As technology has evolved, tech giants and big tech regulations governing them have evolved alongside. Learn more today!

The term “Big Tech” won’t be new to most readers. It’s a phrase that describes the rise and influence of technology companies. Today, large tech companies play a large role in the use of consumer technology and the economy in the United States. As technology has evolved, tech giants and the regulations governing them have evolved alongside.

What Are Big Tech Organizations?

In a little over two decades, the big tech moniker has been pushed and pulled between a handful of companies. The first big tech grouping centered around the rise of the internet, with Google, Microsoft, and Apple among the first well-known tech companies. Big tech rapidly changed as tech has proliferated in our daily lives. This includes the rise of Facebook, now Meta and Apple’s launch and subsequent domination of smartphones and tablets. It extends to the rapid growth of Youtube and Amazon’s push into, well, every consumer service. The perpetual popularity of social media platforms underscore the role of Big Tech as well.

Today, Big Tech most commonly refers to a combination of Apple, Amazon, Meta (Facebook), Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft. The acronym FAANG is often used when talking about these tech companies. Netflix and Tesla are also sometimes included in big tech groupings. Each of these companies holds considerable market value:

  • Apple controls 55% of U.S. smartphone sales. Its App Store contains 2.18 million apps to download to those iPhones.
  • Microsoft controls 70% of the world’s computer operating systems. Six billion computers around the world run Windows.
  • Alphabet’s Android mobile operating system controls a 71% share of the global smartphone market. Ninety-two percent of all search queries are performed on Google.
  • Amazon has 39% of the U.S. e-commerce market, delivering over 4.75 billion packages per year in the U.S.
  • Meta’s platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, each have over one billion users. Seventy-seven percent of global internet users use at least one Meta product.

The History of Big Tech Regulations

Big tech regulations largely began with the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. At this time, accessing information online was becoming increasingly widespread. The Act, referred to as a “digital free for all,” set the stage for the widespread growth of the internet.

Another key provision in big tech regulation is Section 230 under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230 has been used by websites, publishers, social media platforms to escape liability around the publication of third-party content.

Until recently, many regulations aimed to protect social media platforms and their operations. Social media platforms are hugely popular and play a key role in the economy. Today, regulations largely aim to do the opposite.

Types of Regulations

Big tech regulations have shifted with the growth and popularity of social media platforms. Today, many regulations focus on disinformation, misinformation, and standards for requiring fact-checking. This has given way to stricter state and federal laws around protections for minors.

Other regulations include lawsuits over monopolistic business practices and anti-competitive actions. Big tech companies often buy their competitors. This monopolistic activity forces consumers and small business owners to use their services. It also changes default use of search engines and software on our devices.

Many lawsuits are led by state attorneys general. Federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Department of Justice (DoJ) also play a role.

Current Events in Big Tech Regulation

Big Tech regulation has advanced since 1996. In that time, telecommunications have also largely been deregulated. Currently, regulation primarily focuses on the TikTok ban, minors’ safety, and consumer protections.

The TikTok Ban

In April, President Biden signed a law requiring TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, to sell the app within one year. If ByteDance fails to do so, it will face a ban in the U.S.

TikTok allegedly spent more than $7 million lobbying Congress to prevent the bill from becoming law. While not among the usual group of Big Tech companies, TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms. The app reports a monthly user count of 1.5 billion.  

Talk of a TikTok ban has floated around the federal government since President Trump was in office. Despite this, many were surprised by the seemingly sudden ban. This action signifies a shift in the approach to regulating social media companies.

Minors’ Safety on Meta Platforms

But TikTok isn’t the only social media app in the crosshairs of government regulation. Minors’ mental health and online exploitation are dominating public policy. In February, Big Tech CEOs sat before Congress to testify about the safety of minors using social media platforms. This included X (formerly Twitter), Meta, Discord, Snap, and TikTok. The testimony followed a 2023 lawsuit brought by 42 states, alleging that Meta engaged in a decade-long pattern of harming young adults while claiming both Instagram and Facebook were “safe.”

The Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act

Currently, the responsibility of regulating digital platforms is shared among many federal agencies. The Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act proposes a change to this structure. In short, the Act would charter a commission with sole discretion over the regulation and governing of digital platforms. The new federal commission would regulate digital platforms, investigating and addressing issues like transparency, competition, privacy, consumer protection, national security, and digital platform licensing.

Other Federal Level Efforts

Protecting Minors’ Safety Online

Several federal efforts aim to protect kids’ and teens’ safety online. The Kids Online Safety Act is a sweeping example of such efforts. The Act would require companies to adopt:

  • A strong standard for kids privacy protections
  • Dedicated mechanisms for reporting harmful online behavior
  • Standards around mitigating dangerous content to minors and independent audits
  • Research about the impact of social media to kids and teens.

The Children and Teens Online Privacy Act is a similar proposal. The Act would update a 1998 provision that prohibits collection of internet data from teens without consent or notice. 

Addressing Amazon

Regulatory actions are also being taken beyond social media. The FTC and other agencies are continuing a long-standing lawsuit against Amazon. The lawsuit challenges Amazon’s pricing, advertising, and logistics services.

State-Level Big Tech Regulations

Like Congress, states are not waiting around to regulate Big Tech. Several states have passed big tech regulations. Overall, many laws allow legal action against tech companies. Others deny minors access to social media accounts.

  • Florida passed a law that requires social media companies to delete accounts held by minors under 14-years-old. It also requires parental consent for some teens to create an account.  
  • Utah passed amendments to the Social Media Regulation Act that allow parents to sue social media platforms if they believe their children’s mental health has been impacted.
  • In 2023, Arkansas passed The Social Media Safety Act. The Act was later blocked by a federal judge. It required third-party validation of social media account holder ages and parental consent.
  • California has introduced the Social Media Addiction Bill. The bill would ban online platforms from sending “addictive social media feeds” to minors without their consent.

International Action

In March of 2024, the European Union passed a comprehensive law addressing many key big tech concerns. The law:

  • Changed how Google displays search results
  • Modified how Microsoft provides default search engine tools
  • Increased access to payment software and rival apps in Apple’s App Store.

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