Regulating Digital Industries book cover


Regulating Digital Industries

How Public Oversight Can Encourage Competition, Protect Privacy, and Ensure Free Speech

Mark MacCarthy
Release Date: November 7, 2023

Regulating Digital Industries is the first book to address the tech backlash within a coherent policy framework.

Regulating Digital Industries is the first book to address the tech backlash within a coherent policy framework. It treats competition, privacy and free speech as objectives that must be pursued in a coordinated fashion by a dedicated industry regulator. It contains detailed discussions of current policy controversies involving social media companies, search engines, electronic commerce platforms and mobile apps. It argues for new laws and regulations to promote competition, privacy and free speech in tech and outlines the structure and powers of a regulatory agency able to develop, implement and enforce digital rules for the twenty-first century.

Deeply informed by the history of regulation and antitrust in the United States, it brings to bear insights from the breakup of AT&T and the Microsoft case and from broadcasting and financial services regulation to enrich the discussion of remedies to the failure of tech competition, the massive invasion of privacy by digital firms and the information disorder perpetuated by social media platforms. It offers a comprehensive summary of regulatory reform efforts in the United States and abroad and shows how accomplishing the goals of these reform efforts requires the establishment of a single digital agency with jurisdiction to reconcile and balance the complementary and conflicting goals of promoting competition, protecting privacy, and preserving free speech in digital industries.

It discusses in detail how a digital regulatory agency would be structured and the powers it would need to have. It confronts head on some of the challenges in establishing a strong digital regulator including the First Amendment roadblock that limits government authority over digital speech and the judicial opposition to the expansion of the administrative state. It is essential reading for policymakers, public interest advocates, industry representatives, academic researchers and the general public interested in a coherent policy approach to today’s tech industry discontents.

Few people have thought as deeply about how to effectively regulate digital technologies as Professor MacCarthy. This timely book is an urgent and well-argued reminder that we do not have to accept a status quo where a few wildly powerful tech companies continue to operate with virtually no regulation -- hurting competition, undermining democracy, and addicting a generation of America’s kids. Professor MacCarthy sheds light on the 40-year campaign to discredit government regulation, which has left the American people unprotected against the coming wave of digital disruption -- from machine-learning algorithms to generative artificial intelligence. His book is an urgent call to learn from our history and empower an expert regulator for the tech sector, no different than how we oversaw the railroad, aviation, or broadcast television sectors in past eras. For the sake of our children and democracy, we would do well to answer Professor MacCarthy's call.
Senator Michael Benne
With a deep grasp of history and a sharp policy acumen, Mark MacCarthy provides readers with a detailed and alarming portrait of the ever-expanding threats from Big Tech. As MacCarthy illustrates, the government’s laissez-faire approach to technology regulation has decisively failed, leaving us with entrenched monopolies, a vast corporate surveillance apparatus, and a youth mental health crisis. Regulating Digital Industries is required reading for students, policymakers, and anyone who cares about the future of our democracy.
Senator Ed Markey, (D – Massachusetts)
Mark MacCarthy makes a strong case for addressing the challenges arising from big tech using the regulatory tools we've developed for other industries. An important contribution to the debate of the decade.
Tim Wu, Columbia University, author of The Master Switch, the Rise and Fall of Information Empires, and former Special Assistant to the President for Competition and Technology

AT&T and Microsoft are general unrestricted donors to the Brookings Institution. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions posted in this piece are solely those of the authors and not influenced by any donation.