- Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, earlier this week called for tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter to disclose more information about how they operate their services and about their privacy practices.
- Pai suggested that new regulations might be needed to force this transparency and even indicated that his agency might be the one to put the new rules in place and enforce them.
- But his concerns seemed to come out of left field; Pai has been as longtime opponent of regulations and recently spearheaded an effort to kill the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which cut transparency requirements for broadband companies.
- He also applauded Congress when it repealed the FCC’s privacy protections for broadband customers.
- Pai’s comments appear to be more about politics than policy; it’s no coincidence that they come hot on the heels of President Trump’s own attacks on the big tech companies.
Ajit Pai is shameless.
Pai, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, would have you believe that he believes in government oversight. He want you to believe that he’s a champion of transparency and privacy.
In a post on Medium on Tuesday, Pai took the big tech companies to task. Consumers don’t understand how Google orders its search results or why Twitter bans some people but not others. Google and Facebook are collecting enormous amounts of data on their customers — but those customers have no clue what they’re collecting. Apple and Google appear to be kowtowing to China and censoring the internet for its citizens.
Pai suggested that it was time for the government to impose transparency “obligations” on the tech giants. The companies ought to be disclosing how they operate their services, what they do with customers’ private information, and how they decide which posts or people to block.
“The public deserves to know more about how these companies operate,” Pai said.
Pai’s not wrong, of course. Facebook and Google in particular have enormous control over what sites we visit, what videos we watch, and what news we read. We ought to have more insight into how they operate their services. (It would be great to know that about Twitter too, but its user base is far smaller than that of Facebook and Google and so too is its power and influence.)
It’s hard to believe Pai believes what he’s advocating
But it’s a more than a little hard to believe that Pai actually believes what he’s saying. You see, up until this point, he’s made it very clear that he’s a free-market, laissez-faire, anti-regulatory conservative.
You may remember Pai as the guy who spearheaded the FCC’s effort to repeal net-neutrality rules in the face of widespread opposition, because he thought the rules were too onerous. He’s such a believer in deregulation that he’s questioned whether his agency has the authority to oversee broadband companies at all and abdicated pretty much all oversight over them to the Federal Trade Commission, an agency with both a much broader mandate and much narrower powers.
This, despite the fact that the the FCC was created in large part to regulate telecommunications companies — a classification into which most people would include broadband providers.
Pai’s concern for transparency would be more convincing if he hadn’t — in the process of…