How Will Tech Policy Change In The Biden White House? Here's What You Need To Know
One thing Joe Biden and Donald Trump share: They have no love for Silicon Valley. The Biden administration is expected to be tougher on the tech industry than President Barack Obama was.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The tech industry has enjoyed decades free of major regulation, but there's a growing techlash (ph) over how much power these big companies have and also their ability to amplify disinformation. So will President-elect Biden take on the tech industry? Before we dig into that question, we do just want to note that Facebook, TikTok are both financial supporters of NPR.
Let's turn to NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn. Bobby, good morning.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So big picture - what should Silicon Valley expect from a Biden White House?
ALLYN: Yeah. So in short, big tech will be in Biden's crosshairs. Look; like you mentioned, for years, tech companies have avoided government regulation, and that's let Big Tech prosper and become integral in our daily lives. I mean, just look at the pandemic. We really know how much we need and use tech every single day, and that's made the tech companies larger and richer. There have been many loud calls in Washington to take on the tech sector. But in the Trump administration, there have been, you know, very few new regulations.
I talked to Darrell West at the Brookings Institution, and he says that could start to change under Biden.
DARRELL WEST: The era of permissionless innovation is over. There's going to be more public engagement, public oversight and public regulation of the technology sector.
GREENE: So are we talking about, like, major legislation, other big changes in how these social platforms are going to be operating?
ALLYN: Yeah, perhaps. So in Silicon Valley, where I'm located, all eyes are on the future of this law known as Section 230. And it's this decades-old law that shields online companies from lawsuits. And it, you know, basically lets them decide what's allowed and what's not allowed to be on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And conservatives have called this censorship. Democrats don't. But even Democrats agree that the law gives Big Tech a free pass. Biden has said that Section 230 should be revoked immediately. And if that sounds familiar, David, it's because Trump has basically said the same exact thing.
In reality, though, this law is the foundation of the modern Internet. It really enables free expression online, so do not expect it to be totally scrapped. That's according to Stanford law professor Mark Lemley.
MARK LEMLEY: What the platforms really want to avoid is losing the legal liability shield. They would be happy to sort of have some oversight and regulation if it meant that they still kept their immunity.
ALLYN: And I'll note here - a Biden campaign spokesman recently tweeted that Facebook is, quote, "shredding the fabric of our democracy" over the platform not doing enough to take on misinformation. So Biden's people sound like they're ready to play hardball with tech, though executives from Amazon, Uber and Airbnb are part of Biden's transition team. So we'll see what effect they have.
GREENE: Are we going to see hardball, as well, when it comes to TikTok? I mean, you have President Trump who has spent months trying to ban the, you know, massively popular video app. Are we going to see a different course from Biden?
ALLYN: Yeah. You know, this summer, Biden made his campaign staff delete Chinese-owned TikTok from their phones. And Biden has called the app, quote, "a matter of genuine concern." That said, picking up Trump's push to, you know, put the company out of business is not likely going to be Biden's path. Biden advisers, like the Trump administration, you know, raise alarms about intrusions into Americans' data and the possibility of Chinese espionage, though, you know, an all-out war with TikTok, like the one Trump has launched - don't expect that from the Biden White House. You know, most folks I talked to said, you know, Biden's likely to be more strategic, less antagonistic.
And David, actually, today was supposed to be a big day for TikTok. It was the deadline for them to sell their U.S. assets to an American company, but they say they're not ready to do that. I asked the Department of Justice - hey, are you going to enforce the president's order? And nine hours after I asked, they declined to comment. So I guess Trump has his mind focused on other things right now.
GREENE: The story goes on. NPR's Bobby Allyn.
ALLYN: Hey, thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.