Top Democrats are exploring the idea that Big Tech designed products that were intentionally addictive, Axios' David McCabe reports:
- Last month an aide to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who as vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is helping run a probe of Russian election meddling that will re-ignite in January, organized a briefing featuring two prominent critics of the platforms:Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist who argues that tech companies unethically manipulated their users.Zeynep Tufekci, an academic who warns of "an artificial intelligence-powered dystopia."
- From the invite to the briefing, attended by Democratic staffers for progressive and centrist members: "Drawing on behavioral psychology research, many technology platforms actively condition user behavior, designing (and refining) products to be intentionally habit-forming."
- In a preview of debates to come, the invite continues: "[T]hese developments ... raise important questions related to consumer protection, fake news/misinformation, antitrust/competition, and privacy."
Why it matters: The briefing is among the growing signs that the industry will be forced to engage more with Washington:
- If successful, the government's case against AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner could set a new precedent that would complicate deals for tech companies looking to grow even larger through acquisitions.
- Regulatory pushes in Europe may spread to the United States.
Real talk: Skepticism of tech has yet to yield concrete policy changes. Franklin Foer, author of "World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech": "[A] lot of the policy thinking that is necessary to actually apply some sort of solution hasn't yet been hatched."
What to watch: Congressional Democrats built tougher antitrust enforcement into their midterm platform. On the other side of the aisle, Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is conducting an investigation into Google as he challenges U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.