The real action for tech regulation is far from Washington, D.C.

Congress doesn’t seem ready to take on privacy or competition, but states are refusing to wait around.

Capitol building

States are more eager to regulate tech than ever before.

Photo: Darren Halstead/Unsplash

Lawmakers are ready to change Big Tech — just not the ones in Washington, D.C.

Congress continues to flail when it comes to regulating privacy, competition and more, but state and even some local governments have already jumped in to fill the void in recent years. Now they’ve got big plans for 2022 that could have national implications.

As state legislatures convene this month, the bills and policies that emerge are likely to increase tech companies’ fears of a legislative patchwork — a system of divergent, and sometimes stringent, obligations among different states.

The fear of having to deal with dozens of different rules at once tends to prompt firms to seek national standards from Capitol Hill, and theoretically can force change across the U.S. or even the world. Sometimes, though, Big Tech makes the smallest possible concessions in response to new state laws. Apple’s decision to let apps alert users about how to get around the phone-maker’s commissions, for example, came at least partially in response to state policy pushes, as did the company’s moves to broaden access to repairs of its devices. As Amazon tries to outflank state-by-state approaches, it’s embraced a federal bill that requires online marketplaces to publish contact information of their third-party sellers. And of course, California’s online privacy law in some ways became a de facto U.S. standard when it went into effect in 2020, as companies determined it was easier to comply universally with some elements rather than pick out California users.

Most state tech policy initiatives collapse before becoming law, the same way they do in Congress. For that status quo to continue, though, tech companies would have to hold the line on a range of issues across up to 50 legislatures. The increasing appetite for some kind of regulation, combined with the Big Tech skeptics who have made work in state capitals a key strategy, makes changes even more likely.

Protocol spoke with tech trade groups that wrangle state issues for member companies as well as tech-skeptic and consumer groups to see what’s likely to come down the pike in the upcoming year. Of course, it can be hard to predict which bills will succeed, or what they might look like once they do, but here are the efforts that tech policy experts said they’re watching most closely.


The passage of California’s privacy law, which went into effect at the beginning of 2020, dismayed tech companies and made data protection the focus of industry pleas to Congress for national regulation. Congress has continued its decades of failures on the issue, but Colorado and Virginia have now adopted their own measures, which will become effective next year. Other states want in.

  • Washington state: Many experts thought the home of Microsoft and Amazon would regulate online data soon after California did, and policy-watchers say it could still be the next state to do so, since lawmakers have already filed paperwork to try again. “For the last several years, privacy bills in Washington state have made it very close to the finish line, but the two houses ultimately failed to come to an agreement,” said Maureen Mahoney, a senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports.
  • Florida: As in Washington, Florida has come close to regulating privacy, with a lot of lawmaker interest and legislative movement on the topic. But the state fell short last year with splits over whether consumers should be able to sue companies. Its latest bill was filed on Friday.
  • New York: A New York online privacy bill passed out of a Senate committee last year and has been re-upped for 2022. The bill would require that consumers consent to data processing beforehand — an “opt-in” model that’s stricter than laws and regulations allowing consumers to remove themselves from data use that’s already begun.
  • Connecticut, Ohio, Oklahoma and other states “may be particularly active in this area as well,” said Tom Foulkes, senior director of State Advocacy at BSA, a trade group representing companies such as Microsoft and IBM.

Content moderation

Nearly 35 states saw bills introduced last year aimed at forcing social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to leave certain content up on their platforms — usually right-wing posts.

  • Florida: Alongside Texas, the Sunshine State managed to pass a law on the issue, though both statutes are temporarily being held by federal courts for likely violating the First Amendment. Florida, at least, may try to tweak its bill, said a spokeswoman for the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group that sued both states over their laws.
  • New York: Rather than trying to force companies to keep up content, a trio of bills in the Big Apple would require platforms to adopt reporting mechanisms for vaccine misinformation, election misinformation and hate. “For every legislator convinced digital services are moderating too much content, there’s one certain they moderate too little,” said Matt Schruers, president of CCIA.
  • Utah: The governor last year vetoed the state’s anti-content moderation bill, but CCIA spokeswoman Heather Greenfield said it's was watching for the legislature to try again.

