The American tech industry is the most innovative in the world. I’m proud of what it has accomplished, and of the many talented, committed people who work in this industry every day. But like many Americans, I’m concerned about how some in the industry collect, share and exploit our most personal data, deepen extremism and polarization in our country, tilt our economy’s playing field, violate the civil rights of women and minorities, and even put our children at risk.
As my administration works to address these challenges with the legal authority we have, I urge Democrats and Republicans to come together to pass strong bipartisan legislation to hold Big Tech accountable.
The risks Big Tech poses for ordinary Americans are clear. Big Tech companies collect huge amounts of data on the things we buy, on the websites we visit, on the places we go and, most troubling of all, on our children. As I said last year in my State of the Union address, millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma and mental health. We must hold social-media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.
To keep Americans on their platforms, Big Tech companies often use users’ personal data to direct them toward extreme and polarizing content that is likely to keep them logged on and clicking. All too often, tragic violence has been linked to toxic online echo chambers.
What’s more, social media and other platforms have allowed abusive and even criminal conduct, like cyberstalking, child sexual exploitation, nonconsensual pornography, and sales of dangerous drugs. In other cases, Big Tech companies have elbowed mom-and-pop businesses out from their platforms, disadvantaged them, or charged them outlandish prices, making it harder for them to compete and grow, and thereby stifling innovation.
These are just some of the reasons I’ve pushed for legislation to hold Big Tech accountable. From the start of my administration, I’ve embraced three broad principles for reform.
First, we need serious federal protections for Americans’ privacy. That means clear limits on how companies can collect, use and share highly personal data—your internet history, your personal communications, your location, and your health, genetic and biometric data. It’s not enough for companies to disclose what data they’re collecting. Much of that data shouldn’t be collected in the first place. These protections should be even stronger for young people, who are especially vulnerable online. We should limit targeted advertising and ban it altogether for children.
Second, we need Big Tech companies to take responsibility for the content they spread and the algorithms they use. That’s why I’ve long said we must fundamentally reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech companies from legal responsibility for content posted on their sites. We also need far more transparency about the algorithms Big Tech is using to stop them from discriminating, keeping opportunities away from equally qualified women and minorities, or pushing content to children that threatens their mental health and safety.
Third, we need to bring more competition back to the tech sector. My administration has made strong progress in promoting competition throughout the economy, consistent with my July 2021 executive order. But there is more we can do. When tech platforms get big enough, many find ways to promote their own products while excluding or disadvantaging competitors—or charge competitors a fortune to sell on their platform. My vision for our economy is one in which everyone—small and midsized businesses, mom-and-pop shops, entrepreneurs—can compete on a level playing field with the biggest companies. To realize that vision, and to make sure American tech keeps leading the world in cutting-edge innovation, we need fairer rules of the road. The next generation of great American companies shouldn’t be smothered by the dominant incumbents before they have a chance to get off the ground.
For two years, my administration has been hard at work putting these principles into practice, to the extent that existing laws let us. My administration is developing new privacy rules for commercial data. We are fighting algorithmic discrimination against protected groups and have released a straightforward set of best practices for government and industry. We are working with domestic and global partners to make online safety a priority, and we recently secured a significant funding boost for our antitrust enforcers, so they can continue to meet the tech sector’s new challenges.
But our existing authority has limits. We need bipartisan action from Congress to hold Big Tech accountable. We’ve heard a lot of talk about creating committees. It’s time to walk the walk and get something done. There will be many policy issues we disagree on in the new Congress, but bipartisan proposals to protect our privacy and our children; to prevent discrimination, sexual exploitation, and cyberstalking; and to tackle anticompetitive conduct shouldn’t separate us. Let’s unite behind our shared values and show the nation we can work together to get the job done.
Mr. Biden is president of the United States.
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