Joe Biden Says Tech Needs Washington’s Parental Oversight in State of the Union

Joe Biden Says Tech Needs Washington’s Parental Oversight in State of the Union

President Joe Biden took direct aim at tech companies during his second State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Over the course of an hour, the president railed against Big Tech’s data collection practices, its use of targeting ads on young users and anti-competitive business practices. For all of those issues, Biden attempted to muster up bipartisan support from lawmakers in Congress to work across the aisle and pass legislation aimed at reining in tech firms.

“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism,” he said. “It is exploitation.”

The president used his podium to try and revive a variety of tech-focused legislative proposals, ranging from “surveillance advertising” to antitrust reform, each of which poll well among voters but have largely fizzled out in Congress.

“Its time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us,” Biden said.

Biden gave the public a glimpse into some of his remarks earlier this year in op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, title, “Republicans and Democrats, Unite Against Big Tech Abuses.” At the time, he reiterated his concerns over the way companies collect sensitive data and how algorithms may “deepen extremism and polarization in our country.” The president said he was particularly concerned with social media’s potential effect on children’s well being and accused tech firms of running an “experiment” on kids for profit.

“To keep Americans on their platforms, Big Tech companies often use users’ personal data to direct them toward extreme and polarising content that is likely to keep them logged on and clicking,” Biden wrote. “All too often, tragic violence has been linked to toxic online echo chambers.”

In the op-ed, Biden echoed called on both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to pass federal privacy legislation setting clear limits on how companies can collect location, health, biometric, and other sensitive data. The president also made clear his interest in reforming Section 230 of The Communications Decency Act. The specific nature of those changes, however, still remains unclear. On the competition front, Biden has advocated in favour of “fairer rules of the road,” that prevent larger tech firms from stamping out competition. Though Biden rarely evokes the word “antitrust” by name, his administration is filled with top antitrust advocates critical of Big Tech, including FTC chair Lina Khan and DOJ Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter.

“When tech platforms get big enough, many find ways to promote their own products while excluding or disadvantaging competitors — or charge competitors a fortune to sell on their platform,” Biden wrote in his op-ed.

‘We’re going to make sure the [semiconductor] supply chain for America begins in America’

Photo: Pool, Getty Images
Photo: Pool, Getty Images

Biden began the night speaking about the future. That future, he said, is one where the U.S. leads in semiconductor manufacturing. “These chips were invented in America,” Biden said, before admitting the country had “lost its edge” in space over the past few decades. Those chips, crucial for basically all modern electronics, are playing an increasingly important role in everyday consumer items.

The president pointed to the pandemic induced supply chain shortages as key example of why the U.S. needs to shore up control of its own semiconductor supply chain. That shortage led to dramatic price increases and production delays in everything from cell phone to pickup trucks.

“We can never let that happen again,” Biden said.

Still, that disaster helped spark last year’s bipartisan Chips and Science Act which, among other things, commits $US52 ($72) billion to U.S.-based chip manufacturers. Several of those major chipmakers like Intel and Samsung have already committed to spending tens of billion to build out U.S. based chip fabs.

“We’re going to make sure the supply chain for America begins in America”

Biden railed against using ‘surveillance advertising’ on kids

Photo: Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Photo: Chris Jackson, Getty Images

On social media, Biden resurfaced past bipartisan efforts to ban from of targeted advertising directed towards users under the age of 13 saying it was time to pass bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing tech collecting personal data from children and teens.

“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” Biden said

“It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of usm” Biden said.

Biden went on to urge companies to limit the amount of data they are currently collecting on younger users. During his speech, Biden referenced a 2021 Surgeon General youth mental health advisory which repeatedly mentioned the importance of keeping track of time spent on social media and ensuring children take time to unplug. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expanded on these points in a recent CNN interview where he said he believed 13, the generally allowed minimum age for social media platforms, was “too early,” since children that age are still “developing their identity.”

Biden wants tech companies to limit their collection of sensitive data

Photo: Dave Einsel, Getty Images
Photo: Dave Einsel, Getty Images

Biden’s calls for stricter data collection standards weren’t just limited to youth users. In general, Biden called on lawmakers to make it more difficult for companies to collect sensitive data like health information and geolocation data

“It’s time,” Biden said, for lawmakers to, “impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us.”

That demand echoed remarks Biden make in January Wall Street Journal op-ed, where he railed against tech platforms for the “huge amounts of data” they harvest. In the op-ed, Biden went a step further, explicitly calling for a federal data privacy law that puts clear limits on how companies can collect personal info likebiometrics and health data.

“Much of that data shouldn’t be collected in the first place,” he wrote.

Biden notably stopped short of calling for that same federal privacy law during his State of the Union address. While recently proposed federal privacy laws typically receive bipartisan support among voters, they’ve failed to pick up any steam in Congress.

Antitrust enforcement?

Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images
Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images

“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism,” Biden said. “It is exploitation.” Some of that exploitation, according to the speech, appears to stem from Big Tech’s handful of multi-trillion dollar companies and their monopolistic business practices.

