The tech industry’s push to weigh in on future public policy decisions comes as the coronavirus pandemic makes tech more essential to the economy than ever before as businesses, governments and schools shift more operations online. But at the same time, there’s a major push from Democrats and Republicans to rein in the tech industry’s power.
Levie’s comments signal how CEOs are bracing for a dramatic shift after the presidential transition. Like many tech executives, Levie has been publicly critical of the Trump administration on issues such as immigration and racial equality.
Levie spoke with The Technology 202 over Zoom earlier this week about the future of tech policy. Here’s our conversation, edited for clarity.
Technology 202: How do you think the tech industry’s relationship with Washington is going to change with an incoming Biden administration?
Levie: Over the past four years, what we’ve run into is a pendulum where it’s either overly combative to the point where it sort of destroys any ability to collaborate effectively, or it’s sort of kind of only randomly helpful to businesses in sort of very narrow, one-off the types of instances.
What you really want is a stable, thoughtful, consistent approach to thinking about the future of technology, the future of trade, the future of our global partnerships. Tech in particular, I would argue is going to be more important to our economy than ever before going forward.
It’s not about Silicon Valley as much as it is about tech policy that’s going to end up impacting all industries like science and health care, banking, automotive. And so the tech policies that get created today are going to impact all industries for many, many years to come. And we just have not had much progress on the most important issues that I think our industry is facing.
Privacy, encryption, global trade, open Internet, immigration, education, all of these topics are going to define how competitive America is or is not in the future. I think the Biden administration will do a much better job at navigating that and creating the right kind of a long-term consistent approach to where we want to go.
Technology 202: What role do you see tech executives playing in a federal response to the coronavirus under a Biden administration?
Levie: This is not a situation where tech is somehow going to save the day. I would rather have more health care and pharma folks on that advisory group.
Technology 202: Box is in an interesting situation where you compete with some of the larger tech companies, but you’re also dependent on them for growth. What do you think of the growing antitrust scrutiny in Washington?
Levie: No matter what, there’s going to be some degree of regulatory change that deals with effectively, ‘How do we protect consumers and how do we protect competition and competitiveness in the digital economy?’
These are businesses that are frankly, in a lot of cases, not necessarily monopolies, but they are so powerful that they effectively have control over what information we see, what products get purchased, the business models that the industry has to adopt.
And so I think if we take a typical monopoly-oriented approach, I think it might be a little bit of a tired concept at this point. We need to think about what is the modern form of regulation that you need to protect consumers, to protect businesses.
It is separate from your typical antitrust stuff, like let’s break up the [telcoms] or break up the oil companies. So I am not in the camp of breaking up Big Tech. I don’t think that that sort of is a remediation for the really big topics that are actually at play.
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Apple attacked the ad-targeting practices of Facebook and other Internet giants in a new letter.
The iPhone maker blasted Facebook’s approach to advertising and user tracking, according to a letter replying to several organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch. The company was defending its decision to delay an iPhone feature requiring people to explicitly give permission before letting apps track them for advertising, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Kurt Wagner report.
“By contrast, Facebook and others have a very different approach to targeting,” Apple wrote. “Not only do they allow the grouping of users into smaller segments, they use detailed data about online browsing activity to target ads. Facebook executives have made clear their intent is to collect as much data as possible across both first and third party products to develop and monetize detailed profiles of their users, and this disregard for user privacy continues to expand to include more of their products.”
Apple’s new feature was added as part of the company’s iOS 14 operating system in September. But a requirement that all apps use it was delayed until early 2021 after several app makers, including Facebook, said the change would hurt their businesses.
The human rights and privacy organizations previously criticized the delay in a letter to Apple. “This means that these privacy protections will not be available during the critical weeks leading up to and following the 2020 U.S. elections, when people’s data can be used to target them with personalized political ads,” they wrote.
The new letter signals how tensions between Apple and Facebook have spilled into public view. Facebook accused Apple of using its size to block competing companies from running their advertising.
““They are using their dominant market position to self-preference their own data collection while making it nearly impossible for their competitors to use the same data,” Facebook said in a statement to Bloomberg. “They claim it’s about privacy, but it’s about profit.”
One out of every 1,000 pieces of content Facebook users see contains hate speech.
Between March and Election Day, it removed more than 265,000 pieces violating its voter interference policy in the United States. The new Community Standards report is the first Facebook has released since the election, and provides a look into how well the platform enforced its policies during the election.
Facebook also claims that its artificial intelligence systems are getting better at detecting hate speech. The technology proactively identified 95 percent of posts eventually removed — a significant increase from the 24 percent it found three years ago.
Sending home much of its moderation workforce during the pandemic has hampered the company’s ability to deal with some of its most dangerous content, including sexual exploitation. Those numbers could change before the next report as the company pushes to send some moderators back to the office despite health and safety concerns from workers.
Biden is working with Democrats to make Internet access and affordability a top priority for pandemic recovery.
Biden and top Democrats are hoping to secure billions of dollars in government funding for broadband, including a House-passed relief bill that includes $4 billion in emergency funds to help low-income Americans stay online, Tony Romm reports.
Biden has endorsed the bill and recently reaffirmed his commitment to investing in broadband as a part of his economic recovery agency. Allies including Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) expressed confidence that Biden will move on the issue within his first 100 days.
Biden has also reached out to the private sector, meeting this week with business leaders including Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella. Nadella encouraged Biden to make Internet access a national priority. At the end of the meeting, Biden stressed the need for high-speed broadband as part of future economic recovery efforts.
Democrats will still face opposition from Republicans, who have stalled efforts launched in the summer to make it easier for the Federal Communications Commission to provide funding to schools for at-home devices and hotspots for students.
But Democrats aren’t giving up on the lame-duck period.
Clyburn pledged that House Democrats will resume plans to push long-term broadband proposals, including an infrastructure bill he wrote that sets aside $100 billion for new investments in high-speed Internet.
Antitrust regulators are preparing to bring charges against Facebook over its acquisitions.
Federal and state watchdogs allege the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp gave Facebook an anti-competitive advantage that has left few rivals, Tony reports.
Antitrust watchdogs are also weighing whether to also include a complaint that the mergers left users with fewer privacy protections than if Instagram and WhatsApp had stayed private. For instance, Facebook broke its pledge to keep WhatsApp user data separate from its networking site.
The state and federal lawsuits have not been finalized, so investigators could still change their approach. Government officials are also exploring additional issues, three people familiar with the matter said.
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- The R Street Institute will hold an event, “Technology, Policing, and Earning the Public Trust,” today at 2 p.m.
- American University’s Tech, Law and Security Program will hold an event on “Technology, Policing, and Earning the Public Trust” today at 1 p.m.
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