President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday released a checklist of actions needed to contain Big Tech, after a roundtable “listening session” on issues within the tech industry.
But government officials didn’t “listen” to the companies that are the target of many of the desired actions — Google parent company Alphabet Inc. GOOGL,
Amazon.com Inc. AMZN,
Apple Inc. AAPL,
and Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. META,
The only representatives of the technology industry present were the CEOs of Mozilla Corp. and Sonos Inc. SONO,
“The rise of tech platforms has brought new and difficult challenges, from the tragic acts of violence associated with toxic online cultures, to declining mental health and well-being, to the fundamental rights of Americans and communities worldwide living under the Rise of big tech platforms suffer and small,” the White House said in a statement after convening 16 experts — most of them administrators — to discuss technology.
None of the big tech companies responded to requests for comment on the listening session, but people familiar with the mindset of two of the companies weren’t entirely surprised. They noted increased action by the administration to hold social media companies and big digital platform providers more accountable as the chances of a Senate vote appear to be dwindling by the hour.
Continue reading: As Congress fidgets on big tech regulation, the FTC is not waiting
However, industry analysts expressed disappointment at an exclusive, private meeting that recommended punitive action against the industry’s biggest players without offering a seat at the table. The most controversial reform mentioned on the government’s list called for the “removal of special protections for large technology platforms,” including amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The section generally provides website platforms with immunity from third-party content.
“Section 230 provides important protections for platforms of all sizes to moderate content and remove harmful posts, and our research confirms that these protections are most important for smaller sites,” said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of Chamber of Progress. The trade group is funded by Amazon, Meta, Google, Apple, Twitter Inc. TWTR,
Uber Technologies Inc. UBER,
Six broad goals listed by the White House reflect legislation slowly making its way through Congress, the latest indication of an increasing White House crackdown on high-tech influence as legislation festers in the Senate and House of Representatives. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, Politico and elsewhere, the Justice Department is expected to file antitrust lawsuits against Google over its online advertising business and Apple over its dominant app store in the coming weeks.
Social media platforms — notably Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube — have been identified as a scourge by politicians who counter popular sentiment to rein in digital data collectors like Meta and Amazon. These two companies are prime targets for the Federal Trade Commission.
Congressional inaction was reflected earlier this week when a nervous Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who is the author of a bill to quash the power of powerful owners of digital platforms like Apple and Facebook, claimed there was an “incredible onslaught of Money” has been an obstacle to the passage of the law.
“What has slowed us down is the incredible rush of money, and that’s what happens with monopolies,” Klobuchar, author of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, said Tuesday at the Code conference in Los Angeles. “The senators are talking about it, about the ads that are running in every state.”
Opinion: The Democrats promised to curb Big Tech. You failed.
According to ad-tracking service AdImpact and others, tech-industry-funded organizations have spent more than $200 million on political ads and other lobbying since the beginning of 2021.
Klobuchar, who has written a book on antitrust reform and chaired Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on anticompetitive business practices for more than a year, has furiously pushed for a full Senate vote on her landmark bill as time ticks with each passing day current legislation melts away session. [The White House said Thursday it was encouraged to see bipartisan interest in Congress to adopt antitrust legislation to address the power of major U.S. tech companies.]
However, with none of the major principals present, reporters pressed White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre on the participation of Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker and Sonos CEO Patrick Spence to represent the views of the technology industry.
Sonos and Google have been embroiled in a series of lawsuits against each other over speaker technology since 2020. Sonos called two lawsuits filed by Google last month an “intimidation tactic” aimed at “retaliating against Sonos for speaking out against Google’s monopolistic practices” of royalty payments.
See also: Sonos stock rockets as a patent win against Google could mean eventual financial gains
The nonprofit Mozilla, whose Firefox web browser competes with Google, has repeatedly clashed with Big Tech. On Friday, the company’s chief security officer, Marshall Erwin, called on federal regulators to crack down on internet giants and browser makers that fail to protect user privacy.
“Internet privacy is a mess, consumers are caught in this vicious circle where their data is collected, often without their understanding, and then used to manipulate it,” Erwin said during an FTC forum on commercial surveillance and data security.
“As we see the round table today, it is again the largest round table we have seen from this government to deal with technology,” Jean-Pierre said. “What you should take away or take away from you today is that the President is seeking and has long called for fundamental legislative reform to address real issues. And we will continue to do so.”
The elusive answer came a day before Biden met Intel Corp. in Ohio. met INTC,
CEO Pat Gelsinger at a groundbreaking ceremony for Intel’s new $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility, weeks after Congress passed the $280 billion Chips and Science Act in July.
“The future of the chip industry will be made in America,” Biden said at the event, a White House push to announce new funding for manufacturing and infrastructure. “The industrial Midwest is back.”
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