On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif., talks about his proposal for an “internet bill of rights” to protect consumers’ privacy, security and ability to move or delete their data. Khanna represents California’s 17th district, which includes the headquarters of tech giants Apple and Google.
You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor at large at Recode. You may know me as someone who might run for Congress just so I can ask Mark Zuckerberg better questions the next time he testifies, but in my spare time, I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media podcast network.
Today in the red chair is Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th congressional district, which is the key one. He’s been on the show before, but I wanted to have him back on to talk about a project he’s working on called the Internet Bill of Rights and everything else that’s going on in Washington right now.
Congressman, welcome back to Recode Decode.
Ro Khanna: Great to be on. The Congress could have used you for questioning.
Yes, I could’ve. I was like ... I sat ... You don’t know. I was screaming at the television. It was like I was watching “Game Of Thrones” or something. It was an astonishing display of idiocy. I don’t know ...
Well, I think the country started out by thinking, “Wow, Facebook has really done something wrong,” and by the end of the hearing, the congressmen ... Mark Zuckerberg looks sympathetic because it looked like the Congress was totally out of touch.
And you would never say ... If someone were to call Lebron James Lebron Jameson, you wouldn’t say, “They don’t know basketball.” You’d say, “What world are they living in?””
So first, you had people mispronouncing his name. Then, you had people asking, “What is a cookie? How does Facebook make money?” And the biggest thing I didn’t understand is they were like, “Tell us how we should regulate you.”
That was my favorite one. Oh, there were so many moments. We’re going to go through them all.
So we’re going to talk about the Internet Bill of Rights in a second, but I do want to talk about the hearings, because one of the things that was amazing is, before it started, I was the one that made Mark Zuckerberg sweat with Walt Mossberg in that famous interview. And all the coverage was like, “Will he sweat? Can he answer questions?”
And I was like, “Look. He can. He can wear a suit. He can actually ... He’s an adult and everything else.” And so I was talking about the juvenilization of the billionaires, essentially. We treat them with kid gloves.
But what I was struck by in the hearings, and let’s go through a couple of things, was, one, the lack of information about what they did. That was astonishing. Lack of preparation. Two, the lack of focus on the real topics, the obsession with terms of service, on cookies, on things that did not matter for what’s going on right now. And then, third, was that taking of his information as fact, like, “We do not sell information, Congressmen,” which technically he doesn’t, but he does, that kind of stuff. And then, lastly, that they didn’t really, that they were asking for his help in terms of doings this, which was sort of like letting the fox guard the chicken coop.
So let’s go through that, because he’s testifying today in the U.K. and this is going to go on for a while. Why do you imagine ... I think it’s too much of an excuse that they don’t know the area, because you represent the area.
Yeah. And I’m not a techie by background. I don’t think you have to know how to code to ask tough questions. Members of Congress ask tough questions of the financial industry, and they haven’t worked in the financial industry, or the health care industry.
I think there are a few things. One, some of these folks have actually not lived on these platforms. So it’s not just that they don’t know it, it’s that they have staff delegated to go on Facebook or Twitter or other social media platforms, so they don’t have hands-on experience. And how would you make laws for traffic if you’ve never driven?
That’s a very good point.
So part of it is just being ... not actually having a sense of experience.
The second thing is people are so afraid of being portrayed as out of touch, as not part of the future. And I think Silicon Valley has given that patina of being part of the future. Bill Clinton came out there, Obama came out there. So there was a reluctance to push back on Zuckerberg, and they took some of his answers as fact. And there was almost too much of a deference to techno speak, whereas this is much more about values.
What I’ve said is internet security or consumers’ privacy are too important to leave it to 30-year-old entrepreneurs. It’s not their job. It’s the government’s, Congress ...
And they also don’t want to do it. Interesting, Mark has talked about ... I think he should have values. He does not. He does not. He feels like he should not be responsible for the platform he made. And my argument is listen, Dr. Frankenstein. You made the monster. You’re going to have to help us work with it, that kind of thing.
So when you talk ... In those hearings, what do you think happened there? What do you think the result is going to be? Because I don’t think there’s going to be any result from that.
Well, I think unfortunately the result to some of the people like Mark and others is, “Wow. Congress isn’t going to do anything. We can probably skate. That they ask these questions. We survived for two days. And now what? And let’s just keep kicking the can down the road and delaying.”
I mean, that was, I think, the unfortunate result. And that’s why, when we speak to leader Pelosi, she said, “We’ve got to come out with some principles, Internet Bill of Rights, and then some legislation to let people know we’re serious.”
So let’s talk about what those priorities are. So, privacy would be one of them.
Privacy would be one of them. So, the Obama Administration tried this twice, and it didn’t go anywhere. So this has happened before.
But the basic things is when you want to get your health care data, you’re able to get your health care data. You can tell people. If you want to switch from one doctor to another, you have the right to do that. When you want to get your financial data, you have the ability to do that. People should be able to get basic access to their data online.
They should be able to ... You should have basic consent on certain forms when that data is collected or when it’s transferred. It doesn’t have to be as far as the GDPR. It doesn’t have to be on every use case where you may be clicking too many times if any time you’re seeing an ad, any time you’re seeing something you’re having to click, but it definitely should be more than just once on the original use of that data. You should be able to move your data if you want. You should be able to make sure that you can delete your data, you can update your data.
So I think there are some very basic things. And I say on the homepage, just like when you get into a taxicab you see those passenger bill of rights, you should see, “Here are your rights on these platforms.”
Mm-hmm. So privacy is an issue in this Internet Bill of Rights. What else?
