Power

Biden’s victory was just what tech wanted. Now what?

The next four years won't be easy for tech. But they'll be easier than they could've been.

Biden’s victory was just what tech wanted. Now what?

Following a days-long count, Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States.

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Joe Biden's election as the 46th president of the United States gives the tech industry a reason to breathe a brief sigh of relief, following a days-long count of ballots during which Facebook and Twitter raced to contain a swell of misinformation, much of it coming from President Donald Trump himself.

Since he clinched the Democratic nomination, Biden has been the overwhelming favorite in the presidential race among those in the tech sector. The industry has butted heads with the Trump administration at almost every turn of his presidency: over immigration, trade, net neutrality and, more recently, content moderation on social media. This last week offered a prime example of that fraught relationship as the president repeatedly flouted tech platforms' election policies in an attempt to undermine the results.

With Biden's election, some in the industry anticipate a return to some semblance of normalcy. "I think the thing that everyone would love […] is a boring presidency that's relatively calm. Not the anxiety and chaos that we have with Trump every single day," investor Bradley Tusk recently told Protocol. "Volatility is a problem."

But tech leaders shouldn't expect everything to go back to the way it was during the Obama years, when the president touted Silicon Valley as a bright spot during a dark time for the nation's economy. Too much has changed since then. President Trump's election in 2016 — and all of the controversy surrounding it — irrevocably altered the public perception of tech giants and invited well-deserved scrutiny from lawmakers and the public. That scrutiny won't evaporate under a Biden administration.

Throughout his campaign, the president-elect has neither hugged the industry close like Obama did nor punched it in the nose like Trump has. Instead, he's held the industry at arm's length, making it hard to predict exactly what comes next. That's especially true given that Biden may well lead a divided Congress. Democrats will control the House, but control of the Senate is still up for grabs.

Of course, some things are abundantly clear, like the fact that Biden seems poised to overturn many of the executive orders on immigration President Trump signed, including restrictions to high-skilled immigration. Over the course of four years, the Trump administration added new hurdles to the H-1B visa application and renewal process, leading to massive backlogs that have created uncertainty for foreign tech workers, their families and the companies that employ them. Biden has promised to increase the number of visas for "permanent, work-based immigration" and eliminate limits on employment-based green cards by country.

Much of that work, of course, would have to happen with Congress' help. But it would be within Biden's power to scrap the restrictions the Trump administration has put in place, which would likely obviate a number of lawsuits that trade groups like TechNet are currently fighting.

"I would be surprised if on day one or two they didn't just strike all those executive orders. That would alleviate a lot of the problems," said Linda Moore, CEO of TechNet. Moore said she's encouraged by the support that TechNet has gotten in this fight from right-leaning groups like The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Their voices will be critical, she said, in pushing Republicans in Congress to support broader immigration reform, no matter who controls the Senate. "We feel like we've gotten good indications from Republicans and Democrats and the Biden team that they want to do that," Moore said. "But that's going to take political capital."

Another area of clarity: net neutrality and broadband access. President-elect Biden has indicated that he fully supports Obama-era rules that allowed the Federal Communications Commission to punish companies that try to block, throttle or force consumers to pay for broadband service. Re-instituting those rules would fall to Biden's eventual FCC chair, and several of the likely contenders for that role under a Biden administration, including Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, are champions of net neutrality.

Biden has also laid out a plan to invest $20 billion in broadband infrastructure, but that would take Congressional support. This sort of investment would be a welcome development in the tech sector, said Jason Oxman, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council. But it's also one of the few tech policy issues that is central to a pandemic recovery plan, which is undoubtedly Biden's top priority heading into office and could lend itself to more bipartisan support. "The Biden campaign has talked a lot about how crucial broadband infrastructure is to remote working, remote learning, distance medicine and all kinds of technologies that are important during a pandemic," Oxman said. "That's [an] area we're very focused on and feel the Biden administration will have an emphasis on."

The dueling health and economic crises facing the country, however, mean that many of the other pet tech issues that President Trump obsessed over may fall far down the list of priorities under a Biden administration, or at least be handled with a far lighter touch.

That begins with Section 230 reform. While Biden did call for repealing Section 230 in January, he's scarcely discussed the issue since. Arguably the only reason President Trump has continued to prioritize that law in the midst of a pandemic is because, as a prolific social media user who has repeatedly run afoul of tech platforms' rules, it affects him so personally. Those priorities will likely shift once the president of the United States isn't also one of Twitter's biggest troublemakers.

"If Biden is president, is that high on the list of things that need to be addressed?" Oxman asked. "How many Americans are going to the ballot box pulling a lever because of the candidate's position on Section 230? Probably not a lot."

That doesn't mean the topic of Section 230 reform would disappear, as Republicans in Congress are likely to keep pressing tech giants on content moderation. But Moore and others say it's unclear exactly how aggressively Biden would pursue it. "I think there's more to be seen and more to be fleshed out," Moore said.

It could be a similar situation for Chinese tech companies like TikTok, which President Trump has attempted to strong-arm into a sale in recent months, further souring relationships with China. Biden will enter office with an agenda that requires China's cooperation on everything from climate action to containing the COVID-19 pandemic, so he'll need to tread a fine line between diplomacy and confronting the range of ways that Chinese technology could pose a threat to Americans. Experts say it's unlikely he'd go about addressing that threat in quite the same way as Trump did.

