Big Tech privacy issues to be decided by marketplace, says Rep. Ken Buck

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Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), leading Republican in the U.S. House subcommittee responsible for a set of sweeping Big Tech antitrust bills, suggests in an interview that privacy is a competition issue.

Speaking with The Verge in an interview published on Tuesday, Buck offered his thoughts on last month's markup of a package of six bills designed to rein in powerful technology companies.

Parts of the package put limitations on anticompetitive mergers and acquisitions, while other facets call for enhanced data portability and bar companies from selling first-party products on platforms they control. The legislation sailed through the House Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support and will be considered by the full House of Representatives.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are the main targets of the package, with each company unsurprisingly voicing public and private disapproval of the legislation. Apple CEO Tim Cook, for example, personally called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to spell out why sections of the six proposals would stifle innovation and, more pointedly, hurt consumers by breaking Apple services.

While the government is at odds with Big Tech on some issues, it appears that Buck is in agreement on the topic of privacy, or at least Apple's view of the subject.

"The way to encourage privacy is to have competition in the marketplace and allow competitors like DuckDuckGo to say they won't sell our data and you can choose to use that search engine," Buck said. "Or you can use Google's search engine, and on page 23 of their user agreement, you can agree to allow them to sell your information."

Buck suggests certain privacy issues will be worked out organically, without government intervention.

"The consumers will demand that privacy be taken into account, and some of them don't care. Some of them do, but the marketplace will address these concerns," he said.

According to a recent report from analytics firm Branch Metrics, less than a third of iOS users have opted in to ad tracking after Apple debuted App Tracking Transparency on its mobile platform. The feature is designed to better inform customers about which apps track them across the web and other apps, and surfaces a feature that denies apps from accessing a user's Identifier for Advertiser (IDFA) tag.

Asked how legislators might include language to implement stronger privacy protections, Buck said, "How do you implement that? That's the problem. You don't want government coming in and saying this kind of speech is not something that you can sell."

"There is cybersecurity privacy, where we absolutely want to protect from Russian hackers or whoever's out there. But there's also the privacy an individual decides to give up. That's an individual right," he said.

Apple has made consumer privacy a central pillar of its product ecosystem. Along with first-party hardware and software protections, the company maintains policies that extend to companies doing business on the App Store. In December, Apple mandated developers to display privacy "nutrition labels" in a bid to boost transparency about collected data.

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