Privacy, the sense of ...
Portability. The ability to correct or delete, accuracy. Security of your information. And then, net neutrality is a part of it in that you want to make sure that you have access to the Internet.
Now, I think people confuse ... There’s net neutrality with competition. I think we also need a competition aspect where you have multiple service options. But you can’t talk about net neutrality in the context of Google in this sense. What would net neutrality look like? It would mean randomized search. So the very sense of having an algorithm that orders search is not neutral.
I think net neutrality applies to the internet service providers, but then to the edge providers having real competition, having multiple platforms and allowing that to emerge. And Metcalfe’s law, as you know, the value of a network increases exponentially with the size. And so when you have two billion people, it’s hard to compete, and what are we going to do to foster the ...
So why a Bill of Rights? Explain what the thinking is. I mean, I know she, Speaker Pelosi, has said this, but what’s the goal of it? Because one, I’d imagine, let’s just, if the Democrats get in, do actual legislation like you would on a cigarette maker or anybody else, kind of stuff like that.
Well, before we get to legislation, we’ve got to agree on the principles. So we could say you have the right to your data, and then we need to figure out, okay, if we agree to that, how are you going to define data? Do you have a right to your name? Well, probably in some cases, but not in all cases. Do you have ... What is personal information?
So, the legislative process, which is the goal, which is to actually have legislation guarding privacy, protecting net neutrality, having competition, we’re so far from that that the candid truth ...
Yeah. No, we haven’t defined terms.
We haven’t even ... We don’t even have the principles right now. We don’t even have a sense of, when should we have consent? When should people have the right to their own data? When should we have the ability to move data? And Obama tried it twice and failed and didn’t get anywhere.
So Pelosi’s point is at least let’s get the principles. Let’s get some of the tech leaders on board. And I’ve talked to folks at Apple, at Google, at Facebook, at all of these companies. I’d like ideally Tim Cook and Sundar and others to say, “Yes, we can at least get behind these principles.” The next step would be, let’s get legislation.
Mm-hmm. So you have to set out the rules. Why has this not been done before, from your perspective, from Congress? They’re happy to take the money from the tech people.
Well, I think there’s ... I think when Snowden happened, the culture shifted the other ...
This is Edward Snowden. And the leaking.
Yeah, Edward Snowden. And privacy. He became affiliated with privacy in the Beltway. And I think there was not as much of a momentum to care about privacy. So some of the conversation shifted because he became a poster child for it. And it was only after the Equifax scandal and the scandal with Cambridge Analytica that people said, “Look. This is a big deal. We need to do something.”
But it’s a very complex issue with a lot of different interests, and Congress has been unwilling to move something. I mean, that’s the truth.
And also, I think tech people have been unwilling. I just had Michael Hayden in, former CIA director and NSA director, and he was saying that these companies always felt extra-territoriality. They didn’t feel like they were part of the country. They just operated on their own, and they wanted to have their own rules. And now they, of course, have been pulled rather starkly into the equation because of their impact on it.
Now, we’ve talked about this before. I think they didn’t pay sufficient attention to the country, and that’s why we had in part a reaction in this 2016 election where people across the country said, “What about us? Where do we fit in in a knowledge, digital economy? Where is our livelihood?” And that to me still is the biggest challenge. Where is the Moore’s Law going to be for job creation in places left behind?
But in addition to the economic dislocation, now people are saying, “Wow, these platforms are still interesting and great.” Most people, I think average Americans like FaceTime.
They like their Amazon Prime.
They like their Amazon. They like Facebook. They still enjoy these products. The #DeleteFacebook movement didn’t really gain much traction.
And when I talk to my cousins in Ohio or my aunt or uncle, they use this stuff, and they often like the products, but they also realize the dangers of it. They realize, “Wow, our kids are getting addicted to this stuff at such a young age. We don’t have really a control over what we’re doing online. We have to make sure that this new world, we have some grasp over.”
And then young people were offended for the first time ... Young people, I don’t think, care about privacy as much, but they thought, “Wow, our data was manipulated possibly to support a candidate whose values we didn’t agree with? That’s scary that that’s happening.”
And so I think people are waking up to saying, “Okay, we need to have some rules in this new world.” And then they look to the Congress, and they said, “Wow, those are the folks who are going to be writing these rules?”
Right, who are making these rules. And so this is the concept behind it. So, talk about the process, because you guys aren’t in power from what I understand, from what I’ve noticed.
Yeah. Yeah. That might change.
That might change. Well, the process is we’ve come out with five or six principles that we’re working on. We’re getting feedback from the Center of Public Knowledge, Democracy and Technology, some of the nonprofits, Electronic Frontier Foundation ...
So you just went out to everyone and said ... None of whom agree. But go ahead.
Yeah, none of them agree. At first, I started, I reached out to Nicole Wong ...
And Alexander Macgillivray, [who] were the deputy CTOs in Obama’s administration, and Todd Park. And I was taking Obama’s name into Congress, and then someone came up to me and said, “Ro, don’t talk about Obama. We want to get Congress on board, that’s not going to do it.”
But there are a lot of people who were thoughtful. So we’re getting their feedback. I’m getting the tech leaders’ feedback. I mean, I’ve said, “We’re open to getting your thoughts.” And the ideal situation is you want ...
I would think their thoughts is, “Let us do whatever we want,” but go ahead.
Yeah. Well, that’s not going to fly, right? What I tell them is, “This is coming out one way or the other. It’d be great if you get on board with it. And if you have a legitimate criticism ...”
