Will Political Polarization Stop US Lawmakers from Regulating Big Tech?

A media lobbying group wants to see tech platforms reigned in with stronger antitrust laws. But the group's president tells the New York Times the biggest force supporting the status quo is hyperpartisanship. The Times reports: The lack of regulation of technology companies is not because elected officials don't understand the internet. That used to be the case, and it helps explain why they have been so slow with oversight measures. Now, though, new questions about technology get mapped onto increasingly intractable political divides. Without the distractions of bizarre questions, what's left is the naked reality that the parties are deeply at odds over how to protect consumers and encourage businesses. Dozens of bills to strengthen privacy, encourage competition and quell misinformation have stalled because of a basic disagreement over the hand of government on businesses. "Congress has again shown it's all bark and no bite when it comes to regulating Big Tech," said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, adding: "We've made no progress for decades." The cost of the government's long education on tech is that regulation is increasingly out of reach. In April 2018, 14 years after founding thefacebook.com and more than five years after Facebook surpassed 1 billion users, Mark Zuckerberg appeared for the first time before Congress... [D]espite bipartisan agreement that tech companies have run roughshod and deserve more oversight, none of the bills discussed in those hearings four years ago have been passed. Turns out, holding a hearing that humbles the most powerful business executives in the world is much easier than legislating. Very bright lines of partisan disagreements appear when writing rules that restrict how much data can be collected by platforms, whether consumers can sue sites for defamation, and whether regulators can slow the march of dominance of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. The Times points out that, just for example, when it came to the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency, "the divides on regulation broke down along party lines" Wednesday after six crypto executives testified before a House committee. Democrats warned that the fast-growing industry needed clearer oversight. "Currently, cryptocurrency markets have no overarching or centralized regulatory framework, leaving investments in the digital assets space vulnerable to fraud, manipulation and abuse," said Representative Maxine Waters, the Democrat of California who chairs the committee. Other Democrats expressed similar caution.... Republicans hewed to their free-market stripes at the crypto hearing. Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, told the crypto executives that he was in favor of their work and that regulations the industry has embraced may go too far. Representative Ted Budd, Republican of North Carolina, worried that lawmakers could push innovation in financial technology out of the United States.

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