Jul 26 2023
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led a bipartisan group of colleagues in reintroducing the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, legislation that would encourage market-based competition with major social media platforms by requiring the largest companies make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings. Sen. Warner was joined in introduction by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
“Consumers are currently locked in to the social media platforms that they use, unable to move to a different platform for fear of losing years’ worth of data and interactions,” said the senators. “Interoperability and portability are powerful tools to promote innovative new companies and limit anti-competitive behaviors. By making it easier for social media users to easily move their data or to continue to communicate with their friends after switching platforms, startups will be able to compete on equal terms with the biggest social media companies. This bill will create long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers more power.”
Online communications platforms have become vital to the economic and social fabric of the nation, but network effects and consumer lock-in have solidified a select number of companies’ dominance in the digital market and enhanced their control over consumer data, even as the social media landscape changes by the day and platforms’ user experiences become more and more unpredictable.
The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act would increase market competition, encourage innovation, and increase consumer choice by requiring large communications platforms (products or services with over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.) to:
· Make their services interoperable with competing communications platforms;
· Permit users to easily port their personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format;
· Allow users to delegate trusted custodial services, which are required to act in a user’s best interests through a strong duty of care, with the task of managing their account settings, content, and online interactions.
“Markets work only when consumers know what they give up and get in any transaction with a seller and have the option to take their business elsewhere. By supporting organizations that can uncover what tech firms are actually doing and by mandating portability, the ACCESS Act will restore the conditions needed for the market in tech services to work,” Paul Romer, Boston College University Professor and Nobel Prize winner in Economics, said.
“The ACCESS Act is a critical, bipartisan first step in requiring large technology platforms to incorporate interoperability into their products, which is fundamental to a dynamic and competitive technology industry. Innovators, consumers, and society as a whole all benefit when people have the right to move their data if they choose to switch platforms. Without interoperability, innovation is held captive by the market power of large platforms. Our economy needs innovation to thrive -- and innovation is stifled if our most promising startups must compete in a world where consumers are locked into the largest platforms because they can't move their own data. That is in no one's interest,” Garry Tan, president and CEO of Y Combinator, said.
“Interoperability is a key tool for promoting competition on and against dominant digital platforms. For social networks in particular, interoperability is needed to make it easy for users to switch to a new social network. Until we have clear and effective interoperability requirements, it will be hard for users to leave a social network that fails to reflect their values, protect their privacy, or offer the best experience. Whatever our reasons for switching to a new social network, the ACCESS Act can make it easier by requiring the largest platforms to offer interoperability with competitors. We all stand to benefit from the greater competition that an interoperable world can create,” Charlotte Slaiman, Competition Policy Director at Public Knowledge, said.
“The reintroduction of the ACCESS Act in the Senate is a critically important step forward for empowering consumers with the freedom to control their own data and enable consumers to leave the various walled gardens of the today’s social media platforms. The ACCESS Act literally does what it says—it would give consumers the option to choose better services without having to balance the unfair choice of abandoning their personal network of family and friends in order to seek better products in the market. The Senate needs to move forward as soon as possible to vote on the ACCESS Act,” Eric Migicovsky, Founder and CEO of Beeper, said.
“Consumers must have control of their own personal data. You should be able to easily access it, share it, revoke access, and interact with is how you see fit. Putting individuals in charge of what is best for them is vital to balance out the ongoing wave of technological innovation. This has broad implications beyond just social media - Congress must pass the ACCESS Act,” David Pickerell, Co-founder and CEO of Para, said.
Sen. Warner first introduced the ACCESS Act in 2019 and, as a former tech entrepreneur, has been on of Congress’s leading voices calling for accountability in Big Tech. He has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at addressing these issues, including the RESTRICT Act, which would comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology from foreign adversaries; the SAFE TECH Act, which would reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms; and the Kids Online Safety Act,which would protect children online by providing young people and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against online harms.