Let me give you a legitimate criticism that folks had which made us slightly change the language. We had, “Be notified in a breach immediately.” And they said, “Well, it should be as soon as possible, within three days.” I said, “Okay, that’s reasonable. If there’s a breach, you don’t have to within 20 seconds notify it. Within 48 hours is fine.”
But not never.
But not never.
Which is their practice now.
Right. Which is their practice now, right, exactly.
Interesting. When the Yahoo breach happened, the reason I got that scoop is because one of the engineers was so upset they weren’t releasing the information, so they told me, because Yahoo was dragging its heels on doing it.
That’s not surprising. And think about how different the context would’ve been if Facebook had to notify people about the breach. People would’ve been ... It could have changed the consequences of that election. I mean, the New York Times, others, would have been writing about the Cambridge Analytica scandal on notification or if they have to notify the FTC. So there has to be some notification requirement.
But the process is, before the August recess, let’s come out with principles. We’ll get a lot of the Democratic caucus hopefully behind it. And ideally, I’d like to see Tim Cook, Sheryl, Sundar, Satya, some of these tech leaders come out for it and say, “We’re committed to this framework.”
And what I tell them — this is overly simplistic, but what I say is — in the United States, we have too few clicks. Europe probably has too many clicks. And the balance is in between. So Europe, you got to ... I was buying my wife a Mother’s Day gift. I went to some European website. I had to click 15 times on consent for this, consent for that. Okay, not the end of the world. It’s a little bit annoying. Here, you don’t ... After the initial agreement, you basically are signing your life away.
Download your information now.
All right. We’re here with Congressman Ro Khanna. We’re talking about the Internet Bill of Rights that he’s working on. We’re going to talk about that and more other things that are happening in tech — he represents California’s 17th district — when we get back.
We’re here with Congressman Ro Khanna. He represents California’s 17th district. Tell people where that is. I know where it is.
It’s Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, sliver of Mountain View, Fremont.
All the internets are belong to you.
Apple, Google, Intel, Yahoo.
Right. Yeah. So, do you consider yourself a fan of tech? Or do you have to be being ...
Yes. Well, no. I mean, I assume I probably wouldn’t get elected if I wasn’t, but I genuinely am a technology optimist. I mean, I believe that technology is going to help empower individuals to have better information and better connectivity. I look at the Parkland kids who have used these platforms to mobilize. And I don’t know if I would have won for Congress if it weren’t for tech platforms. I don’t know if Bernie Sanders would have done as well, or Obama. That said, I think there has been, I’m not an unabashed apologist. And I have come out and said ...
Which older Congressman in the day would’ve been, because all the companies are there.
Right. And I have been critical of tech when it comes to doing more for internet privacy and our rights, but also when it comes to doing more for jobs in places left behind.
The knowledge digital economy’s problem is it’s too exclusive. If we’re going through this transformation from an industrial to a digital age and there are only certain places that are getting to participate in the unleashing of creativity and ingenuity and all the great things that the knowledge tech economy allows and so many people are being left out, that’s a huge issue. And it’s an issue for tech leaders to grapple with and figure out. And I think they need to do more to rise up to that challenge.
When you think about it, the Democrats were so friendly to tech. It was a much friendlier environment. What’s really interesting to me is to see them being much ... Now, I’m not saying President Trump is very friendly to tech, because he’s not. He’s oddly negative, because they’re big businesses, and ...
Although, can I share a story?
Sure. Please. Go ahead.
I don’t think it’ll get me in trouble. So, I had gone to meet with the president with a bipartisan group on term limits, a different issue. And guess who was right there before our meeting? Tim Cook. And so the president ...
Right. He was just here.
The president, in a moment of, when I’ve never seen him be self-deprecating, says to the five or six of us members of Congress, he says, “Oh, you don’t want to meet the President of the United States. You’ve got to meet Tim Cook, the person who’s going to be the first trillion dollar company,” which made me think two things. One, he probably does respect deep down some of these tech companies. And two, what has happened to our values? I thought we used to admire people like Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall, and now this is just the celebration of wealth. Look, I love Tim Cook, but it gave me a sense of Trump. So I think he’s ...
It gave me a sense of Trump. I think he’s ambivalent to tech. He admires that they built something of value, he gets that they’re fueling his stock market, and yet he probably disagrees with their liberal, pluralistic values.
Yeah, and he loves to go after Amazon, which is fascinating. Has the Democratic Party shifted away from tech? Because the Democratic Party will eventually get back in power.
Probably. Who knows? I’ve noticed from Cory Booker, from different people I interview, it’s a much more negative take. Is it because of the election? Is it because ...
I think it’s a ... Maybe nuance doesn’t work in modern-day politics, but my view is it shouldn’t be either-or, right? It went from kind of tech is going to save the world, is going to bring democracy around the world, is going to ...
Eric Schmidt gets to eat in the White House dining room, yeah.
[Tech] is going to be the answer to all of these problems. Now it’s gone, I think, too far the other way, where you literally have the No Labels group or some of these people starting out, and the problem is, “Tech’s big and tech’s bad.” I don’t actually, genuinely, intellectually, have either extreme view. I think the reality is that the digital knowledge economy has an extraordinary potential. It can connect us in extraordinary ways. It makes the electorate potentially more educated than ever before.
Think of this one point. In the 1940s, the average white American had nine years of education, African-American, four years of education. Today, the average white American has about 13 years of education, average. African-American, 12.5 years of education. We’re the most educated society in human history. There’s no reason that these platforms can’t get people more expressive doing things, having their own podcasts, having their own views.
