September 21, 2021

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD: Break Up Big Tech? Luigi Zingales, a University of Chicago economist, offers City Journal’s Allison Shrager some suggestions for reforming the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google).

While I wouldn’t go as far as breaking the FAANGs up, there is one thing I’d love to see. Why can’t I have software that monitors both Signal and WhatsApp and can receive and send data to both at the same time? In 2008, a company called Power Ventures did just that, but Facebook sued the hell out of it and established a principle in U.S. courts that if I give you my Facebook log-in credentials and you download data with my consent, then you are committing a federal crime and should go to jail. I think this is crazy, and it’s one of many legal issues making solutions difficult.

Another thing he’d like to see:

First, we should separate the editorial role from the sharing role. In the editorial role, where there are no network externalities, we can have competition. I can have a University of Chicago editor, and another person could have Jacobin as editor. Newspapers can redefine their role as editors. I could subscribe to the Wall Street Journal editorial-selection services: the Wall Street Journal would edit and select from the web the articles or tweets I want to read. For example, I hate it when people talk about their lives on Twitter; other people love that. There should be free competition on curating these information feeds.

By contrast, the sharing function (which benefits from network externalities) should be considered a common carrier, with the restrictions typical of a common carrier, including universal service. Everyone should be allowed to post on Facebook, unless she violates the law.

In the same way, the sharing function of Facebook should retain protection from legal liability, while the editorial function should not. Think about Reddit. You can write posts on Reddit, and Reddit doesn’t promote those posts, so Reddit should be free from editorial liability. The moment Twitter or Facebook choose what post to promote to keep users more engaged, they become editors and should be liable for content.

Read the whole thing.

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