Washington, D.C. — Online services are a ubiquitous part of the United States’ economy, democracy, and society. Americans are more reliant on online services than ever before, but the growth of online services has created new inequalities, acute consumer protection issues, and troubling concentrations of power. A new report from the Center for American Progress released today outlines novel and enhanced authorities to protect the public interest—and American consumers—online.
“The internet has become an essential part of American life, but our government’s approach to online services has failed to keep pace. As a result, the challenges for Americans, small businesses, and industries are growing in ways that we are scarcely able to wrap our arms around,” said Erin Simpson, associate director of Technology Policy at CAP and co-author of the report. “We need technology policies that promote equitable growth, drive innovation in the public interest, and protect freedom of expression, while curbing the increasing harms from online services. Hand in hand with updated competition policies and reinvigorated antitrust enforcement, enhanced regulation is a critical tool for reestablishing capable democratic oversight of online services.”
“Most Americans are on the internet every day, relying on online services at work, at home, and to connect with one another. But the harms that online services pose to our economy and democracy and to consumers are equally ubiquitous, and our current patchwork system of dated laws and regulations has left Americans vulnerable today and going forward,” said Adam Conner, vice president of Technology Policy at CAP and co-author of the report. “What’s needed is a new approach that addresses current harms, creates the capacity to prevent future issues, and promotes innovation in the public interest for years to come.”
Beyond passing into law bipartisan tech antitrust bills that have been moving through the 117th Congress, fully resourcing the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and taking up a comprehensive federal privacy law or supporting a privacy rule-making, CAP’s report identifies outstanding regulatory gaps and presents a new framework for regulating online services of all sizes. The report proposes three categories of online services regulation: online infrastructure, general online services, and gatekeepers.
CAP’s report builds on existing work to present a holistic, future-facing proposal for online services regulation. It makes five primary contributions:
- Modeling what regulation could look like for all online services, beyond today’s gatekeepers.
- Advocating for a hybrid approach, encompassing baseline statutes around highly problematic practices and a system of proactive, principles-based rule-making.
- Proposing a unique regulatory tier specifically for online infrastructure companies, which require distinct treatment to protect the essential operation of information online.
- Proposing a new test to further the robust conversation around identifying digital gatekeepers.
- Developing a cross-cutting approach to strengthen existing sector-specific regulatory bodies through investigatory powers, referral powers, expert support, and regulatory coordination.
CAP’s proposal envisions many potential pathways to actualizing this framework, through a combination of new and existing statutes, new rule-making powers, and revived use of existing powers. It presents several potential strategies for regulatory administration.
Read the report: “How to Regulate Tech: A Technology Policy Framework for Online Services Regulation” by Erin Simpson and Adam Conner.
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