It’s going to be a busy year in tech policy. Here’s what to watch.

Escalating competition with China. Navigating a post-Privacy Shield world. These are the tech policy issues that will dominate 2022.

The White House during the National Christmas Tree lighting on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C.

In 2021, lawmakers started scrutinizing the systems that underpin tech companies.

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It hasn’t always felt that way, but 2021 actually was a year of gradual progress in the world of tech policy. Sure, there were cringey moments in Congress: “Will you commit to ending finsta?" immediately springs to mind. And globally, government-imposed crackdowns are threatening a new era of tech-enabled censorship.

But in the U.S., 2021 was a year when lawmakers at least started to move beyond cherry-picked posts and individual failures by tech companies and started scrutinizing the systems that underpin those companies. At times, they even did this on a bipartisan basis, coming to something like a coherent consensus on issues related to antitrust, transparency and the digital divide.

It was also the year that some of the top thinkers in the world of tech policy — Lina Khan, Tim Wu, Rashida Richardson and Meredith Whittaker, among them — found their way into the federal government, promising to bring new approaches to competition policy, AI ethics and more.

With those puzzle pieces in place, the question now is: What can lawmakers and government officials actually achieve in 2022? Here’s a look at the top policy issues to watch — both in the U.S. and abroad — in the coming year.

The global competition crackdown

When it comes to antitrust enforcement, tech companies are getting hit from all angles: a trend that is certain to continue throughout the new year. In Congress, members face a package of bipartisan bills in both chambers, which aim to prevent tech companies from preferencing their own goods and services, increase scrutiny on mergers by large companies and stop app stores from locking app developers into their pricey payment systems, among other things.

Those bills are likely to move in the next Congress, said Peter Chandler, director of Federal Policy and Government Relations at the lobbying group TechNet. That’s worrisome news for the tech sector, Chandler said. “I think the bills were written in such a way that there were a lot of unintended consequences,” he said of some that have already passed out of committee in the House. “I don’t think enough thought was put into how they affect the startup ecosystem in America.”

And Congress is only one battlefield in the antitrust war. There’s also a newly animated FTC, led by antitrust evangelist Khan. The FTC has already brought a case against Facebook, which it amended after a court dismissed its initial complaint. It’s simultaneously investigating Amazon. And it warned businesses that have filed for mergers that if they proceed with a merger before the FTC finishes its review, the FTC could still find the merger to be unlawful.

The Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, meanwhile, is now led by fellow antitrust warrior and noted Google critic Jonathan Kanter. In the role, Kanter will oversee the DOJ’s antitrust work, including its ongoing suit against Google: news which prompted Google to call for Kanter’s recusal.

As if all of that weren’t enough, tech companies are also facing new antitrust pressure in Europe, where the Digital Markets Act promises to place new requirements on so-called “gatekeeper” companies in the name of promoting competition.

US broadband implementation

A longtime staple of tech industry wishlists, the digital divide might actually begin to close in earnest this year thanks to the $65 billion in broadband funding set aside in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That includes $42.45 billion for states to build out new broadband networks, as well as $14.2 billion in monthly discounts for low-income Americans, $2.75 billion for digital literacy programs and $2 billion for rural broadband construction.

What matters now is how that money is doled out and spent, said Jason Oxman, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). “There’s a lot of money going out the door, and we want to make sure it’s done right to address the digital divide in a tech-neutral manner that advances all forms of broadband,” Oxman said.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will oversee the distribution of the grant funding and must still develop rules to guide states’ proposals. Both ITI and TechNet said they are now working with the federal government, as well as states, to offer input on their implementation plans. “This is a 12- to 18-month endeavor to really start to get that service out to people where they are,” Chandler said.

The race against China

The Senate scored a major bipartisan victory in 2021 with the passage of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which included more than $200 billion in funding for science and tech research, chip manufacturing and more. (It also included a bunch of weirdo carveouts).

The bill was framed as an effort to ramp up U.S. competition with China, but it’s faced a slower path in the House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently announced plans to move the bill through the conference process, giving tech leaders hope that USICA, or at least core parts of it including the investment in chips, will pass in early 2022. “I’m very bullish on it happening, and I think the chips part is going to happen one way or another,” Chandler said.

