Each year the Milken Institute brings together the leading minds in business, technology, government, media, philanthropy, health care, and entertainment to deliver novel, collaborative responses to some of the most important questions of our time. At this years’ 22nd Global Conference, President and CEO of Internet Association Michael Beckerman sat down to discuss the intersection of tech, culture, and policy.
Led by Senior Media and Entertainment Correspondent at CNBC Julia Boorstin, Beckerman participated on the panel “Big Tech Under the Spotlight: Privacy, Transparency, and Regulation.” Chairman of Chehadé & Company Fadi Chehadé, Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division at the U.S. Department of Justice Makan Delrahim, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris, and Managing Partner of Gigafund Luke Nosek all joined Beckerman to discuss a variety of issues, including the changing landscape of tech and the strong impact it has on people’s lives including data privacy, content moderation, and online habits.
American Leadership In Tech
When asked what he sees as a blindspot in the technology space, Michael Beckerman kicked off the session by reminding the audience that technology has become a ubiquitous part of our everyday life from dust to dawn. While other panelists highlighted issues like fake news and online harms, Beckerman noted that some people may forget the improvements and overwhelming positive benefits the internet has brought into our lives and, while there is always room for improvement in the industry, future regulations should not be based off of a few worst case scenarios.
American leadership in technology has made digital services a great American export, where the majority of the internet users are outside of the U.S. but the jobs and economic values remains here domestically. America today boasts a $160 billion digital trade surplus.
In fact, U.S. companies currently lead the world in innovative artificial intelligence technologies because of our unique system of social values, human rights, civil rights, and ethical values that are unparalleled in other parts of the world. If U.S. companies were unilaterally disarmed with regulations, there could be a world in 10 to 15 years where leading tech companies could be state sponsored.
Consumer Focused Approach
The internet is a unique medium that rapidly adapts to consumer preferences and needs. Boorstin noted that it can be hard to decipher how best to weigh these requests from the vastly different constituencies on the internet. Some panelists mentioned technology companies’ lack of interest in what is best for the consumer. However, Beckerman pointed out that internet companies are among the most consumer-centric industries in the world. Internet companies place power in the hands of the consumer. Platforms continuously upgrade their platforms and adapt to the demands of consumers in order to better suit their desires and needs. Time and time again you see internet companies making changes to their platforms – by updating policies, designs, and offerings – as a response to users’ requests.
This is in part because the internet has a low barrier to entry and rapidly evolving environment. Beckerman used MySpace as an example of how quickly things can change in the industry. Once a giant company with all of the resources in the world, MySpace was disrupted by a couple of college kids in a dorm room who created a more popular platform. The truth is consumers have an infinite amount of choice to select where they spend their time online. This makes companies much more responsive to users wants and needs since they are always competing with alternate options.
Discussion naturally turned to the importance of U.S. national privacy regulation in the U.S. Beckerman expressed the industry’s strong support for an American approach to privacy that provides consumers with meaningful control over how their data is used, shared, and protected. Consumers should have meaningful control and the ability to access, correct, delete, and download data they’ve provided to companies across all industries. Beckerman further argued Americans deserve a tangible law to name and point to in order to understand their online protections, similar to Europe’s GDPR. He expressed that the internet industry is committed to working with policymakers and other stakeholders on an American approach to protecting people’s privacy that allows for continued U.S. leadership in technology.
Beckerman noted this can only be achieved if Congress prioritizes a strong national privacy law that protects people equally across all 50 states. Other panelists noted that there are several state online privacy laws that are coming into effect, most notably in California, and a state-by-state approach will cause even more confusion for users. There was agreement on the panel that more transparency is needed so people won’t be surprised with regards to who has their information and how it’s being used. Ultimately, Americans should have consistent experiences and expectations across state lines and industries – regardless of whether they’re interacting with a company online or offline.