As Congress Dithers, States Step In to Set Guidelines for the Web

Critics of government regulations warned that it is not just tech companies who have to maneuver through the patchwork of rules. “This creates confusion for consumers,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank sponsored by technology companies.

Apple and Google declined to comment. Jodi Seth, an Amazon spokeswoman, referred to an April blog post by the company’s executive Brian Huseman who said state laws risk creating a variety of regulations that would not serve users well.

Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local public order, said the social network largely supported more federal law instead. “While we support government efforts to address specific challenges,” he said in a statement, “there are some issues, like privacy, that it is time for updated federal rules for the Internet – and those must come from Congress.”

In order to fight against the splinter rules, the technology companies have gone on the offensive. While government lobbying data is inconsistent and often underreported, Google, Amazon, and Facebook put a combined $ 5 million into these efforts in 2019, according to the National Institute for Money in Politics, a nonprofit organization. Corporations have raised their lobby ranks to dozens in state legislatures compared to the skeletal forces five years ago.

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Some of the companies also recently dispatched top engineers to kill government proposals. In February, Apple’s chief privacy engineer Erik Neuenschwander said in a North Dakota Senate hearing that he was opposed to a bill that would allow app developers to use their own payment systems and bypass Apple’s app store rules. The bill died a week later in a 36-to-11 vote.

Nevertheless, the states have slipped forward.

Maryland lawmakers suspended their governor’s veto on a new tax on sites like Facebook and Google in February. The tax, first targeting the behavioral advertising business, reduces the money businesses make selling ads shown in Maryland. According to one analysis, the company would raise up to $ 250 million in the first year, a fraction of Facebook and Google’s annual revenue of $ 267 billion. However, this is a real threat when repeated in different states.

Trade groups for Google, Amazon and Facebook tried to stop the tax. They hired a well-connected political advisor to argue that doing so would hurt small businesses. When that failed, the trade groups sued to block it. The litigation is pending.

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