ExpressVPN Scholarship 2019 Winning Essay

Seth Connell

Regent University, Virginia, U.S.

2019 ExpressVPN Scholarship winner

Technology companies can self-regulate to provide optimal privacy to internet users. The free market will choose the winners to be those companies that best protect their users, without the need for government interference. Do you agree or disagree?

Over the past several years, many people have become concerned over the amount of money and influence that big technology companies have in our society. The worry about market monopoly in general has been around for many decades, and technology companies like Facebook, Google, etc. are the latest targets of concern. Critics claim that these companies have too much control over data flow in our society, and this argument certainly has some merit. The question is how we as a society will respond. I contend that the answer to these perceived issues is not more government control, but rather less, and an emphasis on consumer choice instead of coercion.

One of the major shortfalls of attempting to protect online privacy through legislation is that large corporations have a special advantage in their ability to lobby for or against certain policies. Whereas consumers are a widespread and invisible entity, these tech companies are highly concentrated and have a large amount of money and crafty lawyers. When Congress or the FCC announces that new regulations are being considered, it is fairly easy for these companies to send their lobbyists and lawyers on the company’s behalf, and to advocate for regulations that will actually benefit those companies at the expense of smaller competitors.

Indeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even penned an op-ed in the Washington Post asking that Congress enact regulations in four areas of technology. One need not think too long to realize how this could be a ploy, like a young child asking his parents to set certain limits on his own behavior. When a large corporation asks the government to regulate its own industry, one may reasonably suspect the company may have plans to use these new regulations to its advantage.

If new regulations are enacted, odds are it would involve mandates and legal hurdles on technology companies that existing ones could navigate, but new startups could not. A similar issue has been happening in the medical field for many years now. Most U.S. states have “Certificate of Public Need” laws on the books, which require prospective medical providers to submit to the state why they think there is truly a need for their service. This burden does not affect existing entities like hospitals, who gain large swaths of control over medical services. Hospitals can and do preemptively shut out potential new competitors because of these regulations, with the result effectively being government-enforced monopoly.

Something similar could happen in the tech industry as well. New laws and regulations may be so burdensome that only the biggest existing actors can afford compliance, leaving consumers with little choice but to use these companies. Big tech may even have sway in the decision-making process for new company approvals, as hospitals often do now. If existing companies gain such a foothold, it will only further increase these companies’ control over our personal data, and limit alternative options for consumers.

I believe that we as a society must generally resist the urge to demand government coercion to solve perceived issues. There is certainly a valid case to be made that some contemporary technology companies have far too much access to our data. However, the market is already providing solutions without the need for new regulations on the technology industry.

Washington Post Technology Columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler recently wrote a story where he stated that the Google Chrome browser effectively amounts to surveillance software. He noticed hundreds of tracker cookies that are then used for highly targeted advertisements. As he aptly wrote, “having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop.”

However, we are not sentenced to a Chrome prison. Mozilla Firefox offers a thorough set of privacy protections in its browser, and only allows cookies that are absolutely necessary for the website’s functionality. Firefox’s default position is to protect one’s data rather than take it and use it for advertisements. Other browsers, such as Brave, also integrate privacy protections into their platform for users.

The choice of internet browsers is just one example of what consumers can do in a truly free technology market. Individuals are able to start their own software companies that solve these issues regarding data protection. As technology continues to become a more integral part of our lives, there will be new obstacles that we face as a society. To overcome these issues, we need more choice, not less. We are best suited to confront these issues when entrepreneurs are free to invent and share their creativity on the open market. The answer to these important issues regarding our data will not come from the hands of bureaucrats, but from the hearts and minds of diligent and hard-working entrepreneurs.