WASHINGTON – The tech industry had it easy under President Barack Obama. Regulators failed to bring major charges, executives moved in and out of the administration, and efforts to strengthen data protection laws failed.
The industry will have a much harder time under President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Support from the two parties for curtailing their power has risen sharply during the Trump administration and shows no sign of the Democrats regaining control of the White House. Mr Biden is expected to take over the Silicon Valley giants on misinformation, privacy and antitrust law in a sharp departure from the guidelines he has followed as Vice President under Mr Obama.
"The fundamentals of digital platform concern evolved during the Obama years, and yet the major technical problems from the Obama era are still with us and unsolved," said Chris Lewis, president of Public Knowledge consumer group. "The ghost is out of the bottle and the problems the public needs to solve pile up without a solution."
On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden rarely spoke at length about technology policy. But he has criticized social media companies like Facebook for allowing disinformation to thrive on their websites, and he has expressed concern about the power of a handful of companies in technology and other industries.
The Biden campaign would not comment on any specific case or investigation. But a spokesman for it, Matt Hill, said Mr Biden will take an aggressive stance on the industry.
"Many tech giants and their leaders have not only abused their power, but have misled the American people, damaged our democracy and shirked all responsibility," said Hill. "That ends with a President Biden."
Mr Biden's clearest position on Internet policy was his call for the lifting of a legal shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This safe haven has protected Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter from lawsuits for hosting or removing harmful or misleading content. He did not elaborate on how he would repeal the Shield, a 1996 law that the tech industry will fight vigorously to defend.
Also high on Mr Biden's agenda, according to his advisors, is the expansion of broadband internet service to low-income and rural households, which has become an urgent need during the pandemic as schools have switched online. Billions in federal funding could come from legislation or the Federal Communications Commission, which undermined several regulations during the Trump administration.
The F.C.C. would also be willing to reinstall what is known as net neutrality, a rule that prevented telecommunications companies from blocking or slowing down Internet traffic.
Hundreds of informal technology advisors, including some current or former telecommunications and technology workers, have provided opinions, white papers and strategies for Mr Biden's campaign and a possible presidency. Many of the top consultants were in favor of tough legislation to curb the power of tech companies.
Mr. Biden's team of technical advisors is led by Bruce Reed, his chief of staff when he was Vice President. For the past several years, Mr. Reed has served as General Counsel for Common Sense Media, a San Francisco children's advocacy not-for-profit organization advocating for privacy and technology security laws. Mr. Reed was instrumental in creating California's Data Protection Act in 2018.
Another top advisor on technical issues is Stef Feldman, a longtime associate of Mr Biden who led the campaign's political efforts. That year, she told Politico that among the topics she was closely following were "Differences in children's ability to engage in distance learning due to lack of access to technology" during the pandemic.
Nov. 10, 2020, 10:44 p.m. ET
Mr Biden needs to steer a split in the Democratic Party over how aggressively to approach tech companies. Progressives like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline have argued that the giants should be disbanded, and these lawmakers are likely to fight for regulators that do the same. Moderates in the party have shown reluctance to break up with the company.
Many Conservatives support the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigations. However, it is likely that they will defy many of Mr. Biden's technical guidelines, such as: B. the online language and data protection legislation, which intervenes in the free markets. And with neither party controlling a large majority in the Senate, their opposition means that legislation could easily stall.
Mr. Biden will also face severe setbacks from the industry. In recent years, tech companies have stepped up lobbying, with Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google spending $ 53.6 million on it last year – more than Wall Street, pharmaceutical, and energy companies.
"The tech lobby and its allies will have an enormous political influence on a White House in Biden," said Jeffrey Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocate. "However, it is night and day as technology is seen now and during the Obama years."
Current and former tech managers and lobbyists, as well as former regulators, said that while the industry expected a Biden administration to hit businesses hard, especially in antitrust areas, it would welcome a change from the unpredictable Trump administration.
"The Trump administration was a showbiz, and as a result, nobody knew what to expect," said Tom Wheeler, a Democrat who served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under Obama. "Silicon Valley will at least be happy about the stability, knowing that there is a plan and not spontaneous policy making."
Bruce Sewell, Apple General Counsel and head of government from 2009-17, said, “If you're in Silicon Valley and run one of these companies, you're probably saying, 'Biden won't be easier for us – but at least it is back to the devil we know & # 39; "
Mr Biden is expected to largely expand on the tough line Mr Trump has taken against Chinese tech firms, which official sources say pose a national security threat. The Trump administration has decided to remove Chinese telecommunications equipment from American networks, prevent Silicon Valley companies from building undersea cables to mainland China, and remove Chinese products like TikTok from Apple and Google's app stores.
Mr Trump has pressured American allies to take the same steps. But Mr Biden could seek a more conciliatory approach with European policymakers who increasingly see China's influence on technology as a major threat – which could encourage him to bridge the gap between Europe's strict internet regulations and the US approach.
"A Biden government would definitely try to pressure Beijing in a multilateral way, but one of the first things to think about is, how do we work with Europeans when there is a massive digital divide?" said Samm Sacks, a cybersecurity policy maker and China Digital Economy Fellow at Think Tank New America.