The real tech regulators
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Media exposés and boycotts from big-name advertisers are doing what government regulators haven't: They're forcing the country's biggest tech companies to change their products, policies and strategies.
- Why it matters: Despite an onslaught of hearings and statements from Washington, virtually no regulation has actually passed to significantly address privacy practices.
- The early 2020 conversation includes a call to "break up" big tech — led by Elizabeth Warren's proposal targeting Google, Facebook and Amazon. But the proclamations have yet to be backed up by any concrete action.
Driving the news: Nearly every major tech company (YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc.) has changed its policies over the past two weeks to address anti-vaccination content that's littered those platforms. Those changes have been made almost entirely in response to media reports uncovering that conspiratorial content.
- Facebook's privacy pivot announcement last week follows a barrage of bad headlines over the way Facebook treats user data.
- Facebook's privacy efforts have significantly increased since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal last year. The data misuse, which was made public by media reports, forced Facebook to eventually end relationships with third-party data brokers and improve privacy transparency policies.
- YouTube, one of Facebook's biggest video rivals, announced a massive change two weeks ago to disable comments on all videos of children under the age of 18. The move came after a damning media story was published by Wired about ways YouTube comments are used as a part of child exploitation rings.
Advertisers from major corporations have continued to boycott big tech firms that aren't doing enough to moderate content and comments.
- YouTube, which has experienced the brunt of advertiser boycotts, lost one of the country's biggest ad spenders, AT&T, after the child exploitation scandal mentioned above. Other big spenders, like Disney and Nestle, also said they would suspend their ads with the Google-owned video giant.
- YouTube has experienced a series of boycotts over the past few years, often in response to media reports about nefarious content that on its site.
When it comes to law enforcement, even when authorities do take action against companies that break rules, it's often in response to media reports uncovering the dangerous practices in the first place.
- On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Facebook's under a criminal investigation for data-sharing deals with other tech companies, deals that were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Be smart: These efforts have moved the needle, especially on issues like privacy, but it will take government action to create a culture where consumer privacy and safety is a forethought, not an afterthought.
- Such transformations have happened around the world, particularly in Europe, where lawmakers have passed sweeping regulations to address some of these concerns, especially around data.
What's next: The biggest platforms, with power bigger than some governments around the world, will continue to be covered with increasing scrutiny by the press.