"I don't know that they'll try to use TikTok or another flashy shiny object as a wedge issue to pick a fight with China," said Garrett Johnson, co-founder of Lincoln Network, a right-leaning group focused on the intersection of tech and government. "Can you really pick a fight on TikTok and still get some common ground and move forward on a new version of the Paris Climate Accord? I don't know."

Perhaps the biggest unknown for the tech industry heading into a Biden administration is his approach to antitrust issues. More specifically, will the president-elect make good on the progressive wing of the party's calls to break up big tech companies? During the primaries, that was a core campaign message for both Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have rallied their fervent followers behind Biden. "The progressive wing of the party held their fire and did everything they could to help get him elected," said Jesse Lehrich, a former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer and co-founder of the advocacy group Accountable Tech. "There will be momentum on this stuff, and he'll be responsive to it."

It's also one of the few policy areas around which there is actually bipartisan support. "There might not be a big difference between a Trump or Biden antitrust division," said Robert McDowell, a former Republican FCC commissioner, who is now a partner at Cooley.

If antitrust investigations and legal battles against Big Tech continue, the next four years may not prove as challenging for the tech sector as the last four have been, but they won't be easy, either. Given the outpouring of financial support for Biden from tech employees and the innumerable crises they faced under President Trump, it seems that was a chance they were willing to take.

Additional reporting by Emily Birnbaum

Entertainment

Fortnite’s Dragon Ball Z event is too good to skip

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our recommendations for your weekend.

Image: Hulu; Epic Games; New York Magazine

Summer’s almost over, but there’s still time to check out some content. This week we’re excited to play Fortnite’s Dragon Ball Z event; “Prey” on Hulu includes some award-winning performances; and we can’t wait to spend the weekend with the comically sinister Cult of the Lamb.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

As management teams at financial institutions look for best practices to make part of their regular toolkit, they are reaching most for the ones that increase the speed and reduce the risk of large-scale change.

That forward-thinking approach can lead financial institutions to leverage AI technology, which can help give decision-makers trusted tools to solve integral challenges vital to the health of the business. One of the leading providers of AI and machine-learning software, DataRobot continues to attract clients in financial services who want to de-risk their AI investments and rapidly scale AI to almost every part of their operations, resulting in improved productivity and higher customer satisfaction.

Keep Reading Show less
David Silverberg
David Silverberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, editor and writing coach. He writes for The Washington Post, BBC News, Business Insider, The Toronto Star, New Scientist, Fodor's, and several alumni magazines. He also writes for brands such as 23andme, Shopify and Bold Commerce. He has served as editor of B2B News Network, Canada's only B2B news magazine, and Digital Journal, a leading pioneer in citizen journalism. Find more about him at www.davidsilverberg.ca
Climate

How Indiana's $100 million EV plan sidelines Black communities

Advocates are asking the federal government to block the plan so Indiana will come back to the bargaining table.

Indiana's EV plan might not benefit all its citizens.

Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the state of Indiana is set to receive $100 million to build out a network of electric vehicle charging stations by 2025. But local officials and leaders of the NAACP in the state are calling on the Biden administration to reject the state’s plan, arguing that communities of color have been left out of the planning process, leading to a proposal that could entrench the racist transportation policies that both President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have vowed to address with these new federal funds.

"The state of Indiana has created a plan that is not equitable for communities of color, Black and brown,” said Henry Davis Jr., a city council member in South Bend, where Buttigieg was mayor. “We want to be included in that plan. It is kind of hard to be included on a plan when you are not even at the table.”

Keep Reading Show less
Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu

Kwasi (kway-see) is a fellow at Protocol with an interest in tech policy and climate. Previously, he covered global religion news at the Associated Press in New York. Before that, he was a freelance journalist based out of Accra, Ghana, covering social justice, health, and environment stories. His reporting has been published in The New York Times, Quartz, CNN, The Guardian, and Public Radio International. He can be reached at kasiedu@protocol.com.

Policy

Why tech shrugged off the new 15% corporate minimum tax

The corporate minimum tax law passed, but the battle of some key provisions is just getting started.

The long-awaited corporate tax reform should in theory be a big deal, but markets hardly flinched after it became clear the Inflation Reduction Act would pass.

Photo illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol; Unsplash

When President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law on Wednesday, he put in place a 15% minimum tax rate for all large U.S. corporations.

The long-awaited corporate tax reform should in theory be a big deal, but markets hardly flinched after it became clear the legislation would pass. And tech companies — which pulled out all the stops to hinder Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s antitrust bill — hardly resisted the measure, even if their interest groups dutifully issued statements of opposition. Tim Cook didn’t swing by D.C., there were no mass fly-ins and no casting calls went out for the part of Joe America in stilted political attack ads.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

Climate

How GM plans to make its ambitious EV goals reality

The automaker's chief sustainability officer is optimistic that GM is well-positioned to rapidly scale up the EV side of its business.

"I think everything that’s been put in place to support the transition will be a real positive for the industry and for the country."

Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Automakers are on the cusp of an entirely new era.

The transition to electric vehicles is quickly becoming more than just theoretical: More models are coming onto the scene every day. This week, the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, enshrining a new structure for EV tax credits and offering a boost to domestic critical mineral mining. The transition isn’t coming a moment too soon, given that the transportation sector makes up the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Latest Stories
Bulletins