At a time when Big Tech is facing historic scrutiny under the Trump administration, with antitrust probes by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, experts say a Biden-Harris administration could signal a return to the friendly stance held during the Obama era toward Silicon Valley.
This change could affect ongoing federal investigations, experts told The Epoch Times, with some saying it could even end the probes. They note the pair have made little mention of antitrust or other concerns plaguing the tech industry.
Dozens of state attorneys general are probing the practices of Facebook and Google in separate cases amid broad concerns about the effects the companies have on competition and consumers. The four Big Tech companies, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, are also facing scrutiny by the House Judiciary Committee over potential anti-competitive behavior.
While neither Biden nor Harris have made antitrust issues a key policy issue, they have leveled some criticism against monopoly power, while stopping short of calling for an outright breakup of Big Tech. The Biden campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Epoch Times for comment.
When Biden was vice president, President Barack Obama reportedly cultivated deep relationships with the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and others in Silicon Valley.
A number of Obama alumni, meanwhile, have taken high-ranking positions in Silicon Valley. A 2016 CCN headline is titled, “Obama’s staff is taking over Silicon Valley.”
Scott Watnik, litigation partner at law firm Wilk Auslander and co-chairman of the firm’s cybersecurity practice, noted that when Harris served as California’s attorney general, she didn’t bring a single case against a Silicon Valley executive during a period when the industry grew at a historic pace.
“Harris is perceived to be a good friend of Silicon Valley,” Watnik told The Epoch Times. “As an assistant attorney general in San Francisco and attorney general of California, Harris far and away has more close ties to Big Tech than any other candidate who ran in the 2020 presidential election primaries.”
Watnik said Harris has ducked the issue of antitrust and has abstained from taking any real position on the topic, while noting she has grilled many Big Tech executives on Capitol Hill on issues such as misinformation, hate speech, and foreign nation election meddling on online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
“But despite her tough talk, I wouldn’t count on Harris to take on Big Tech, based on her track record and deep ties to Silicon Valley,” Watnik said. “Big Tech must agree.”
Harris has received scrutiny from her close relationships with tech leaders such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who publicly hailed her nomination for vice president. Sandberg supported Harris over former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly in the race for California AG in 2010 and her 2016 Senate run, while Harris promoted Sandberg’s 2013 book “Lean In,” MarketWatch reported.
Former top Google lawyer David Drummond, as well as a myriad of other tech elite, have donated to Harris in her previous positions. Harris herself expressed enthusiasm for working with the tech industry in 2010 at Google’s Silicon Valley campus.
“I’ve been wanting to come because I want these relationships and I want to cultivate them,” she said at the time.
Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said a Biden presidency with Harris at his side “could potentially have a direct effect on any ongoing, outstanding, or future antitrust cases brought against Big Tech in the United States.”
“Harris as VP is a dream for Big Tech because the California senator is widely considered a Silicon Valley sweetheart,” Walsh told The Epoch Times.
In recent weeks, both Harris and Biden have made notable slip-ups, referring to their pairing as a “Harris-Biden ticket” rather than a Biden-Harris one, Walsh noted, adding that it seems justified “to have some suspicions about the kind of power and influence that Harris would command; power that Silicon Valley is going to welcome with open arms.”
Some experts say a Biden-Harris ticket would have little impact, if at all, on ongoing probes against Big Tech, or on other policies surrounding technology companies.
“Those suggesting that Harris’s ties to Silicon Valley will have a major impact on antitrust policy in a Biden-Harris administration are overstating Harris’s influence,” John E. Lopatka, antitrust scholar and a distinguished professor of law at Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law, told The Epoch Times.
Lopatka noted that an aggressive, or interventionist, antitrust enforcement policy is “fully consistent with Democratic political ideology, and so any Democratic administration would be inclined to adopt it.”
The fact that Biden hasn’t expressed strong views on antitrust in the tech sector, doesn’t mean he will necessarily turn to his vice president. At most, Lopatka said, Harris “will have a marginal effect on antitrust appointments and policies. I doubt her influence will be dramatic.”
Doug Melamed, a Stanford University law professor with expertise in antitrust law, told The Epoch Times he believes a Biden administration “will pursue enlightened education and immigration polities to attract and retain in the U.S. skilled workers.” He believes they would enforce antitrust laws against tech firms where appropriate.
Melamed said it was “perfectly appropriate” for Harris to learn and understand the tech industry when she was serving as attorney general of California, noting that the industry had made huge contributions to the well-being of California and the nation. He said her relationship with Silicon Valley wouldn’t impede sound antitrust enforcement.
Mark Grabowski, an associate professor specializing in cyber law and digital ethics at Adelphi University, told The Epoch Times that a Biden-Harris administration could produce a number of different policies when it comes to Big Tech, including “an effort to restore President Obama’s network neutrality policies, a possible push to eliminate Section 230 protections for the internet, a retreat from the tech war with China, and pressure on Silicon Valley tech companies to hire more women and minorities.”
“Some of these things could help, but others could be really disastrous,” Grabowski said.
The Trump campaign piled on to the concerns about a Biden-Harris ticket, in particular emphasizing the reported anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley.
“Big Tech has proven time and again its willingness to censor conservatives while turning a blind eye to Democrats,” said Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for Trump’s reelection campaign.
“It’s no secret that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have Big Tech in their pockets,” Zager told The Epoch Times on Sept. 17.
“Across social media platforms, the arbitrary rules these companies create do not apply equally to every account and instead are used to silence any views in opposition to those held by the liberal coastal elites in Silicon Valley,” she added.
Trump, in his second term, would continue to advocate for an internet “that embraces free speech over censorship,” Zager said. Biden, she said, “would enable the toxic cancel culture we’ve come to see online and allow Big Tech to silence free speech for millions of Americans.”
While the Biden campaign didn’t respond to The Epoch Times, spokesman Matt Hill suggested to The Wall Street Journal that Biden would be tough when it comes to market power. Hill declined to comment on the prospect of settling antitrust cases.
“Joe Biden has long said one of the greatest sins is the abuse of power,” Hill told the WSJ. “Many technology giants and their executives have not only abused their power, but misled the American people, damaged our democracy, and evaded any form of responsibility. That ends with a President Biden.”