Competition and app stores

Wholesale antitrust reform aimed at Big Tech is another area where Congress has flexed its muscles, but even bipartisan interest from lawmakers may not be enough to secure passage for any bill. Federal lawmakers have also proposed regulating Apple and Google’s app stores following furious lobbying by both sides on the issue in several states.

  • New York: The state Senate’s deputy majority leader has pledged to keep pushing a competition law overhaul that would make it easier for the state to prove a company's dominance in court and harder for businesses to argue their conduct is justified. The bill is already scheduled for a legislative hearing this week. “It has a lot of tech tie-ins,” said Pat Garofalo, director of State and Local Policy at the American Economic Liberties Project, which pushes to rein in big companies.
  • Arizona: The state arguably came closest of any to passing its app store bill last year and seems poised to try again, said Garofalo, who authored a guide to “taking on Big Tech’s economic power” for state legislators. Georgia also came close, and a different New York bill that focuses just on app stores has been referred to committee again recently.


Workplace questions dominated 2021 for many tech companies, from hopes for longer-term remote options to unionization efforts. In the fall, amid California’s ongoing disputes about gig-worker classification, the state also passed a law preventing workers from having to comply with unsafe quotas in retail warehouses like Amazon’s.

  • Illinois: Given the deaths of six workers at an Amazon warehouse in the state during a December tornado, the state will likely be among those moving forward with warehouse legislation like California’s, according to Garofalo. He said he was also aware of New York lawmakers drafting a version.
  • Massachusetts: The state is already the next battleground over whether those who do work through Uber, DoorDash and similar companies should be treated as employees and what benefits they might receive. It’s in the form of a coming ballot measure, though, rather than legislative action.


While Amazon has come around to backing a federal proposal to combat stolen or counterfeit goods, its top lobbyist said the decision came in part in response to the threat of a state patchwork that the company’s allies are still fighting. “The House has worked out a compromise that online sellers and big-box retail can live with, and states should leave it to them," said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the Chamber of Progress, which counts Amazon as a corporate partner.

  • California, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire all have hearings in January on marketplace bills, according to a spokesman for the chamber.



The #1 language learning app, Babbel gives you bite-sized lessons in a variety of languages. It'll have you speaking the basics in just 3 weeks. Plus, it has podcasts, games, videos and more to switch things up! Get 60% off today.

Learn more


Why foundation models in AI need to be released responsibly

Foundation models like GPT-3 and DALL-E are changing AI forever. We urgently need to develop community norms that guarantee research access and help guide the future of AI responsibly.

Releasing new foundation models doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Illustration: sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors

Percy Liang is director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI and an associate professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Humans are not very good at forecasting the future, especially when it comes to technology.

Keep Reading Show less
Percy Liang
Percy Liang is Director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a Faculty Affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, and an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.

The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).


Indeed is hiring 4,000 workers despite industry layoffs

Indeed’s new CPO, Priscilla Koranteng, spoke to Protocol about her first 100 days in the role and the changing nature of HR.

"[Y]ou are serving the people. And everything that's happening around us in the world is … impacting their professional lives."

Image: Protocol

Priscilla Koranteng's plans are ambitious. Koranteng, who was appointed chief people officer of Indeed in June, has already enhanced the company’s abortion travel policies and reinforced its goal to hire 4,000 people in 2022.

She’s joined the HR tech company in a time when many other tech companies are enacting layoffs and cutbacks, but said she sees this precarious time as an opportunity for growth companies to really get ahead. Koranteng, who comes from an HR and diversity VP role at Kellogg, is working on embedding her hybrid set of expertise in her new role at Indeed.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.


New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Latest Stories