While Approaches Differ, 2020 Dems Agree: Big Tech Is Too Big

Democratic candidate for president, Tom Steyer
October 16, 2019

For the first time in the Democratic presidential primary, big tech took center stage.

Candidates at the debate in Ohio Tuesday differed on how the government should regulate — or break up — massive tech conglomerates like Facebook and Amazon, but the overall position was the same across the board: Tech has gotten too big and too powerful.

In his first post-debate interview, Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager turned President Trump impeachment advocate, told Cheddar Wednesday that it's time to "break them up, or regulate them."

"We're going to enforce the antitrust laws. Companies that are either natural monopolies or use monopoly powers against the United States, we will go after them. We will not permit them," Steyer said.

On the debate stage, Steyer said that he agreed with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the loudest voices on the issue, and stated that "monopolies have to be dealt with" to curb the accelerating growth of technology companies. He added that tech policy cannot be solely legislated through taxes, and suggested Democrats should embrace investments in innovation and competition in the private sector.

"Everyone basically knows these corporations have bought the government," Steyer told Cheddar. "So then the question is: who are you actually going to trust to actually break that corporate stranglehold on our democracy?"

Multiple candidates on last night's stage echoed the antitrust message, which was originally put forth by Warren's "Break Up Big Tech" plan that took aim at Amazon and Facebook. Warren, whose presidency CEO Mark Zuckerberg said would be a disaster for Facebook, also took issue this week with the platform's political ad policy.

"We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook's ad platform to see if it'd be approved," she tweeted Saturday. "It got approved quickly."

Right now our data is worth more than oil.

Andrew Yang

New York businessman Andrew Yang also expressed heavy skepticism of big tech on Tuesday. Yang was particularly concerned with data privacy and the misuse of personal information at the hands of the U.S. tech giants, who he said only provide "the foggiest clues" on what they are doing with user data.

"99.9 percent of us are just delivering our data to the companies and hoping for the best and that is no longer working for us," Yang told Cheddar following the debate. "Under my administration we would say 'our data is ours.'"

Yang also said that the federal government should strengthen its oversight on the tech sector to ensure transparency and protect consumers from the "profound costs" associated with lapses in data privacy. The burden of stricter data regulation, Yang added, must fall on big tech.

Candidate Andrew Yang after the fourth Democratic debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. / Cheddar

During Tuesday's debate, moreover, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke addressed the longtime controversy over whether or not the government should regulate social media sites as platforms or publishers. O'Rourke favored the latter, saying "they curate the content that we see … we would allow no publisher to do what Facebook is doing."

O'Rourke, however, stopped short of suggesting the government break up big tech giants. "That's something that Donald Trump has done, in part because he sees enemies in the press and wants to diminish their power. It's not something that we should do," O'Rourke said.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey told Cheddar after the debate that he does not think social media companies should be left to monitor antitrust issues themselves. "I haven't seen lots of corporations regulate themselves well," said Booker. "We've got to use everything from antitrust laws to common-sense safety regulations."

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) after the fourth Democratic primary debates. / Cheddar

Sen. Kamala Harris of California on Tuesday specifically went after Twitter, reiterating her demand that the company suspend Trump's twitter account over alleged violations of the platform's terms and standards.

"Donald Trump, who has 65 million Twitter followers, is using that platform as the president of the United States to openly intimidate witnesses, to threaten witnesses, to obstruct justice," Harris said. "His account should be taken down … It is a matter of safety and corporate accountability."

Warren, whose plan for breaking up big tech was the impetus for the debate's discussion on the issue, stressed during the conversation that the government should use its antitrust laws that have been on the books for centuries.

She also called out big tech's outsized lobbying power over politicians. "If we're going to talk seriously about breaking up big tech, then we should ask if people are taking money from the big tech executives," Warren said.