Heritage Calls for Sweeping Reforms to Hold Big Tech Accountable

Heritage Calls for Sweeping Reforms to Hold Big Tech Accountable

Feb 7, 2022 6 min read

WASHINGTON—Today, The Heritage Foundation released an authoritative assessment documenting how Big Tech has weaponized unprecedented power and influence to silence Americans, undermine freedom, and fundamentally reshape American society. The report, “Combating Big Tech’s Totalitarianism: A Road Map,” lays out a roadmap of the reforms necessary to counter the grave threat Big Tech poses to Americans’ basic rights and the health of our republic. 

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said on the report’s release:  

“Big Tech is the enemy of the people. These powerful corporations’ undeniable service to leftist ideology eerily mirrors oppressive behavior by totalitarian governments to silence opposition and relegate those with whom they disagree to second-class citizens. Every single American should be concerned by Big Tech’s manipulation of the free market to exploit consumers, censor conservatives, target children, expand chilling surveillance programs, and selectively limit access to the modern public square. It’s going to take all of us to fight back against Big Tech and ensure these companies are held to account for their unchecked, flagrant abuses of power and undermining of the common good.” 

Kara Frederick, the report’s author and Heritage research fellow for technology policy, said:  

“Corporations do not have the right to undermine the basic values and rights that make our republic the beacon of freedom and opportunity that it is today, nor should they be allowed to undermine the common good by manipulating the very system that has enriched them in the first place. That is exactly what Big Tech has done in recent years. The answer to these abuses is true accountability. That’s why we are releasing this set of recommendations—to give policymakers at all levels of government a roadmap on how to end Big Tech’s pernicious influence as we know it and its ability to work hand-in-glove with governments to police speech.  

“It’s time for aggressive and meaningful reforms that will ensure all Americans are guaranteed freedom of expression and access in the digital space. Big Tech has increasingly and systematically exercised control of information and access to the digital space in ways that undermine our republic. Heritage’s recommendations go right to the heart of this influence."

To hold Big Tech accountable and ensure all Americans have their rights and freedoms protected, policymakers should require unprecedented transparency on data use, content moderation decisions, and algorithmic impacts, scrutinize Big Tech’s ad tech model, apply and modernize antitrust law where appropriate, establish liability for Big Tech executives, punish fraud and breaches of contract, allow American citizens recourse to seek for redress in case of censorship, and more.  

In the report, Frederick lays out the following recommendations:  

Congress, with relevant federal agencies, should:  

  • Ensure enforcement of antitrust law and reform or modernize antitrust laws where necessary 

  • Scrutinize Big Tech companies' ad tech model by prompting FTC investigations, curtailing microtargeting practices, and incentivizing alternative models 

  • Establish executive liability to hold Big Tech executives accountable for business fraud and breach of contract 

  • Remove Section 230 liability protection if tech companies censor based on views protected by the Constitution (with clearly outlined exceptions) or favoring or disfavoring speech based on viewpoint. 

  • Allow American citizens to hold tech companies accountable for inconsistent application of policies via the judicial system 

  • Require transparency on algorithmic impacts and content moderation transparency 

  • Institute additional reporting requirements 

  • Pass data privacy legislation 

  • Require Big Tech platforms to establish parental controls for minors 

  • Consider legislation requiring data portability for those who wish to transfer to competing platforms 

  • Consider giving consumers greater control over the content they see in their news feed 

  • Prohibit the government from using social media platforms as their agents to chill speech 

  • Impose costs for ties to the Chinese Communist Party and other adversary foreign governments 

  • Demand reciprocity for CCP use of U.S.-based digital platforms or ban state-linked actors 

  • Determine whether Big Tech companies are in strict compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 

  • Prohibit Big Tech companies from entering joint ventures with companies directly tied to or beholden to the CCP 

U.S. tech companies should: 

  • Make firm commitments to implement user control efforts like third-party algorithm use, and not just hint at them in front of Congress  

  • Explore privacy-preserving tech and privacy by design initiatives to shore up data privacy. 

  • Institute additional mechanisms for user control and strengthen parental controls 

  • Build with the full digital stack in mind 

State legislatures, executives, and attorney generals should: 

  • Continue to fight Big Tech censorship and practice through state legislative action to seek accountability, transparency, and fair treatment for all users 

  • Direct independent investigations to ensure state and local policies are not subsidizing Big Tech 

American citizens should: 

  • Strengthen grassroots efforts to demand transparency from these companies and look outside of Washington, D.C. to the states for more durable solutions to complement federal policy reforms.  

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