Big Tech has become such a conquering force in people’s lives that now, for the first time, this elephant in the room is starting to be discussed, however tentatively, by political candidates in a US presidential election cycle. Now that the 2020 candidate field has begun to be whittled down to a handful of aspirants, we begin our series of brief posts on the general attitudes and positions, to the extent that the candidates have them, of the major (according to polling) 2020 presidential hopefuls (top-running Democrats plus the current president) on the mammoth anti-social, anti-democratic power of corporate Big Tech. Should any of the lower polling candidates happen to break through to a position of prominence during the runup to the 2020 Democratic primaries, or should a viable third party candidate appear, we will address their positions here as well.
We start the series with the worst candidate on this issue, and will work our way with each subsequent post up to the best. Thus, candidates will be ranked in ascending order from worst to best, where lower numbers are worst and higher numbers are best. We do this with the proviso that even the best that any of the candidates presently has to offer on this issue does not remotely approach the kind of policies that would be required to rein in the unbridled power of Big Tech over the daily lives, and in most cases the minds and thoughts, of ordinary Americans.
Note: The authors of this blog are not presently endorsing or supporting any candidate for president.
#1 Mayor Pete Buttigieg – The darling of Silicon Valley’s top oligarchs
Pete Buttigieg, presently the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has made himself the darling of the Silicon Valley Big Tech community. One of the first few hundred original Facebook users (Facebook user #287), he was photographed driving around his home state of Indiana with his former college classmate, Facebook icon Mark Zuckerberg, during the latter’s visit there in 2017. Several of the candidate’s other college classmates ended up in Big Tech, affording Buttigieg deep, long-lived connections in the Valley, where he frequently holds big donor fundraisers.
Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that his statements on technology reveal no area of focus for potential reforms that might protect the populace from the extractive excesses of Big Tech. Buttigieg pays a bit of lip service to data privacy, but in extremely vague terms, with no commitments or real stances, no apparent ethical concerns, and no prescription for action.
“And to some extent, it might seem harmless, but we know that there are other applications of that data that have really raised questions about privacy” [emphasis added], he said in a CNN interview: ” The Europeans have a model [on data privacy], which I think we should learn from. It may not work to do the exact same thing here, but at least it’s a beginning” [emphasis added]. Restrictions on Big Tech only work in a given jurisdiction if the people who run it have a serious commitment to both enacting and enforcing them, that is, if they are ready to stand up to the pressure of Big Tech on behalf of the people. Pete Buttigieg’s wishy-washy stance on Europe’s GDPR data privacy legislation indicates that he would not do any of these things should he become president.
On the ballooning size and power of Big Tech companies, the candidate offered: “We’re going to need to empower the FTC to be able to intervene, including blocking or reversing mergers in cases where there’s anticompetitive behavior by tech companies.” This ignores the fact that the anticompetitive behavior of Big Tech already far exceeds that of earlier technology and telecommunications companies that have been regulated in the past, as well as the broadly anti-human consequences of the actions of these giant monopolies toward the populace.
Buttigieg briefly combined the issues of antitrust and data privacy, however, when he said: “Antitrust law as we know it has begun to hit its limits with regulating tech companies.” He continued: “It’s not designed to handle some of these tech companies where there’s actually no price at all. The product is made free, or at least it’s free on its face. We’ve learned in part because of the way our data are used by these companies that nothing is actually free.”
On the whole, though, Buttigieg’s love affair with Big Tech from the meta perspective virtually assures that, were he to become president, the power of Big Tech over people’s daily lives would continue to deepen, darkly and without restraint.