum, we would expect the US to adopt the most important points of GDPR, which are:
- Consent — clear consent of what users are allowing service providers to do with their data.
- Right to be informed — know who is using your data, for what, for how long, and who it will be shared with.
- Right to erasure — users can request to have data permanently deleted.
- Right to access — users can request to have access to their personal data.
- Right to data portability — users can request a file of their personal data that can be transported to another service.
- Data protection by design and default — data must be anonymized, and only necessary data must be processed.
GDPR also comes with steep penalties — up to 4% of worldwide revenue for the prior year for breaching elements related to consent, individual rights, and data protection. A US version of GDPR seems the most likely policy to be enacted in 2019.
2. Additional disclosure on political advertising. Russian tampering with the 2016 US Presidential election has been of great interest to the media and politicians, if not the public. Aside from the US-version of GDPR, additional disclosure around who is buying political ads is the other most likely regulatory outcome for 2019. As is so often the case with bad actors and those trying to stop them, the bad actors are likely to move on to another creative method of manipulation that we haven’t thought of yet. Therefore, to make this policy effective, regulators will have to be thoughtful about how they define political advertisements so that they can try to stay one step ahead of bad actors that will certainly keep innovating.
3. Public interest and academic data access. Allowing public institutions and researchers access to anonymized datasets from tech’s biggest platforms would seem to be an obvious net positive outcome that big tech should embrace as a sign of good faith. There are likely countless studies that could be performed on multi-billion user datasets about human behavior, economic influence, criminal activity, health, and more. While Warner’s proposal suggests that qualified startups also have some level of access to big tech’s datasets, we would expect big tech to lobby hard against this given data is a powerful moat for these companies. We’d expect that language to miss the final cut.