2020 Dems eager to challenge tech giants

The 2020 election is shaping up to be a tough cycle for Silicon Valley.

Democrats jockeying for their party’s presidential nomination are pushing for a crackdown on major tech companies, breaking from their close alliance with the industry in recent elections.

Though Democrats appear divided on major policy areas like health care and climate, progressive stalwarts and moderates alike are sounding the alarm on Big Tech’s impacts on user privacy, competition, workers and fair elections.


Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report Biden, Sanders contend for top place in new national poll Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll MORE (D-Mass.) has proposed using antitrust laws to crack down on companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

In her campaign launch over the weekend, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll CNN cancels next week's Iowa town halls MORE (D-Minn.) used a significant part of her speech to call for regulations protecting net neutrality and internet privacy.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden, Sanders contend for top place in new national poll Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll Warren calls for Brazil to drop charges against Glenn Greenwald MORE (I-Vt.), who is believed to be considering another presidential run, has challenged Amazon over its labor practices, pushing the e-commerce giant into raising its minimum hourly wage to $15.

And Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Booker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' MORE (D-N.J.), another contender, has raised concerns about the growth of tech giants.

It’s too early to tell how prominent these issues will be in the 2020 race, but the rhetoric from Democratic lawmakers represents a stark shift from the coziness that marked the relationship between their party and the tech industry as recently as 2016.

“Increasingly, the party is moving away from that,” Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, told The Hill. “I think it’s heading toward a breakup.”

In 2016, the industry was cold to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE’s campaign, seeing in Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti defends Tulsi Gabbard's lawsuit against Hillary Clinton Trump to hold rally on eve of New Hampshire primary MORE a champion for their priorities. Tech companies and their workers, who have long skewed to the left, donated heavily to Clinton.

The shift was gradual, beginning after it was revealed that a Russian “troll farm” with suspected ties to the Kremlin had used social media platforms to push a disinformation campaign designed to spread unrest among U.S. voters.


Later, Facebook was engulfed in controversy last year when it was reported that Cambridge Analytica, a right-wing political consulting firm with ties to Trump and other GOP figures, had improperly obtained data on millions of users without their knowledge.

The scandal, along with a string of high-profile data breaches, prompted lawmakers of both parties to start paying more attention to how major internet companies collect data on users in order to deliver targeted advertisements.

The concern about data practices has pushed Congress to work on a potential bipartisan federal privacy law that would regulate the amount of transparency and control users are offered online.

And it’s turned Big Tech into a political punching bag, with lawmakers hammering them on competition and privacy concerns.

“We need to put some digital rules of the road into law when it comes to privacy,” Klobuchar said Sunday at her campaign launch in Minneapolis.

“For too long the big tech companies have been telling you, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got your back’ while your identities in fact are being stolen and your data is being mined,” she added. “Our laws need to be as sophisticated as the people who are breaking them.”

Klobuchar has teamed up with another outspoken tech critic, Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), to float a bill that would require websites to be more transparent about their data practices and give users the option to opt out of having their information collected.

Warren, meanwhile, has criticized large tech companies over their effects on competition and the lack of regulation around the industry.

She has argued that companies, like Amazon and Google, that have accumulated vast amounts of consumer data can use that information to beat competitors that don’t have access to it, hurting small businesses and concentrating economic power into fewer companies.

“We have to wrestle with this question about these companies that aggregate and monetize data in ways that do not create viable markets, and that have no accountability to the people whose data has actually just been taken,” she said at a New York Times business conference in September.

The industry has also found little relief from Trump, who has hammered social media companies over allegations of bias against conservatives and who has floated antitrust investigations into giants like Amazon and Google.

The industry has pushed back against the criticism it is seeing from political leaders of all stripes.

“America enjoys immense benefits — and a sizable economic advantage over the rest of the world — thanks of our internet sector,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, which represents Facebook, Google and Amazon, said in a statement to The Hill.

“Small businesses and nonprofits in every community use the internet to grow and achieve their goals,” he continued. “We look forward to working with policymakers on fostering an environment that allows for our continued global digital leadership.”

But the new political conversation around internet giants’ impact on society has been a major win for tech critics who have called on policymakers to confront the industry’s growing influence.

Stoller, the fellow at the Open Markets Institute, said he’d like to see candidates push even harder on companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

“Either they run us, or the democracy runs them,” Stoller said.

With the 2020 election still 21 months away, the prospect of candidates hitting away at the tech industry is one that worries its leaders and heartens its critics.

“I just want candidates to talk about it,” Stoller added. “They just need to say, ‘Break them up, they’re too powerful.’ ”