Facebook and other social net services would be forced open under Senate bill

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Facebook and other social nets face congressional legislation that would require consumers to have data portability and make the services interoperable. (Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced legislation on Tuesday to require Facebook and other large social media platforms to make user data portable and their services open with one another.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, D-VA, Josh Hawley, R-MO, and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, introduced the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) ACT. They said it will encourage market-based competition and allow smaller players to enter the social networking arena.

“The tremendous dominance of a handful of large platforms…has major downsides including few options for consumers who want to use social media to connect with friends, store their photos or just watch cat videos but who face a marketplace with just a few major players and little in the way of real competition,” Warner said in a statement.

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“By enabling portability, interoperability and delegatability, this bill will help put consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to how and where they use social media,” Warner added.

Hawley said the act will put consumers in charge of moving their data. “Your data is your property,” he said.

Blumenthal cited the Microsoft antitrust case which was decided in 2001 as an example of how interoperability and portability are “powerful tools to restrain anti-competitive behaviors.”

In addition to requiring social media players to make their services interoperable with competitors’ platforms and permitting users to port personal data, the act would allow users to delegate trusted custodial services for their content, account settings and online interactions.

The legislation comes at a time when Facebook, Google, Amazon and other Big Tech companies are under fire from Congress and legal authorities primarily for anticompetitive reasons. 

On Tuesday, New York’s Attorney General said 47 state attorneys general are now investigating Facebook. Federal law enforcement officials are also weighing a future antitrust case.

The question of whether technology and communications platforms, software and operating systems can be required to interoperate has been raised many times in recent decades as competitors develop their own custom approaches. The Microsoft antitrust case brought by the U.S.  Department of Justice against Microsoft in the late 1990s was probably the most significant. At one point, the judge in the case ordered a breakup of Microsoft, which was appealed. Instead of a breakup, the DOJ reached a settlement with Microsoft, in which the computer giant would allow PC makers to use non-Microsoft software. Microsoft agreed to share Application Programming Interfaces with third parties.  

Recently, a group of home developers said they wouldn’t install Google Nest products tied to Google Assistant in new homes because they don’t interoperate well with other IoT gadgets like security alarms and entertainment systems in smart homes.

RELATED: Why some builders won’t install Nest devices tied to Google Assistant

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