Bill would require big social platforms to support data mobility

Under the bill, the Federal Trade Commission would assess data interoperability for platforms with more than 100 million monthly users.

network of people and metrics (Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com)
 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are targeting big tech with a bill designed to make large social networks and other platforms give users more control over their data.

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act of 2021 requires platforms with more than 100 million monthly active users to make their services interoperable with that of their competitors, while providing users with capabilities to port personal data in machine-readable formats. The Federal Trade Commission would be tasked with creating a new privacy standard to protect user data, and have new authorities to continually assess how those platforms interoperate with their competitors.

"Regardless of the quality of the platform, a user whose entire network is on Facebook can't simply switch to another social media platform that none of their friends or business contacts use," Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), who introduced the bill earlier this summer along with several Democratic and Republican colleagues, said Wednesday at the Bipartisan Policy Center's discussion on competition, data portability and interoperability. "Conversely, a new social media platform will struggle to attract new users for the very same reason."

The legislation comes after a multi-year investigation led by the antitrust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee identified anticompetitive conduct and patterns of abuse among major platforms like Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google. If passed, users of those platforms would be provided enhanced data protection and cybersecurity tools, like trusted third-party custodial services, to manage their content and personal settings.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement about a Senate version of the bill that the "exclusive dominance of Facebook and Google have crowded out the meaningful competition that is needed to protect online privacy and promote technological innovation."

However, industry leaders who support the goals of making user data portable and platform services interoperable have expressed several concerns around how the bill will be implemented and who will maintain oversight responsibilities.

Daniel Castro, vice president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said "there are a number of problems" in how the proposal seeks to tackle the issues of data portability, and that "the lines aren't always really clear" as to who owns what data on digital platforms.

"If a platform is able to learn something about an individual ... some of that data gets commingled and it gets hard to tell what might be platform data versus user data," he said at a panel hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. "Another issue that arises here is not just that co-ownership issue, but if I upload a photo of a friend, or tag a friend, or I like another user's comment, how much of that data is mine versus this other user?"

While the ACCESS Act stipulates that proprietary data should not be included in new data portability requirements, Castro suggested the debate over data ownership could lead to significant implementation challenges for the bill.

Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, also pointed to potential privacy implications around data portability.

"You always want to make sure when data is being transferred from one platform to another it's being done with the consent of the data owner," he said.

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