Oct 6, 2017

Policy threats intensify for tech giants

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Alphabet CEO Larry Page and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg listen as President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with technology industry leaders December 2016. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

While tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple have already stepped up their lobbying efforts, some say the companies will have to pay even more attention to policy in the coming years as regulators across the globe increase scrutiny.

Why it matters: Tech companies are more reliant than other industries on worldwide talent and international customers, so rising nationalist and protectionist views around the world could dramatically shrink markets for them. In an environment where data is the new oil and Jeff Bezos is seen (by some) as the next John D. Rockefeller, the pressure in Washington (and Brussels and Beijing) will keep ratcheting up, said Bruce Mehlman, a prominent tech lobbyist.

Even the states are stepping in: "So far states have been more aggressive than than the federal government in regulating the internet," he said.

A few issues tech companies — and internet platforms in particular — are facing:

  • Trade: Flare ups in Asia, Europe and Latin America over limiting how data flows across borders can have big implications for tech's data-based business. "Artificial intelligence depends on massive data sets from around the world to be effective," Mehlman said. "If every country shuts its digital borders, it's harder to aggregate that data."
  • Market Power: Questions around how antitrust rules should apply to these tech companies, transparency of how their algorithms work, and the industry's impact on jobs everywhere will drive this pressure, being led primarily by aggressive action in the EU and Asia.
  • Consumer Protection: How companies protect consumer information and transparency around political ads are is scrutinized after massive breaches at Yahoo, and strict new EU rules (GDPR) coming into play next year, and the congressional probe into Russia's election meddling. And dozens of data breach laws are being passed at the state level.
  • Security: Tension will inevitably flare with the government over encrypted data and general surveillance issues with the use of drones.
  • Liability: Tech companies are in a precarious spot when it comes to policing content on their sites. Once claiming to be neutral brokers of content, the platforms are in the middle of intense debates their role in facilitating hate speech, sex-trafficking ads and fake news.

Go deeper: Here's Mehlman's latest analysis of the politics and policy landscape.

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Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 857,957 — Total deaths: 42,139 — Total recoveries: 178,091.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 188,547 — Total deaths: 3,899 — Total recoveries: 7,068.
  3. Business updates: Should you pay your rent or mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic? Find out if you are protected under the CARES Act.
  4. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 while in confinement.
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus pandemic is the "greatest test" the world has faced together since the formation of the United Nations just after the Second World War ended in 1945, UN chief António Guterres said Tuesday.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 856,000 and the death toll exceeded 42,000 Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy reported more than 12,000 deaths.

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President Trump said at a press briefing on Tuesday that the next two weeks in the U.S. will be "very painful" and that he wants "every American to be prepared for the days that lie ahead," before giving way to Deborah Birx to explain the models informing the White House's new guidance on the coronavirus.

Why it matters: It's a somber new tone from the president that comes after his medical advisers showed him data projecting that the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place.

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