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What Would Facebook Regulation Look Like? Start With the FCC

The federal government seems increasingly likely to take action on platform giants such as Facebook and Google. Antitrust intervention has emerged as the likely focal point of such efforts. Just listen to Mark Zuckerberg.But is antitrust enforcement able to address the range of concerns that these platforms present? How does antitrust address the problem of…

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What Would Facebook Regulation Look Like? Start With the FCC

The federal government seems increasingly likely to take action on platform giants such as Facebook and Google. Antitrust intervention has emerged as the likely focal point of such efforts. Just listen to Mark Zuckerberg.

But is antitrust enforcement able to address the range of concerns that these platforms present? How does antitrust address the problem of disinformation? Or live-streamed violence? Or hate speech? Or the role that these platforms have played in the implosion of local journalism? Can antitrust extend beyond the economic marketplace and effectively protect the marketplace of ideas? Probably not.

Therefore, even if antitrust enforcement moves forward, as Harvard’s Gene Kimmelman has argued, “social welfare regulations are also required.” This is why there have also been calls for the creation of a new regulatory agency focused on digital platforms. Such an agency would need to be able to address not only concerns about competition but also these broader social welfare concerns. Essentially, then, we need a robust public interest framework for platform regulation.

There is already a well-established template. The Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory mandate includes not only assuring adequate competition in the electronic media sector but also assuring that the broader public interest is being served. Within the context of this public interest standard, the FCC has pursued a variety of social welfare objectives, from reducing the digital divide to protecting children from adult content to ensuring that the public has access to a diversity of sources and viewpoints. It even has regulations in place that prohibit the broadcasting of disinformation. The FCC also has the authority to review proposed media mergers according to two criteria: 1) the implications for competition; and 2) the implications for the broader public interest.

However (and this is a hugely important however), the FCC’s ability to regulate on behalf of the public interest is in many ways confined to the narrow context of broadcasting. Consider, for instance, that the FCC did not even review the 2018 merger of AT&T and Time Warner, two of the largest communications companies in the world. Why? Because this colossal merger did not involve the changing of hands of any broadcast licenses, which is the lone necessity to trigger the application of the FCC’s public interest standard of review for media mergers. In 2019, this seems incredibly anachronistic.

Our existing public interest framework for media regulation does not apply to digital platforms. Why is the application of the public interest standard so limited? Because the First Amendment restricts government intervention in the media sector. However, the system that has evolved in the US creates narrow and limited exceptions based upon the characteristics of individual technologies. For instance, broadcast regulation is permissible in part because broadcasters utilize a public resource—the broadcast spectrum, which policymakers and the courts have treated as “owned by the people.” In exchange for access to this collectively owned resource, broadcasters must abide by a range of public interest obligations, some of which may infringe upon their First Amendment freedoms.

How, then, could we expand the scope of the public interest standard so that it could be brought to bear where it now seems to be needed most – in the regulation of digital platforms? The solution involves borrowing from broadcast regulation.

Like broadcasters, many digital platforms have built their business on a public resource. In this case, the public resource is not spectrum but, rather, our user data. Massive aggregations of user data provide the economic engine for Facebook, Google, and beyond. For several reasons, user data can—and should—be thought of as a public resource that is “owned by the people.”

First, it is widely accepted at this point that individuals should have some form of property rights in their user data. But given that user data’s real value is not at the individual level but, rather, at the level of the massive aggregations, a more collectively oriented property right makes sense. Second, practical challenges (and potential downsides) come with granting individuals full-fledged property rights in their user data. An individual property rights approach ignores the distinctive characteristics of user data as a resource. Such an approach could make it more difficult to unlock wide-ranging benefits from large aggregations of user data. A more collectivist approach could better protect and preserve the value and innovations that emerge from these data aggregations.

If we understand aggregate user data as a public resource, then just as broadcast licensees must abide by public interest obligations in exchange for the privilege of monetizing the broadcast spectrum, so too should large digital platforms abide by public interest obligations in exchange for the privilege of monetizing our data.

