It’s time for Congress to stand up to Big Tech

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Although Proton’s mission has always revolved around privacy, we’ve also spent a lot of time pushing for a more level playing field online. This isn’t by accident. The future of privacy depends on society’s ability to adopt an alternative vision of the internet, one that is different from Big Tech’s vision. And while Proton has grown tremendously, several barriers still limit user choice and harm privacy-first developers online.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Big Tech has methodically used its gatekeeper power to lock consumers in and box competitors out, but policymakers are finally doing their part to open up the internet. The EU recently passed major reforms that will be a boon for privacy and innovation, and the US is on the cusp of doing something similar. But time is running out in Washington, which is why we need your help to get two crucial bills over the finish line.

The clock is ticking 

We’ve written about the bills in question before, and it’s no surprise we’ve conveyed urgency. But that urgency is now greater than ever because, halfway through September, there are limited days left on the US legislative calendar, meaning all Big Tech needs to do is run out the clock to prevent change.

Many Americans will be familiar with what’s going on. The US has midterm elections this November, which means policymakers will become full-time candidates in the coming weeks. The midterms will soon take up all the political oxygen in the country, and while some issues can be taken up in the weeks around the election, most will have to wait until next year when Congress starts from scratch. In other words, we have a limited window to pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) and Open App Markets Act (OAMA) before lawmakers hit reset.

What needs to happen

Above all, the Senate Majority Leader (Senator Chuck Schumer of New York) needs to schedule a vote for the bills in the full Senate. Putting something on the Senate floor is an understandably big decision, but in this case, it’s an easy call. There are a few reasons for this: 

There has been a lively discussion. In 2020, Congress released a definitive, 400-page report detailing how Big Tech uses its position to the detriment of users, developers, and privacy. In 2021, House lawmakers held a marathon session on a variety of proposals for tackling monopoly power. The Senate and House have likewise held a series of hearings with witnesses from affected organizations, and anyone following the issue has seen ceaseless input in the press, at events, via studies, and so forth. Simply stated, these proposals have undergone years of examination and refinement. They are ready to become law.

There is bipartisan support. Congress doesn’t agree on much these days, but there’s no doubt that AICOA and OAMA are popular on both sides of the aisle. AICOA passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 16-6, while OAMA made it out 20-2. These are remarkably bipartisan showings, bringing together staunch conservatives and committed progressives. They also underscore the most important point: while the necessary support is there, the necessary vote isn’t inevitable, which is why Leader Schumer must deliver.

There is demand for change. The fault lines emerging from the debate have been clear. While Big Tech has spent roughly $100 million resisting basic reforms, other stakeholders have loudly said “no” to the status quo. Recent research found 68% of likely US voters agree Big Tech has too much power, with 72% supporting AICOA and 79% in favor of OAMA. Another survey found 86% of app developers say legislation taking on anti-competitive and self-preferencing tactics is necessary for them to succeed. More broadly, 76% of small businesses support “specific prohibitions on various predatory practices and practices that make it harder for smaller businesses to compete.” 

How you can help

Terms like “self-preferencing” and “competition policy” may sound academic, but the truth is they have real-world impacts. Big Tech benefits from a host of unchecked powers that it uses to favor its own services, disadvantage other providers, and prevent consumers from embracing alternatives. The end result? An internet where 95% of people don’t change their default settings, prices are inflated by app store fees, and surveillance capitalism is the norm.

The US proposals can help change that. They would, among other things, let you uninstall preinstalled apps, change your default settings, and bring down prices. They would make app stores fairer while preventing Big Tech from stifling competition and punishing disruptors. Above all, they would give you actual choice over the services you use online. And because so many people crave privacy-first alternatives, the freedom to choose would incentivize all companies to at least consider improving their data practices.

This idea — that choice will lead to fair competition, which will allow privacy-first alternatives to flourish — is one we’ve been making for a long time. We recently said as much in a letter to Congressional leadership (along with peers like DuckDuckGo and Neeva). In fact, it’s safe to say we’ve been making the case to any US lawmaker who will listen

But we also need your help. A call, email, or even just using the hashtag #AntitrustVoteNow can go a long way toward ensuring that Leader Schumer brings the bills forward. If you’re a US voter, please consider contacting your Senator. A stand for competition is exactly what we need right now to promote privacy.

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