Who supported Fosta? Big Tech. And here’s a hint as to why: Right after Fosta passed, multiple dating sites shut down, including Craigslist’s dating section and a niche site for furries called Pounced. Their decision was understandable: These small companies don’t have anything like the resources of Facebook or Google, and one claim under Fosta could have cost millions of dollars. A few weeks later, Facebook announced that it was entering the online dating industry.
In other words, Big Tech lobbied for a bill that would make it harder for new entrants to compete with them, and when that bill passed, it immediately set about growing into the gaps vacated by its would-be competitors. That’s the real story of Big Tech and Fosta.
Since Fosta became law, a narrative has developed that tech companies started praising the bill only when its passage had become inevitable. In fact, the Internet Association — the lobbying association representing Google, Facebook, Twitter and dozens of other major internet companies — endorsed an early Senate version of the bill in November 2017, months before the text was finalized.
Today, both Republicans and Democrats seem determined to use Section 230 to punish Big Tech. In response, the companies have made nominal noise in defense of the law — the Internet Association recently held an event on Capitol Hill with ice cream and puppies — but they’re not scared. They know that no matter what Congress does to Section 230, they will survive and many of their competitors won’t. They know that changes to the law will sink their smaller competitors, and that those competitors are their future acquisitions.
Instead of undermining Section 230, we should pass comprehensive privacy legislation letting users control how their data is collected, used and shared.
We should address Big Tech’s unfair business models — in which users have no control over their data and can’t easily move to a competitor — head-on. We should modernize antitrust law and stop the endless flood of mergers and acquisitions that have made competition among internet services an illusion. And we should demand a private right of action that can’t be signed away in a terms-of-service agreement: When the privacy rights of users are violated, users should be allowed to sue those companies rather than waiting around for a government agency to do something.
The big companies will panic and offer to endorse further changes to Section 230 instead. Don’t let them get away with it.
Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) is the activism director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
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