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It’s time for Arizona pols to focus on crucial tech issues

As Arizona’s federal and state lawmakers wade into corporate disputes with app store regulation, Arizonans are increasingly concerned about day-to-day concerns such as cyber attacks and data privacy.  

Carl Szabo

There’s no shortage of real tech policy challenges in 2022. Cyber threats, malicious online content, and data privacy concerns are daily worries for Arizonans. But as Grand Canyon State legislators return to session this month, a different tech issue has risen to the top of the political agenda: app stores. 

It’s an issue that tech companies have been hashing out in the courts for years, and now Arizona lawmakers are wading into the fray. This year, they’ll pursue legislation that picks winners and losers in a corporate dispute between app store businesses and billion dollar apps, by forcing apps to be allowed to effectively bypass the security and protections of built-in app stores. While the legislation would improve the bottom line for giant companies like Fortnite maker Epic Games, the biggest change for consumers could be greater security risks.

Arizonans know that more urgent tech issues are at stake. This month, NetChoice is releasing a new poll that shows where Arizona voters stand on the big issues facing our state. While the poll shows tech regulations take a backseat to issues like inflation, COVID-19, and healthcare, we also asked Arizona voters to rank tech policies specifically in terms of priority. The results shouldn’t come as a shock – Arizonans ranked “protecting consumers from scams and malware,” as their top pick. App store issues didn’t even crack the top five. 

When asked specifically about app store policy, 82% of Arizonans ranked “access to apps that have been vetted for security and viruses” as the most important app feature on their phones. The irony is that not only are Arizona lawmakers focusing on a niche policy that’s unimportant to voters, but the app store regulations being proposed actually increase cybersecurity risks for consumers.  

A big reason smartphone apps have strong security and malware protection is precisely because built-in app stores test and vet the apps that consumers can download. Arizona’s proposed law chips away at that process, opening up paths for unvetted third-parties to access consumer data. Much like you wouldn’t take a medicine not approved by the FDA, many iPhone users don’t want to download apps or use payment processors that have not undergone testing for malware. 

There’s a long list of real tech issues that policymakers need to tackle this year. As voters in our poll highlight, cybersecurity and cyber threats are one of the top challenges that Arizona faces. Each month, the Arizona government sees an average of 800,000 cyber attacks on its computer systems. And then there are attacks on private companies, like the Queen Creek health clinic where a recent cyber attack exposed patient records for 35,000 Arizonans. 

What consumers do want, and where lawmakers can help, is with legislation that increases our security and privacy online. Right now in the US, there isn’t even a comprehensive national law protecting consumer data or cybersecurity—only piecemeal laws over the last couple of decades. The last major legislation in the area took effect half a decade ago in 2016. Meanwhile, hackers are only getting smarter; it’s time for Congress to return to the issue of cyber safety.  

On the state level, too, Arizona lacks a comprehensive data security law. A 2018 effort requires companies to disclose customer data breaches to the Attorney General, but fails to provide preventative provisions against hacks themselves.

Policymakers have a responsibility to consider the priorities of their constituents and Arizona residents have made it clear that they have bigger, more malicious fish to fry than our smartphone app stores. Luckily, there’s been a hint of progress in cybersecurity policy as of late.  

Right now in Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working towards an agreement that would update reporting requirements for cyber attacks against critical infrastructure. It’s legislative fixes like these that need attention and support, and wading into the corporate battle between giant app makers and phone makers is only going to distract from the task at hand. 

Carl Szabo is vice president and general counsel at NetChoice. 

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