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: Senate members say tech regulation is among their agenda items in 2022: CES

The tech industry can expect a busy — and at times, confrontational — dance with Capitol Hill this year on everything from child protection and advanced manufacturing in the U.S. to closing the digital divide and enhancing STEM education.

Those were among the topics of a bipartisan panel late Friday of five women members on the Senate Commerce Committee. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.); Jacky Rosen (D., Nev.); Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.); Shelley Moore-Capito (R., W.Va.); and Susan Collins (R., Maine) discussed the state of the industry, and where it needs to go, on the last day of the CES 2022 conference. All of the senators wore masks onstage in Las Vegas.

“We need a federal standard for online privacy,” Blackburn told MarketWatch in a phone interview following the 45-minute panel. “We need to hold Big Tech accountable so that consumers have the tool box for protecting their privacy and data.”

“After the pandemic, as people moved their lives almost entirely online, they have grown to realize that they are the product,” Blackburn said. “Big Tech is data-mining their personal information, and we need tighter regulation.”

She said consumers can also expect reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally provides immunity to the likes of Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. FB, -0.20%, Twitter Inc. TWTR, +0.20%, Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL, -0.53% GOOG, -0.40%, and others for third-party content that appears on their digital platforms. She pointed out the dangers of fraudulent transactions and recruiting by drug traffickers and human traffickers on large virtual platforms.

Blackburn and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) are co-authors of the Open App Markets Act that would set rules to protect competition and strengthen consumer protection in the app market currently dominated by Google and Apple Inc. AAPL. Among the rules: Apple and Google would no longer be able to require developers to exclusively use their app payment systems nor would the two companies be allowed to favorably price and rank their apps against competing brands. Developers would be allowed to sue for injunctive relief. Blackburn told MarketWatch she is confident the Open App Market Act bill will pass in 2022.

Indeed, with more than a dozen pieces of anti-tech legislation, a plethora of lawsuits and regulatory fines escalating in the U.S. and abroad, as well as the Biden administration rounding out Big Tech’s nightmare team of government agency heads, 2022 is shaping up as a seminal year for tech regulation after decades of inaction.

Read more: Big Tech heads for ‘a year of thousands of tiny tech papercuts,’ but what antitrust efforts could make them bleed?

Broadband was another key touch stone of the panel, following the passage of the $2 trillion infrastructure bill last year that budgeted $65 billion to bringing high-speed internet to consumers nationwide.

“It is imperative for the FCC to update maps” to help bring high-speed internet to underserved communities, Collins said.

Friday’s panel wrapped up an odd, almost surreal, three-day conference in Las Vegas that was held defiantly despite the absence of nearly every major tech company. Among those to skip CES at the height of the omicron surge were Intel Corp. INTC, -1.06%, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD, -3.11%, Nvidia Corp. NVDA, -3.30%, Qualcomm Inc. QCOM, International Business Machines Corp. IBM, Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL GOOG, Meta Platforms Inc. FB, Microsoft Corp. MSFT, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -0.43%, HP Inc. HPQ, Peloton Interactive Inc. PTON, BMW, Lenovo Group Ltd. HK:992, AT&T Inc. T, Procter & Gamble Co. PG, and Panasonic Corp. JP:6752.

Show organizer Consumer Technology Association reported attendance of 40,000 — less than one-fourth who visited CES 2020.

Still, the show on went amid empty pavilion hallways, paltry crowds, and some sick attendees. “We know CES will be different… and messy,” Gary Shapiro, chief executive of show organizer Consumer Technology Association, said in a keynote speech on Wednesday to scattered applause. “But innovation can be messy.” 

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