Virginia Sen. Mark Warner
made millions in the murky world of government-issued cellular licensing. He parlayed his riches into a governorship and U.S. Senate seat. Today, from his perch as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Warner has produced a 20-point plan to take on
Google and other tech giants with “potentially insuperable competitive advantages over new entrants.” Insuperable! Of course most of his proposals would end up locking the big guys in place while freezing innovation.
No matter. The shallow-analysis pundit class jubilated. Mr. Warner and Democrats could “crack down on Big Tech,” “tame social media,” and “knock Silicon Valley into shape.” Woo-hoo. The cheerleaders’ only complaint is the lack of a 21st proposal: breaking up the tech giants. Still, Mr. Warner wants to show that techland has gotten too big for its breeches and that the center of power radiates from the Hill—not the Valley. But he forgets that there’s one market to rule them all.
Good luck getting through Mr. Warner’s 23-page report. It’s filled with impossible-to-implement mandates (identify bots), silly bromides (addressing the safety and security of at-risk individuals), and dangerous power grabs (updating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act). If even a handful of these proposals become law, faceless bureaucrats would control the internet instead of energetic entrepreneurs. No one would win under this new internet. And compliance costs would be so massive that no new startups would emerge.
Mr. Warner appears to have a John Kerry-like admiration for the power of European Union regulators. Europe’s stringent General Data Protection Regulation was one of the biggest power grabs in recent history and has lighted a fire under U.S. legislators hoping to emulate it. It would be a huge mistake. GDPR almost assures that no new innovations will come out of Europe.
And the Continent is already feeble—of the top 100 global technology companies, only 13 are in Europe. Bet you can’t name three. Heck, half are local consulting companies that shouldn’t even count. Why set up a company in Europe when the rules are so bent toward excess expense and certain failure? An American GDPR would turn the U.S. into Europe, making America’s technology industry french toast. But that’s one of Mr. Warner’s goals.
Consider the sop to lawyers. One of the magical characteristics of the online world is that anyone can post anything. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to the Facebooks, Googles and
s of the world with one simple sentence: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This allows platforms to host almost anything, as well as block content based on community standards, without being sued.
Mr. Warner proposes to change all that and “make platforms liable for state-law torts.” Specifically, “a revision to Section 230 could provide the ability for users who have successfully proved that sharing of particular content by another user constitutes a dignitary tort.” I can imagine campaign contribution manna and long lines to file class-action suits in the plaintiff paradise known as the Eastern District of Texas. But no one would ever create an online platform again.
Then there’s the loss of anonymity. About half of Mr. Warner’s proposals could end namelessness on the internet as it’s understood today. Forcing platforms to determine origins of posts, requiring disclosure of political ads, and onerous information fiduciary rules would all create a new internet paradigm. Get ready for universal ID and real identities for all online clicks. User trust for media platforms is fought for and earned over years. Americans don’t want politicians’ blessings to determine trusted content, lest the U.S. end up with the BBC—or worse, Pravda.
Mr. Warner has flexed his congressional muscles and made a point. Now he can go away. China’s industrial policy and Europe’s GDPR are recipes for failure against our relatively unfettered free-market approach. Facebook’s dropping $120 billion within a week of
hitting $1 trillion in market value show the power of markets to squeeze failure and invigorate innovation.
New ideas come from new insurgents. Google didn’t spin out of CBS. Amazon didn’t simmer inside Sears. iPhones weren’t incubated at
Why handicap ingenuity? Warner-like policies only stagnate innovation while the future happens elsewhere, like China. That’s dangerous.
Mr. Warner’s bashing of technology may seem populist, but unlike hating the phone company—one ringy dingy, two ringy dingy—the posting majority are happy using Facebook and Twitter, warts and all. Politicians beware: You break the internet, you own it.