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Tech innovation hindered by outdated regulation: Sen. Wyden

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

The Republican National Committee has been making news this week with a push to support Uber. In an email to supporters, the RNC wrote "We don’t need the intrusive government implementing any more strangling regulations, limiting consumer choices or interfering in the free market...But this isn’t about one company or concept. This is about protecting the core principles that make our country so great: our free market principles, our entrepreneurial spirit and our economic freedom."

Republicans are attempting to make this a partisan issue but there's at least one Democratic senator who's been pushing for looser tech regulation for some time.

In 1996 Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) authored section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The provision, which says that if you run an interactive online company you’re not held responsible for everything people post on it, turned out to be vital to the survival of companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. If someone tweets something defamatory under his or her personal handle, for example, Twitter cannot be sued for libel.

Now, companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are trying to gain protection under section 230. If you call for an Uber car and then get in a crash, Uber does not want to be held responsible. Uber considers itself a platform that connects drivers and riders, and therefore thinks it should be protected under Section 230.

“My experience is that regulations are often written for the benefit of the industries that are regulated,” Senator Wyden tells Yahoo Finance. “I don’t think we ought to be applying 20th century regulations to 21st century technologies.”

So how should we regulate companies like Uber and Airbnb? “We should look at what they do best and then make a determination about whether there’s a role for the government," he says.

Clearly a proponent of less regulation, Senator Wyden told The Washington Post in July that Uber should be as unfettered as Facebook.

“I’d like to see [the Senate and Congress] build on some of our core principals…when Congressman Chris Cox and I wrote the Internet Freedom Act back in the last century what we did was we made it very clear that the internet and innovation would suffer if you had multiple, discriminatory taxes. We need to stay clear of that,” says Wyden in the video above. “We need to encourage a fresh, creative approach…let’s constantly be trying to promote policies here in DC that promote innovation.”

Still, new technologies are a balancing act. To radically innovate often comes at the cost of hurting other industries. Airbnb poses a threat to the lodging industry and Uber poses a threat to the taxi industry.

“What thrives in a market-oriented economy is that those who are coming up with the fresh ideas have the opportunity to succeed. That’s the way that it’s always been and I think government shouldn’t adopt policies that hinder that,” says Wyden.