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Policymaker proposes commission to oversee digital platforms

The proposed Federal Digital Platform Commission would oversee tech giants and could impose penalties and conduct investigations into bad conduct. Not everyone thinks it will work.

As efforts to regulate tech giants continue, a new bill aims to create a separate commission focused solely on providing oversight of digital platforms.

This week, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, which would create a presidentially appointed, five-member commission of experts with backgrounds in computer science, technology policy and software development to monitor digital platforms.

In a press release, Bennet said the proposed Federal Digital Platform Commission would help address issues that policymakers have voiced about tech giants in the last few years, such as harming teens' mental health, spreading misinformation and engaging in anti-competitive business practices.

To protect consumers and competition, the Federal Digital Platform Commission would be empowered to promote rules, impose penalties and conduct investigations into digital platforms such as those owned and operated by Amazon and Apple, as well as to assess and assure the fairness of algorithms used by digital platforms.

Other antitrust reform bills have been advanced from committees to both the House and Senate as part of the effort to regulate tech giants. These include taking steps to break up digital powerhouses like Google, Amazon and Meta, as well as updating existing antitrust laws to address modern economies. Those efforts have not progressed.

Antitrust reform doesn't address the ways that algorithms are biased against certain populations or addict young people, and it doesn't address harmful content on digital platforms.
Spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

While Bennet supports updating antitrust laws, he doesn't believe antitrust reform alone fully addresses many of the issues that policymakers have with tech giants, according to a spokesperson.

"Antitrust reform doesn't address the ways that algorithms are biased against certain populations or addict young people, and it doesn't address harmful content on digital platforms," according to Bennet's spokesperson. "That's why he introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act."

The Federal Digital Platform Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are largely responsible for overseeing digital platforms today, but Bennet argues that the organizations lack the expert staff and resources necessary to maintain sustained oversight.

Bennet said in the release that a sector-specific body is necessary to provide the oversight that's needed for digital platforms. According to the text of the bill, the commission would enter into a memorandum of understanding with the FTC and DOJ to ensure coordination and collaboration on digital platform oversight.

"We should follow the long precedent in American history of empowering an expert body to protect the public interest through common sense rules and oversight for complex and powerful sectors of the economy," Bennet said in the press release.

Marshall Van Alstyne, professor, Boston University Questrom School of BusinessMarshall Van Alstyne

Although the basic principle of creating additional oversight is good, it falls short, according to Marshall Van Alstyne, professor of information systems at the Boston University Questrom School of Business. Nearly any government-funded institution will be outmatched by the level of funding the tech industry has at its disposal, he said.

Van Alstyne suggested that policymakers consider an industry model to work alongside government oversight of tech giants by enabling transparency to allow industry players and startups to keep an eye on each other.

"That way, firms who have the talent, the money and the incentives to report on misdeeds of their competitors have a way to do so," he said. "This can really open up a market in an efficient manner and stop abuses from happening."

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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