Big Tech has become a creature of the swamp

Last October, the day whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before her committee, Senator Amy Klobuchar gave a candid, if depressing, summation of the effect of all that DC spending: “We’ve done nothing to update US competition, privacy and technology laws,” she tweeted. “Nothing. Zilch. Why? Because there are lobbyists around every corner of the Capitol hired by tech.”

If you want to see the power of the lobbying efforts, take a look at the nomination of Gigi Sohn for the Federal Communications Commission. While Sohn was unquestionably qualified, the focus was on empowering consumers. Of course she had made enemies in companies, especially predatory telecom companies known to… fleece customers† Those interests have managed to block her confirmation for months. If not confirmed soon, a new Congress may wipe out her nomination outright. With Sohn’s nomination on hold, the committee is at an impasse with two Democrats and two Republicans.

In the meantime, news reports allege that a multimillion-dollar effort from special interests — including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — is targeting key states and vulnerable Democrats to withdraw support for Klobuchar’s reform bills. A bitter irony: The campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook and Google ads to get its point across.

We’ve come a long way since the days when tech entrepreneurs wanted to avoid DC. Yes, they were naive then. They were arrogant to think that they were somehow special and could build their business while ignoring the government. But their instinct to avoid the slime of American politics was admirable. Lawyers and lobbying may not have completely solved their DC problem – the continued bad behavior of those companies makes it likely that: some sanctions will arise. But those sanctions won’t be as harsh or as effective as lawmakers, regulators, and perhaps even the public wanted. A longtime employee on the Hill I spoke to this week summed up their tech interests and their DC activities: “They’re just like everyone else.” It wasn’t a compliment.

time travel

Arguments about regulating the Internet have been raging since the boom in the mid-1990s that made the Internet accessible to the masses. Long before tech companies spent millions on lobbying, the debates were quite similar to the ones we face today, especially when it comes to online speech. Example: Senator James Exon’s Communications Decency Act, a proposed telecommunications law amendment, which I wrote about in a 1995 news week article† A stripped-down version of the amendment made its way into the 1996 bill, which included the still-controversial Section 230.

The Exon amendment is very broad. It can hinder communication between adults – the essence of online activity – and may not even solve the problems children face. “It would be a mistake to drive us in a moment of hysteria to a solution that is unconstitutional, would dull the technology and fail to even fulfill its mission,” said Jerry Berman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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