If there’s one thing the right and the left can agree on, it’s their dislike of Big Tech. Their grievances are often different; conservatives are concerned about censorship and liberals are concerned about misinformation while both are concerned about lack of competition. If there’s one thing Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren can agree on, it’s that Big Tech is out of control and needs to be brought under control.
Several bills, including one from Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), have been introduced to regulate Big Tech. But in reality, this is easier said than done, and policymakers will need to be careful to rein in tech companies without hurting innovation or cybersecurity as a side effect.
Cybersecurity is a growing concern, with fears that Russia could use cyberattacks to retaliate against US support for Ukraine and economic sanctions. The potential for attacks on critical infrastructure is particularly worrisome in Texas, given its importance as a major energy provider as well as its rickety power grid. “At the end of the day, Texas is a giant target,” said Doug Kelly, CEO of the American Edge Project. “Everything is bigger in Texas, so you’re a bigger target, too.”
So far, Russia has refrained from launching cyberattacks against the United States. States. However, Russian hackers have already probed Texas’ energy infrastructure and they could launch a real attack if Putin decided he wanted to. “They didn’t attack because right now Putin doesn’t think it will help them,” said James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If he changes his mind. They have made the reconnaissance that will allow them to disrupt critical infrastructure.
It is also possible that Moscow is using cybercriminals as proxies. Indeed, the Colonial One pipeline hack was carried out by a criminal group, not a government agency, and ransomware attacks are an increasingly serious problem. “The Russians might calculate, ‘we want to punish the Americans, but we don’t want our fingerprints directly on them, so let our pet cybercrime groups do that,'” Lewis told The Signal. “There are general rules that the Kremlin has established that these guys have to follow and one of the rules is, if we ask you to do us a favor, do the favor or go to jail.”
Big tech companies are investing money in cybersecurity and, more importantly, acting as gatekeepers. The digital gatekeeper role is controversial given the power it gives to some tech companies, but these companies also block malicious apps that hackers use to gain access to devices. “If you can download stuff to your phone that hasn’t been reviewed, we know from experience that the Russians and the Chinese are going to exploit that,” Lewis said. “I get Apple and Google charging too much for app store access, but they also provide a valuable service and weed out a lot of bad actors. Is there a way to fix one problem without destroying the other ?”
The other concern is the impact that efforts to regulate tech companies will have on innovation. As the United States faces intense technological competition with China, staying ahead in the innovation game will be crucial for economic prosperity and national security. No one wants to harm innovation, but the exact impact Big Tech has on it is controversial. Many argue that big tech companies crush the competition and make it harder for new, innovative players to succeed. Companies like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook started out as small, scrappy startups before becoming giants that took the world by storm. It’s hard to see how a company formed in a garage or dorm room could make a similar journey today.
On the other hand, many startups don’t intend to stand on their own and want to be bought out by a bigger company. “Investors are ready to invest in a great idea, especially in the technology sector, if they realize that someone like Google or Amazon could buy that company, and that makes them realize that they are getting a rate of very high yield,” Kelly said. “Some of these bills in Congress prohibit the biggest companies from getting into the M&A market so if I’m an investor, and ‘I realize, okay, this little Austin startup, can no longer be bought by a Google or an Amazon,” it’s going to drive down the rate of return, it’s going to hurt the company’s ability to raise funds. And so it’s going to have kind of a chilling effect on the startup community as a whole.
Lewis agreed that Congress needed to act on the data. “The biggest issue is how we regulate the collection and use of data, which leads to a lot of these issues,” he told The Signal. “You have to tell people this is what I’m collecting, and more importantly you have to tell them this is what I’m going to do with your data.”
Data collection is more than just a privacy issue, it’s also a big part of how tech companies weed out the competition. “One of the big platforms is collecting data on who you’re selling to and then they turn around and use it against you, or they collect data on which products are selling the best and then they turn around and order their own products,” Lewis said. . “So it was our inability to govern data that got us into this mess.”
Unfortunately, the currently proposed bills do not address issues such as data collection. Crafting such legislation will be very difficult and so far Congress has been unwilling to make the effort despite a consensus that Big Tech must be brought under control. “Everyone wants to regulate Big Tech, I want to regulate Big Tech,” Lewis says. “So there are legitimate concerns that the bills don’t address them.”