At a time of economic uncertainty and seemingly ever-present inflation, it is important that we do all we can to ensure families have what they need, and small businesses are able to continue to invest and grow jobs. While our region is still seeing positive economic growth, we can all see challenges looming on the horizon. Yet I am concerned that some challenges might be self-inflicted by legislation currently being considered in Congress that would target successful technology companies, hurt the many consumers and small businesses, while risking our cybersecurity protections.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S.2992) will have significant unintended consequences and is currently being considered in the U.S. Senate. The legislation would prevent the largest technology companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook from offering popular services that businesses and consumers use daily for free or a very low cost. Other more specialized businesses services would also be affected.
This legislation would prevent companies from so-called “self-preferencing” which really seems to mean making things work well for users. For example, many customers find local small businesses through a Google search and appreciate the Google Maps results appearing at the top of a page – but this legislation would prevent that feature. Similarly, Instagram posts would no longer be able to appear automatically on Facebook as they do today, making small businesses do more to communicate on both platforms and with their customers.
Whether it is restaurants sharing special menus across social media for a Sunday Game Day special, or a dry cleaner who is often found by potential customers searching on Google for a dry cleaner ‘near me’, both the customer and the business have a more difficult time. Small businesses would also likely incur more costs because they face new and extra steps in their operations at a time many are already having staffing and other financial challenges. Some free apps might even be forced to shift to subscriptions, forcing both consumers and businesses to pay more.
In any discussion around technology, cybersecurity is also a critical element to consider. We must heed the warnings from leaders in the tech industry that this legislation will restrict companies ability to protect users’ privacy and security. This would expose all of us to greater risk of preventable steps against phishing, malware attacks and a multitude of other cyber threats. A report from the nonprofit Center for Cybersecurity Policy and Law that consulted a focus group of 25 experts warned against government policies that could inadvertently damage mobile security. Under the bill, Apple, which makes the iPhone, could not include any of its own software like FaceTime or Find My iPhone because they compete with other apps and they would also have to allow users to download Apps directly from the internet rathe than their own App store as they do now. The iPhone is usually seen as easy to use and highly secure because updates to address cybersecurity issues are made automatic and the apps in Apple’s App Store are regularly updated. These changes would open users to becoming more vulnerable and heighten their personal cybersecurity risks.
It is responsible for Congress to examine how technology companies are operating and create regulations in the best interest of the American people, but this proposed legislation would cause real harm to small business owners, consumers and expose massive new cybersecurity risks. This is a case where commonsense must prevail as Congress needs to seek public policy solution that fosters competition in the technology sector without stripping away services, solutions and critical cybersecurity protections that American small businesses and consumers rely on each and every day.