• Julie Barnes

April 29, 2021

Maverick's Update

Only What Matters in Health Information Policy

Maverick’s big takeaway from President Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress is that he wants America to be in a position to compete with China. President Biden said that his infrastructure plan includes investments that support “technological change” and “artificial intelligence” because “China and other countries are closing in fast” so “we have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future.”

Just last week, Maverick’s update was about our love-hate relationship with the technology industry; we love them when they make life easier and solve problems, but we hate that they have a scary amount of power. Turns out, China and other countries have similar issues. Many governments are trying to figure out how to regulate tech companies so people can trust that their information is safe and private, while encouraging industry innovation and competition.

A few news items about this conundrum of how we should regulate tech:

  1. The Brookings Institution published an article about how the Chinese government is moving to limit the power of its tech companies -- noting China’s $2.8B fine against Alibaba for anti-competitive online shopping practices -- and that this rebuts the argument by Facebook that only unregulated and monopolistic tech companies can compete in a global marketplace.

  2. Last week, the European Union (EU) released its “Proposal for a Regulation on a European approach for Artificial Intelligence,” intending to create a legal framework for AI that will guarantee the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses, while strengthening AI uptake, investment and innovation across the EU.

  3. A recent Supreme Court ruling found that the FTC did not have the authority to seek monetary awards for consumers, shutting down its long-standing practice of returning money to victims of fraud and deceptive data privacy schemes, with serious implications for ongoing investigations of health care tech companies (see SureScripts amicus brief). On April 27, Acting FTC chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that Congress should provide that monetary relief authority to the FTC with all due haste.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

According to this pre-pandemic U.S. News & World Report article, the world wants more tech regulation but is confounded about how to accomplish it. “Should this be an antitrust conversation? Should guidelines look at content moderation? Should legislators push for more security and data transparency?” Blaming the origin of the internet itself, the article walks through how early tech visionaries were encouraged to freely experiment with technology and business models. When regulations were finally issued, they were quickly outdated in the face of constant innovation. So now, pushing both technology investment and more oversight of the industry, President Biden finds himself in the middle of a Sound of Music number: “How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” (Yes, we know the song is actually called “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?” - but the “cloud” lyric is better for the technology analogy.) Harnessing a powerful tool for the greater good should be the goal -- and given the bipartisan nature of the Endless Frontier Act (that would invest $100B in technology / science to help American compete), it should be do-able. We just hope there is a way to “develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future” without keeping all of the companies in a (metaphorical) convent.

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