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Hawley Introduces Bipartisan Bill Empowering Users to Withdraw Their Data from Social Media Giants

Sen. Josh Hawley at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, May 23, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Senate Republican and big-tech critic Josh Hawley joined forces with Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday to introduce legislation designed to increase competition among social media platforms.

Titled “The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act,” the bill aims to force platforms to make user data portable, giving consumers the power to transfer their data — like friends lists and profile information — across platforms with a simple tool, as well as let third parties update and manage account and privacy settings.

Large platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, and others would also have to allow potential competitors access to their user faces, by making key services interoperable.

“Your data is your property. Period. Consumers should have the flexibility to choose new online platforms without artificial barriers to entry,” Hawley said in a statement. “This bill creates long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers the power to move their data from one service to another.”

Warner, who partnered with Hawley earlier this year to propose the DASHBOARD and Do Not Track acts, explained the bill in the context of cell phone numbers, saying individuals should have the same level of control over their social media data.

“As a former cell phone guy, I saw what a game-changer number portability was for that industry. 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,” he stated.

Blumenthal added that “as we learned in the Microsoft antitrust case, interoperability and portability are powerful tools to restrain anti-competitive behaviors and promote innovative new companies.”

The bill’s announcement appears to be a sort of compromise between Hawley and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who have sparred in the past over antitrust checks on big tech. During his first weeks on Capitol Hill, Hawley sent Zuckerberg a letter asking to shift Facebook’s business model away from the monetization of user data.

In September, when the two met, Hawley said Zuckerberg refused to sell Instagram and WhatsApp to break up Facebook’s market share. But in a March op-ed in The Washington Post, Zuckerberg argued in favor of data transfer. “Regulation should guarantee the principle of data portability,” Zuckerberg wrote. “This is important for the Internet — and for creating services people want.”

Zuckerberg is scheduled to meet tomorrow with House lawmakers to discuss Facebook’s business impact.

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