February 1, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
President Joe Biden enters the White House during a sea-change in our history. 2021 began with a divided nation, a riotous mob taking over the Capitol, a presidential impeachment and pending trial, and a deadly pandemic being countered by a slow vaccine rollout. Any one of these would challenge a new administration. Together, they threaten our well-being.
But our nation’s best hope remains its people – our creativity and our can-do, get-it-done spirit. We succeed because of our diversity, immigrant passion for a better life and success in pushing the innovation envelope. I welcomed the president’s optimistic tone and call for unity in his inaugural address and Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s warm melody of hope.
Our creativity and innovation industries are global leaders, pulling forward our economy and our stock market. Pharma, video, music, software and tech industries employ tens of millions of Americans, entertain and help society. More, these stocks feed the retirement and financial security of most Americans who invest. Imagine how we could have weathered this past pandemic year without these innovators and creators allowing us to telework, get remote health care and stay informed, entertained and connected?
American companies, especially those grounded in the internet economy, have become globally dominant. That’s why China has blocked and copied them, as that nation deploys millions of engineers to further dominate 5G, artificial intelligence, robotics self-driving and cloud computing. Other countries have created huge new taxes which heavily and uniquely fall on these innovative American companies.
Our tech companies are not perfect. They are frontier explorers where more data, algorithms and knowledge mean better serving their customers and expanding revenue. User privacy, customer manipulation, non-factual and inciting user-generated content and the platforms’ sheer size and power have created needed scrutiny. These are now focal points for policymakers and industries seeking to slow tech industry growth.
But while we debate these issues, China moves forward. Beijing does not share our value of privacy and the freedoms we love – of speech, religion, travel, whom we marry and what opinions we can access. Its vision of the future is quite different than ours.
So as the Biden administration and Congress turn their focus to regulating technology, I hope they do so mindful of the global challenge the West faces to protect our freedoms and our national need to innovate and push the envelope. As Senator Mark Warner stated during a recent Georgetown Law Institute of Technology Law and Policy panel, “Increasingly, China is setting the rules, procedures and protocols for all of these new technologies. This is something that used to be inherently American driven.”
Here is how the United States can remain competitive.
Protect privacy – but do it nationally. The California law may be workable for some larger companies, but its complexity and costs will have a disproportionate effect on startups. For smaller companies to have a chance, we need one national law that all states can follow. And users should be able to choose what level of privacy they want. It wouldn’t hurt also to limit liability of companies trying to do the right thing and not impose a lawyer tax on fledgling companies.
Prohibit lawsuits over generated comments – unless they fall in narrow exceptions. The law today bars the internet from being used for violations of federal criminal law, human trafficking and child pornography. Sites should be strongly encouraged to take down content inciting violence – and protected from liability when they do so. But determining the truthfulness of content like political ads is a Sisyphean task. And sites such as Next Door, Trip Advisor, Yelp and YouTube would wither if every comment or review had to be fact-checked and pre-cleared.
Keep antitrust protecting consumers. Policymakers and lawyers seem eager to redirect antitrust laws away from protecting consumers to protecting competitors. More, they want fuzzy laws, the ability to interpret as political control shifts and even the right to unwind approved mergers and ban acquisitions by big companies. These proposals, although well-meaning, would hurt not only the big companies and their now-delighted consumers, but would choke investment in startups.
Focus on technologies of the future. Proficiency in technologies such as AI, self-driving, 5G and quantum computing will soon determine a nation’s economic and military strength. That’s why China has declared its goal to become the global leader in advanced technologies by 2035. America can win this technology race, if our innovators are presented with smart and targeted rules rather than broad, top-down government mandates.
Indeed, the Biden administration is already making American science and technology a priority. Biden’s recently announced White House science team includes individuals passionate about the promise of technology. Along with these appointments, the Biden administration announced the elevation of the role of presidential science adviser to Cabinet level for the first time – welcome news showing the importance of technology in America’s global leadership.
The United States has crown jewel companies that dominate categories, delight consumers and lead the world in innovation. If the United States is to continue leading the world in innovation, we need clear laws with well-defined illegal behaviors.
The tech industry does not oppose regulation. In fact, it needs regulatory guardrails so it can innovate knowing the rules without asking permission, serve its customers and allow the Western world to preserve the liberties which define us as free people.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His views are his own.
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