Biden expected to assail Silicon Valley Big Tech in State of the Union address
President Joe Biden will reportedly attack Big Tech in his State of the Union address Tuesday in a bid to unite lawmakers in Washington concerned about the industry’s unprecedented influence and impact on all facets of American life.
Biden has already deployed fighting words against Silicon Valley, alleging in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that some major technology industry players “collect, share and exploit our most personal data, deepen extremism and polarization in our country, tilt our economy’s playing field, violate the civil rights of women and minorities, and even put our children at risk.”
The President identified priorities for his administration’s approach to major internet companies including Google, Twitter and Facebook: limiting collection and use of personal data, boosting their liability for content posted on their websites by third parties, and limiting their size and power through increased enforcement of antitrust laws. He also called in the op-ed for both major parties to create new legislation to protect privacy, prevent discrimination and promote competition.
In Tuesday’s 6 p.m. speech, which can be watched online at whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2023, Biden is expected to push for a bipartisan crackdown on Silicon Valley, the Washington Post reported.
Congress could pass bipartisan legislation to regulate internet platforms more heavily, as both Republicans and Democrats support the idea in general. But because of their different and often opposing motivations, it would not come easily, said Sean Randolph, senior director at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.
Both parties have found common ground in assailing Big Tech, but the reasons behind their antagonism toward the large internet platforms differ significantly.
“Across our society we’ve seen a broad-based ‘techlash’ where there’s widespread perception that internet companies are too big, too profitable, too powerful and too unregulated,” said Santa Clara University law school professor Eric Goldman, who studies the tech industry. “Both political parties see payoff from fueling the techlash.”
However, there are effectively “two Americas” taking aim at the tech behemoths, Goldman said. “The conservative side views any source of power as a threat to their interests and so to the extent that there’s messaging suggesting internet companies are biased against conservatives, it preys on the paranoia that conservatives have embraced,” he said. “With the liberal side, there’s the view that online content is harming various sub-populations, and they aren’t being sufficiently protected, and more generally, that there’s a war against truth.”
Biden’s push to unite the country — and Congress — against Big Tech reflects the difficulty his administration, and that of his predecessor, have encountered in reining in the industry, which exerts massive influence on government. Internet companies spent $95 million last year lobbying members of Congress and federal agencies, with Google’s parent firm Alphabet spending $13 million and Facebook’s parent Meta spending $19 million, Amazon spending $21 million, and Twitter spending $1.3 million, according to non-profit research group OpenSecrets.
Google’s parent firm Alphabet, Facebook’s parent Meta and Twitter did not answer questions Monday from this news organization about Biden’s stance against their industry. Google in a blog post last year said antitrust legislation would “impose one set of rules on American companies while giving a pass to foreign companies,” give federal agencies “unprecedented power over the design of consumer products,” and possibly “break” its Search, Maps and Gmail offerings.
In January, the U.S. Department of Justice sued to break up Google, accusing it of monopolizing key digital advertising technologies through “anticompetitive and exclusionary conduct” such as buying up competitors and using its dominance to force publishers and advertisers to use its products. The Federal Trade Commission is trying to block Microsoft from buying video game company Activision Blizzard in a $69 billion deal, but this month the agency lost a court battle to stop Meta from gobbling up virtual-reality startup Within. Under former President Donald Trump, the FTC sued Facebook in 2020, claiming it abused its market power to quash competition, but a federal court judge threw the case out the next year.
Biden’s bid to limit companies’ collection of internet users’ data threatens the lifeblood of Google and Facebook, which have grown to dominance — Google takes 29% of the world’s digital ads, while Facebook takes 11% — through sale of personal information to advertisers.
Holding social media companies such as Twitter and Google’s YouTube to account over for content posted on their sites also enjoys bipartisan support. At issue is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which mostly absolves companies of liability, and has become a flashpoint amid the spread of misinformation on social media and the false belief that conservative voices are being censored, Goldman said. “The Republicans have generally made proposals that would reduce content moderation while the Democrats have generally proposed to increase moderation,” Goldman said. “The fact that those goals are the opposite of each other creates the gridlock.”
Exposing the firms to liability for all the content they host would open up a “Pandora’s box,” Randolph said. “You could on the one hand find a heavier hand, and things being taken off the internet that perhaps should be on it, or you could have just an endless flood of lawsuits.”