There are also ongoing efforts inside the White House to form a global front to stand up to authoritarian uses of the internet by countries like China. Leaders at the National Economic Council and National Security Council had planned to announce a so-called Alliance for the Future of the Internet in 2021, which would bring democracies around the world together under a set of commitments regarding the free and open internet. But following substantial pushback from internet freedom advocates, the White House postponed plans to launch the alliance until at least January. Once launched, the alliance will kickstart a yearlong collaboration between governments, advocacy groups and the private sector to come up with a set of commitments that members of the alliance will adhere to.

Post-Privacy Shield deal-making

The U.S. and EU are still trying to come to an agreement on transcontinental data transfers in the wake of 2020’s monumental Schrems II decision. That ruling invalidated the Privacy Shield framework, which had enabled companies to transfer data between the U.S. and EU for years. Ever since, all U.S. companies that handle European data — but particularly tech companies that handle a whole lot of it — have been hanging in the balance.

In 2022, the pressure is on for the two governments to see their way to an agreement. At the crux of the court’s decision to invalidate Privacy Shield was the concern that European citizens whose data is processed by U.S. government agencies have no redress through the U.S. court system. In the EU, they’re entitled to it. Now, Oxman said, the U.S. Commerce Department is working to negotiate a way for EU citizens to take their claims straight to government agencies through administrative law processes. “Those negotiations are ongoing, and as we understand it, close to resolution,” he said.

The ‘AI Bill of Rights’

In 2021, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced it intended to draft what it’s calling an AI Bill of Rights to “clarify the rights and freedoms we expect data-driven technologies to respect.” To do that, the office put out a request for information on how biometric data is being used. The office plans to use that information to develop this bill of rights over the course of 2022.

While it’s still unclear exactly what the implications of that document could be, the officials behind the effort — director of OSTP Eric Lander and deputy director for Science and Society Alondra Nelson — floated some ideas in an October Wired op-ed that are worth keeping an eye on this year. “Possibilities include the federal government refusing to buy software or technology products that fail to respect these rights, requiring federal contractors to use technologies that adhere to this ‘bill of rights,’ or adopting new laws and regulations to fill gaps,” Nelson and Lander wrote. “States might choose to adopt similar practices.”

State privacy laws come into focus

This is usually the part of the year-end roundup where we tell you that this, yes this, is the year for a federal privacy law. But honestly? We’ve been wrong about that before, so at the risk of repeating history, we’ll focus on where the action really is: the states.

In 2022, California’s newly created privacy agency will have to promulgate rules and regulations related to the California Privacy Rights Act, the successor to the California Consumer Privacy Act, which passed in 2018. The new CPRA law gives widespread power to this agency to define regulations around concepts like “automated decision-making” and cybersecurity. It’s little wonder, then, that tech companies and civil liberties advocates alike have been pushing the agency to issue rules in their favor. That work will likely continue throughout this year. The situation is similar in Virginia and Colorado, which both passed privacy laws in 2021 and will need to develop the finer points of those laws this year.

All three of those laws go into effect in 2023, which renders 2022 a make-or-break year for anyone looking to influence how they’re ultimately implemented. And there could be more movement on privacy laws in other states as well. According to TechNet, 31 states have proposed privacy laws in the last two years alone.

Of course, that’s one reason why tech companies are pushing Congress to pass privacy legislation at the federal level. So, given all of this activity in the states, could 2022 be the year for Congress to act? “2022 is the year, definitely,” Oxman said, “as long as you promise not to come back and check next year.”


The (gaming) clones never stopped attacking

Clones keep getting through app review despite App Store rules about copying. It's a sign of the weaknesses in mobile app stores — and the weakness in Big Tech’s after-the-fact moderation approach.

Clones aren't always illegal, but they are widely despised.

Image: Disney

Two of the most fundamental tenets of the mobile gaming market:

  1. Free always wins.
  2. No good gaming idea is safe from copycats.

In combination, these two rules help produce what the industry calls a clone. Most often, clones are low-effort, ripped-off versions of popular games that monetize in not-so-savory fashion while drawing in players with a price tag of zero.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Sponsored Content

A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

Keep Reading Show less
Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.

