It is an attitude shared by many on the left of the party, who argue that social media companies have allowed increased levels of partisan vitriol for years, culminating in the violence on Jan. 6. And this in addition to other criticisms that have already been made against Silicon Valley, from antitrust violations to the misuse of user data. It’s a very different environment than the Obama administration, when Silicon Valley executives were hailed as innovative leaders and seen as key partners of the government.
Tech industry detractors are seizing the moment and increasing the pressure on Biden to think twice before hiring tech industry veterans for the many unstaffed administrative roles surrounding technology. While they had unsuccessfully objected to some of Biden’s early decisions, they are rallying more forces to oppose what they say are deal breakers.
More than 40 Liberal Interest Groups this week sent an angry letter to Biden He was reportedly considering Renata Hesse, a former Obama-era civil servant who worked in private practice at Google and Amazon direct antitrust efforts in the Justice Department.
“We urge you to avoid appointing individuals who have acted as lawyers, lobbyists or consultants for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to important antitrust enforcement positions,” the letter said, to which Demand Progress has signed Open Markets Institute and Public are owned by citizens.
This moment, the groups say, is too critical to take the risk of attracting people who might have sympathy for former tech employers: Washington, DC, is just beginning to grapple with a coherent way of dealing with the tech industry, antitrust law from content moderation to user privacy is therefore not the time to hire those whose loyalty or thinking is mixed up.
Biden has beaten so far a middle ground that appoints both industry veterans and technology critics. On the list are former Facebook attorney Jessica Hertz as White House secretary, former Facebook board member Jeff Zients as its Covid-19 coordinator, Facebook’s one-time director of public policy, Louisa Terrell, as head of the legislative bureau White House affairs and the nomination more often Facebook Critic Vanita Gupta – until now leader of the leadership conference for civil and human rights – ranks third in the Justice Department.
The Biden team says everyone he hires or appoints shares the president’s tough technical approach to the industry. The Biden Transition said in a statement that those Biden selected for such positions “will have values that are in line with what he advocated during the campaign, namely” holding tech companies accountable “.
This approach reflects the fact that Biden won the White House without the support of the Democratic liberal wing.
But there are signs that Biden may take worries on the left seriously. For example, this week there was talk in Washington that the Biden campaign may have taken place Hesse’s name floated in part as an experimental balloon that would make liberal proponents of an election with less technical ties accessible.
Hal Singer, Democrat and antitrust economist at EconOne, argued that ignoring the demands of interest groups would undermine Biden’s message of business populism and damage his relationship with progressives, whose support he will likely need to get his agenda off the ground.
“Hiring someone to represent the gatekeepers would be a slap in the face,” said Singer, whose customers included telecommunications companies that often conflicted with technology companies. “And he’s going to have a lot of big political battles ahead of him, and he’s going to want them in his corner. Why would you turn your most natural friends off in those battles?”
Now President Biden is faced with filling a number of vacancies that are central to the technical debates in Washington, including the Chief of Justice’s Antitrust Division, the Chairman of the FTC, and the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Additionally, there are dozens of other administrative roles likely to be related to technology, from the White House National Economic Council to the State Department, which has been deeply involved in the global debate over rules for the Internet.
There is evidence that even potential Republican allies in the fight against tech companies may be alienated by tech selections.
Rep. Ken Buck (R.-Colo.), A prominent conservative voice on antitrust law, tweeted an article in the liberal American prospectus on Tuesday about concerns about Hesse and others.
“Joe Biden shouldn’t appoint anyone who has worked for Google and Amazon as the antitrust director.” Buck tweeted. “This is very worrying for those of us who want to hold big tech accountable.”
Jeff Hauser, director of the Progressive Revolving Doors Project, said, “If you don’t listen to the left, the right will devour you.” His group was an important voice in pushing Biden to keep technology out of his administration.
However, some argue that shying away from deadlines in the tech industry could make it difficult for Biden to get the billing he wants from the industry.
“The regulatory billing is here,” said Niki Christoff, a former John McCain campaign employee who this time supported Biden and held leadership positions at Google, Uber and Salesforce. However, if you’ve worked in this target industry, it means you understand where the flex points are and where you can have tailored, effective and efficient monitoring.
And some natural allies of the government have said that tech industry experience could be a boon for Biden in the particularly tough battle.
Phil Weiser, the Colorado attorney general who leads a multi-state antitrust investigation by Google, said this week that people who worked in Silicon Valley and became disaffected could get a good federal competition through.
“I would encourage people out there not to paint with a brush that is too wide,” said Weiser. Lecture at a virtual event on technology policy in the Biden administration on Tuesday.
“Those who work in the technical field are sometimes the most critical of the technical field,” said Jen Pahlka, US deputy CTO in the Obama administration, at the same event. “They can sometimes be uniquely useful in making arguments about where we need to go to make technology fairer and more equitable.”
Leah Nylen and Cristiano Lima contributed to the coverage.