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Draft policy document proposes regulatory overhaul for US tech platforms

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Draft policy document proposes regulatory overhaul for US tech platforms

A draft policy paper released by the office of the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggests a range of potential solutions to address concerns related to misinformation and privacy breaches of major tech platforms.

The document, prepared by the staff of Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., points to government failures in regulating social media and technology firms and suggests holding companies to higher standards for policing their platforms to guard against abuses. The draft document also accuses dominant online platforms of anti-competitive behavior across multiple market segments, including advertising, artificial intelligence and communications technology.

While it remains unclear whether any of the suggested policies will be implemented — and the document itself suggested that some proposals may contain flaws — the document's stated intent is to "spark a wider discussion" among policymakers and stakeholders about the future of tech policy.

One proposal outlined in the draft document would require platforms to regularly disclose information on inauthentic accounts to the SEC, including what percentage of total accounts the false or bot-driven accounts represent. The paper also discusses the possibility of crafting legislation that would direct the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate lapses in addressing inauthentic accounts, under the commission's authority to assess unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Twitter Inc. recently removed tens of millions of suspicious accounts in an effort to restore trust in the quality of discourse on its platform. In a June blog post, company executives said they had invested in new processes to fight malicious automation and spam. The company's monthly active users fell by 1 million from the first to the second quarter as the effort gained ground. Twitter's shares fell sharply July 27 immediately after the company reported its second-quarter results.

The policy paper also floats the idea of creating a "comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation," that would essentially mirror the European Union’s new data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, with 72-hour data breach notification requirements, data portability rights and the right to request erasure of personal data. Another suggestion is to alter Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make online platforms liable for state-law torts, such as defamation, in the same way public newspapers and media outlets assume liability.

Currently, the law exempts providers and users of "interactive computer services" from liability from content published on platforms by a third party, which includes social media companies. A change in the law would bring about significant change in the way social media companies publish content.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, multiple House Republicans asked executives from major online social media platforms — such as Facebook Inc., Twitter, and Alphabet Inc. — why they should not be regulated like traditional media. One congressman, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, suggested converting online social platforms to public utilities.

At the July 17 hearing, tech executives defended the law as is. Monika Bickert, vice president of global policy management at Facebook, described the law's current exception for internet companies from the more stringent requirements under the Communications Decency Act as "essential" for online companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google LLC to function.