When Senator Elizabeth Warren publicly saying that big tech companies “have too much power” which they use to hurt other businesses and stifle innovation, things seem to be looking grim for the big tech brands. About six weeks ago, things were not so bad though there were a few hiccups, and some companies like Facebook were willing to take a charge of up to $5 billion for an expected FTC fine for the fiasco that was Cambridge Analytica scandal. This was followed by a big jump in FB’s stock, and the amount seemed manageable. Facebook earned brownie points for its honesty.
But Washington under Trump and his republicans does not view silicon valley lightly, as Obama and his men did. During Obama’s stint, the It industry was viewed with much respect and many corporate leaders also got top executive posts in US administration, believing that the silicon valley was the engine for growth in the country. In fact, they would go as far as overlook allegations of unfair trade practices like the 2013 episode with Google. The FTC unanimously voted to settle an antitrust investigation against Google in 2013, even though some staffers alleged they indulged in practices that gave them an unfair advantage over competition. In fact, similar charges against Google in EU have led to fines of more than $9 billion. But in the US, the competition law requires concrete proof that competition has been harmed, before it declares Google as defaulter. The case against Google was at best, grey.
But over the last one week, there seems to be a radical shift in the support that Big tech gets from Washington. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department is preparing an antitrust investigation into Google’s business practices. Other media is also reporting such rumble in Washington, and to top it all, Facebook’s fine has not yet been finalised.
While no comments have come from the tech giants, but the ground is certainly getting shiftier for them. The conjecture that both political parties may be planning to make the tech companies the paw in the 2020 elections, could well be true. Both democrats and republicans dislike tech industry- though for different reasons. While Republicans say, the companies are funded and staffed by liberals; Democrats say Big Tech is too powerful and hurting competition, consumers, and society. The worst will come when both try to outdo each other to contain the silicon valley biggies.
While nothing is down in black and white yet, there could be still some control on the political will. There is some amount of corporate influence on political conversations, and also, the support could come from the existing laissez-faire policy framework.
Unless there is clarity on the situation, there are difficult times ahead for silicon valley.