Throughout his campaign to win the White House, President-elect Joe Biden has been relatively quiet about the technology industry.
In a revealing January 2020 interview with the New York Times editorial board, Biden said that he wanted to revoke Section 230; suggested that he disagreed with how friendly the Obama administration became with Silicon Valley; and referred to tech executives as “little creeps” who displayed an “overwhelming arrogance.” But internet companies have also been among his campaign’s top 10 donors, technology industry insiders joined his campaign, and incoming vice president Kamala Harris has long-standing ties to Silicon Valley as a former district attorney in San Francisco.
Aside from broadband access, climate policy, and the coronavirus response, however, technology may not be high on Biden’s list of priorities, says Gigi Sohn, who served as counselor to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler during the Obama administration.
She says he’s going to inherit other major issues that will—and should—take up his administration’s early focus. “We could talk about the evils of the internet, but you still need it,” she says. “I think making sure that every American has access to affordable broadband is more important [than regulating the Internet], because they need that to live right now … to work … to learn … and to see a doctor.”
On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after the first network called the presidential election for Joe Biden, the president-elect had published a transition website detailing his administration’s agenda. It had four priority areas: covid-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. Technology was mentioned briefly, but with a focus on expanding broadband internet, rather than regulation of Big Tech companies.
So what will tech regulation look like under a Biden presidency? It’s not clear, but there are several areas worth paying attention to.
The Google lawsuit will continue
In late October, the Department of Justice filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Google. While experts are divided on the strength of the lawsuit itself, they agree that it will continue under a Biden presidency. If anything, some argue that it will likely be strengthened, especially with several states (including New York) expected to file their own lawsuits, which may be combined with the DOJ’s effort.
Additionally, the Biden administration has “the ability to amend that complaint,” says Charlotte Slaiman, the director of competition policy at the advocacy organization Public Knowledge. “There are actually more competition concerns around Google that could be included in a broader complaint,” she says, including potential anticompetitive practices in display advertising.
Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan, president and CEO of the Internet Society, says he is “hopeful” that a Biden presidency will mean “fewer attempts to interfere in the direct operation of the internet.” This does not mean a repudiation of antitrust regulation, he adds: “There are many Democrats who would like those companies to be broken up too, so we might not see a big change in policy.”
Refocusing the debate on Section 230
Biden has argued for revoking Section 230, the section of the Communications Decency Act that shields internet companies from liability for the content that they host.