The United States has never been more divided, and it's safe to say that social media's role in our national discourse is a big part of the problem. But renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher doesn't see any easy fix. "I don't know how you fix the architecture of a building that is just purposely dangerous for everybody." Swisher joins Ian Bremmer to talk about how some of the richest companies on Earth, whose business models benefit from discord and division, can be compelled to see their better angels. Their conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.
Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no doubt that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.
Watch as Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, explains what's going on in technology news:
How likely will big tech companies Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google be forced to breakup as recommended by Democrats on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust?
I think it's pretty unlikely. I think there will be hearings. I think there will be damages. I think that there will be scrutiny on future mergers. I don't think there will be breakups.
"Hi, Speed." What can we expect from this week's annual Apple release?
Apple has a new phone most likely coming out next week. The motto is "Hi, Speed." I think it's going to be mostly about 5G. These phones will be 5G compatible. It doesn't mean the 5G infrastructure has been built up in this country or most other countries. But still, when it is, the phones will be fast. Also, I think the LiDAR sensors that were built on the last iPad, which was kind of a small announcement that people didn't really notice, will be on the new iPhone and that will be great for augmented reality.
"Don't be evil", they said. Back in 2000, that was the internal motto of a scrappy little tech startup called Google. Twenty years later, and a trillion dollars higher in market cap, the company, along with fellow tech giants Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, is squarely in the crosshairs of US lawmakers who say their business models have gone to the dark side.
The latest challenge — a 450-page report released Tuesday by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives — says the four biggest US tech giants have abused their market power to undercut rivals and stifle competition, putting their users' economic and political freedoms at risk. The companies themselves say their businesses have created untold numbers of new jobs, markets, and innovations that previously did not exist.
Qualms about big tech firms' market power aren't new. The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission are already conducting antitrust probes of all four companies, but the report lays out the case in detail. It also makes a series of recommendations for lawmakers on how to update competition laws and strengthen oversight of tech firms. Some of those calls go as far as to explore breaking up the companies.
Could the Beltway really take a tougher line on Silicon Valley? Democrats and Republicans (who rarely see eye to eye on anything these days) generally agree that Big Tech needs to be reined in, although they have often disagreed about why and how. Two Republican members of the House subcommittee that released the new report put out their own dissenting documents on the same day. One faulted the main report for failing to address what Republicans believe is an anti-conservative bias on social media. The other, more substantively, agreed with the main report's call to update antitrust laws, but rejected breaking up firms.
The lack of a durable bipartisan consensus means the November election will be critical. If the Democrats take control of the Senate, they'd be in a more commanding position to advance some of the report's proposals. The main players to watch would likely be senators Elizabeth Warren, who has been outspoken in her calls to break up big tech, and Amy Klobuchar, a major digital privacy and antitrust advocate who would likely lead the Senate antitrust subcommittee.
Still, Silicon valley has immense lobbying power to fight tougher regulations, and it's not clear that a centrist like Chuck Schumer, who would likely take the helm of a Democrat-controlled Senate, would relish a big fight on this issue any time soon.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has, like his opponent Donald Trump, called for reform of the so-called "Section 230" protections that shield social media firms from liability for content posted on their sites. But although he's criticized Big Tech's market dominance, he'd have a lot on his plate if he won — tech regulation would probably take a back seat to the pandemic, economy, foreign policy, and climate change.
Is there a US-China angle here? Well it's tech, so of course there is. The US and China are moving into an increasingly zero-sum rivalry over technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence, in which the tech giants are major players. If this turns into a 21st-century "tech Cold War" in which firms on either side of the Pacific are the main combatants, US companies will be facing off against Chinese rivals (like Huawei) that have the firm support of the Chinese government, and face few antitrust constraints of their own.
Under those circumstances, will US lawmakers — who seem to agree across party lines on the need to confront China — think twice about putting fresh constraints on America's heavyweight fighters? Or would they reason that regulating Big Tech better would ease some of the social polarization that afflicts the US, and create an even more powerful and innovative economy in the future?
Watch as Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, explains what's at stake in Big Tech lawsuits in 2020:
What's going on between Uber & Lyft and the state of California?
California would like Uber and Lyft to classify all of their drivers as employees, not as contractors. And Lyft would like to save money and classify them as contractors, not employees. There is a lawsuit, there's been an injunction most likely issue will be settled at the ballot box. I should add that Uber and Lyft have threatened to leave California if they lose.
What is going on between Epic and Apple?
This fight is also pretty interesting. So, Apple charges all developers who sell products in their apps on iPhones a 30% tax. Epic, the maker a Fortnite, a hugely popular game you may have heard of, decided they did not want to pay 30%. They said they wanted to control sales themselves and not pay that giant tax. So, Apple kicked them out. Now there is a lawsuit. There are spicy e-mails going back and forth. There is a lot, a lot at stake in this fight.
What happened at the antitrust hearings this week?
Well, CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook testified in front of the Subcommittee in Antitrust of the House Judiciary Committee for five hours. There's a fair amount of nonsense and conspiracy talk, but mostly it was a pretty good hearing where the House members dug into questions about whether four companies abused their market positions to their advantage? Whether they used predatory pricing to drive competitors out of the market? Whether they used inside information from their services to identify and then copy and kill competitors? And the evidence that was presented, if I were to sum it up quickly, is, yes, they did do that. They did abuse their market power. But what wasn't presented was clear evidence of consumer harm. We know they acted in ways that distorted capitalism, but were people really hurt? That's a big question. I look forward to their report.
Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, helps us make sense of today's stories in technology:
Whoa Twitter! What happened this week?
Well, on Wednesday, a whole bunch of prominent Twitter accounts, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Apple, started tweeting out a Bitcoin scam. The same one. It said, "send money to this address and we'll send you back twice as much." Clearly a fraud. But what was interesting about it is that it wasn't like one account that had been compromised. A whole bunch of accounts have been compromised. Meaning most likely someone got access to a control panel at Twitter. The big mystery is how they got access to it? And why, if they had so much power, all they did was run a stupid Bitcoin scam?
How can we keep ourselves safe? Is two-factor authentication the only option?
Two-factor authentication, you need two things to get into your account, your cell phone and your password, is absolutely essential. With this hack, though, that wouldn't have helped you. The only thing you could possibly have done is have deleted your Twitter account. Which is a reminder, remove all the accounts you don't use, all the accounts you don't want, move all the applications with access to the accounts that you want. Basically, constantly, constantly clean out your barn.
A new iPhone in a pandemic world! Are we still hyped for new iPhone releases?
What do you think of it? There's a new small iPhone SE. It's basically an old phone with new processors. Pretty cheap. I like it. I don't think the world's not too excited about it right now because there's a lot more to care about.
What is telemedicine and how does it work?
The idea is that instead of going to the doctor's office for everything you can do a lot of medicine over the Internet. You can set up a Zoom call with your doctor, he can tell you whether to go in and get a coronavirus test or he can even give you a prescription for some problem. It doesn't work for everything. You can't have surgery by telemedicine, but it's growing fast, it's improving, and insurance companies need to pay for it.
What tech response to COVID-19 has impressed you the most?
There's been so much. I love the battle against disinformation. I love the maker movement that's been making PPE. But I'd say the most important thing, all the scientists and researchers who have been collaborating, sharing data sets, genetic information and working towards treatments and vaccines.