Joe Biden
"It's time to walk the walk and get something done," Biden wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, outlining several areas for potential bipartisan action. Image Credit: AP

President Joe Biden issued a rare call to action recently for Congress to "unite" on legislation to "hold Big Tech accountable," offering his most detailed road map to date for what legislation he believes lawmakers should advance to rein in Silicon Valley giants.

"It's time to walk the walk and get something done," Biden wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, outlining several areas for potential bipartisan action.

Here's a breakdown of his proposals and where those legislative efforts stand:

- What Biden called for: Congress should set "clear limits on how companies can collect, use and share highly personal data" with "even stronger" protections for "young people," including by limiting targeted advertising for all consumers and banning it for children.

- What's on the table: House lawmakers last year advanced a bipartisan measure that would largely bar companies from collecting data that's not necessary to provide specific services, give users a right to opt out of targeted advertising and ban such ads for minors. Senate Democratic leaders have introduced legislation that would similarly minimize how much data companies collect and advanced a separate bipartisan bill to ban targeted ads to kids.

- The status: Leaders in both chambers would like to pass both broader privacy guardrails and tougher standards for children, but they can't agree on what to prioritize. House leaders say their legislation accomplishes both, while Senate Democratic leaders say that it's not strong enough, and that disagreements over a broader bill shouldn't delay updating children's privacy laws.

- What Biden called for: The tech giants need to take responsibility for the content they spread and the algorithms they use, and so Congress should "fundamentally reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act," the law that shields digital services from lawsuits for hosting and moderating user content.

- What's on the table: Lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills seeking to pare back Section 230 protections. Both House Democratic leaders and Senate Republicans have introduced bills seeking to revoke the protections when platforms algorithmically amplify content, but the former targets instances when it leads to harm while the latter seeks to address allegations of "censorship." Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle proposed narrower bills dealing with specific types of content, including illegal drugs, counterfeits and child abuse material.

- The status: While there's widespread concern on Capitol Hill that Section 230 has shielded tech companies, particularly large online platforms, from accountability, consensus on a path forward is more limited. Democrats and Republicans have banded together on proposals targeting certain content, particularly around harms to children, but neither of the committees with primary jurisdiction have advanced any bills in recent years. Partisan disagreements over whether platforms moderate too much or too little political content have also bogged down talks.

- What Biden called for: "We also need far more transparency about the algorithms Big Tech is using to stop them from discriminating, keeping opportunities away from equally qualified women and minorities, or pushing content to children that threatens their mental health and safety."

- What's on the table: The data privacy bill advanced by House lawmakers includes provisions requiring companies to vet whether their algorithms could cause harm or lead to discrimination, and to disclose those assessments to regulators. Senate lawmakers are separately pushing for legislation that could force companies to cough up more data about their algorithms to external researchers and regulators, a concept endorsed by former president Barack Obama. A children's online safety bill would also allow for more research into how algorithms impact kids.

- The status: There's bipartisan agreement on the need for greater transparency around how companies deploy their algorithms, but congressional leaders to date have shown little appetite for passing stand-alone bills on those issues. Their fate may rest on how successful proponents are in either tucking their proposals into must-pass legislation, like the annual spending bills, or in reaching agreement on a broader tech package.

- What Biden called for: While he did not explicitly cite any proposals, Biden took aim at when large tech companies "find ways to promote their own products while excluding or disadvantaging competitors - or charge competitors a fortune to sell on their platform."

- What's on the table: A bipartisan group of lawmakers advanced proposals last Congress to bar companies from boosting their products over those of their competitors, a practice known as self-preferencing, as well as legislation to limit app store restrictions on developers.

- The status: While lawmakers succeeded in passing legislation to boost funding for federal antitrust enforcers, none of their big-ticket tech proposals setting limits on self-preferencing practices got a vote in either chamber. House Republican leaders, particularly Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), have sharply criticized the bills, and some of its proponents have cast doubt on their prospects this Congress.