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Opinion | Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren: When It Comes to Big Tech, Enough Is Enough

Opinion | Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren: When It Comes to Big Tech, Enough Is Enough

The digital revolution promised amazing new opportunities — and it delivered. Digital platforms promoted social interaction, democratized information and gave us hundreds of new ways to have fun.

But digital innovation has had a dark side. Giant digital platforms have provided new avenues of proliferation for the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, human trafficking, drug trafficking and bullying and have promoted eating disorders, addictive behaviors and teen suicide. Parents like Kristin Bride, whose teenage son killed himself after being mercilessly cyberbullied, have shared heartbreaking stories with Congress and the public about the potentially deadly consequences.

Nobody elected Big Tech executives to govern anything, let alone the entire digital world. If democracy means anything, it means that leaders on both sides of the aisle must take responsibility for protecting the freedom of the American people from the ever-changing whims of these powerful companies and their unaccountable C.E.O.s. Today we’re stepping up to that challenge with a bipartisan bill to treat Big Tech the way we treat other industries.

A few Big Tech companies generate a majority of the world’s internet traffic and essentially control nearly every aspect of Americans’ digital lives. Platforms are protected from legal liability in many of their decisions, so they operate without accountability. Big Tech companies have far too much unrestrained power over our economy, our society and our democracy. These massive businesses post eye-popping profits while they suppress competition. Google uses its search engine to give preference to its own products, like Google Hotels and Google Flights, giving it an unfair leg up on competitors. Amazon sucks up information from small businesses that offer products for sale on its platform, then uses that information to run its own competing businesses. Apple forces entrepreneurs (and thereby consumers) to pay crushing commissions to use its App Store. A few Big Tech companies stifle all competition before it poses any serious threat.

Big Tech companies also prey on ordinary users. They vacuum up our personal data, often with little care for whether their practices are responsible or even legal. Some Big Tech platforms mislead us when we try to limit the data we share, and they regularly fall prey to massive data leaks that leave us vulnerable to criminal activity, foreign interference and disinformation. Adversaries in China and other countries often store or process our data. And if we want to know how our data is being used or why our posts are being taken down, good luck getting an answer. We’re usually in the dark about where our data goes or how it is used.

Enough is enough. It’s time to rein in Big Tech. And we can’t do it with a law that only nibbles around the edges of the problem. Piecemeal efforts to stop abusive and dangerous practices have failed. Congress is too slow, it lacks the tech expertise, and the army of Big Tech lobbyists can pick off individual efforts easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Meaningful change — the change worth engaging every member of Congress to fight for — is structural.

For more than a century, Congress has established regulatory agencies to preserve innovation while minimizing harm presented by emerging industries. In 1887 the Interstate Commerce Commission took on railroads. In 1914 the Federal Trade Commission took on unfair methods of competition and later unfair and deceptive acts and practices. In 1934 the Federal Communications Commission took on radio (and then television). In 1975 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission took on nuclear power, and in 1977 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission took on electric generation and transmission. We need a nimble, adaptable, new agency with expertise, resources and authority to do the same for Big Tech.

Our Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act would create an independent, bipartisan regulator charged with licensing and policing the nation’s biggest tech companies — like Meta, Google and Amazon — to prevent online harm, promote free speech and competition, guard Americans’ privacy and protect national security. The new watchdog would focus on the unique threats posed by tech giants while strengthening the tools available to the federal agencies and state attorneys general who have authority to regulate Big Tech.

Our legislation would guarantee common-sense safeguards for everyone who uses tech platforms. Families would have the right to protect their children from sexual exploitation, cyberbullying and deadly drugs. Certain digital platforms have promoted the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, suicidal ideation and eating disorders or done precious little to combat these evils; our bill would require Big Tech to mitigate such harms and allow families to seek redress if they do not.

Americans deserve to know how their data is collected and used and to control who can see it. They deserve the freedom to opt out of targeted advertising. And they deserve the right to go online without, say, some A.I. tool’s algorithm denying them a loan based on their race or politics. If our legislation is enacted, platforms would face consequences for suppressing speech in violation of their own terms of service. The commission would have the flexibility and agility to develop more expertise and respond to new risks, like those posed by generative A.I.

Our bill would set clear rules for tech companies and impose real consequences for companies that break the law. For the giant companies, anticompetitive practices — like exploiting market dominance, tying the sale of one product to another, charging customers different prices for the same product and preventing employees from working for competitors — would be prohibited. The bill would set a high bar for mergers and acquisitions by dominant Big Tech platforms and make it possible to block and reverse harmful deals.

Reining in tech giants will be hard, but it’s a fight worth fighting. If we win, Americans finally will have the tools they need to combat many online evils harming their children and ruining lives. And small businesses will have a fighting chance to innovate and compete in a world dominated by tech monopolies.

No company, no industry and no C.E.O. should be above the law. These reforms will ensure that the next generation of great American tech companies will operate responsibly while remaining on the cutting edge of innovation.

It’s time for Congress to act.

Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) has served in the Senate since 2003. Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) has served since 2013.

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