I think in the long run, it’s a good thing, but its biggest problem is exclusivity. There are communities — the African-American community, rural America, middle America, women — that have been excluded from this extraordinary potential. Its second big issue is defining the rules of citizenship and privacy in a way that has some ethics standards. Right?
I mean, for them to just say ... You can’t have it both ways.
You can’t be Facebook and say, “We are bringing democracy around the world.” How often did you hear Zuckerberg say that? “We’re responsible for the Arab Spring.”
Then say, “Well, we’re not a media company. No, we’re just a platform.”
Oh, they’re a media company, yeah.
I mean, come on. You can’t say you’re ...
Then, “We’ve caused all those problems in the Philippines,” or Indonesia or stuff like that.
Yeah, and so okay, if you are a media company, then we’re not saying be like a newspaper and make sure that you fact-check every post, but if I were to post on Ro Khanna’s site that, “Since I got elected to Congress, there’s been 10 percent economic growth in my district, and that’s a great thing and please re-elect me because of that,” the New York Times or the San Jose Mercury News would say, “Ro Khanna goes a bit crazy,” and they would have two people saying how I’m lying and I’m absurd. If I put it on Facebook and I start getting all these shares and “Likes,” at some point it’s not asking Facebook too much to say, “Okay, if it crosses a certain threshold, have some verification, have some ethics check, take some ...”
Well, interestingly, they didn’t want that responsibility. They’ve talked about it excessively, like that they don’t ... Mark talks about it, “I don’t want to sit at my desk and I don’t want to make these decisions. I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that.”
The fault is making a decision, right?
They’re claiming they’re value-neutral, but their value neutrality is basically saying ...
It’s a value.
Is a value.
Newspapers ... And newspapers, it wasn’t that we regulated newspapers, it was that we had ethics in newspapers, right?
Why do journalists, why would a journalist not quote me without asking for two quotes saying I was crazy if I said I was responsible for 10 percent economic growth? Not because they’d fear being sued, not because of the legal framework. Because they grew up with some sense of ethics that they have an obligation to the public.
Well, Facebook should hire, in my view, 50 Deans of Journalism from Columbia, Northwestern and others to rethink, to create a new ethics for new media platforms.
That’s a great ...
It may not be the same as newspapers, but if they want to really lead, right, as opposed to, “Well, we answered the hard blog questions and we did third-party verification.” Part of it is these are really tough questions, right?
Right now, they’ve come out with a sense of, “We’ll rate news sources.”
Oh god, you don’t know. I have gone round after round with those executives on that one.
Right, and so if, so what is the value of Kara’s podcast? If people like the podcast, then it must be true, right?
You think, “Well, is that really the value of truth?”
So the New York Times should have a rating for its reporters, and the most popular reporters would be the ones that get the most credibility?
No, it makes no sense.
If you’re writing about Meghan Markle’s wedding, then you’re more credible.
You’re more credible.
If you’re writing about Ro Khanna’s EITC plan and you don’t get any “Likes,” then you’re not credible?
Part of me, it makes me think, is it that they’re not well-intentioned? Or is it that they just never took a class in philosophy or literature or ...
Well, it’s interesting, it’s a very interesting question. They literally believe that ... And I was like, you cannot, you have to make decisions about things. Adults make decisions, they make choices. I think what they like to do is pretend ... They’re happy to take the money, they’re happy to take the status, they’re happy to take the power, but they’re not happy to take the responsibility that comes with that power. Literally, they can convince themselves. When Tim Cook made that comment on the MSNBC show I did, “I wouldn’t be in this situation,” instead of listening to his entire answer ... He gave a very cogent answer.
He was very thoughtful. He’s one of the more thoughtful people.
“Here’s why. This is why we think it’s important.” The first thing they did was, “Oh, he’s just trying to make his business better.”
That may be, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t say something worth listening to. They were, “iPhones are expensive.” That was their next argument. Like, “Well, he’s running a company where things are expensive.” I’m like, “Newsflash, iPhones are ...” This is not news to anybody who’s bought an iPhone.
Again, not the point. Instead of going — which I would have expected an adult to do is — “Wow, he’s a pretty prominent, important guy and is thoughtful, and has run a pretty good company there. Maybe we should listen to him for a second.” Didn’t occur to them once.
Tim Cook, when you talk to him as you have, his two idols are John Lewis and Mohandas Gandhi, right?
You get him ...
Well, he’s an adult. I don’t know how else to put it.
He cares or thinks about the broader world. If Zuckerberg had come to him, “iPhones cost a lot of money and there is a trade-off between privacy and cost. We’re making that trade-off, and maybe new platforms can emerge that will charge a $15 subscription but will give greater privacy protections. This is a trade-off that we need to balance, and our model ...” It’s not thoughtful. It’s just ...
They’re not interested in reflection.
They start from a crouch instead of a, “Wait a minute, we’ve made a mistake.” They’re too cohesive as a group of people, they all agree with each other. Which is, I think, is always a problem with any organization. They don’t think they’re ... They don’t have responsibility for what they’ve done. It’s as basic as that.
When we get back, I want to talk about, more about the Internet Bill of Rights and what you’re going to do with it, because I think what’s important is to understand where it goes.
Because I think one of the things that has been very hard is the regulation of tech has to be done in a way that’s very careful. Although every other industry has been regulated, this one has not at all.
You’re absolutely right.
In any way.
Can you think of? This big an industry.
No, it hasn’t been regulated, and the things that probably will, people are getting behind, “Oh, let’s have the Disclose Act.” And I love Amy Klobuchar’s bill, I’m on it, but that’s like saying if you were going to regulate traffic to say, “Well, don’t put traffic lights or stop signs. Okay, let’s just do some minor lanes,” right?
