Credit: Getty Images/akindo

As President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris prepare to take over the White House on Jan. 20, questions persist about the new administration’s priorities. Among the biggest concerns is what they will do, or not do, about Big Tech.

The Obama administration’s technocratic approach to governance and its cooperation with Silicon Valley help set the groundwork for the Big Five tech companies to become monopolistic powerhouses. However, President Donald Trump is culpable, too, because despite his reputation as a recent critic of Big Tech and his recent executive order "preventing online censorship," his administration repealed net neutrality rules in 2017, giving cable and phone companies access to consumer data without the need for meaningful consent. As is the case with many issues in American politics, Democrats and Republicans have been on two sides of the same coin when it comes to Big Tech. But there is reason to believe that despite staffing his transition team with some tech insiders, the Biden administration will be harder on Big Tech than previous White Houses. The administration can’t afford not to be.

Biden’s updated priorities include investing in universal broadband to bridge the country’s digital divide. More important, he has spoken out against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity to internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from being treated as the publisher of any information a user provides, protecting these companies from lawsuits. He told The New York Times that it "immediately should be revoked," which would help combat misinformation. Biden is also expected to help strengthen the antitrust lawsuit against Google that the Department of Justice filed in October.

These actions would upset Silicon Valley insiders whose business models depend on data extraction and the capacity for government surveillance and who have spent half a billion dollars in the last decade lobbying to keep this intact. But if Democrats use this moment to reclaim digital spaces for people instead of profit, they need to push even further, creating better laws to protect privacy, reforming rules around data mining and sharing of personal information, improving the rights of gig economy workers, and breaking up monopolistic platforms.

Such an aggressive attack on Big Tech would be a departure from the cautious pragmatism Biden has embodied for most of his career as a moderate politician. But Biden is undergoing a metamorphosis, embracing a progressive agenda as he approaches this opportunity with a newfound grandiosity.

However, even if Biden is serious about going after Big Tech, he will need help rewriting the rules and creating better laws. Democrats either need to win the Senate or Biden needs to staff his executive branch with progressive policymakers like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who understand the far-reaching consequences of Big Tech.

There will be more immediate concerns in January when Biden is sworn in, including the COVID-19 pandemic and economic upheaval. But it’s vital that the Biden administration and people all over the country understand how high the stakes are when it comes to the unregulated power of Big Tech.

Oren Weisfeld is is a freelance journalist focusing on Big Tech.

Oren Weisfeld is is a freelance journalist focusing on Big Tech. Credit: Oren Weisfeld

These companies — and the nascent technology they employ — are jeopardizing what Harvard professor and social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls the "right to the future tense": They don’t just want our data to sell us ads; they want to control our actions and take away human agency.

Time is of the essence. It’s crucial the Biden administration understands that.

Oren Weisfeld is a freelance journalist in Toronto who focuses on Big Tech. Follow him on Twitter @orenweisfeld.


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