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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaving a meeting with Sen. John Cornyn, followed by Facebook VP of global public policy Joel Kaplan. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with key senators and then visited President Trump at the White House Thursday, as his company navigates an increasingly dense maze of antitrust probes and regulatory initiatives.
Why it matters: With this week's private dinners, senatorial sit-downs, and presidential audience, Zuckerberg aims to move Facebook beyond playing defense and toward a meaningful dialogue on regulating the internet, sources tell Scott Rosenberg and me.
The big picture: This was Zuckerberg's first known visit to the capital since March 2018, when he defended Facebook in tense public testimony during the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal. Zuckerberg cut a very different profile this time — less CEO in the hot seat than visiting potentate handling weighty matters.
The unannounced White House meeting, first reported by Axios' Mike Allen, was the first time Trump and Zuckerberg have met in person.
Zuckerberg's goal for the visit: Get across the points he'd made in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, arguing that the internet needs new rules covering "harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability."
Senators' goals varied:
Photo: Ed Jay Photography for Churchill Club
Zuckerberg may still be learning his way around Washington, D.C., but one person who is all too familiar with the place is Microsoft president Brad Smith, who was a top lawyer at the company during its decade-plus long antitrust battle there.
On Monday, I asked Smith whether he thinks, in the long run, the antitrust investigation caused Microsoft to miss shifts in technology, such as the iPhone.
Why it matters: Microsoft wasn't broken up, as one judge initially ordered, but it spent years battling in court and ultimately was forced by regulators around the globe to pay fines and offer Windows customers in some places the ability to choose a different browser.
"There's a lot that I think people can learn from our mistakes, our travails," he said during our interview at the Churchill Club.
Smith recalled a Microsoft director pointing out that there was an opportunity cost to continuing to fight the government.
"Every hour you spend doing one thing is an hour you don't spend doing something else," he said.
"That's sort of like the laws of physics somewhere. If you have to spend a lot of time dealing with an antitrust issue, it will mean that there is a lot of time that you are not spending on other things. And you can't possibly know in advance what those other things would be. It's only a decade later when you see the parts of technology that maybe passed you by. And you can ask yourself, what if? What if I wasn't spending all that time in a deposition or getting ready for it or dealing with the controversy around this? Would I have recognized this other shift? Would I have done a better job of jumping on it? "— Brad Smith
As for the current antitrust situation, Smith noted that things are different from when Windows was under antitrust scrutiny.
"At one level, I think you could look at it and say, hey, a world with multiple platforms by definition is more competitive than a world where everybody is focused on one," he said.
Yes, but: Smith noted that today's giants exert more control over their platforms than Microsoft did over Windows in its heyday. "You know, we at Microsoft were never smart enough to think of a thing called an app store ... anybody could always put any app that they wanted onto Windows."
The bottom line: When evaluating regulators' concerns, tech companies have to think not only about the monetary penalties or conduct remedies that are on the table, but also about how fighting regulators — or not fighting them — will affect the company's ability to innovate.
You can watch the full video of the event here, and I would encourage you to, as we talk about everything from privacy and antitrust, to AI and jobs, to China.
Amazon and Google both announced new moves to increase their use of renewable energy on Thursday.
Why it matters: The tech giants use a significant amount of energy for their operations, especially data centers.
Meanwhile: Smith noted on Monday that Microsoft has already raised the internal carbon tax it imposes on its own operations, money it uses to partially fund various environmental initiatives.
"We raised that from $8.44 a metric ton to $15 a metric ton." he said during our Churchill Club conversation. "And I believe it's likely, based on the conversations that we've had, that we will continue to raise the price on ourselves. We think it is helpful and important for us in creating the right economic incentives across the company to reduce carbon use more rapidly."
You can read more on the various tech company efforts from Ben Geman and the Axios energy team.
An effort to reduce violent extremist content online, launched by governments and tech companies in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand shootings, has gained fresh support.
"You're going to see more governments signing onto the Christchurch Call," Smith told me in our chat. "You're going to hear about more involvement and more involvement even from our own government."
Yes, but: That doesn't mean the U.S. will become a full signatory, Smith said, when I pressed him.
"I don't think they'll sign on a week from now, but they're engaging," he said.
The new additions are expected to be announced next week at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Why it matters: The pledge already has the backing of most European countries, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, along with tech companies including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. The U.S. government has not signed on, citing First Amendment concerns.
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