Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) is his running mate. After nearly four years as a senator from California and six years as that state’s attorney general, Harris has plenty of experience with Silicon Valley, and that history could inform the tech policies of a Biden (or even future Harris) administration. If the past is any indication, Harris’ ascension may be a win for Big Tech.
During her 2020 presidential campaign, Harris criticized tech companies like Facebook for abusing user data, although she didn’t go as far as candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) in calling for the breakup of big tech.
Sen. @KamalaHarris: "Facebook has experienced massive growth and has prioritized its growth over the best interests of its consumers."
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 12, 2019
Speaking to CNN in May 2019, Harris said that “Facebook has experienced massive growth and has prioritized its growth over the best interests of its consumers, especially on the issue of privacy,” adding that “there needs to be serious regulation … There needs to be more oversight.”
Harris went on to describe Facebook as “essentially a utility,” pointing out that very few people in modern society can operate in their communities or careers without using Facebook at some point.
When asked specifically if these companies should be broken up, Harris said, “I think we have to seriously take a look at that.”
In 2019, when the New York Times asked then-candidate Harris if big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google should be broken up, Harris said, “I believe that the tech companies have got to be regulated in a way that we can ensure, and the American consumer can be certain, that their privacy is not being compromised.”
When the interviewer pressed her to clarify whether that would mean reducing the sizes of companies, Harris dodged, reiterating that her “first priority is going to be that we ensure that privacy is something that is intact, and that consumers have the power to make decisions about what happens with their personal information and that it is not being made for them.”
Despite her criticisms of Facebook, Harris did not try to wrangle Big Tech in antitrust matters. As Chapman University’s Joel Kotkin writes: “As California’s attorney general, she did little to prevent the agglomeration of economic power that has increasingly turned California into a semi-feudal state dominated by a handful of large tech firms.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court, who told MarketWatch that Harris “oversaw the growth of the biggest sector in America that dominates our privacy and our choices, and didn’t file a single case to take on that power.”
Harris has also taken an assertive stance against “revenge porn” sites (where people post nude photos or videos of individuals without their consent). Harris launched an investigation of the revenge porn site ugotposted.com, which led to the site’s operator, Kevin Bollaert, being sentenced to 18 years in prison. Harris’ office touted the case as “the first criminal prosecution of a cyber-exploitation website operator in the country.”
In 2016, when the FBI was calling for Apple to give it access to a locked phone used by the San Bernadino shooter, Harris declined to take a side.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2018, Harris pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the company’s control of consumer data and whether Facebook was doing enough to protect that data.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg praised Harris’ selection, calling it “a huge moment for Black women and girls all over the world – and for all of us.”
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, Harris’ donors include executives from Facebook, Amazon, Apple,. Google, Oracle, and others. In the past, Harris has also received support from executives like Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook) Marc Benioff (Salesforce), and Marissa Mayer (Yahoo).
In 2018, Harris delivered the keynote address at the State of the Valley conference in San Jose, California.
Overall, Harris is a popular figure among the Silicon Valley elite, and her record suggests that while she will likely push for better consumer privacy protections, she might not be a Big Tech trust buster.
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