Businesses in powerful economies like USA, UK, Australia are as arguably powerful as politics or more than that. Especially now that we inhabit a global economy where an intricate web of connections can show the appalling employment conditions of Chinese workers who assemble the Apple smartphones we depend on. Amazon holds a revenue bigger than Kenya’s GDP. According to Business Insider, 25 major American corporations have revenues greater than the GDP of countries around the world.
Because corporations create millions of jobs and control vast amounts of money and resources, their sheer economic power dwarfs government’s ability to regulate and oversee them. With the recent global scale scandals that the tech industry has found itself in, with some resulting in deaths of groups of people, governments are waking up to the urgency for the need to hold tech companies responsible. While some government laws are reactionary, others are taking a more cautious approach.
One thing is for sure, 2019 will see a lot of tech regulation come to play. How effective they are and what intended and unintended consequences they bear, how masterfully big tech wields its lobbying prowess, we’ll have to wait and see.
Holding Tech platforms enabling hate and violence, accountable
Australian govt passes law that criminalizes companies and execs for hosting abhorrent violent content
Today, Australian parliament has passed legislation to crack down on violent videos on social media. The bill, described the attorney general, Christian Porter, as “most likely a world first”, was drafted in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack by a White supremacist Australian, when video of the perpetrator’s violent attack spread on social media faster than it could be removed.
The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill creates new offences for content service providers and hosting services that fail to notify the Australian federal police about or fail to expeditiously remove videos depicting “abhorrent violent conduct”. That conduct is defined as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.
The bill creates a regime for the eSafety Commissioner to notify social media companies that they are deemed to be aware they are hosting abhorrent violent material, triggering an obligation to take it down.
While the Digital Industry Group which consists of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Verizon Media in Australia has warned that the bill is passed without meaningful consultation and threatens penalties against content created by users.
Sunita Bose, the group’s managing director says, “ with the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is a highly complex problem”. She further debates that “this pass it now, change it later approach to legislation creates immediate uncertainty to the Australia’s tech industry”.
The Chief Executive of Atlassian Scott Farquhar said that the legislation fails to define how “expeditiously” violent material should be removed, and did not specify on who should be punished in the social media company.
If the material in question is uploaded and you don’t take it down “expeditiously”, you can go to jail. What is expeditiously? Not defined! “Who” in a company? Not defined!
— Scott Farquhar (@scottfarkas) April 3, 2019
The Law Council of Australia president, Arthur Moses, said criminalising social media companies and executives was a “serious step” and should not be legislated as a “knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event” because of the potential for unintended consequences.
Contrasting Australia’s knee-jerk legislation, the US House Judiciary committee has organized a hearing on white nationalism and hate speech and their spread online. They have invited social media platform execs and civil rights organizations to participate.
Holding companies accountable for reckless corporate behavior
Facebook has undergone scandals after scandals with impunity in recent years given the lack of legislation in this space. Facebook has repeatedly come under the public scanner for data privacy breaches to disinformation campaigns and beyond. Adding to its ever-growing list of data scandals yesterday CNN Business uncovered hundreds of millions of Facebook records were stored on Amazon cloud servers in a way that it allowed to be downloaded by the public.
Earlier this month on 8th March, Sen. Warren has proposed to build strong anti-trust laws and break big tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple.
Yesterday, she introduced Corporate Executive Accountability Act and also reintroduced the “too big to fail” bill a new piece of legislation that would make it easier to criminally charge company executives when Americans’ personal data is breached, among other corporate negligent behaviors.
“When a criminal on the street steals money from your wallet, they go to jail. When small-business owners cheat their customers, they go to jail,” Warren wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published on Wednesday morning. “But when corporate executives at big companies oversee huge frauds that hurt tens of thousands of people, they often get to walk away with multimillion-dollar payouts.”
Today I’m introducing the Corporate Executive Accountability Act, which would hold execs of giant corporations criminally responsible when their companies commit crimes, harm large numbers of Americans through civil violations, or repeatedly break the law.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 3, 2019
When big Wall Street banks & giant corporations cheat their customers & break the law, they pay a fine, consider it a cost of doing business, & go back to life as normal. Nothing changes. The system stays rigged for the rich & powerful.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 3, 2019
According to Elizabeth, just one banker went to jail after the 2008 financial crisis. The CEO of Wells Fargo and his successor walked away from the megabank with multimillion-dollar pay packages after it was discovered employees had created millions of fake accounts. The same goes for the Equifax CEO after its data breach.
The new legislation Warren introduced would make it easier to hold corporate executives accountable for their companies’ wrongdoing. Typically, it’s been hard to prove a case against individual executives for turning a blind eye toward risky or questionable activity, because prosecutors have to prove intent — basically, that they meant to do it.
This legislation would change that, Heather Slavkin Corzo, a senior fellow at the progressive nonprofit Americans for Financial Reform, said to the Vox reporter. “It’s easier to show a lack of due care than it is to show the mental state of the individual at the time the action was committed,” she said.
A summary of the legislation released by Warren’s office explains that it would “expand criminal liability to negligent executives of corporations with over $1 billion annual revenue” who:
- Are found guilty, plead guilty, or enter into a deferred or non-prosecution agreement for any crime.
- Are found liable or enter a settlement with any state or Federal regulator for the violation of any civil law if that violation affects the health, safety, finances, or personal data of 1% of the American population or 1% of the population of any state.
- Are found liable or guilty of a second civil or criminal violation for a different activity while operating under a civil or criminal judgment of any court, a deferred prosecution or non prosecution agreement, or settlement with any state or Federal agency.
Executives found guilty of these violations could get up to a year in jail. And a second violation could mean up to three years.
The Corporate Executive Accountability Act is yet another push from Warren who has focused much of her presidential campaign on holding corporations and their leaders responsible for both their market dominance and perceived corruption.