US senators introduce bill to help users move data across social media sites

Senators describe bill as similar to 1996 phone number portability law.

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Three US senators introduced today new legislation in Congress that will require large social networks to allow users to migrate their data to competing sites.

The bill -- named the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act -- is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Bill introduced to encourage competition among tech sites

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.

"As a former cell phone guy, I saw what a game-changer number portability was for that industry," Sen. Warner said in a press release today. "By making it easier for social media users to easily move their data or to continue to communicate with their friends after switching platforms, startups will be able to compete on equal terms with the biggest social media companies."

To support the bill's goal of data portability among social media giants, the bill would force tech companies to make their services interoperable with competing platforms.

This interoperability has been lacking ever since the early days of social media. For example, you can migrate blog posts from a Blogger site to a Tumblr account, but users can't migrate Twitter posts into a Facebook profile, and vice-versa.

By mandating interoperability, users would be able to move their profiles without fearing of losing their content, friends lists, and other details.

Many will argue that the bill actually makes it easier for social media sites to gain access to huge troves of information about each new user, but the senators have thought about this issue in advance.

The ACCESS Act also creates a very smart loophole that will allow users to delegate the management of their data and account settings to third-party entities, instead of the social media platform itself.

The goal is to disincentivize social media companies from locking users into their platforms, obsessing about gathering as much user data as they can, and re-focusing tech giants on providing features and social experiences for the end-user.

According to a copy of the ACCESS Act, the bill would apply to any social media company that's active in the US and has more than 100 million monthly active users.

Previously, Sen. Warner and Sen. Hawley collaborated on another bill aimed at social media companies, namely the DASHBOARD Act. This bill, introduced in June this year, would force tech companies to disclose what data they collect about their users and how the data is being leveraged by the platform for profit.

Last week, another US senator introduced another privacy-focused bill that would jail CEOs if they lie to US authorities about breaches and user privacy violations on their platforms.