Tuesday's midterm elections could mean big changes in Washington, but what will they mean for Big Tech?
As the tech industry grapples with questions around data privacy, political meddling and more, there could be broader implications for companies than meets the eye.
According to Robert McDowell, former FCC commissioner and current partner at Cooley LLP, issues affecting the tech industry include everything from trade policy and interest rates to broadband infrastructure spending. But with the possibility that one chamber of Congress may switch parties, prospective policy changes with momentum on both sides of the aisle might be especially worth keeping an eye on.
In September, lawmakers grilled executives from Apple (AAPL) , Amazon (AMZN) , Alphabet (GOOGL) and others on their privacy practices and what an updated federal privacy law might look like. California's recently passed privacy law, as well as the European Union's GDPR, have helped to raise the prospect of a new national law closer to the surface. And while such a law is likely a long way off, Powell added, it's one that Republicans and Democrats may be able to build consensus on.
"Something like that can be sold as pro-consumer or consumer protection might be more of a 2020 item," he said. "There are a lot of ideas out there, and industry is very concerned about the California law -- so maybe there is an incentive to agree on some uniform national revision to privacy laws."
"My sense is that new regulations on data in the U.S. are inevitable -- it's a question of when, not if," added Andrew Burt, chief privacy officer at Immuta, which builds data management software. "What's most up in the air is how they'll be implemented, either as a single national standard or as rules that vary by industry, and by regulator."
Congress may also be motivated to give the sheer scale of companies like Facebook and Alphabet a closer look, as complaints about election interference by Democrats and accusations of anti-conservative bias by Republicans persist in the political discourse.
"What should be concerning to the tech industry is the bipartisan chatter on Big Tech and some of the largest platforms -- there could be a meeting of the minds," McDowell added. "If you look at the size, power and wealth of these companies against the backdrop of history, never before have you had such powerful companies affecting the daily lives of consumers go so unregulated."
(Editor's Pick. This article originally ran on Nov. 3.)
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