SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A pair of ads targeting a piece of legislation moving through the United States Senate are airing, and one is directed at South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune.
Ad No. 1
My family’s been ranching for 50-years, so I know a load of bull when I see it. When Washington liberals attack America’s tech innovators, they’re attacking all of us. The left’s bill will destroy jobs and threaten the online technology we use every day. China will get stronger, and America will get weaker. I don’t understand how any Republican Senator can support this liberal agenda. Tell Senator John Thune to stand up for American technology.Ad paid for by Taxpayers Protection Alliance
The first of the two ads begins by featuring an elderly rancher named David Luther in a cowboy hat and t-shirt walking in slow motion past one of his out buildings. After the first sentence, the same man, now in a button up denim shirt speaking directly to the camera with his hands on his hips.
The third sentence is read by Luther in voiceover as he is shown standing amongst his cattle, shaking his head slowly while looking at his phone, followed by him standing and looking at a laptop resting on a pickup tailgate.
At the mention of China at the start of the fourth sentence, a bright Chinese flag is zoomed in on as it waves in slow motion. Next a sepia tone U.S. flag blows faintly in the wind, also in slow motion as the camera zooms back out.
Luther is back on camera once again, speaking directly to the viewer when voicing his inability to understand the implied support for the bill by Republicans. A graphic displaying Thune’s face, along with a call to action and the phone number to Thune’s Washington D.C. office appears as the final sentence is read.
Ad No. 2
*Phone chimes* What the? Honey! Did you order something from Magic Moods– *Phone chimes* Hacked? Where did all these apps come from? When did I give my credit card information to app superstore? I’m used to this stuff on my PC, but not on my phone. My phone use to work, and then Congress started meddling and opened up my phone… to hackers. Congress, leave my phone alone. Tell Congress to oppose S.2992.Ad paid for by NetChoice
The second ad begins with a middle aged man sitting in a bathrobe in the kitchen, eating what appears to be cereal. His phone chimes, and he reacts with an annoyed exclamation, looking at the screen which shows a message thanking him for a recent purchase. He next yells to his off-screen scripted wife, asking if she bought something, but before the non-existent woman can answer, his phone chimes again.
Now the phone displays the words “Your Data Locked! Pay Now” with a picture of a padlock and a bitcoin.
“Hacked?” the man asks, incredulous. He continues to look at his phone with annoyance and bewilderment, firing off his next few questions, and making the comparison between his PC and his phone.
He flips his phone face down in disgust and looks straight at the camera, now speaking directly at the camera as he tells the audience that Congress ruined his phone by opening it up “to hackers,” and telling them to leave his phone alone.
The image freezes and blurs as another voice takes over for the final line, and the message “Tell Congress: Leave My Phone Alone! Oppose S.2992” appears, along with a link to the NetChoice website.
So what exactly is in this China boosting, Washington liberal, America destroying, phone hacking bill?
To start with, the term ‘Washington liberal’ is misleading in this instance. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. While some may call her liberal, that response ignores the dozen co-sponsors to the bill, half of which are Republicans.
Further throwing a wrench in the idea that this is a partisan liberal bill is the identity of those six Republicans; Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Kennedy of Lousiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Steve Daines of Montana.
But what does the bill do?
According to the summary provided by the Congressional Research Service:
“This bill prohibits certain large online platforms from engaging in specified acts, including giving preference to their own products on the platform, unfairly limiting the availability on the platform of competing products from another business, or discriminating in the application or enforcement of the platform’s terms of service among similarly situated users.”
What this means is that platforms (such as Amazon, for example) would be prohibited from giving direct preference to their own products (such as Amazon Basics) when customers search for goods. The platforms would also be prevented from limiting the ability of customers to find products by other brands on the platform, and would have to fairly apply the enforcement of their terms of service across all businesses utilizing the platform. This means that all parties violating terms of service must be treated in the same way.
“Further, a platform may not materially restrict or impede the capacity of a competing business user to access or interoperate with the same platform, operating system, or hardware or software features. The bill also restricts the platform’s use of nonpublic data obtained from or generated on the platform and prohibits the platform from restricting access to platform data generated by the activity of a competing business user. The bill also provides additional restrictions related to installing or uninstalling software, search or ranking functionality, and retaliation for contact with law enforcement regarding actual or potential violations of law.“
This means that access to the features of the platform must be equal for all business users who have agreed and are abiding by the terms of service.
In addition to this, the platform itself would not be allowed to use non-public data gathered from business transactions on the platform to offer products or services offered by businesses on the platform. Basically, the platform can’t use data based on what businesses are selling to then undercut those businesses and steal their customers.
The platforms would also not be allowed to install/uninstall or change default settings to drive customers to their own products instead of those of the businesses operating on the platform. Finally, the bill seeks to protect businesses from retaliation from the platform in the event that they contact law enforcement about violations of the law by the platform.
This does not appear to be a bill that would effect small, medium or even large businesses attempting to sell/provide only their own products and services, but instead would be directed at platforms which host third-party vendors and/or content. Examples of platforms that could be impacted include Facebook, Amazon and Google, among others.
Could is the operative word in this instance, as this bill is not one that would be self-executing in the event that it was signed into law. Platforms, for instance, would not automatically find it illegal to advertise their own products alongside those of hosted competitors. Instead, individual potential violations would need to be located and assessed by the government, in this case the FTC and DOJ, to determine whether or not they constitute a platform that would be covered by this law.
In the event that the government does intend to take action against a platform, they will need to prove their case to a court, and platforms will have the chance to defend their practices and decisions.
As to claim that the bill makes China stronger, that may come down to an individual’s ideas on whether limiting monopolization helps or hinders the U.S. economy, and how that in turn effect China’s.
In practical terms, China is mentioned in the bill three times. The first instance is a specification that the term “business user” (and the protections that come with the term) does not include a person who is “controlled by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or the government of another foreign adversary.“
The second instance is one that offers a caveat to the rule restricting platforms from unequally providing services and changing settings to drive users away from a specific business. This can be done if it is to “prevent data from the covered platform operator or another business user from being transferred to the Government of the People’s Republic of China or the government of another foreign adversary.”
The final mention of China is to clarify that nothing in the bill should be interpreted “in a manner that would likely result in data on the covered platform or data from another business user being transferred to the Government of the People’s Republic of China or the government of another foreign adversary.”
Those behind the ads
Two groups are behind the ads attacking S.2992. Behind ad No. 1 is the organization Taxpayers Protection Alliance, which claims to be opposed to government waste, fraud, and abuse. The organization’s site claims their antitrust policy is focused on ensuring that competition policy remains narrowly-focused on protecting consumers and not used as a vehicle to advance other political or economic interests.
Many of the items on their antitrust webpage voice opposition to antitrust activity, support of ‘big tech’ and critiques of small business focused policies, and includes content which links back to the Washington Times, a conservative outlet known for anti-communist and occasionally Islamophobic content.
The second group, which is behind ad No. 2 is NetChoice. According to OpenSecrets, NetChoice has spent $170,000 in lobbying activity in the first quarter of 2022. The site also outlines the areas in which NetChoice lobbies, which include consumer product safety, trade, law enforcement & crime, taxes, telecommunications and environmental matters.
The NetChoice site claims their goal is to make the Internet safe for free enterprise and free expression. They argue that consumers know exactly what products they need, that the government should do little to regulate business, and that competition will provide all the services needed by consumers.