One ZDNet article describes a recent bill introduced by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) called “Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act.”

The bill seems unusually harmless, seeking apparently to better define property rights to one’s online identity:

Sen. Warner described the ACCESS Act as akin to the mobile portability act that was passed in 1996 to allow users to port their phone numbers between telcos.

That bill is credited with setting the stage for the intense competition that we see today among US phone operators, all trying to out-do each other in order to preserve their customer bases and attract new subscribers.

Now, Sen. Warner hopes the ACCESS Act, if approved, would have a similar effect.

The bill would force tech companies to:

  • Make their services interoperable with competing communications platforms.
  • Permit users to easily port their personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
  • Allow users to delegate trusted custodial services, which are required to act in a user’s best interests through a strong duty of care, with the task of managing their account settings, content, and online interactions.

In the first place, your phone number, like your name and email address, may indeed be considered a form of identity. But to transfer those is easy enough, yet the data you have posted on each social media site are unique. Each company lets you do different things on its website, and there is no “commonly used” format that you can export your data in and then import into another company’s service. (I’m talking about content, not something like XML.) Facebook is relevantly different from Twitter to make the two incompatible.

Therefore, the requirement can stifle competition if tech companies will face a diminished incentive to struggle to differentiate themselves from each other.

Second, what does it mean, “allow” users to delegate trusted custodial services? Aren’t they already allowed to do it? Who outlawed it in the first place?

But finally, another ZDNet article shows that this is a pseudo-problem, anyway. Upcoming Bitcoin-like blockchain systems will be able to keep your online identity permanent, secure, and independent of any social media firm. It is just another facet of everlasting capitalistic progress. There is no market failure, and government intervention cannot improve the economic outcome.

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