I am starting to believe that there’s nothing that many politicians hate more than successful businesses.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the tech space, where many well-known companies are under siege. Elected officials have sued tech companies and introduced bills to give the government greater power over their operations, but these efforts are misguided.
If you think bureaucrats know how to better run a large business, then I’ve got news for you. The feds haven’t balanced a budget in around 20 years and have yet to control inflation, which is now almost at a 40-year high. Thanks for caring, government, but maybe you should get your house in order before meddling in the private market.
Despite my wishes, numerous policymakers remain on the warpath. In fact, both Republicans and Democrats are up in arms with social media giants, but generally for different reasons. A slew of Republican lawmakers believe that Facebook and Twitter too aggressively censor users—particular conservative voices—while Democrats feel that these companies don’t censor enough.
Some D.C. lawmakers think they have the answer to this purported problem: reform or repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As it stands, social media companies can moderate and remove content, like hateful or illegal posts, from their platforms, and Section 230 ensures that they cannot be held liable for what their users post—shielding them from frivolous lawsuits.
Because of previously existing case law, repealing Section 230 would mean that social media companies would have two choices. If they wanted to continue moderating content, then they’d be open to lawsuits for user content, which means that they’d have to carefully approve every single post to determine if they could potentially bear any civil liability. This would be an incredibly costly operation that would lead to even more censorship. Alternatively, if they wanted continued immunity, then they wouldn’t be able to moderate any content at all—turning social media into a disgusting wild west of spam and illegal and inappropriate content.
With Congress obsessing over Section 230, state officials have affixed their sights on other issues. Claiming that Google is a monopoly and employs anti-competitive tactics, a host of attorneys general, including Georgia’s, filed an anti-trust suit against the tech company.
But their claims don’t hold water. I know this because Google faces competition. I can use whatever search engine I wish, including Yahoo! and Bing, and Google also has to vie with vertical search engines like Amazon and Expedia. Even so, if the suit is successful, Google could be broken up for little reason other than it is a successful company.
This isn’t the only challenge facing Google, which—along with Apple—is under fire for their digital application distribution platforms. Right now, android phones come preloaded with Google Play and iPhones with the iOS App Store. These platforms provide users a convenient and safe manner of downloading apps that have been vetted to guarantee that they contain no malware and are compatible with cell phone hardware. They also provide a secure payment processing system and give app developers a suite of services as well as access to millions of users.
Unfortunately, some other companies and attorneys general aren’t too pleased with Google and Apple’s models for two primary reasons: Google Play and the App Store charge some for-profit app developers a nominal fee for each transaction, and Apple requires its users to only use the App Store. As a result, 37 attorneys general have sued Google over the fees, and no less than a dozen states, including Georgia, have introduced legislation targeting the App Store’s business model.
These measures would require that companies, like Apple, permit users to install apps onto mobile devices, which originated from other distribution platforms, and allow app developers to use whatever payment processing method that they wish. Essentially, this would give large app developers access to customer bases without adhering to app store rules and safeguards.
Why government officials believe that they ought to get involved in voluntary agreements between app developers and Google and Apple is beyond me, but if these bills are ratified, then it could promote the proliferation of unvetted apps and imperil the security of users’ personal information on their phones.
I’m not implying that tech companies are faultless and couldn’t improve—far from it—but many of the government’s solutions to “fix” these businesses are problematic. Rather than relying on government edicts, the free market has the answer. If users and third-party operators do not like tech companies’ business models, services, or products, they can switch to a competitor. Unfortunately, bureaucrats think that they know what’s best for consumers and successful businesses. To that, I say bless their hearts.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.