Tech titans make pilgrimage to Trump Tower

Tech titans make pilgrimage to Trump Tower
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Trump Tower saw an influx of big names from the tech and telecom worlds in the hallways this week, with Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson all making the pilgrimage to New York.

Some of these companies have an obvious interest in getting on Trump’s good side.

Last month, Taobao, a massive online marketplace run by Alibaba, was included on the U.S. Trade Representative’s list of “Notorious Marketplaces” because the site’s “current levels of reported counterfeiting and piracy are unacceptably high.”

AT&T, for its part, is planning a $85.4 billion merger with Time Warner, a controversial deal that has drawn criticism from a number of lawmakers, including Trump himself. CNN, which found itself in a feud with Trump this week, is a part of Time Warner.

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“As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said in a campaign speech after the deal was first announced in October.

Both AT&T and the Trump team denied that the merger was discussed in the meeting.

“AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner was not a topic of discussion,” AT&T spokeswoman Margaret Boles said in a statement Thursday. “Rather, as the country’s leading investor of capital for each of the last five years, the conversation focused on how AT&T can work with the Trump administration to increase investment in the U.S., stimulate job creation in America, and make American companies more competitive globally.”

Bloomberg reported early Thursday, however, that the deal was on the agenda. Boles declined to comment further on the meeting.

There’s been no official word about why Schmidt, the former chairman of Google and the current head of Alphabet, its parent company, visited Trump Tower on Friday, as both Google and the Trump team declined to comment on the record.

Schmidt was a supporter of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThree legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise Report: Barr attorney can't provide evidence Trump was set up by DOJ Jayapal pushes back on Gaetz's questioning of impeachment witness donations to Democrats MORE throughout the presidential race and even funded a startup to help her campaign’s tech operation.

After his appearance in the Trump Tower lobby on Friday, however, the internet mogul praised Trump for hiring Dina Powell, an executive at Goldman Sachs.

During the campaign speech in October during which Trump railed against the AT&T-Time Warner merger, the now-president-elect also singled out Amazon for criticism.

“Likewise, Amazon, which through its ownership controls the Washington Post, should be paying massive taxes, but it’s not paying,” he said. “And it’s a very unfair playing field and you see what that’s doing to department stores all over the country.”

But this week, the Trump team was eager to take credit for Amazon’s announcement that it was hiring 100,000 new U.S. workers.

“The announcement was made after the president-elect met with the heads of several other tech companies and urged to keep their jobs and production inside the United States,” Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Thursday.

“As you know Jeff Bezos was an integral part of that and the president-elect was pleased to have played a role in that decision.”

Amazon did not respond when asked what role Trump played in the decision to expand its workforce.

Since Election Day, a number of companies have made similar hiring announcements and have let Trump take credit for it as part of his economic populist message.

The outreach to tech companies was launched in mid-December when Trump held a meeting with a dozen industry titans, including Schmidt and Bezos, to extend an olive branch after a campaign in which he occasionally targeted their companies in broadsides delivered via Twitter or campaign speeches.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk was also in attendance and was spotted again at Trump Tower last week.

Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early Facebook investor, was a driving force behind the meeting. Thiel was a major donor to Trump campaign effort and has been a trusted adviser for the president-elect, though he’s said he will not join the administration.

Since then, Trump has opened a dialogue with tech and other industries as part of his approach of weighing in on the private sector to try to stimulate job creation.

“I think you’ve seen by the meetings that he’s had with other CEOs, his primary focus is how companies can continue to create jobs, lift up wages and the polices and regulations that are standing in the way of them creating further jobs for Americans, creating higher paying jobs and also creating economic growth,” Spicer said after the AT&T meeting.

Trump was widely scorned among the tech world in left-leaning Silicon Valley and internet freedom groups are wary that he may try to crack down on internet expression and digital privacy.

Amie Stepanovich, the U.S. policy manager at Access Now, worries that the increased collaboration between Trump and industry leaders could lead to companies compromising on some of their values.

“The President-Elect's interactions with tech companies is a good indication of how technology policy will be addressed under his administration: largely through a lens of economic impact rather than attention to human rights,” Stepanovich told The Hill.

“While this may be positive on some topics — the private sector and civil society are largely aligned on encryption and government surveillance — it signals trouble in areas like privacy and data protection where those interests diverge.”

Ali Breland contributed to this piece.