Kamala Harris walks a fine line with tech industry

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (left) and Fb COO Sheryl Sandberg (proper) speak throughout an occasion at Fb’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, in 2015.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Photographs

This story is part of Elections 2020, PJDM’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

Towards the top of an April 2018 listening to within the nation’s capital, Sen. Kamala Harris leaned into her microphone and supplied Fb CEO Mark Zuckerberg a frank and unflattering evaluation of his firm.

“I’ve to let you know, I am involved about how a lot Fb values belief and transparency,” the California Democrat told Zuckerberg. The CEO was being grilled by lawmakers over a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, an information consultancy that scraped person info from the social community to assist Donald’s Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

Then Harris, who’s now the Democratic nominee for vice chairman, zeroed in on a very troubling level: Fb’s failure to inform customers that Cambridge Analytica had misappropriated their data. “Have been you a part of a dialogue that resulted in a choice to not inform your customers?” the senator requested Zuckerberg. 

Wanting uncomfortable, the CEO responded, “I do not bear in mind a dialog like that.” 

Congressional hearings are all the time political theater, however the encounter gave a glimpse of the adversarial stance Harris might take with Huge Tech, regardless of her being a fan favourite within the trade for years. Throughout her campaigns for California lawyer common, US senator for California and president, Harris received donations from major tech leaders, together with Fb COO Sheryl Sandberg, former Apple design guru Jony Ive and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. She’s made speeches at Google and Fb, and her brother-in-law, Tony West, is Uber’s high lawyer. However, as Silicon Valley faces intense antitrust scrutiny in Washington, her historical past with the trade would not essentially imply she’ll let these firms off the hook, some specialists say.

“She’s a former prosecutor,” stated David Balto, beforehand a lawyer within the Justice Division’s antitrust division and whose purchasers now embody tech firms. “She has a savvy understanding of the sort of steadiness that must be drawn in tech.”

On Wednesday, Harris, who’s each the primary Black girl and first Asian American girl on a major party ticket, will face Vice President Mike Pence on a debate stage in Salt Lake Metropolis. Lower than a month earlier than the election, the controversy probably will not devolve right into a melee like the clash between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden final week. However it would present People a possibility to see Harris articulate the insurance policies of a Biden administration, which can be tasked with taming the Huge Tech firms headquartered close to Harris’ childhood dwelling.

Not like different senators, who’ve been referred to as out of contact with the world of know-how, Silicon Valley is her dwelling turf. Harris was born and raised within the San Francisco Bay Space and spent greater than twenty years working there, and she or he’s additionally near a number of tech bigwigs.

Whereas Harris has supported legal guidelines on digital privacy, online harassment and app-based gig worker protections, it is probably she will not take a hardline stance on Silicon Valley if elected vice chairman, analysts say. Slightly, she’ll push to strike a steadiness between corralling Huge Tech firms and concurrently sustaining these relationships.

“I imagine that the tech firms have gotten to be regulated,” Harris stated in an interview with The New York Times final yr, although she stopped wanting saying the foremost firms needs to be damaged up. “My first precedence goes to be that we be sure that privateness is one thing that’s intact and that customers have the ability to make selections about what occurs with their private info.”

The Biden-Harris marketing campaign, Fb and Amazon did not reply to requests for remark. Apple, Google and Uber declined to remark.

Silicon Valley ties

Harris started forging relationships with the tech industry years in the past, lengthy earlier than Silicon Valley executives have been making common appearances earlier than Congress. Whereas she was operating for California state lawyer common in 2010, she made a pit stop at Google to talk to the corporate’s workers. 

She spoke of her “delight of being in California.” Harris was in marketing campaign mode, and took a comfortable tone with the tech large in her “yard.” 

“It is a quick drive to come back right here,” she instructed the group. “We’re household.”

5 years later, Harris stopped by Fb’s headquarters shortly after she introduced her bid for the US Senate. Alongside Sandberg, Harris spoke about online harassment and cyberbullying to a gaggle of youngsters.

The vice presidential candidate’s ties to Silicon Valley insiders do not finish there. She’s pleasant with Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire philanthropist and widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and attended the marriage of Sean Parker, Napster co-founder and Fb’s first president. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and enterprise capitalist John Doerr raised money for her presidential bid. And a handful of Harris’ former aides now work at tech firms, together with Google, Amazon and Airbnb.

“Tech firms appear to love Harris’ coverage instincts, that are much less regulatory than socialist Democrats and fewer tech-hostile than populist Republicans,” stated Dean Lacy, authorities professor at Dartmouth School. “Marketing campaign contributions are about entry. Contributors need entry to a politician who will win and take their telephone name.”

Harris’ connections have garnered a great deal of marketing campaign cash from the trade. Among the many high 20 donors to her presidential marketing campaign have been workers from Google’s father or mother firm, Alphabet, together with workers from Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, in response to OpenSecrets. In all, Harris raised $40 million earlier than dropping out of the race in December.

When Biden announced Harris as his running mate in August, marketing campaign donations poured in. Practically $11 million was raised on donation-processing platform ActBlue within the 4 hours after Biden’s announcement — making it the largest fundraising day within the historical past of his marketing campaign at the moment, in response to The New York Times. It is unclear what share of the donations got here from Silicon Valley.

Since then, the Biden-Harris ticket has raked in tech cash. Final month, workers from Amazon, Google, Fb and Apple donated greater than $1.5 million to the marketing campaign, according to a CNN analysis printed final week. That is greater than triple the $450,000 Biden raised from these firms’ workers in July. By comparability, Trump’s marketing campaign has raised a complete of simply $106,000 from that very same group since January.

In the meantime, Silicon Valley faces antitrust threats from lawmakers and regulators on a number of fronts. Apple, Amazon, Google and Fb are all below investigation by the Home Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee. The leaders of these firms attended a listening to earlier than the subcommittee in July. All 4 firms are additionally being probed by the Division of Justice or Federal Commerce Fee. The DOJ is predicted to file a landmark antitrust lawsuit in opposition to Google as early as this week.

Antitrust advocates, although, really feel optimistic about reining within the tech trade, no matter who’s within the White Home.

“Regardless of who wins in November, this battle in opposition to Google, Fb and Amazon, this anti-monopoly motion, has reached a stage of maturity,” stated Barry Lynn, director of the Open Markets Institute, a vocal proponent on antitrust enforcement within the tech world. “There’s nearly nothing the oldsters in Washington might do to cease it.”

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Dara Kerr