June 15, 2021

The ACCESS Act of 2021

Sumit Sharma

Sumit Sharma leads CR’s work on Tech Competition. He is an economist with experience across regulatory, finance, and competition issues in the technology and telecoms sector. He has advised both governments and companies on strategy, policy design, competition, antitrust, and investment matters.

People across the nation tell CR they are concerned about the growing power and influence of big tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. Six in 10 Americans favor stronger government action—including new laws, regulations, and enforcement actions—to discipline platforms and reduce harmful conduct, according to a CR survey conducted in 2020.

Now Congress is taking action. The House Judiciary Committee introduced a package of bills to address concerns with the market power exerted by large online platforms to block competition and deny consumers choice and value. 

One of these bills is called the ACCESS Act. It would mandate interoperability for large online platforms, under appropriate conditions like user privacy safeguards. 

This should mean that consumers can choose among competing services without losing contacts, photos, and other valuable content that they have accumulated while using the dominant platform. For instance, a consumer could still connect and interact with her friends using Facebook even if she stops using Facebook and moves to an alternative social media platform. She could also move all the content she created on Facebook to the alternative social media platform.

It would give consumers the right to keep and control their own valuable content. Over time this should help lower barriers to entry and growth for competing companies with innovative business models and enable effective consumer and business choice among alternatives. Interoperability opens up the opportunity for consumers to transform and shape their online choices. 

It’s difficult to imagine concrete changes to their everyday online lives as our online personas are shaped by the choices given to us by large online platforms which include social media and online marketplaces.  It’s often unclear what we could do if we had more transparency and interoperability. 

Sometimes, it’s difficult to describe how these complicated bills would make a difference.  Why should I care?  How would it really affect me?  So we have asked some creative writers to tell the story of some fictional characters, to showcase the real-life changes that the ACCESS Act can foster, and help us imagine better online experiences, and we can harness this motivation to make it a reality.

The first story is by Cory Doctorow. Please enjoy and contribute any ideas you have based on the issues and experiences you face today on how interoperability will shape the online ecosystem.

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