Sen. Josh Hawley Questions the Societal Value of 'Addiction Economy'

May 23, 2019

By Justin Chermol

In a world dominated by social media giants, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) cautions against falling into what he calls the "addiction economy."

"Their business model is take personal, confidential information from consumers, don't tell them, sell it, don't get their permission, and then get people addicted to their platform so they can have as big of an audience as possible," Hawley told Cheddar in an interview Thursday. "I think we really have to ask what are they really adding to our economy, what are they really adding to our society?"

On Monday, Hawley introduced the Do Not Track Act, which would give consumers the ability to block online companies from collecting extraneous data. The bill ー which gained a major bipartisan endorsement on Wednesday from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) ー would create a system similar to the Do Not Call List established by the Federal Trade Commission that allows people to opt out of telemarketing calls.

"It's a great bill, super simple, that says if you don't want to be tracked, you don't have to be tracked," Hawley said.

The bill also explicitly bans companies from profiling or discriminating against consumers who opt out of from having their data collected. Companies that violate the act would face strict penalties.

"[Facebook] needs us to stay online for hours and hours a day. They need us to be compulsive about it," Hawley said of the company's business model. "They need us online, partly so they could collect information from us, but also so they can blitz us with advertising so they can then sell."

Hawley expanded on the issue in an op-ed published on Wednesday, writing "this is a digital drug. And the addiction is the point. Addiction is what Mark Zuckerberg is selling."

Hawley joins a growing number of lawmakers calling for increased regulation over the social media and technology giants.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is also a presidential candidate in the 2020 race, has made breaking up big tech a focal point of her campaign. Warren argues that the dominance of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and others ultimately stunts the growth of small business and entrepreneurship.

"Big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else," Warren wrote in an op-ed in March.

In reaction to Warren's proposal, the Missouri Republican said he aims "go deeper than just the size of Facebook. Let's talk about the whole business model ... Should we be building whole platforms around addiction?"

As the Do Not Track Act moves through legislative hurdles, Hawley remains positive that Congress will act to regulate the industry, which he warned is increasing rate of depression and mental illness.

"It's causing loneliness to go up, recent studies suggest suicide is correlated to social media use. We need to talk about this and ask, what are we doing here?" he said.