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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former president Barack Obama said last week at a sports analytics conference at MIT that companies like Google and Facebook, as well as Twitter and other platforms, have to have a conversation about their business model and "recognize that they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise."

Why it matters: While the former president didn't explicitly call for more regulation of these platforms the way other public figures have, he did for the first time acknowledge that they are shaping our culture in powerful ways.

"[W]e have to have serious conversation about what are the business models, the algorithms, (and) the mechanics whereby we can create more of a common conversation and that cannot just be a commercially driven conversation."

Obama's comments come amid a growing backlash agains the dominance of big tech and the way big platforms shape public conversation and opinion. His comments are particularly poignant given the close relationship his campaign and administration had with the tech community, which typically embraces progressive social ideals.

  • "If we don't have at least a common baseline of facts our democracy over time gets constrained and thats what's happened," Obama said.

Obama's position contrasts that of President Trump, who told Axios in an interview last year that he would not force the government to intervene in the dominance of Facebook because the platform's reach benefits his communication goals. He did however, allude to welcoming market pressure to take on Facebook.

While Obama admitted he's a huge admirer of what Facebook, Google and some of the other big platforms have accomplished, he says basic rules are needed to ensure the marketplace works fairly.

  • "I always try to remind people that capitalism works and the marketplace works because they are some basic rules when in place create even playing fields that ensure people aren't defrauded."
  • "As a consequence you have a international marketplace of trust and new ideas can grow not just be crushed by guardrails by anticompetitive behavior."

What's next: Obama suggests that any action that should be taken in response to the dominance of these platforms is complicated. He says other countries, like China, that manage open access with censorship are not upholding the values of a society that he would want to live in.

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

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