Policy

What the good children of tech want from policymakers next year

Privacy under the tree, competition measures in the stocking and a New Year’s resolution for net neutrality.

A "Nice" and "Naughty list featuring "Wikimedia Foundation, DuckDuckGo, Proton, Mozilla Foundation" in the nice column and "Meta, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Google" on the Naughty side

Here are the wish lists of some of your least-problematic faves.

Photoi Illustration: TerriC/Pixabay; Protocol

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We all know who in tech is getting coal from policymakers. The question is, what do the good children of tech want for the holidays? And by children, we mean companies and nonprofits that aren’t squashing rivals, trying to monetize your eyeball twitches or paying for million-dollar lobbying bills with whatever change comes out when they sneeze.

There’s a lot teed up for discussion in tech policy in 2022, from multiple major European legislative proposals to U.S. competition bills to the possible return of net neutrality. The biggest players will spend plenty of time making clear how those policies would affect them, but it’s good to remember that tech can just be fun — and that the folks who make it fun have their own policy hopes that don’t get much attention.

So here, in their own words, are the wish lists of some of your least-problematic faves. It’s not that the good children are perfect — no kids are, after all — and there’s plenty of room for debate with their wish lists. But they did all swear they were especially good this year.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Rebecca MacKinnon, VP for Global Advocacy, Wikimedia Foundation

Everyone’s heard of Wikipedia. The [Wikimedia] Foundation supports the community that actually builds and contributes the content to the projects and governs them. We provide the technical support, legal support [and] policy advocacy support, which is my job. So we’ve got our list to Santa Claus, and top of the list is: Retain Section 230. Wikipedia is a place that everyone can edit, but it’s not a free-for-all. The community has rules about what are credible sources, what is allowed and not allowed on a given page. Section 230 [allows them] to do that without being sued into oblivion by everybody who doesn’t like their Wikipedia page, which is a lot of people. I wouldn’t mind if mine would improve too!

We [also] want accountable surveillance. We want surveillance oversight. We want people to be able to contribute to Wikimedia projects without fear of being stalked or tracked or retribution in this country or anywhere. And to that end, we need the U.S. government to support strong encryption.

[Finally,] you can’t participate in open-knowledge projects or public-interest technology projects if you don’t have affordable broadband access, and then related to it, of course, net neutrality, so that we don’t have a situation where it’s cheaper and easier to access a few big commercial platforms and nothing else.

Gabriel Weinberg, CEO, DuckDuckGo

One [wish] is trying to get legislation and/or enforcement in place where people who would like to use privacy tools, especially our private search engine, can do so very easily. Right now, it’s very difficult because Google is the default, really everywhere. And in most of those places, it’s very hard to switch the default. I’d say we’re spending most of our priority in the U.S. right now [on] the Senate bill around self-preferencing. It’s kind of the closest thing that exists to stopping some of this Google default exploitation that we see.

The second is trying to really get a way that consumers can either opt out of behavioral advertising [which relies on extensive data collection], or make contextual advertising [which focuses on things you’re already looking for] the default. We would like to bring that to all browsers in the world. We are a founding member to a new standard called Global Privacy Control, which was about [browsers] sending the signal [to websites] to really effectuate an opt-out like that. The problem with that is it has no legal teeth in almost any place except California right now, and so what we would like to do is get wider adoption of that and find a way to tie that to more legal teeth in different places.

Jurgita Miseviciute, public policy and government affairs lead, Proton

We are hoping for negotiations between the European Parliament, council and the commission on the [competition-focused] Digital Markets Act to happen in January with this really landmark piece of technology adopted by summer 2022. One thing that we really wish for is to have the ban on pre-installation of apps to be included there as well. We think this is very important for a lot of app developers and startups in general.

When it comes to the second priority, we go back to the U.S. We are very much hopeful for a proper hearing for the Open App Markets Act. We are very practical, and we don’t expect full-fledged U.S. competition reform to happen in such a short timeframe. But we were very hopeful to see some progress.

And then we are very hopeful for meaningful action from the EU and U.S. Trade and Technology Council, which would also include progress on privacy agreements. We all know that the famous Privacy Shield was invalidated, and this created, obviously, a problem between the EU and U.S. [on] data flows. So we are very hopeful that this newly created body would serve as a meaningful and effective body to coordinate a lot of technology regulation questions.

Ashley Boyd, VP of Advocacy & Engagement, Mozilla Foundation

We want universal ad transparency from Facebook and all other major internet platforms. Campaigning today takes place through online ads in news feeds, stories and video streams, but online ads lack the scrutiny and guardrails that traditional ads in print, radio and TV have long faced. Universal ad transparency can bring lots of sunlight to this dark ecosystem. Imagine a comprehensive, easy-to-search ad library where anyone can browse the ads that run on a platform, see who paid for them and see who they were targeted at.

We [also] want insight into YouTube’s recommendation AI. It determines what millions of people watch each day, and in turn can influence whether they get a vaccine, or whether they accept the outcome of an election. YouTube rabbit holes are real — and sometimes dangerous. We can’t fix rogue systems like this until independent watchdogs can peer under the hood and see what’s happening.

Policymakers should introduce regulations that mandate transparency into recommendation algorithms — something that’s already proposed in the [EU’s] draft Digital Services Act. Policymakers also need to create safe harbor provisions that protect researchers working in the public interest so they aren’t threatened with lawsuits from the big platforms.

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