Big Tech feels the weight of success
Governments are intent on curbing the perceived privacy and competition excesses of technology giants, if recent moves on two continents are anything to go by. Yesterday, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission opened a study of nine social media and streaming platforms’ data collection practices. Today, E.U. regulators are expected to unveil sweeping new antitrust and consumer protection rules. (They just fined Twitter around $550,000 for violating a user privacy law.)
The F.T.C. gave companies 45 days to hand over information. Amazon, the TikTok-operator ByteDance, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube must share how they collect, use, target and disclose data, as well as how their services affect children. (Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips dissented, arguing that the “scattershot” inquiry was an “undisciplined foray into a wide variety of topics, some only tangentially related to the stated focus of this investigation.”) It’s not an official F.T.C. investigation, but could theoretically lead to an enforcement action.
Last week, the F.T.C. accused Facebook of buying rivals to kill competition, and that case, joined by more than 40 states, followed a February study on Big Tech’s acquisitions of smaller rivals.
Tech companies accept that changes are coming, with bipartisan pressure mounting when it comes to revamping Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields companies from liability for user-generated content. For two decades, Big Tech said the law should not be touched, but this resistance has recently relaxed, The Times’s David McCabe reports. Facebook’s chief has conceded that the law should be updated, Twitter’s head suggested “expansions,” Google acknowledged “legitimate questions” and a group of smaller companies — including Snap, Reddit and TripAdvisor — plan to say today that they are open to discussing reforms, too.
Whether they mean it is another question. “They are deeply averse to real changes,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has proposed legislation to limit protections for platforms.
“We’re going to not do anything that jeopardizes taxpayers and puts them at additional risk.”
— Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, suggesting to The Wall Street Journal that the Trump administration wouldn’t end government conservatorship of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite pressure from private investors
A major settlement that raises even more questions
Yesterday, Pinterest settled a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit with its former chief operating officer, Françoise Brougher, for $22.5 million. It is among the largest publicly announced individual settlements for such a claim, and immune to appeal, and the move — in which Pinterest did not admit liability — highlighted other injustices.
Two Black women had Ms. Brougher’s back. Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks had accused Pinterest of sexism and bias before the former C.O.O. spoke out about “cupcakes and toxicity” at the company, and they got less than a year’s severance when they left. Ms. Ozoma lamented the difference in outcomes on Twitter: “We came forward about a company and harmful culture literally nobody had spoken about before on the record. With our identities attached, in the midst of a pandemic. We were and still are treated like trash by @Pinterest leadership.”