I mean, it’s such a small regulation. The question is, “How are we going to actually regulate tech?” We haven’t done anything.
All right, we’re going to talk about that and more with Congressman Ro Khanna. He represents California’s 17th District. He’s working on an Internet Bill of Rights, and we’re talking about legislation and how that impacts innovation.
We’re back with Congressman Ro Khanna. He represents California’s 17th District, which is pretty much the internet district, right? That’s all of them.
They’re all in there, aren’t they? These are companies ...
Yes. Yeah, we got nurses and teachers and all, too.
I know that. We’re going to talk about them in a minute. I want to talk about this idea of regulation of tech, because that’s really what you’re talking about eventually.
This is something they have resisted forever.
Even despite the Microsoft trial, which was 20 years ago, really. It was 20 years ago. Despite all attempts to throttle back tech, it hasn’t had any significant legislation.
It has not. Roger McNamee ... and I don’t agree with everything McNamee says, but he had a very good point. He said the 1956 IBN Consent Decree, which allowed, basically it said to AT&T, Consent Decree, which said that Western Digital needed to share their patents, and their patents were for transistors, really led to the spawning of Silicon Valley. In the past, the regulation of industries — whether it was AT&T, whether it was IBM, whether it was Microsoft — has actually spawned competition.
Absolutely. Got them out of the way. There was a plug in the hole of innovation. What’s interesting now is instead of just a single company, though, which those were all cases of that, you have separate companies that are all powerful in their own way. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, essentially.
They’re all powerful, but you couldn’t say one of them dominates. They all dominate, which is really a different situation, so it’s super hard to do, say, I know Secretary Mnuchin was talking about the idea of ... What was he saying? Regulating one ... Oh, Google or something, breaking it up or something like ... He should keep his mouth shut as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah, well, Mnuchin also said we don’t have to worry about automation because it’s not happening for at least 50 years.
Right. Well, we’ll get to that at the end, yeah. He should not speak.
One point which I would have told him is, 90 percent of our GDP used to go to income, 56 or 60 percent goes now. What do you think, that wasn’t automation?
I just wonder, how do they get these people to be running the country’s Treasury Department?
Yeah, well, yeah, that’s a good point. That’s another good point. When you’re talking about this regulation, it’s harder to do when you have this many companies, this powerful. You literally can’t point to one that’s making trouble, they’re all making trouble.
If you talk to them, as I know you do, they are actually paranoid with competing with each other. Now I’m not saying that ...
I don’t think they compete at all.
That’s the case, but they are ... You talk to Apple or Google or others and they will spend more time saying how they’re different and the other ones are the bad actors. I say well, from ...
Which you get a sense that they’re different, they are. Because you have ... Like, Apple is different from Facebook.
How do you then, when you put regulation in place, you were talking about Europe, which is highly regulated. You have Margrethe Vestager is on their tail.
Right, right, yeah,
She’s not going away.
They’re like, “Oh, we’re going to shake her.” I’m like, “You’re not shaking that woman until she has you down.”
“She’s going to have you down.” Here you have Europe doing this, a lot of regulation.
Then here, zero.
The FTC, whatever agency just lets them go every time they get near something.
Right. I mean, the FTC doesn’t have the staff and they don’t have the resources. I personally, I mean, there’s a different opinion. I wouldn’t wholesale adopt the European regulator model. I do think that there’s something to the First Amendment innovation, but the answer can’t be out of a scale of 1 to 10, Europe’s regulation’s a nine, we’re at a zero. I mean, why can’t we get to a four or a five? There’s some very, very simple things we could do. We should have, for example, mergers, right? In retrospect, we should have looked when Facebook was saying, “I’m going to buy up Instagram and buy up WhatsApp.” These were direct competitors. Why was there not any ...
Any sense of, “Okay, should we review this merger? Even if we’re going to approve this merger, should there be a tax because of the cost on society?”
Because I think that there was a sense of zero price monopolies. They don’t charge a price, there’s no problem with it. Robert Bork defined, and I trust law to be all about consumer welfare, and that was a turn for the worse. Basically, under Bork’s definition, if someone wasn’t charging a price, it didn’t matter. It goes to live the experience, right?
When I have to go buy an EpiPen because I’ve got allergies and I realize, “Wow, it could cost $4,000,” but I have insurance. Folks who don’t have insurance, they say, “We don’t want to pay $3,000 for medicine or a thousand bucks. Those pharmaceutical companies, they’re evil. My grandmother, my mom is not getting, my son isn’t getting medicine because of that.” That’s something very, very tangible. When it’s the internet and you’re not paying anything and you’re saying, “Yeah, but there are these costs of propaganda. There’s the cost of privacy,” it’s a bit more abstract. I think that’s what ...
Right, and that’s why they’ve not done anything. Is their lobbying intense on that regard? They certainly have muscled up in that area.
They have and they certainly are on the Hill, but I’m not convinced that that is what is preventing the regulation. I think one, it’s a lack of full understanding. It’s a lack of prioritizing, going and doing something about it. There’s the divide between the legacy companies — the AT&T, Comcast — and the edge providers — Facebook, Google and Amazon. I think that those divisions are partly what’s causing the gridlock. It’s, I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “Well, Google is lobbying and that’s why someone isn’t going to regulate them.”
Right. All right, and so you create this Bill of Rights.
Which could, you presumably don’t want a watered-down version where it says nothing, right? This doesn’t ...
No, no. Then I’ll get blasted by people like you.
Exactly. That’s a danger, that’s a danger here.
