America Needs a Consumer-First Internet Policy, Not Tech-First

Published January 25, 2018

Internet users are the forgotten consumers.

They have been forgotten for over twenty years because America’s Internet policy has been tech-first-consumer-last.

Hiding in plain sight, U.S. Internet policy prioritizes what’s best for technologies and Internet companies over what’s best for people, because at core it assumed in 1996 and 1998 that whatever is good for Internet technologies and companies is good for Internet consumers.

For many years that appeared to be largely true. However, the cascading revelations this past year — big societal, economic, and political problems caused by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, etc. — prove that core U.S. Internet policy assumption false.

Let’s contrast the Government’s protection of Internet companies with its protection of Internet consumers.

How U.S. Internet Policy Maximally Protects Internet Companies

It’s long been U.S. law and policy to protect only Internet companies from competition, regulation, negligence liability, taxation, anticompetitive behavior, and paying for public Internet infrastructure. Consider:

1.      The 1996 Telecom Act protects Internet companies from legacy FCC regulations that their competitors must obey.

2.      It establishes a national policy that only Internet companies are to be “unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”

3.      CDA law protects only online intermediaries from civil liability for consumer negligence.

4.      Tax law specially protects Internet companies from many forms of normal taxation.

5.      In addition to antitrust law protections, net neutrality policy protects Internet companies from potential anticompetitive behaviors — that Internet companies routinely do to others.

6.      FCC regulation exempts the Internet companies from having to pay their share of the Universal Service Fund that brings faster broadband to all Americans.

These extraordinary government protections shift most all risk from Internet companies to others.

Thus, with impunity, they can capitalize the benefits and socialize the costs of their destructive, winner-take-all business models. To add insult to injury, the forgotten Internet consumer doubles as the forgotten taxpayer, stuck with paying their socialized-cost bill – i.e. “trillionaire welfare.”

How U.S. Internet Policy Minimally Protects Internet Consumers

Internet consumers have no Internet rights and minimal recourse or redress for Internet harms.

Practically, Internet consumers have minimal Internet security, because they largely have been abandoned by the government to fend for themselves when harmed online.

If one doubts that reality, look no further than the countless child victims of online sex trafficking that literally are having to beg their elected representatives and Senators for the opportunity to have their day in court to try and bring some of the worst-of-the-worst criminals to justice, because Google and the Internet Association are so powerful in dictating their self-serving, tech-first-consumer-last, policy orthodoxy.

What we have collectively learned over the last year, is that the forgotten Internet consumer is treated like: a user to be addicted; a product to be sold to advertisers; an identity to be stolen by thieves; a lab rat to be tagged, tracked, and tested; an inefficiency to be disrupted and dis-employed; and minds to be enraged, polarized, and manipulated.

Shockingly, it is still de facto U.S. policy to have a Wild West Internet, with no Internet law or sheriff, twenty-two years into the Internet revolution.

This is the biggest unaddressed consumer security problem. The Internet exposes consumers to more, serious, and pervasive harms than any other place, because the Internet is everywhere people live, work, and play.

Shockingly, there is still no government entity specifically looking out for Internet consumers’ security and well-being, or for the security and well-being of minors.

Prevailing tech-first-consumer-last Internet policy has meant U.S. consumer protection agencies still have limited authority to protect consumers from Internet harms.

1.      FTC: The 1914-authorized Federal Trade Commission has limited Internet authority for addressing the harms of manipulative or addictive algorithms, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, or privacy/data security breaches.

2.      FCC: The 1934-authorized Federal Communications Commission has outdated-technology-dependent authorities that do not apply to the Internet.

3.      CSPC: The 1972-authorized Consumer Product Safety Commission has limited safety or recall authority over Internet software, apps, or algorithms.

4.      CFPB/SEC/CFTC: The 2011-authorized Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the 1934-authorized Securities Exchange Commission, and the 1975-authorized Commodities Futures Trading Commission, all admit to limited authority to address Internet, cryptocurrency, or blockchain consumer fraud or harms.

It only serves Internet Association companies for none of America’s consumer protection agencies to have authority to protect consumers online like the do offline.

In sum, there is an obvious opportunity for strong bipartisan consensus here.

Neither party, nor elected officials, want to publicly oppose the common sense, common good of more Internet security for their consumers/voters.

Why can Americans expect safe consumer food, drugs, products, vehicles, planes, etc. and control their offline privacy in health care, education, financial services, and telephone conversations, but can never expect Internet data, software, apps, sites, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, etc. to be safe, secure or private?

Consumers hurt or bleed the same whether they are harmed online or offline. Same consumers same harm.

When will America’s policymakers stop forgetting the forgotten Internet consumer?

Same consumers same rules.

[Originally Published at Precursor]