From day one, Biden’s administration has recruited top tech critics and pressured Congress to advance a handful of new antitrust laws that, if passed, could potentially shake up everything from Apple’s App Store dominance to Amazon’s allegedly self-preferencing of products on its platform. Several of those bills achieved wide bipartisan support and looked poised to pass last year, but ultimately fizzled out following a history lobbying attack from a leading tech platform. Biden encouraged lawmakers to pry those bills out from the grave and work across the aisle to make antitrust laws a reality.

“Pass bipartisan legislation to strengthen antitrust enforcement and prevent big online platforms from giving their own products an unfair advantage,” Biden said.

Biden was praised early in his presidency by progressives who cheered on his appointment of Big Tech critics in major roles at the FTC and DOJ which some refereed to as an Antitrust All Start Team. However, in the years since, both of those agencies have largely failed to stop major tech mergers and have even faced several key legal defeats. Tim Wu, one of the leading antitrust voices in Biden’s White House, also recently left his role.

Biden says he’s committed to competing with China on advanced tech

Photo: Cindy Ord, Getty Images
Photo: Cindy Ord, Getty Images

The Tuesday State of the Union address came just days after Biden authorised the destruction of a Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over the U.S. That action led some to fear the country could be on fast track to military escalation with one of the world’s leading power. Biden tried to downplay those fears, telling the audience he and Chinese President President Xi Jinping were seeking, “competition, not conflict.”

A significant part of the competition will almost surly come in the field of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and emerging technologies like AI and advanced semiconductors. Biden said he believes China is “intent on dominating,” innovative industries and said the U.S. was working with allies to “protect our advanced technologies so they’re not used against us.”

“And let’s be clear: winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world,” Biden said

What Joe didn’t mention

Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Section 230 Reforms

Biden previously signalled support for reforming Section 230, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, since the early days of his presidency. The president reiterated that commitment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, saying tech companies, need to “take responsibility for the content they spread and the algorithms they use.” Still, Biden remained opaque on what those reform would look like in pracitce.

At the same time, Biden remarks come just weeks before the Supreme Court is set to hear a paid of landmark 23o cases. The decisions in those rulings could radically alter the liability protection platform currently enjoy and could complicate the administration’s policy agenda.

Algorithmic Transparency

Early reports previewing the State of the Union address expected Biden to cal on tech firms to produce more transparency around the ways their powerful algorithms work and influence politics.

Biden expanded on that issued in his January Wall Street Journal op-ed where he drew a connection between tech’s enthralling algorithms and real-world violence.

“To keep Americans on their platforms, Big Tech companies often use users’ personal data to direct them toward extreme and polarising content that is likely to keep them logged on and clicking,” Biden wrote. “All too often, tragic violence has been linked to toxic online echo chambers.”

The president has also previously encouraged companies provide greater transparency into the ways they collect data on Americans and give the government a peek under the hood into the inner workings of algorithms, which some social media experts and public health activists have rallied against for contributing to social media addiction and mental health hardship.

Recently calls for supposed algorithmic transparency have technically gained support from high profile Republicans, though for very different reasons. On the right side of the spectrum, politicians, political commentators and newly minted Twitter CEO Elon Musk have blamed social media platforms and their algorithm for allegedly suppressing conservative viewpoints. In the House, GOP members of the newly formed Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government say they plan to investigate tech companies for evidence of “collusion” with the federal government.

TikTok

Though Biden spent a portion of his speech speaking generally about the importance of competing with China on emerging tech, he completely dodged addressing growing calls to ban Chinese social media app TikTok. 28 states have reportedly voted to ban the app among government workers. New bills making their way through the House, meanwhile, seek to ban the app wholesale.

Biden, who’s taken an abrasive aggressive stance towards to Huawei Chinese hardware makers, has been comparatively less committed on TikTok. Just this week, the president said he was “not sure” whether or not the federal government should block the app.

“I know I don’t have it on my phone,” the President said according to Reuters.

Trump’s Truth Social State of the Union

Photo: Tom Pennington, Getty Images
Photo: Tom Pennington, Getty Images

While Biden was speaking in front a of a packed House of lawmakers, former President Donald Trump was busy live tweeting, sorry, TRUTHING, his own response, presumably adorned in golden pajamas.

Trump’s TRUTH’s were a picturesque display of peak era @realdonaldtrump shitposting. Over the course of 40 TRUHTS, Trump managed to shame former House speaker Nancy Pelosi for not preventing a brutal hammer attack on her husband, reprimand Kevin McCarthy for falling asleep, alledge he could somehow end the war in Ukraine in a day, whine about the release of his tax returns, and, of course, rail against Biden for, “stumbling, bumbling,” his way through the speech.

“If I ever made a Speech like this, they’d run me out of Washington, D.C.” Trump, who was literally voted out of Washington D.C. in 20202, wrote in the middle of the event. “But there’s time left, maybe he can save it.

Trump didn’t mention tech at all during his Truth storm. He did, however, criticise Biden’ spending on renewable energy sources and accused Biden of somehow destroying the supply chain, even though the massive supply crunch referenced during the event occurred during Trump’s tenure.

Trump, well known for his dashing sex appeal, had some choice commentary on his fellow Republicans’ appearances.

“J.D.” Vance is looking good!” Trump wrote. The former president gave similar praise to McCarthy, who he said was, “really good looking.”

“His demeanour is perfect” Trump added. The same couldn’t be said for former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Mitch McConnell looks like Hell, so bad for the Republican Party!”


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