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New Bill Would Mandate Social Media Data Portability

A bipartisan trio of powerful senators has introduced a bill to promote competition among social media platforms.

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act would require the largest platforms (over 100 million monthly U.S. users) to make user data they collect portable to other platforms and their services interoperable--mirroring Hill efforts to make it easier to switch among ISPs--as well as to allow platform users to designate a third party to manage their privacy and account settings, the last a concession to the difficulty for most to navigate those spaces.

Related: Warner Says Net Governance Status Quo Won't Cut It

Backing the bill are Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The dominance of Facebook in particular in that space has generated Hill interest in both spurring competition and determining if that and other social media giants got big by buying smaller competitors before they got big enough to raise antitrust red flags. They are also driven by high-profile data protection and privacy issues with Facebook, Google and others.

"Online communications platforms have become vital to the economic and social fabric of the nation, but network effects and consumer lock-in have entrenched a select number of companies’ dominance in the digital market and enhanced their control over consumer data," the senators said.

The effort has some platform buy-in. “One very real nightmare scenario for the future of the internet is users facing a meaningless choice among a few fully-integrated silos of technology, and the end of independent innovation and creativity. We all need to prevent that from happening. This legislation could help us take a huge step forward towards a better internet future,” said Chris Riley, director of public policy for Mozilla, as part of the bill's announcement.

“We’re thrilled to see a concrete legislative proposal to provide interoperability for consumers," said Public Knowledge senior policy counsel Charlotte Slaiman.

Hawley and Warner have already partnered on the DASHBOARD Act, which would require social media platforms and other "data harvesting companies" to provide information to financial regulators and consumers on "exactly" what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being monetized, and charge the Securities and Exchange Commission to come up with a method for calculating data value.

They also teamed up on the Do Not Track Act.

“Social media has enormous benefits," said Warner a former tech exec. "But, as we've seen, the tremendous dominance of a handful of large platforms also has major downsides including few options for consumers who want to use social media to connect with friends, store their photos or just watch cat videos, but who face a marketplace with just a few major players and little in the way of real competition."