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Biden likely to push privacy laws

by on23 November 2020

New appointment shows there may be regulation ahead

President-elect Joe Biden’s top technology adviser helped craft California’s landmark online privacy law and recently condemned a controversial federal statute that protects internet companies from liability.

Bruce Reed, a former Biden chief of staff who is expected to take a significant role in the new administration, may be key to understanding how Biden may come down on two key tech policy issues.

Reed helped negotiate with the tech industry and legislators on behalf of backers of a ballot initiative that led to the 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act. Privacy advocates see that law as a possible model for a national law.

Reed co-authored a chapter in a book published last month denouncing the federal law known as Section 230, which makes it impossible to sue internet companies over the content of user postings. Both Republicans and Democrats have called for reforming or abolishing 230, which critics say has allowed abuse to flourish on social media.

Reed, a veteran political operative, was chief of staff for Biden from 2011 to 2013 when Biden was US vice president. He succeeded Ron Klain, who was recently named incoming White House chief of staff. Reed then served as president of the Broad Foundation, a major Los Angeles philanthropic organisation, and then as an adviser to Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective in Palo Alto, California.

The Biden campaign identified Reed as its top person on tech policy but declined to make him available for an interview.

Reed, 60, became involved in the California privacy campaign in his capacity as a strategist for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit set up by Stanford University lecturer James Steyer to advise parents and companies on healthy content for children.

Tech companies initially lined up in staunch opposition to the ballot initiative that set the stage for the law, which gives consumers the right to learn what information about them is being provided to which companies and to have that information deleted.

Reed rewrote the law to appease Apple which is the way US democracy works.

Reed’s position on 230 could prove more controversial. In a book published last month, “Which Side of History? How Technology Is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives,” Steyer and Reed co-authored a chapter that called 230 an enemy of children. Though 230 had allowed tech freedom to flourish, they wrote that it has now gone against the desires of its backers by giving companies a financial incentive to encourage hate and abuse.

“If they sell ads that run alongside harmful content, they should be considered complicit in the harm”, Steyer and Reed wrote. “If their algorithms promote harmful content, they should be held accountable for helping redress the harm. In the long run, the only real way to moderate content is to moderate the business model.”

Last modified on 23 November 2020
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