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Why Washington hates massive tech

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American politicians from opposing parties disagree – except that tech superpowers are too powerful.

Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans hailed the Justice Department's lawsuit this week, accusing Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising. And members of a house committee on both sides largely agreed that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple had grown too muscular and were abusing their power.

To find out how America's tech giants became non-partisan punching bags, I spoke to my colleague Cecilia Kang, who has been writing about technology companies and Washington politics for nearly 15 years.

Shira: For years, Washington politicians agreed that technology companies were great American successes. How has that changed?

Cecilia: The moment many people are pointing out was the 2016 US election when Russians used Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram to spread disinformation and disrupt the election. But I'd say the political backlash against big tech started earlier.

Even in the Obama administration, discomfort began about the impact of tech companies on trade, ideas sharing, entertainment, advertising, and other areas of our lives. And it was easy to see big tech as symbols of something that was wrong when American wages stagnated, but tech companies got richer.

Could the tech companies have done something else to avoid political trouble?

In a way, it was inevitable. Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook together have a market value of more than $ 5 trillion. Amazon is one of the largest employers in the United States. You can't hide at this size. And there is an American tradition of suspecting large corporations.

(Read Cecilia's latest article: The Federal Trade Commission is nearing a decision to file an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.)

Republicans tend to believe that government should go hand in hand with business. But now, prominent Republican politicians want more government intervention or even the separation of Google and other tech companies. Why?

Antitrust enforcement is widely viewed as a technical, impartial area of ​​law and policy.

Some conservatives believe that because they have so much power, companies like Facebook and Google are too tightly in control of what people say online and are biased against conservative views. It is fairly new to Republicans to associate freedom of speech with such antitrust violations.

Are there any indications that Google or Facebook have prejudices against conservative online material?

To my understanding, credible research shows that this is not the case. It's hard to believe that conservative voices will be suppressed online when people like our colleague Kevin Roose show how widespread conservative content is on Facebook.

When President Trump or other conservative figures flag or review their social media posts by internet companies, it is often for non-ideological reasons. They are more likely to push the boundaries of company rules against bullying or sharing false information on important topics like elections.

But most Americans, especially Republicans, believe that websites censor political positions that companies disagree with.

I get it. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have a huge impact on what we see or not see online, and there is little transparency about how they make those decisions. And top executives at large tech companies are largely seen as liberal.

Former CEO of Google said The antitrust lawsuit was a political success for the Trump administration. Was it?

Something can be done politically as well as on the cause.

If Joe Biden becomes president and Democrats take over a majority in the Senate, would the Google lawsuit end? Would Big Tech be more for it?

No. Democrats agree that big tech has gotten too powerful and deserves anti-trust scrutiny.

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I'd like to spend another moment looking at how government officials have treated tech companies.

When I saw politicians firing the antitrust lawsuit against Google, I wondered if they should wallow in shame instead. If government officials had effectively enforced the rules, it might have stopped or slowed Google's behavior before it resulted in what the government now calls an illegal monopoly.

Businesses will do what they do – find ways to offer people a product or service they like and make money from it. It is up to our elected representatives and watch dogs to make sure companies don't cross borders.

This is also a point my colleague Kate Conger made about Uber and similar app-based companies. One of the ways Uber and Lyft went big fast was their novelty – taking the contractor rules that normally apply to people like the owner of a trucking business and applying them to millions of people, maybe a few hours each Week driving.

Now more and more cities and states are questioning whether this widespread gig work was a misapplication of the law that created bad jobs and placed taxpayers on costs like unemployment insurance that companies should pay instead. Uber and other app-based companies are currently battling a law in California that classifies their employees as employees.

One of Kate's and my questions is, where were the government officials before? "The legality of the gig employment model has been questioned since these companies were founded," Kate told our colleague Jill Cowan for the California Today newsletter. "But California and other states have moved slowly to clear and enforce the law."

Like Google's tactics to promote search engines and other web services, gig work has been a legal, ethical, and political question mark for years. There's no straightforward answer, to be fair, but government officials decided not to do much about Google or Uber until the issue turned into a huge, expensive mess to fix.

Russian hackers are back: US officials said Russia's state hackers targeted computer networks of dozens of state and local governments and aviation networks, my Times colleagues reported. There is no evidence that the Russians disrupted essential election information or changed votes. American officials wanted to raise awareness of the activity in case the hackers attempt to wreak havoc in the November elections.

He made the phone of choice for criminals and mobs: This is quite a thread from Vice about a business owner whose bespoke BlackBerry phones were the go-to option for criminals, gangs, and drug dealers to hide their traces from law enforcement.

This is the most heartwarming thing you are about to read today. Promise: A woman in New Jersey and a man in Quebec quarreled and connected while playing Final Fantasy online. They got married last month. Lauren Rowello writes for the New York Times about how they fell in love.

Two young raccoons broke into a California bank after hours. You made a mess, but don't worry. You didn't steal anything. (And they weren't hurt.)

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