It’s the third week of November, and while attention may be shifting to next week’s Thanksgiving celebrations, the tech policy world isn’t getting distracted. From TikTok to antitrust investigations, facial recognition bans to proposed privacy principles – it’s all in this week’s Protego Press Weekly Round Up.
In Case You Missed It: Opting out of data tracking is hard. Dr. Lorrie Cranor and Hana Habib from Carnegie Mellon University offer suggestions on how companies can fix this and propose that regulators should hold companies accountable not just for offering choices, but specific & usable choices. Read more here.
TikTok: Sen. Josh Hawley is continuing his efforts to protect American communications from flowing into China, with the introduction of The National Security and Personal Data Act. The Act would bar companies from China, Russia or other countries that present national security concerns from transferring Americans’ data back within their borders — where it could be used to spy on the U.S. And it would prevent them from collecting data that isn’t necessary to the operation of their business, such as phone contacts or location in the case of TikTok.
The US threats of legislation targeting TikTok has not gone unnoticed. According to an internal staff note seen by Reuters, the founder and CEO of TikTok owner ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, says that the company goals for November and December will focus on adding users of the popular video app in countries outside of its strongest markets, according to, as it faces political pressure in the United States.
Feds vs Tech: The battle between tech companies and federal regulators continues to escalate, with multiple fronts ranging from state attorneys generals, US Congress and international organization, all focusing on antitrust violations and expanding into investigating potentially illegal conduct. Just this week, high-ranking antitrust enforcers, speaking at an influential D.C. legal forum, zeroed in on big tech companies’ potential for anticompetitive behavior but also signaled they may take a broader approach to policing the industry. Jeffrey Rosen, the No. 2 official in the U.S. Justice Department, said in a speech Monday there are “serious and substantive issues” regarding competition by the largest online platforms and that “Even dynamic industries characterized by rapid technological progress can be monopolized to the detriment of consumers.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission also said on Monday that his agency had multiple investigations of tech platforms, in addition to its known probe of Facebook but did not identify them. FTC Chair Joe Simons said the agency’s Technology Enforcement Division, or TED, was focusing its probes of multi-sided platforms on illegal conduct and mergers that previously won antitrust approval. “We can say publicly that they’re investigating Facebook because Facebook disclosed that,” he told the American Bar Association 2019 Antitrust Fall Forum. “I also want to say that TED has in addition to Facebook, multiple other investigations going on into major platforms.”
And, finally, the NYT highlights the journey of Margrethe Vestager, who just signed on for a second five-year term as the head of the European Commission’s antitrust divisions. Vestager, who spent the past five years developing a well-earned reputation as the world’s top tech industry watchdog, fined Google more than $9 billion for breaking antitrust laws, and forced Apple to pay about $14.5 billion for dodging taxes. In her second term, Vestager has assumed expanded responsibility over digital policy across the 28-nation bloc and has outlined an agenda that squarely targets the tech giants. As part of that agenda, Vestager is weighing whether to remove some protections that shield large internet platforms from liability for content posted by users, is working on policies to make companies pay more taxes in Europe and investigating how the companies use data to box out competitors.
Facial Recognition: Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced the Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act last week. The Act would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant (except in exigent circumstances) to use facial recognition as part of the “ongoing public surveillance of an individual.” It would also require that any such warrant last a maximum of 30 days and the technology be used “in such a way as to minimize the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of information about the individuals other than those for whom there was probable cause to seek the covered court order obtained.” Sen. Chris Coons said it “strikes the right balance by making sure law enforcement has the tools necessary to keep us safe while also protecting fundamental Fourth Amendment privacy rights.”
IBM also weighed in on potential regulation of facial recognition, arguing against an outright ban but calling for “precision regulation” to protect privacy and civil liberties. In a white paper posted on its website, the US computing giant said policymakers should understand that “not all technology lumped under the umbrella of ‘facial recognition’ is the same.” IBM said uneasiness about artificial intelligence technology which can use face scans for identification was reasonable. “However, blanket bans on technology are not the answer to concerns around specific use cases,” said the paper by IBM chief privacy officer Christina Montgomery and Ryan Hagemann, co-director the IBM policy lab.
Proposed Privacy Principles: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and top Democrats on relevant committees issued a set of privacy principles — rather than legislative text — that reiterated proposals that Republicans have rejected. The recommendations include giving consumers rights to see what information is collected about them, to move their data between competing services, to get insight into algorithmic decisions and potentially challenge them.
Companies would also have to minimize the amount of information they collect and how they share it, even within their firms. “I applaud my colleagues for their great work and am proud to support these strong principles,” Schumer said in a statement.