2020 Democrats vs. Big Tech

4-min read

Hello from 20 Minutes into the Future. Tonight we’ll be looking at how the 2020 Democratic candidates want to tackle the issues surrounding big tech. Let’s go.

The team @voxdotcom recently did a rundown of how some 2020 Democratic candidates want to deal with a host of tech issues: face recognition, AI & automation, regulations, etc. Here’s a handy summary...

General Views

Sanders wants to break up big tech, revisit Section 230, prohibit back doors in encryption, prosecute negligent execs, give workers 45% board control, ban face recognition for policing, restore net neutrality, end mass surveillance, and guarantee internet for all.

Warren wants to break up big tech (Facebook especially), prosecute negligent execs, give workers power to elect board members, establish a privacy task force, tax corporate profits to pay for green research & manufacturing, and pass an Anti-Corruption Act.

Buttigieg wants to double antitrust budgets, accountability for political ads, e2e encryption BUT provide “strong tools to law enforcement,” fiduciary responsibility for firms, internet for all, unionize gig workers, intra-agency council on emerging tech, and add $50b to STEM education. (As I wrote for Huff Post, STEM is great but STEAM is even better.)

Yang is indifferent to breaking up big tech, wants to reign in bots, adjust algos away from outrage, create an org that has access to encrypted messages, legislate revenue sharing between users and firms, VAT tax, create a Dept. of Tech to regulate emerging tech, and UBI.

Steyer is a maybe on break up, wants companies to enforce their TOS fairly, legal liabilities for negligent firms, LE access to encrypted msgs, guaranteed education, an overhaul to the tax system, ban face recognition for policing, and invest more in AI to stave off China.

Bennet is up for retrospective merger review, wants to revisit Section 230, is for LE access to encrypted msgs, fiduciary responsibility for firms, stronger FTC, more $ for education, is concerned about 2020 disinfo, and wants to invest more in AI to stave off China.

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Views on Disinformation and Hate Speech

I’d like to direct your attention to the fields’ responses to disinfo in particular.

21st century propaganda is something I’ve written and spoken about regularly. From its roots in political strategy to modern tactics to to different ways we can tackle it as creators, consumers, and citizens.

That’s why I think it’s great the candidates are all touching on different aspects and solutions to the issue. Revisiting section 230, breaking up Facebook, accountability for ads, reigning in bots, adjusting algorithms away from hate, enforcing ToS. We need to do all that & more.

California has some terrific anti-surveillance ordinances, we can mandate better definitions of protected groups, tackle hate speech more vigorously, fight fire with fire in terms of deepfakes, etc.

That all said I think there are some real disqualifying deal-breakers in here. Yang’s proposal for a federal body to eavesdrop on encrypted messages? From a guy that’s supposed to be sharp on tech that doesn’t even make sense. Although I really appreciate him calling attention to the need for the current algorithms to pivot away from outrage.

And again, I’m dubious whenever rich white guys talk about giving law enforcement “strong tools” for surveillance as Buttigieg has. And while it’s cool he wants to double antitrust budgets it doesn’t really sound like he wants break up on the table. No surprise given his ties to Facebook.

And while I appreciate Steyer’s full ban on face recognition he and Bennet both seem to be more worried about China then any of the issues actually being probed on. Their policies also seem to be generalist rather than nuanced to the peculiarities of tech.

Closing Thoughts

Sanders and Warren are both strong across the board. The one gap I see from both (in this piece anyway) is no mention of obligating the big tech companies to fiduciary responsibility which you see with Buttigieg and Bennet.

Another good idea from Buttigieg that is shockingly absent from Sanders and Warren (in this article at least) is the call for gig worker unionization. Changing ABC laws that misclassify workers is vital to fight back against companies like Uber.

Anywho I’m obviously with @fraying and intend to vote for whoever the Democratic candidate is but when you look at this big tech issue holistically it’s clear Sanders and Warren are the sharpest.

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20 Minutes into the Future is a critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today. And what actions we can take for a better tomorrow. If you're not already a subscriber and found this newsletter worth your while then please sign up.

My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.

You can email me at daniel.harvey@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @dancharvey.