It’s like it’s sort of a catchall.
Is it a dessert topping? Is it a floor wax? kind of thing.
We don’t know what it is. That’s an old “Saturday Night Live” joke you may not know. You want to have some certain ... People have the right to privacy online. People have the right to ... Those kind of things will be in there. What else belongs in there?
The right to ... Knowing your data, I think, is critical.
It’s a key part.
Is a key part, because you can then request information about how people obtained your data, if they’re going to give your data away. The right to consent in a meaningful way, and that’s the one that’s most controversial. These tech companies don’t want consent part of it.
Because it’s a step.
Because it’s a huge burden on them to have people having to consent. At one point, I ... I’m not going to mention the names, but some of these lobbyists said ... Where people from these companies were in there and they said, “Ro, you can’t have consent. You’re going to have to click on everything, click on every time you see an ad, and you don’t want consent.” I said, “Look at the language. It says ‘consent if you collect information or you give it to a third party.’ It doesn’t say ‘consent on every use case.’” They kind of paused and I said, “Yeah, that distinction matters.” Here’s the point, it’s not ... You have to be able to push back with them because they will come up with an extreme case.
Yes they will.
That’s what happened in the hearings. Then some of the members of Congress, they didn’t push back the one extra level. It doesn’t require ... I’m a lawyer by training, I don’t have ... It’s not like I know how to code or I worked at these companies. It’s just doing the homework and saying, “Here’s where we need to push back.” We’re going to get a number of these principles that are going to have teeth. The goal is then to get the thoughtful tech leaders. I think, I’m lobbying to see if we can get Tim Cook and others out for it, because I think that will send a big message that something can happen. Once we get the principles, then I think it will be time for draft legislation.
That legislation is going to have to go through the Energy and Commerce Committee, but if you can get the principles, then I think once the Democrats hopefully are in charge ...
Then in the Senate.
In the Senate, it’s going to have to go through the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Who is there? Who is the person you’re working with on the Senate side?
On the Senate side, they have their own process so we’ve been very House specific. I mean, obviously, there’s thoughtful people. They’re like Ed Markey and Amy Klobuchar, Senator Kennedy.
Senator Warner. Our focus is, my focus is can we get the House caucus with some of these principles? Can I get some of the tech leaders to endorse the framework? Then can we ...
And the groups against the tech leaders.
And the groups against them, so Center for Public Knowledge, Center Democracy and Technology. I’ve met with Open Markets Institute. I’ve met with Free Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Can we come up with some compromise issue? Can we come up with some compromise legislation principles? And then let’s start the legislative process and get Frank Pallone, who’s the ranking member, and Mike Doyle, who’s ....
So I was going to say there’s a thing called the Republicans. How are they on this?
I think we can make progress with the Republicans. Right now, the reality is the Republicans have been very sympathetic to the AT&Ts and Comcasts and the internet service providers, and that’s just been the divide that they have. So they are less concerned about privacy. I mean, AT&T’s got the AT&T bill of rights, which is a little bit laughable if you ask me. But ...
Yes, and ask him about the Michael Cohen stuff.
Oh no, he’s not happy about that. He’s going to have to answer those questions. I’m not, you know people are like, “Oh I can’t believe he did that.” And I’m like, “Of course he did it. Why wouldn’t he do it? It makes perfect sense to me.”
And he should just disclose it. The one thing I will give it, look, I’ve been critical of AT&T and a lot of the net neutrality issues and others. But maybe one of the interesting things someone told me he was doing is taking linemen at AT&T, giving them full paid credentialing in education and getting them jobs in a totally different field and a different career. And that’d be interesting if you have him on to see how that’s worked.
Yeah, yeah. They’re in a hard position in a lot of ways, Ro. As big as it is, it’s got challenges everywhere you go. I would not want ... That’s a tough company to run. But when you have all these opinions, like I said, so you get the Republicans on it, you feel like they’re interested in it, because it seems like they’re interested in nothing. Like almost nothing.
There are some of the libertarian members who are interested in privacy, but then they default on those committees to defining privacy the way AT&T, Comcast and the internet service providers define it. And they basically want to go after the Facebooks, Googles and social media companies, because they feel like those companies have made billions of dollars and they’re not getting their fair share. And it becomes ... When it devolves into the Congressional debate, the internet service providers versus the edge providers. If it was, if you took that out of it, and you said let’s just get the basic principles ...
And not privacy.
And not privacy, I think there will be some that could be sympathetic, but I do think that the Bill — and I’m sympathetic to Frank Pallone, who’s the ranking member’s, point that the Bill should start, especially if we have the majority, when we have the majority, so you don’t get some totally watered-down privacy bill which is what the Republicans would propose, that allows them to claim they’ve done something and not have any of these real principles.
We’re talking about what then comes next? If these companies are regulated, they’re facing enormous competition in China, from all across the world. Are you worried about the, I’m doing their side.
Yeah, no, sure.
The tamping down of innovation? I think it’s kind of hard on them.
You know, look. That is where I say we don’t need to go the full GDPR.
Right. Which tends to benefit them because they’ve all those lawyers.
They’re not smart.
That is true, but I don’t think that the regulations on privacy or the regulations about data are going to have some mass exodus from Facebook or Google, or is going to impose some huge cost on them. They’re going to, they have been such beneficiaries. Because of creativity and innovation, genius in some cases, but also based ...
The internet, thank you very much. The Federal government.
And the Federal government. But benefiting from this trend and this change of the economy. I mean, they have gone, they have two billion people. I’m not that concerned about their ability to innovate. I will defend them when people say, okay let’s just break them up because they’re too big without any thought, or let’s treat them like a utility. But if they want to avoid that ...
