House Bill Would Create FTC Bureau to Oversee Online Platforms

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The bill takes a different route to big tech oversight than other legislation.

House Democrats introduced new legislation this week that they believe would hold big tech companies—and their widely used internet platforms—accountable to users and regulators.

The Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act of 2022 would create a Bureau of Digital Services, Oversight and Safety within the Federal Trade Commission that would investigate systemic risks on online platforms and issue transparency requirements and guidance.

The bureau would be staffed with “at least” 500 employees—comprised of technologists, constitutional lawyers and a mix of other experts, such as statisticians and child development specialists—that could provide evidence-based research to inform policymakers and enforcement actions.

“The need for federal action to rein in the dominance and abuses of large online companies is obvious,” said Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass, in a statement. “Congress has failed to keep up with the digital marketplace, and users are paying the price. The Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act will be a shot of expertise in the arms of enforcers and legislators alike, helping to inform comprehensive and long overdue updates to the laws that govern the internet. Comprehensive transparency and product safety oversight are necessary complements to ongoing efforts to reform antitrust and data protection laws, and this new Bureau will be key to getting us there.”

Trahan introduced the bill Feb. 18 with cosponsors Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

“This legislation will take the long-overdue step of giving federal regulators insight into how these companies operate, so they can issue evidence-based guidance and hold them accountable,” Schiff said. 

The legislation takes a different approach to reigning in big tech than other current legislative efforts, which largely target tweaking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Instead, the bill would create a permanent office within FTC, an independent agency whose mission is enforcing antitrust law and promoting consumer protections.

“The federal government still lacks the power to hold these platforms accountable,” Casten said. “(DSOSA) will change that by instituting a comprehensive framework for transparency, accountability, and enforcement to finally bring social media platforms’ broken promises and blackbox practices to light.”

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