WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a bipartisan group of colleagues in reintroducing the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, legislation that will encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to 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, if they so choose. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) joined Sen. Warner in introducing the legislation.
“The tremendous dominance of a handful of large social media platforms has major downsides – including few options for consumers who face a marketplace with just a few major players and little in the way of real competition,” the senators said. “As we learned in the Microsoft antitrust case, interoperability and portability are powerful tools to restrain anti-competitive behaviors and promote innovative new companies. 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. Additionally, empowering trusted custodial companies to step in on behalf of users to better manage their accounts across different platforms will help balance the playing field between consumers and companies. In other words – by enabling portability, interoperability, and delegatability, this bill will create long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers the power to move their data from one service to another.”
Online communications platforms have become vital to the economic and social fabric of the nation, but network effects and consumer lock-in have entrenched a select number of companies’ dominance in the digital market and enhanced their control over consumer data.
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 when consumers have a choice and know what's going on. The ACCESS Act is an important step toward reestablishing this dynamic in the market for tech services. We must get back to the conditions that make markets work: when consumers know what they give a firm and what they get in return; and if they don't like the deal, they can take their business elsewhere. By giving consumers the ability to delegate decisions to organizations working on their behalf, the ACCESS Act gives consumers some hope that they can understand what they are giving up and getting in the opaque world that the tech firms have created. By mandating portability, it also gives them a realistic option of switching to another provider,” Paul Romer, New York University Professor of Economics and Nobel Prize winner in Economics, 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.
"We now understand that the dominant tech platforms' exclusive control over the data we create as we interact with them is the source of extraordinary market power. That power distorts markets, reduces innovation and limits consumer choice. By requiring interoperability, the ACCESS Act empowers consumers, levels the playing field and opens the market to competition. Anyone who believes that markets work best when consumers are able to make informed choices should support this Act,” Brad Burnham, Partner and Co-Founder at Union Square Ventures, 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.
Sen. Warner first introduced the ACCESS Act in 2019 and has been raising concerns about the implications of the lack of competition in social for years.
Sen. Warner is one of Congress’ leading voices in demanding accountability and user protections from social media companies. In addition to the ACCESS Act, Sen. Warner has introduced and written numerous bills designed to improve transparency, privacy, and accountability on social media. These include the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act – legislation that would allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination across platforms; the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act, bipartisan legislation that would require data harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit; and the Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces, known as “dark patterns,” to trick consumers into handing over their personal data and would prohibit these platforms from using features that result in compulsive usage by children.