Feb 10, 2022 - Technology

Exclusive: U.S. majority supports tech regulation to preserve democracy

Illustration of numerous internet browser windows showing the US Capitol Building in red repeating

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Three-quarters of Americans say that U.S. democracy could be at risk without stronger regulation of false information online, according to a poll by bipartisan advocacy group the Future of Tech commission, results of which were shared first with Axios. The same survey found broad bipartisan support for stronger privacy regulation and increased spending on cybersecurity.

Why it matters: Congress is considering a range of new restrictions on tech, including bills related to privacy, competition and possible limits to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from being sued for user-contributed content.

  • "Voters across party lines overwhelmingly support a range of government actions," Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer told Axios. Steyer is a co-chair of the Future of Tech commission, along with former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

By the numbers: The survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group on the commission's behalf, found especially strong support to limit collection of users' personal data — and even stronger support to limit it for users under 18.

  • 78% of Americans believe consumers should have to “opt-in” before their personal data is shared.
  • 76% of those surveyed say companies should not be able to collect and use personal data beyond what's necessary for the service being provided.
  • 75% said they support prohibiting companies from collecting personal data on anybody 16 or under.

Yes, but: It's one thing to call for these limits in the abstract — and another once users realize they might be asked to pay for or give up services that are now supported by targeted advertising.

Between the lines: While there is strong bipartisan support, in both polls and among legislators, for reining in Big Tech, the consensus often disappears once the problems described and solutions proposed get more specific.

  • Steyer acknowledged a steep partisan divide when it comes to questions about content moderation and Section 230 reform.
  • "That doesn’t mean we can’t get major stuff done this year," he said, noting a broader consensus around privacy regulation, as well as support for better broadband and improved cybersecurity.

The big picture: While the politics of getting anything passed by Congress are complicated, other countries are poised to act, with the EU and U.K. both considering fresh legislation.

  • "We have birthed the extraordinary tech revolution," Steyer said. "We should lead the world in smart, common-sense, thoughtful guardrails."

What's next: Steyer, Patrick and Spellings will present the group's legislative recommendations at a gathering next week. Also expected to attend are FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

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