My law firm partner, Jonathan Cohen, has been closely monitoring the developments in the regulation of social media and other big tech platforms by the current administration. He offers these thoughts on likely areas of legislative and regulatory action in this area in the coming year.
Many nights, the last thing I do before falling asleep is put down my phone, and the first thing I do upon waking is pick it up. I suspect I’m not alone in this. Internet-enabled digital technologies seem to have transformed life for most Americans, changing how we conduct business, connect with each other, and receive information and entertainment. The advent of these technologies in recent years is what former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in his 2019 book From Gutenberg to Google, calls the “third major network revolution,” after the invention of movable-type printing and the innovations in travel and communications brought about by railroads and the telegraph. This new revolution is rapidly changing our information ecosystem.
Beyond the commercial opportunities and challenges presented for tech, media, and telecom companies, as well as content creators, the societal impact of this third major network revolution is fascinating and wide-ranging, but also potentially troubling. Illustrating the power that tech platforms exert over us, Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times recently reported on a conversation she’d had with a 10-year-old boy who was disappointed that no photos were available when he Googled himself. The boy felt that he wasn’t a real person until his photo came up in a Google search. Leaving aside the numerous sociological implications of the tech revolution, the tech sector is under scrutiny as never before. Its business model of tracking users’ online actions and using the data to sell targeted advertising and feed algorithmic amplification has been described by Harvard professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff as “surveillance capitalism.” Others call it the “attention economy.”
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