Big tech companies have too much power. But Trump wants to lock it in
04 December 2019
The leaked trade papers from meetings between the US and UK revealed how a trade deal with the US could be used to create and lock-in new rules for the digital economy. The US government is pushing an agenda to protect big tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook from regulation.
How data is collected, shared, used, moved around and mined can have major implications on us all, from patient data collected within the NHS and the potential power this could give to US firms to profit from, through to the Cambridge Analytica scandal where Facebook profiles had been used to influence US voters. The fight for digital regulation and the protection of the public interest is a live one.
Closing down regulatory space through trade deals would severely constrain future government action on an issue we are only just beginning to understand the wider implications of. But this a key priority area for the US. Its negotiators have made clear in the leaked papers that they do not want major platforms such as Amazon, Google and Facebook liable for the behaviour of its users:
“The US has spent a long time looking at intermediary liabilities for platforms. This is a large part of the US economy, with many US companies relying on the ability to provide internet platform services on a large scale. US domestic law has provided these firms with immunity from liability for the behaviour of their user." 
Yet these platforms are increasingly facing challenges around issues such as responsibility for false advertising (especially political advertising), sharing of child pornography, hate speech and online bullying. Our societies are beginning to work out how best to tackle this but a trade deal with Trump could prevent attempts to hold these immensely powerful platforms to account.
The US negotiators also express concerns with: “how GDPR is being implemented.”  The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in 2018 in the UK and EU and was designed to strengthen the laws that protect the personal information of individuals. US negotiators are not keen on the consumer rights and privacy protections of GDPR.
Trade deals are not the appropriate place to address the complex issues of digital regulation as the overriding goal of trade deals is to remove barriers to trade in order to increase trade and investment. With this aim in mind, trade deals sideline and give no consideration to wider social issues such as child safety, hate crime, democracy or privacy. Powerful big tech companies have benefited hugely from a relative lag in digital regulation and taxation and are keen to use trade deals to lock-in the status quo and prevent future regulation from curbing their power.
We need to stop this toxic trade deal.