So you don’t believe in breaking them up?
Not wholesale, no. I don’t think, I think ...
Not yet. I mean, if there are ways. I wouldn’t have approved the WhatsApp merger. I wouldn’t have approved the merger with Instagram and I certainly think it ought to be reviewed. And I don’t think they ought to be treated like a utility where they’ll have a guaranteed rate of profit and have the government ...
With the strictures of what, say, Comcast has on them, right?
Right. But I do think that if they want to avoid that and if they want to avoid the anti-immigrant backlash and they want to avoid the anti-globalization backlash, they need to get ahead of gaining the public trust by supporting and really implementing privacy policies and taking seriously their obligation to having a reasonable democratic conversation, not having false lies and propaganda. And considering jobs. And I think they don’t understand how much they have to lose, and maybe I get it because I’m in a body that has an 8 percent approval rating.
People don’t trust members of Congress. They don’t trust politicians. Tech is on the precipice, they have some of the highest approval ratings any industry has had. If I were in one of those positions, I would say, “Wow, what an asset.” At a time where people don’t trust anyone ...
Yeah. Oh it’s definitely headed down.
And it’s headed down.
I’ve noticed it with some of my kids. I was literally in an elevator, and two elevator guys were talking about Facebook privacy. And it’s like, what?
The numbers show it has fallen, and Facebook’s brand is falling. But wouldn’t you want to get ahead of that? Wouldn’t you want to say ...
And that’s what I don’t get, and I think that there’s a mishandled ... I mean, they should have had Zuckerberg testify a year ago. They dragged their feet and it didn’t turn out that badly for him.
Oh you’ve never seen the Facebook spill over everything. You’ve been slow, Ro. You would know it.
Yes. No, no. I mean if there’s any lesson they should learn, I think it should be overcorrect. Unless something is an existential threat to your business, do it. If something is really an existential threat, fine. But is it going to be an existential threat to have stronger privacy regulations? No. Is it going to be an existential threat to allow other platforms to emerge and have some competition? No. Is it going to be an existential threat to think about what you could do for job creation and the fact that when John Lewis is saying in an op-ed that I wrote that technology rights are the new civil rights? That you have whole communities that don’t have equity ...
... in the new economy. Is that going to kill you to do things there? No. So do the things you can do which aren’t going to be existential threats to your business. And I think they are, there is a spectrum. I think people, there’s some people like Tim Cook, and he’s not perfect, but we’ll get there. We’ll talk about a business and moral responsibility.
And lastly, jobs. You’ve mentioned them a couple of times, and you and I have talked about this before. And you know it’s one of my big issues.
With automation, robotics, AI, self-driving, all these things. Where is Congress going to be on that, on that issue?
We’ve got a ...
Because who’s responsible? That’s my big thing. Is it the tech companies? Is it citizenry? Is it Congress? Is it government? Like, where is the responsibility?
I think it’s all of the above, but I think Congress needs to lead. One of the things we ought to do is create tech institutes across America. There’s a National Science Foundation that has a grant, that does this in 60 to 70 places. But like the Land Grant colleges, let’s create these institutes across America that’s not going to just teach people to code, but is going to give them credentialing and certification if they want to become an auto repair mechanic, if they want to become, in West Virginia, do outdoor recreation, but have the technology skills.
Right, to do it.
Let’s create subsidized employment where they get the opportunity to get a job. Let’s figure out how we can bring anchor companies through Federal government grants into places that don’t have them. And then if I were a tech company, I would think about what can I do symbolically to get more people invested in the digital economy success.
Two quick points. When Hillary was running, I told John Podesta, I was just a candidate. I said instead of coming out for the 15th fundraiser in my district, you know, have one of these tech leaders go out and announce 500 jobs in Ohio. And he said, “Ro, that’ll be PR. It’s like the carrier deal. It’s not really substantive.” Well, first of all, the guy who did the PR ...
The reason he won is because he sent a signal to people that he cared about them. And this struck me when I was in Oakland in Merritt College, and they had asked me to help set up some internships at companies.
And Facebook, to their credit, took a few of these kids who were doing cybersecurity. And I talked to one of them and he said, “Ro, thanks for making that introduction.” And I said, “Oh great.” So let me tell you what that meant. I’m an auto repair mechanic. I think building is building, whether you build the cars or you build on a computer platform. I’ve got a young kid, I’ve got a family. I take this class in the weekends and I do my homework, and it ends up adding 30 hours to my week. And there are many, many days that I think, “Is it really worth it?” Well, after I did that internship, I’m not going to quit. Right. So many people like me, we saw opportunity at every stage of our life. When I was in college, when I was in high school. And so when you have the break-ups, when you have the hardships, you keep going because you know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. For so many Americans, they don’t see the light. They don’t see the future.
They’re scared of the future.
And yes, it’s symbolism. But the symbolism matters. It says you can do this too. So I think the tech companies can engage in some of the symbolism, but also really thinking about distributed networks of jobs, but they need the Federal government to partner. The Federal government has to have a huge role.
And to think about regulation. I was at a parent/teacher meeting the other day and it was about, we were talking, we will ultimately get to whether kids should code argument. And every parent in these groups of parents and stuff ...
And it goes on and on. And it’s sort of like, I can’t believe we’re still arguing about it, of course it’s the language. But it doesn’t mean it’s just coding, not just. And that often defaults to a certain kind of student kind of thing. It was more, one of the examples that we were giving was, look, think of self-driving cars. They’re coming period, period, end of story.