Beat Saber, Bored Apes and more: What to do this weekend

Don't know what to do this weekend? We've got you covered.

Images: Ross Belot/Flickr; IGBD; BAYC

This week we’re listening to “Harvest Moon” on repeat; burning some calories playing Beat Saber; and learning all about the artist behind the goofy ape pics that everyone (including Gwyneth Paltrow?) is talking about.

Neil Young: Off Spotify? No problem.

Neil Young removed his music from Spotify this week, but countless recordings are still available on YouTube, including this 1971 video of him performing “Heart of Gold” in front of a live studio audience, complete with some charming impromptu banter. And while you’re there, scroll down and read a few of the top-rated comments. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

'Archive 81': Not based on a book, but on a podcast!

Netflix’s latest hit show is a supernatural mystery horror mini-series, and I have to admit that I was on the fence about it many times, in part because the plot just often didn’t add up. But then the main character, Dan the film buff and archivist, would put on his gloves, get in the zone, and meticulously restore a severely damaged, decades old video tape, and proceed to look for some meaning beyond the images. That ritual, and the sentiment that we produce, consume and collect media for something more than meets the eye, ultimately saved the show, despite some shortcomings.

'Secrets of Sulphur Springs': Season 2 is out now

If you’re looking for a mystery that's a little more family-friendly, give this show about a haunted hotel, time travel, and kids growing up in a world that their parents don’t fully understand a try. Season 2 dropped on Disney+ this month, and it not only includes a lot more time travel mysteries, but even uses the show’s time machine to tackle subjects as serious as reparations.

The artist behind those Bored Apes

Remember how NFTs are supposed to generate royalties with every resale, and thus support artists better than any of their existing revenue streams? Seneca, the artist who was instrumental in creating those iconic apes for the Bored Ape Yacht Club, wasn’t able to share details about her compensation in this Rolling Stone profile, but it sure sounds like she is not getting her fair share.

Beat Saber: Update incoming

Years later, Beat Saber remains my favorite VR game, which is why I was very excited to see a teaser video for cascading blocks, which could be arriving any day now. Time to bust out the Quest for some practice time this weekend!

Correction: Story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gwyneth Paltrow's name. This story was updated Jan. 28, 2022.

Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Mental health at work is still taboo. Here's how to make it easier.

Tech leaders, HR experts and organizational psychologists share tips for how to destigmatize mental health at work.

How to de-stigmatize mental health at work, according to experts.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When the pandemic started, HR software startup Phenom knew that its employees were going to need mental health support. So it started offering a meditation program, as well as a counselor available for therapy sessions.

To Chief People Officer Brad Goldoor’s surprise, utilization of these benefits was very low, starting at about a 10% take rate and eventually weaning off. His diagnosis: People still aren’t fully comfortable opening up about mental health, and they’re especially not comfortable engaging with their employer on the topic.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.


Robinhood's regulatory troubles are just the tip of the iceberg

It’s easiest to blame Robinhood’s troubles on regulatory fallout, but its those troubles have obscured the larger issue: The company lacks an enduring competitive edge.

A crypto comeback might go a long way to help Robinhood’s revenue

Image: Olena Panasovska / Alex Muravev / Protocol

It’s been a full year since Robinhood weathered the memestock storm, and the company is now in much worse shape than many of us would have guessed back in January 2021. After announcing its Q4 earnings last night, Robinhood’s stock plunged into the single digits — just below $10 — down from a recent high of $70 in August 2021. That means Robinhood’s valuation dropped more than 84% in less than six months.

Investor confidence won’t be bolstered much by yesterday’s earnings results. Total net revenues dropped to $363 million from $365 million in the preceding quarter. In the quarter before that, Robinhood reported a much better $565 million in net revenue. Net losses were bad but not quite as bad as before: Robinhood reported a $423 million net loss in Q4, an improvement from the $1.3 billion net loss in Q3 2021. One of the most shocking data points: Average revenue per user dropped to $64, down from a recent high of $137 in Q1 2021. At the same time, Robinhood actually reported a decrease in monthly active users, from 18.9 million in Q3 2021 to 17.3 million in Q4 2021.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

Latest Stories