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Hawley: Big Tech is Exploiting Digital 'Treadmill'

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has escalated his war on Big Tech.

In an op ed Thursday (Aug. 29) in the Wall Street Journal, Hawley said that rather than being about innovation, Big Tech is about sophisticated and systematic exploitation rather than new products or services, an exploitation that turns the info highway into a treadmill that could have disastrous effects, including increasing teen suicide.

He suggested that while Big Tech helped the U.S. land on the moon 50 years ago, today edge giants are probing the inner spaces of the dark side of the Web, culling data for a bombardment of targeted ads.

Related: Justice Investigating Search, Social Online Giants

Hawley said Web sites' efforts at engagement--finding ways to keep surfers on sites longer--is better labeled "addiction."

The freshman senator has come out of the gate attacking social media for data collection, and as a time and energy drain on society, which he did again this week. "[T]he social-media giants turn the customer into a data source to be sucked dry," he wrote.

As for all that supposed new tech innovation: "What “innovation” remains in this space is innovation to keep the treadmill running, longer and faster, drawing more data from users to bombard us with more ads for more stuff."

"As we spend more time on that digital treadmill, our real-world relationships atrophy, sometimes to disastrous effect. Teen suicide is up. Twenty-two percent of millennials report that they have no friends. More than a few researchers have noticed a connection," he said.

"Americans shouldn't settle for this stagnation," he wrote. "It's time we demanded more of Big Tech than it demands of us. That's why I've proposed banning the “dark patterns” that feed tech addiction. I've introduced legislation to provide consumers a legally enforceable right to browse the internet privately, without data tracking. I've advocated stepping up privacy safeguards for children and requiring tech companies to moderate content without political bias as a condition of civil immunity. And I've advocated more competition to spur real innovation for real people."

Hawley has also called proposed legislation to combat social media "addiction" has teamed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to call for an investigation into alleged social media bias against conservative speech, and teamed with Democrats Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on updating children's online protection laws and Mark Warner (D-Va.) on a social media data monetization dashboard. 

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.