They’re coming, we’re going to have them. How do we want to regulate them? Who wants to design them? How are the algorithms going to go into them? Who’s making it? And then who makes the decisions about those? Because just a simple thing, facial recognition. Who’s designing? What’s happening around facial recognition? People of color are getting left out of this. They’re not getting recognized as quickly.
You know, because it’s being designed by a certain kind of guy ...
... Like a white guy who’s designing, making the decisions that are important to them. And they can’t help it because that’s where they are.
But if you take it to an extreme, when you’re doing facial recognition and it’s not as good at finding people of color, they will run over you. Like it’s not just they won’t pick you up, the cabs won’t pick you up. They’ll run over you.
That’s a great point.
You think about it. Like if they’re not thinking of those issues. And the same thing on Twitter. I remember being with a Twitter engineer, like, “I’ve never been abused on Twitter.” I was like, “I understand that, but everybody else has been.”
They didn’t think, they didn’t correct for anything that they didn’t understand. So instead we get in San Francisco, you get scooters and a really great take-out. Who likes scooters and a really great take-out?
Right. No, I mean it’s a ... These are social platforms excluding half the population as a consequence.
Right. It’s just a thought process.
Yes, it’s a really thoughtful way of putting it.
Or if you think about the #MeToo staff, the two stories that broke them. A bunch of women and a gay man broke those stories. Why?
There’s a link. They understand victimization.
They’ve been victimized. They have ... And it doesn’t mean they’re victims. It doesn’t mean they want to whine about it. But they saw it when you can’t see it.
Right. The abuse.
So I think that’s one of the things. The same thing with Congressmen. When I saw that group of people asking questions, I was like, “These are not the people that need to be asking the questions.”
Well, Kara, I think a very ... I’d support a Kara for Congress, a Kara for Senate campaign, if you do decide to get in. But here’s ...
I want to be Governor, I want to be Gavin Newsom. Gavin, I’m taking your job.
Yeah, for President in 2020. Here’s, I think ...
Do you think those tech people are not going to run for office now?
I think it’s harder, don’t you?
I think Zuckerberg’s presidential hopes have gotten dashed, because don’t forget, there may not be regulation but it’ll be tough to see that. But here’s, I think, why it’s scary and why that hearing — which you and I both share frustrations for — mattered more than we even think. People understand what you’re saying, that we have this whole future coming, and they’re scared about it. They’re scared about what the rules are going to be, and they’re scared about what jobs they’re going to have. And so, they see a bunch of people ... all of us are supposed to help chart that future, and they say, “Wow, we got no confidence in them to help navigate this. You know what, let’s just default to the guy who’s saying we can keep the past: Donald Trump.”
You know, the only way they’re going to not default to that nostalgia is if they have confidence that these people in Washington, they know what they’re doing about the future and they’re going to make sure that future is better for us.
And I think that’s where there was such a blow to people who were seeing their elected officials, and I know this and that’s why I think we need more folks to spend time in Silicon Valley on these tech platforms and really have the confidence to push back.
Right, right. It is true. It is interesting, I was in Kentucky. I was talking to a bunch of coal mining people, and my family has a coal mining background. And they were like, “Well, he said he’s going to make jobs.” They said, let me just explain something to you. It’s going to be done by robots and it should be done by robots.
And sorry to tell you that but you shouldn’t be ... humans shouldn’t be coal mining. Humans shouldn’t be putting things in boxes. Humans shouldn’t be doing a lot of jobs that are either dangerous or stupid or mind-numbing and they’re not going to be. Because guess what, these big businesses, they’re not hiring you to do that if robots can do it faster.
Well, there’s a brilliant philosopher, Roberto Unger, who’s a Brazilian minister, and he has this whole thing about the knowledge economy being unleashing human creativity and ingenuity and making the work that is harmful to people less necessary. But his whole point is right now that’s only working for like 10 percent.
So if you’re not getting to participate in this new economy, you’re going to be very suspicious. I went to West Virginia ...
Yeah, you did this ...
Tech, and so I asked one of these coal miner’s kids who was doing tech, I said, “What would your brothers who are in coal say to me?” And they said, “Well, we go 10 feet under and get dirt on our face, then tell that Californian congressman so that they can get electricity.” And I said, “So do they think coal is going to be there?” He said, no, they get that it’s temporary, but there’s a small resurgence right now and there’s not a clear vision of something else. Why are we pouring billions and billions of dollars into West Virginia to create new industries, new jobs, where we’re saying transition, but then we’re not giving them what the transition is?
So do you blame them for saying, we’ll pick the ...
The guy who’s ...
... Who’ll cling on to the past.
No, I don’t. And that’s a topic for next time. There’s lots more to talk about because then you can get into universal basic income. Whether we should work 40 hours a week? Why do we work 40 hours? And then we didn’t even get to tech addiction. But we’ll do that next time because that legislation’s coming, I’m guessing.
And it should come. You know, I rarely talk about my son, and he’s 10 months old and it’s amazing to me with all the toys, he still goes for the iPhone.
iPad, yeah, iPhone.
So there’s something to it.
It’s like sugar. Have you given your kid sugar yet?
Give them ice cream and watch what happens. It’s really quite a ... Oh. It’s the same thing, it’s the exact same thing. It’s something in your brain that is just so attracted to it. But take some time, trust me. I have two teenagers and getting them away from Snapchat is literally like cutting their arms off. That’s the same thing.
But hopefully Snapchat won’t be around for your kid. We’ll see. Anyway, it was great talking to you, Congressman.
And thanks for coming on the show. And you’ll be back again and again, I hope.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.