By Kimberly Adams, Stephanie Hughes, and Sasha Fernandez
This week, we’re looking at just what it will take to update the regulation of the tech sector. Senator Amy Klobuchar has put forward several bills that would do just that. Klobuchar, who’s been working on this issue for years now, thinks we might be in something of a moment.
Parts of the tech world have themselves acknowledged the need for updated rules and regulations (although maybe not exactly the ones the senator has in mind).
Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams visited Klobuchar at her office on Capitol Hill. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Amy Klobuchar: So, beefing up the agencies has strong bipartisan support. Senator Grassley and I just passed a bill that changes the merger fees to put over $100 million into the FTC — the Federal Trade Commission — and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. Secondly, you’ve got to put people in charge that really want to take it on. And there were some people at the Trump administration, out of [the Department of Justice] and the FTC who started these suits against Google and Facebook, and that was really important. And now President Biden has put in some people who are out-of-the-box thinkers, and I mean this in a complimentary way, heading up the FTC and Department of Justice Antitrust. Then the next thing you need are laws that work. And that’s where Congress really comes in, in addition to the funding. You can’t have the economy change [so] that 20% of the economy is now tech, and not make one change to our federal privacy laws, or to our competition policy. So, big surprise — our laws should be as sophisticated as our economy right now.
Kimberly Adams: How do you then prioritize which of these pieces, at least from the congressional side, you go after first?
Klobuchar: Federal privacy law is going to be right there up front, because we have a patchwork of laws and we need a strong one on the federal side so that people can decide what they want to do with their own data. We don’t have any controls that are meaningful for you to protect your data, it’s too complicated the way they have it. Secondly, building on the kids work we’ve already done with the Children’s Online Privacy Bill and making sure that works. Third, my stuff, the competition piece of it. And that means everything from making sure that you don’t have misinformation out there, and you create incentives so they don’t allow it on their platforms, to stopping these companies from self-preferencing, which is a fancy word to mean that can’t put their own products, that they own, at the top of their dominant search engines.
Adams: You mentioned privacy should be first. China has a new personal information protection law that is now in effect. Europe has much more stringent privacy and competition rules. What are the costs of the fact that it has taken us so long to get new tech regulation? And we’re still not there.
Klobuchar: Well, I’ll diagnose the problem first, and that is that literally every corner you turn in a corridor of the Capitol, you find some tech lobbyist. So how do you get around that ? By making things bipartisan, which I’ve worked very hard to do with the competition policy. So, we have this bill with a dozen authors that are from all over the place, geographically, and on the ideological spectrum. I think that’s important to show support and get success.
Adams: Has all of this work you’ve done changed the way that you interact with tech in your personal life?
Klobuchar: I’m glad that I use tech. I’m glad that I have on a Fitbit, that I have my iPhone, that I do online ordering. It makes me even more devoted to changing it, because I want to be able to use these products. I don’t want these companies to go away or implode. What I want is that you can have actual competition, [it] may mean divesting certain assets that they shouldn’t have acquired in the first place, so we can have actual competition. We want to do it in a way that we are better protecting the people of this country. Enough of saying: ‘Trust us.’