Today U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) Mark R. Warner (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will introduce the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, bipartisan legislation that will encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.
“Your data is your property. Period. Consumers should have the flexibility to choose new online platforms without artificial barriers to entry. This bill creates long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers the power to move their data from one service to another,” said Sen. Hawley.
“Social media has enormous benefits. But, as we've seen, the tremendous dominance of a handful of large platforms also has major downsides – including few options for consumers who want to use social media to connect with friends, store their photos or just watch cat videos, but who face a marketplace with just a few major players and little in the way of real competition,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist. “As a former cell phone guy, I saw what a game-changer number portability was for that industry. By making it easier for social media users to easily move their data or to continue to communicate with their friends after switching platforms, startups will be able to compete on equal terms with the biggest social media companies. And empowering trusted custodial companies to step in on behalf of users to better manage their accounts across different platforms will help balance the playing field between consumers and companies. In other words – by enabling portability, interoperability, and delegatability, this bill will help put consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to how and where they use social media.”
“The exclusive dominance of Facebook and Google have crowded out the meaningful competition that is needed to protect online privacy and promote technological innovation. As we learned in the Microsoft antitrust case, interoperability and portability are powerful tools to restrain anti-competitive behaviors and promote innovative new companies. The bipartisan ACCESS Act would empower consumers to finally stand up to Big Tech and move their data to services that respect their rights,” said Sen. Blumenthal.
Online communications platforms have become vital to the economic and social fabric of the nation, but network effects and consumer lock-in have entrenched a select number of companies’ dominance in the digital market and enhanced their control over consumer data. The ACCESS Act would increase market competition, encourage innovation, and increase consumer choice by requiring large communications platforms (products or services with over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.) to:
- Make their services interoperable with competing communications platforms.
- Permit users to easily port their personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- Allow users to delegate trusted custodial services, which are required to act in a user’s best interests through a strong duty of care, with the task of managing their account settings, content, and online interactions.
Previously, Sens. Hawley and Warner have partnered on the DASHBOARD Act, legislation to require data harvesting companies such as social media platforms to disclose how they are monetizing consumer data, as well as the Do Not Track Act, which would allow users to opt out of non-essential data collection, modeled after the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Do Not Call” list.
“One very real nightmare scenario for the future of the internet is users facing a meaningless choice among a few fully-integrated silos of technology, and the end of independent innovation and creativity. We all need to prevent that from happening. This legislation could help us take a huge step forward towards a better internet future,” said Chris Riley, Director of Public Policy at the Mozilla Corporation.
“Markets work when consumers have a choice and know what's going on. The ACCESS Act is an important step toward reestablishing this dynamic in the market for tech services. We must get back to the conditions that make markets work: when consumers know what they give a firm and what they get in return; and if they don't like the deal, they can take their business elsewhere. By giving consumers the ability to delegate decisions to organizations working on their behalf, the ACCESS Act gives consumers some hope that they can understand what they are giving up and getting in the opaque world that the tech firms have created. By mandating portability, it also gives them a realistic option of switching to another provider,” said Paul Romer, New York University Professor of Economics and Nobel Prize winner in Economics.
“We’re thrilled to see a concrete legislative proposal to provide interoperability for consumers. Built on a solid foundation of privacy and security protections, interoperability enables users to communicate across networks promoting competition among social media platforms. Interoperability ensures that users benefit from increased competition, and it helps new competitors grow by reaching users that are locked-in to their current provider. Senator Warner’s interoperability bill lays out an excellent, practical framework for making interoperability a reality while preserving a role for states to go even further,” said Charlotte Slaiman, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.
“All of us at USV believe in decentralized, emergent, market driven innovation. The shared communications infrastructure of the open Internet and a vibrant competitive market triggered the Cambrian explosion of new Web services we all now enjoy. But today, a small number of companies capitalize on their exclusive control over our data - the data we contribute as we interact with their services - to dominate markets, stifling competition and limiting consumer choice. While this is widely understood, most policy makers propose prescriptive regulation that would only further entrench the dominant platforms. The ACCESS Act targets the specific market failure - exclusive control over consumer data - that has led to the consolidation of market power on the Web. Ensuring that consumers have access to their data is an elegant way to restore competition without burdensome regulation,” said Brad Burnham, Partner and Co-Founder at Union Square Ventures.
A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.