In brief: President Joe Biden gave the State of the Union address yesterday, setting his sights on some of tech companies’ worst practices: excessive data collection, ads that target children, and monopolistic corporations that engage in anti-competitive behavior.
Previous US presidents have had strained relationships with Big Tech—Donald Trump certainly wasn’t a fan. Biden made it clear in the SOTU speech that his administration won’t take it easy on Silicon Valley’s big players.
“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 us,” Biden said.
A White House statement expanding on the points made in the speech includes a section on strengthening data privacy and platform transparency for all Americans. It calls for clear and strict limits on tech companies’ ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain personal data, especially sensitive information such as geolocation and health information. There’s also a demand for more transparency around the algorithms companies use that “far too often discriminate against Americans and sow division.”
This isn’t the first time the president has spoken out on this topic. “To keep Americans on their platforms, Big Tech companies often use users’ personal data to direct them toward extreme and polarizing content that is likely to keep them logged on and clicking,” Biden wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year. “All too often, tragic violence has been linked to toxic online echo chambers.”
Biden has also called for reform of Section 230 of The Communications Decency Act, which prevents internet companies from being liable for third-party content posted on their platforms.
Protecting children online was another major theme of the SOTU address. The fact sheet highlights evidence of social media and other platforms being harmful to young people’s mental health, wellbeing, and development. It also mentions “manipulative design techniques” that promote addiction and compulsive behavior among children. Moreover, Biden called for bipartisan support to ban targeted advertising aimed at children.
“Platforms and other interactive digital service providers should be required to prioritize the privacy and wellbeing of young people above profit and revenue in their product design,” reads the statement. Back in 2021, Facebook was accused by a whistleblower of caring more about its bottom line than the damage its social media platforms were doing to teens.
Anti-competitive business practices among tech giants was another point Biden raised. The president is seeking bipartisan support from lawmakers in passing antitrust legislation that will stop online platforms from giving their own products an advantage. “Capitalism without competition is not capitalism,” he said. “It is exploitation.” Congress failed to pass a pair of antitrust bills designed to rein in anticompetitive behavior among big tech companies last year.
As noted by Bloomberg, the speech marked the first time the word “antitrust” had been used in the State of the Union since 1979.