Senate bill aims to make user data 'portable' across social networks

The bi-partisan legislation is meant to help smaller companies compete.

Three senators think they have a way to address some of the antitrust concerns around social media companies. Today, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Virginia), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) will introduce a bill that would force social media companies to make user data "portable," so that it can be easily transferred to competing (read: smaller) services.

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act (ACCESS Act) would allow user to, for instance, carry all of their Facebook data to another platform. That could give smaller platforms a better chance at attracting new users, which might promote competition. The bill would also give users control over the data they share.

Sen. Warner compared the bill to legislation from 1996 that allowed users to transfer their telephone numbers between providers. "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," said Sen. Warner, a self-proclaimed "former cell phone guy" (he co-founded the company that became Nextel).

Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Hawley also proposed forcing companies with 100 million or more monthly active users to pay for user data. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general are all investigating big tech companies over antitrust concerns.