What those obligations should look like is, of course, the next big question. But once we think of aggregate user data as a public resource, the path opens up for moving beyond antitrust enforcement and developing a regulatory framework in which digital platforms operate under obligations to serve the public interest.


WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here. Submit an op-ed at opinion@wired.com


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Best Gift Ideas for Sony PlayStation Fans (2019)

If you have a gamer in your life, it can be hard to know exactly what to get them as a gift. The first step is to figure out what platform they’re playing on. If it’s a PlayStation 4, you’re in luck. Here are some gifts they’ll love while they spend the next year waiting…

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Best Gift Ideas for Sony PlayStation Fans (2019)

If you have a gamer in your life, it can be hard to know exactly what to get them as a gift. The first step is to figure out what platform they’re playing on. If it’s a PlayStation 4, you’re in luck. Here are some gifts they’ll love while they spend the next year waiting for the PlayStation 5.

Be sure to check out our other buying guides, including our roundup of the best PlayStation 4 games every gamer should try. Not a Sony fan? We also have guides for people using an Xbox One or the Nintendo Switch.

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

  • a game illustration showing a gun pointed toward a moon with rings around it

    Photograph: Microsoft 

    Outer Worlds

    The latest game from Obsidian Entertainment, creators of the original Fallout games and Fallout: New Vegas, has all the hallmarks of the studio’s renowned game design. It’s a richly detailed role-playing game (RPG) that responds dynamically to just about every decision the player makes—even if they decide to indulge in pure chaos. Ultimately, it’s a game with an anticapitalist message that also likes to put you to work.

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  • Photograph: Sony

    Sony DualShock 4 Controller (Many Colors)

    Even as the default option, Sony’s official PlayStation controller is always a solid addition to a player’s arsenal. They haven’t exactly reinvented the joystick or anything, but now it comes with an expanded color palette (Electric purple! Blue camouflage! Magma!) that can be tailored to fit any gamer’s aesthetic. You can choose the different color options from the drop-down menu, and just note that prices fluctuate a little.

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  • Photograph: Sony

    Sony Marvel’s Spider-Man

    What’s better than swinging around from building to building like Spider-Man? Doing so from the comfort of your couch. Playing as the comic book crusader, this game lets you do all the things Spidey can: Sling webs, fight outlandish villains, and, uh, take selfies. Grab the game-of-the-year (GOTY) edition to snag the extra content that’s come out since the game’s release.

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12 Gift Ideas for Wine and Beer Lovers in Your Life

We all have that family member who seems impossible to buy for. But here’s a tip: There’s a good chance that they drink.From products that ensure your alcoholic beverages stay fresh to those that help you actually create them, there are many ways to improve anyone’s liquid happiness for the coming decade. There are also…

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12 Gift Ideas for Wine and Beer Lovers in Your Life

We all have that family member who seems impossible to buy for. But here’s a tip: There’s a good chance that they drink.

From products that ensure your alcoholic beverages stay fresh to those that help you actually create them, there are many ways to improve anyone’s liquid happiness for the coming decade. There are also a lot of gadgets that cost a lot of money and do nothing. Lucky for you, we’ve done the research. After much consideration, here are our favorite drinking-related gifts of the year.

Be sure to check out our many other buying guides, including our favorite wireless headphones and our favorite fanny packs.

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

  • This image may contain Sink Faucet Tin and Can

    Photograph: uKeg

    Keep Beer Fresh

    Growlerwerks Stainless Steel uKeg

    The problem with most growlers is that you have to finish them once they’re open. Oxygen is the villain. The pesky element ruins flavor when it hits your favorite hop-soaked liquid, giving it the taste of wet cardboard if you try to reseal your growlers after the first pint. That’s why the uKeg (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is so great. Thanks to the built-in tap and a tiny CO2 regulator that runs off portable canisters, you can get a taproom-quality pour from the first sip to last.

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  • Photograph: Coravin

    Rare Wine by the Glass

    Coravin Model Two Elite

    Wish you could just sample a rare bottle but save the rest for later? That’s where Coravin comes in. It uses specially coated needles and inert Argon gas (often used in the winemaking process) to extract small pours from unopened bottles without damaging the rest of the wine inside.

