On Monday, California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) announced legislation to require large tech companies to pay a “journalism usage fee” whenever they run digital ads next to news content, such as articles, while making publishers reinvest in journalism jobs.
The California Journalism Competition and Preservation Act resembles a separate bitterly contested federal bill that would allow publishers to jointly bargain content distribution terms with the tech giants.
News industry leaders said the California bill is the first of its kind at the state level — and that it could ignite another major standoff between Silicon Valley and media groups.
A slew of countries have considered or advanced proposals in recent years aimed at forcing tech companies to share more of their advertising revenue with traditional publishers, who for years have lost ground to giants like Facebook parent Meta and Google on digital ads.
But the efforts have faced immense blowback from the digital ads behemoths, who at times have threatened to remove news content from entire countries if their policymakers moved ahead with what they called ill-advised and counterproductive news bills.
When U.S. lawmakers considered including a federal proposal in a sprawling spending bill last year, Meta said it would “consider removing news from our platform” if lawmakers moved ahead. (Spokesman Andy Stone said at the time the bill would submit the company to “government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets.”)
Earlier this year, Google said it was blocking news content in its search engine in Canada for some users as it tested responses to a proposal to force companies to pay media outlets when they use their story links. The companies issued similar threats in response to new rules in Australia.
Meta and Google declined to comment on the Wicks proposal.
Danielle Coffey, executive vice president of the News Media Alliance trade group, said she expects U.S. states to face similar ultimatums if they advance their own measures.
“They did it in Australia. They did it here in Washington, D.C. I absolutely expect them to threaten to deprive U.S. users of news because of their reluctance to pay for it,” said Coffey, whose group represents newspapers and media organizations.
The Washington Post is a member of the News Media Alliance. Post spokesperson Shani George previously said in an email that the company is “aware” of the New Media Alliance’s efforts around the federal legislation but has “not taken a public stance.”
Coffey said that while the California measure is the first time state officials have introduced legislation mirroring the federal bill, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), other local leaders around the country “are watching and interested.”
The California measure is already facing industry pushback. NetChoice, a tech trade group that counts Meta, Google and Amazon as members, railed against the measure in a statement to The Technology 202.
“It’s unfortunate but unsurprising to see California copying failed proposals from the federal government and enacting them in their own state,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice vice president. He added that the bill would “harm free speech online by creating a special class of government-preferred media.”
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But Wicks, who last year led a successful push to pass new safety protections for children online over industry objections, said she’s unfazed by the prospect of industry backlash. “I have no plans to back away from my bill on that basis,” she told The Technology 202.
Klobuchar, who said she will “soon” reintroduce the federal measure, said states acting could spur movement on Capitol Hill.
“Perhaps proposals and actions in multiple states will make the companies stop throwing millions of dollars against our very reasonable federal bill,” she said. “That may be the one way we can get Washington politicians to act.”
Senator presses OpenAI, tech giants on how AI moves will impact kids
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is calling on ChatGPT creator OpenAI and tech giants like Google and Microsoft to disclose how they plan to protect kids as they quickly integrate artificial intelligence into their products, an early sign of congressional scrutiny of the tech sector’s AI arms race.
“I write with concerns about the rapid integration of generative artificial intelligence (AI) into search engines, social media platforms, and other consumer products heavily used by teenagers and children,” Bennet wrote in letters to CEOs of OpenAI, Facebook parent Meta, Google, Snapchat parent Snap and Microsoft on Tuesday.
The letter asks the companies to spell out what “safety features for younger users engaging with AI-powered chatbots” they have in place or plan to implement.
The missive cited reporting by our colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler finding that a new AI-powered Snapchat service offered an account posing as a 15-year-old advice on how to conceal the app from their parents. Snap spokeswoman Liz Markman responded in an email saying the feature was an “experimental product” for subscribers and that users should “not rely on it for advice.”
The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter early Tuesday.
Tech group launches litigation center as court battles brew
Tech industry group NetChoice on Tuesday launched a new litigation hub aimed at coordinating lawsuits and amicus briefs for the tech industry, our colleague Cat Zakrzewski reports.
The center will provide programming on tech industry regulatory issues and “collect legal analysis with tech-friendly positions,” the report says.
The litigation hub is meant to help tech companies establish legal footing as judges increasingly begin to make more decisions related to hot topics in tech policy, including competition and social media safety.
“Online free speech and online free enterprise are under attack … from every corner of this country,” said Chris Marchese, NetChoice counsel serving as the center’s new director in an interview with Cat. “Industry has to have a consistent voice.”
Google denies evidence destruction in antitrust lawsuit
Google denied deliberately destroying evidence in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit alleging the tech giant’s monopoly in the internet search market, Mike Scarcella reports for Reuters.
The Justice Department last month claimed that Google did not preserve internal communications in connection to the case, saying the company “falsely” told regulators it suspended communications that automatically deleted themselves. Google on Friday said it made reasonable efforts to preserve those communications.
“A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on Monday. Lawyers for Google and a representative from the company did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment,” the report adds.
The lawsuit was filed by the Justice Department and over 30 states in 2020. It is expected to go to trial this September, Scarcella writes.
Twitter users react to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman saying that people should be happy the company is a little scared of its own tools. Italian tech policy journalist Fabio Chiusi:
“I’m particularly worried that these models could be used for large-scale disinformation,” said the creator of one of the models that can be used for large-scale disinformation https://t.co/f1z9HS9e8i
— Fabio Chiusi (@fabiochiusi) March 17, 2023
University of Oxford philosophy professor Carissa Véliz:
“Beyond Data” author Elizabeth Renieris:
The shift from “we didn’t see this coming” via legacy #tech to “the harms were foreseeable but we chose to ignore them” from #AI is something to behold. https://t.co/RirnNH82Kg
— Elizabeth M. Renieris (@hackylawyER) March 20, 2023
Amazon cuts another 9,000 jobs as tech layoffs mount (Rachel Lerman and Caroline O’Donovan)
AI isn’t yet going to take your job — but you may have to work with it (Danielle Abril)
- President Biden nominated Fara Damelin to be inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission. Damelin is chief of staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.
- Former FDIC chair Sheila Bair speaks to Washington Post Live at 11 a.m. about the health of the global banking system.
- The Center for Data Innovation holds an event on AI-generated art at 11 a.m.
- Integrity Institute founders Sahar Massachi and Jeff Allen speak with the Stanford Cyber Policy Center at 3 p.m.
That’s all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email.