When we think of tech-news, our minds typically do not laser focus on one arena. But as of late, Twitter and Elon Musk’s recent purchase are dominating both social and political discourse as many speculate what this new reality may underscore. Do Musk’s actions signal a change for the future of social platforms? Are there greater ramifications for the larger technology space? What do Musk’s actions mean for the future of free speech? Will we see a great reverberation across multiple arenas, beyond tech and policy spaces? And perhaps the most significant within this line of questioning—what might the future hold?
These are the broader concepts I’d like to begin unpacking with this new blog series. The vast and rapidly changing intersection between technology (big tech specifically), and their bearing on the future. As a self-proclaimed “policy-wonk” and former government relations professional, this is where my interests and expertise lie – and hopefully a bit of insights sharing might prove helpful. To begin, I’ll start with a brief overview of major tech policy in 2021.
Tech Policy Discourse in Action
While conversation regarding Twitter and Elon Musk is leading the larger news cycle – when we think of larger tech discourse, we often forget the burden this lends to political leaders and government agencies, who are tasked with defining and executing aligned actions. At minimum they must be knowledgeable of relevant discourse and at best “proactive” against the backdrop of a rapidly changing landscape. They are constantly pressed to be forward-thinking, anticipating what changes in technology and consumer needs might be looming around the corner. And in more recent years, extensive knowledge, and propensity toward proactive regulation of tech and cyberspace has evolved to become the norm for many of these individuals – rather than a specialized arena.
In 2021, a prime example of this evolution were sweeping Executive Orders (EO’s) from the Biden Administration that forced government entities to take a close look at the integrity of their cyber-infrastructure, amidst a growing number of attacks from foreign adversaries, supply chain-deficits, sustainable solutions needs, and increased speculation at federal, state, and local levels. In essence, these initial EO’s implemented a series of far-reaching set reforms, meant to strengthen, and improve best practices. They included:
- Modernizing Federal Government Cybersecurity
- Enhancing Software Supply Chain Security
- Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries
- Catalyzing America’s Clean Energy Economy through Federal Sustainability
By implementing these changes via EO’s the Biden Administration set clear precedents and proactive priorities – signaling hardline opportunities for both foreign and domestic government officials and agencies to follow suit. Especially since nothing says “pay attention, this is important” quite like an executive order. As these new protocols percolated through2021, a new era of oversight has followed in 2022, as leaders across the globe grapple with the very real possibility of increased cyber threats and terrorism against the backdrop of the Russia/Ukraine conflict.
2022 Regulation and Antitrust Actions
Much of these continued regulatory efforts were spearheaded by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a moderate Minnesotan democrat and the leader behind many tech antitrust policies introduced during the 117th Congress. Senator Klobuchar, along with Senator Cory Booker, Senator Marsha Blackburn, and Senator Richard Blumenthal have been long time advocates of regulating big tech in the Senate – and for Senators Blackburn and Blumenthal most notably following their efforts on the Haugen panel. At the start of 2022, Senator Klobuchar gave a statement to the Washington Post, stating that she “expect[ed] [the] fight to rein in big tech [to] intensify. . .,” while Senator Blumenthal referenced “a pivotal turning point” for reining in big tech in 2022 – based on these statements it seems a reckoning is coming. Further, these Senate leaders’ pre-emptive statements reign true in Q2 as similar legislation continues to gain momentum – through policies like the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the EU, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) in the US Senate, and even the widely followed state effort, Proposition 24 in California.
Considered “inherently anti-trust” these policies are designed to implement safe-guards against behemoths of Big-Tech (think Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) providing arguably necessary legislation and a window of opportunity for tech companies to develop a course for alignment within increased regulation and rapidly changing political landscapes. In doing so, granting opportunity for tech companies to “future-proof” their businesses by ensuring their operations are proactively aligned to these newly outlined stipulations as they are made law. But, what does this look like?
To answer this question, we can look toward the concept of “consumer choice.” Based on details outlined within the DMA, companies no longer have the authority to monopolize their tech, instead it is left to the behest of the consumer. For example, “consumer choice” in this context stipulates that a company like Apple cannot require consumers to exclusively use their products or software to operate their devices – based on the concept of consumer choice, consumers have the autonomy to use other browsers, search engines, and accessories to operate an Apple branded product.
In essence, “choice” is left to consumers. Thus, thwarting business monopolization by offering other products and businesses a “pre-baked” opportunity to thrive. An idea, that as a consumer, I can get behind. Yet, as a bipartisan idealist, an idea where I can foresee some murky waters on the horizon. And despite bipartisan momentum as evidenced by the Senators listed above, some legislators (many in the US) still feel legislation in the US and the EU set problematic precedents as most businesses impacted would be larger American companies.
As a result, sweeping anti-trust legislation like that of the DMA and the AICOA has yet to be met with widespread support or fully adopted into law in their countries of origin. And this stalled progress, as noted by Erin Simpson and Adam Conner of the Center for American Progress presents its own set of issues, as “significant gaps. . .remain in the government’s fundamental ability to anticipate, understand, and address. . . harms. . . while balancing. . . multiple, competing interests.” And herein lies the continued dilemma.
Without a groundswell of constituent support, a lack of widespread political cohesion, and competing priorities, a stalemate of political hierarchies becomes inevitable. Throughout my career, anticipating the inevitable and synthesizing ideologies en masse is where I’ve continuously worked to keep legislators smart – and now I’m tasked with doing the same for agency clients and Hotwire teams. And it’s time to rise to this challenge.
To be clear, this blog is not meant to be all encompassing, but rather an opportunity to encourage a new avenue of thinking guided by policy. Obviously, the analysis can get a bit long (i.e. this entire blog) but if you made it this far, I hope my first installment provides context for a helpful start. Until next time!
Want to talk public policy or discuss what this could mean for your company? Feel free to reach out to Yinka Robinson or our team.
Legislation to Watch