    We’re fans of all Coravin models we’ve tried—from the affordable Model One to the Bluetooth-controlled (and very expensive Model Eleven (7/10), but the sweet spot is the Model Two, which works very well and costs half the price of its Bluetooth-speaking brother.

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  • Photograph: Grainfather

    Grain to Glass

    Grainfather Connect

    Home brewing seems complicated, but it’s a lot like making oatmeal. You combine cracked grain with warm water, separate the liquid from the grain, and boil that liquid with hops. Those looking to get into the hobby often spend lots of time and money finding the right pots, getting propane burners, and building expensive systems from scratch.

    With the Grainfather, a Bluetooth-enabled electric brewery, you’ll start making excellent beer in no time. It mashes (the hot-water-and-grain step), then boils and chills your wort (unfermented beer) with ease. All you have to do is add yeast to a carboy, splash the Grainfather’s output on top of it, and wait a couple of weeks until it’s time to bottle.

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Like Y Combinator, but for Hollywood Scripts

Apple, Disney, Amazon: The profusion of streaming platforms means an ever-increasing demand for content. How to find the great scripts that will be competitive in an increasingly fragmented market? Filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, cofounders of the production company Imagine Entertainment, offer a solution. The duo is borrowing Silicon Valley technology to diversify the…

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Like Y Combinator, but for Hollywood Scripts

Apple, Disney, Amazon: The profusion of streaming platforms means an ever-increasing demand for content. How to find the great scripts that will be competitive in an increasingly fragmented market? Filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, cofounders of the production company Imagine Entertainment, offer a solution. The duo is borrowing Silicon Valley technology to diversify the pool of creatives participating in their LA-based incubator, Imagine Impact. Impact is an 8-week bootcamp for fledgling screenwriters seeking to refine their scripts, develop show ideas, and eventually pitch and sell polished work. These newcomers get paired with established mentors (what Impact calls “shapers”)—including writer Vanessa Taylor (Shape of Water) and director Doug Ellin (Entourage)—for biweekly meetings. The writers present their final work at the end of the session, which is then uploaded onto an app for networks to peruse for potential production. Tyler Mitchell, head of Imagine Impact, described the app as “LinkedIn for the global entertainment industry” at the W25 festival on Saturday in a panel conversation with WIRED’s Jason Parham. “Because of the explosive demand [for streaming content],” Mitchell says, “it’s setting off an arms race for new writers.”

This year, the program received more than 11,000 submissions for just 17 spots in its third class. The Impact application consists of 70 questions, what Mitchell describes as a “thesis-like defense” of why the writer’s particular project deserves investment. To manage the overwhelming volume, Impact uses machine learning to sift through the giant pool of applications and identify new voices. The AI is part device, part catalyst: The technology searches for diverse applicants–Mitchell explains they look for people who have overcome challenges in their careers or lives–with the goal of shaking up the historically homogenous film industry.

Tyler Mitchell was joined in conversation by Kieran Mulroney (an actor and screenwriter and a mentor at Impact) and Impact alums Godwin Jabangwe, Laura Kittrell, and Emily Harper. Jabangwe’s animated musical Tunga was recently acquired by Netflix, and Kittrell and Harper’s project Drag Heist has received multiple offers. Jabangwe counts not only the program itself but the fellow talent at Impact to be a boon to his growth as a screenwriter. The Zimbabwean writer explains, “For the first time, I wasn’t the only person of color in a room. At Impact, I was surrounded by people who look like me. I was able to feel like I belong.”

To Mulroney, Impact offers entry into an industry that’s currently full of opportunity: “Streaming platforms have opened up the business in a lot of ways. There’s an explosion of need for writers. Industry right now is looking to open the doors to people. Impact is opening the doors and saying, ‘This is how it’s done.’”


Updated 11-13-19, 6pm EST: This story was updated to correct mentor names and number of applicants.


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