Politics

Regulation is coming in 2021. Here’s how Big Tech is preparing for it.

Companies know that the heat is only going to increase this year.

Regulation is coming in 2021. Here’s how Big Tech is preparing for it.

2021 promises to be a turbulent year for Big Tech.

Photo: Ting Shen/Getty Images

The open internet. Section 230. China. Internet access. 5G. Antitrust. When we asked the policy shops at some of the biggest and most powerful tech companies to identify their 2021 policy priorities, these were the words they had in common.

Each of these issues centers around a common theme. "Despite how tech companies might feel, they've been enjoying a very high innovation phase. They're about to experience a strong regulation phase," said Erika Fisher, Atlassian's general counsel and chief administrative officer. "The question is not if, but how that regulation will be shaped."

Every company is putting their own spin on how they're preparing for that regulation. They know that the regulation heat is only going to increase in 2021, and they are all focused on how to adapt so it does the least harm to their own business models.

Open internet

"The open internet" is by far the most popular way companies frame their focus. For Twitter, protecting the open internet means challenging regulatory frameworks that the company's policy team said harm competition and entrench the power of the biggest companies, according to a Twitter spokesperson. The policy team cited GDPR as an example of a legislative framework that unintentionally hurts the open internet; they argued that while the law increased protections for user privacy, it decreased competition by strengthening large companies.

In the U.S. specifically, Twitter has drilled in on protecting Section 230 as an essential part of that goal. At a Section 230 congressional hearing earlier this year, CEO Jack Dorsey said that Section 230 rollback could collapse the internet as we know it, though he's open to some reforms. Twitter is eager for creative "alternative regulatory paths" that protect competition and don't force companies to frame their decisions around removing or protecting content, according to their spokesperson.

Facebook also framed its policy interests in terms of protecting the internet from increasing barriers. "Governments throughout the world are looking to build digital barriers and impose greater state control on the internet. This drive toward digital protectionism could have a devastating effect on economic recovery across the world," wrote Nick Clegg, Facebook's policy chief, in an email to Protocol.

Global standards

In 2021, Facebook will also be lobbying for multilateral standards around digital taxation, privacy and data portability, among others, according to Clegg.

By multilateral, they mean multicountry and multi-stakeholder, rather than, for example, the digital services tax much-debated in France this year or data portability rules imposed by China on African countries receiving monetary support. Specifically, Clegg plans to urge the U.S., Europe and India to work together to create standards based on shared values.

And Google is also explicitly interested in the same type of international government cooperation. The company refused to identify and break down specific priorities, but their statement still reflected this theme. "As this pandemic has shown, we can't solve big issues alone. This is why we will urge governments to restore multilateralism," said Karen Bhatia, Google's vice president for government affairs and policy.

Access

Beyond the big global regulation and antitrust fights that are coming next year, some companies outlined very specific priorities for U.S. policy. At Amazon and Dell, policy leaders framed some of their focuses around increasing equitable internet access. For Amazon, increasing internet access means an increased focus on the Project Kuiper low-orbit satellite program, which received approval from the FCC in July and is intended to provide cheap internet in places with poor broadband coverage.

"Amazon will be working internationally to achieve licensing in other countries to move this initiative forward," Brian Huseman, Amazon's VP for public policy, said. Amazon's other major policy priorities for 2021 will be pushing for a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour in the U.S. and more ambitious federal climate policy, according to Huseman.

5G

Telecom companies and some big tech players will be mostly focused on 5G next year, including Dell. For Dell's policy team, increasing internet access means lobbying heavily for an "open and interoperable" 5G network. "We would like to see the proper investment and partnerships across public, private and government organizations to advance U.S. leadership in 5G worldwide. The U.S. must drive the innovation and standardization of national 5G infrastructure," said Michael Young, Dell's senior vice president for global government affairs and public policy.

Broadband and data providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T will also be zeroing in on the 5G fight, lobbying to end the Pentagon's plan to control the commercial 5G network and instead pushing for the FCC to hold traditional auctions for 5G spectrum, according to an open letter from Jonathan Spalter, the president and CEO of trade group USTelecom. The more traditional spectrum-auction method would give telecom companies more control than the "nationalized" 5G Pentagon proposal (former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been a key advocate of the nationalized plan).

Microsoft and Apple both declined to share their 2021 policy priorities.

A 'Soho house for techies': VCs place a bet on community

Contrary is the latest venture firm to experiment with building community spaces instead of offices.

Contrary NYC is meant to re-create being part of a members-only club where engineers and entrepreneurs can hang out together, have a space to work, and host events for people in tech.

Photo: Courtesy of Contrary

In the pre-pandemic times, Contrary’s network of venture scouts, founders, and top technologists reflected the magnetic pull Silicon Valley had on the tech industry. About 80% were based in the Bay Area, with a smattering living elsewhere. Today, when Contrary asked where people in its network were living, the split had changed with 40% in the Bay Area and another 40% living in or planning to move to New York.

It’s totally bifurcated now, said Contrary’s founder Eric Tarczynski.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Binance CEO wrestles with the 'Chinese company' label

Changpeng "CZ" Zhao, who leads crypto’s largest marketplace, is pushing back on attempts to link Binance to Beijing.

Despite Binance having to abandon its country of origin shortly after its founding, critics have portrayed the exchange as a tool of the Chinese government.

Photo: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In crypto, he is known simply as CZ, head of one of the industry’s most dominant players.

It took only five years for Binance CEO and co-founder Changpeng Zhao to build his company, which launched in 2017, into the world’s biggest crypto exchange, with 90 million customers and roughly $76 billion in daily trading volume, outpacing the U.S. crypto powerhouse Coinbase.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

How I decided to leave the US and pursue a tech career in Europe

Melissa Di Donato moved to Europe to broaden her technology experience with a different market perspective. She planned to stay two years. Seventeen years later, she remains in London as CEO of Suse.

“It was a hard go for me in the beginning. I was entering inside of a company that had been very traditional in a sense.”

Photo: Suse

Click banner image for more How I decided seriesA native New Yorker, Melissa Di Donato made a life-changing decision back in 2005 when she packed up for Europe to further her career in technology. Then with IBM, she made London her new home base.

Today, Di Donato is CEO of Germany’s Suse, now a 30-year-old, open-source enterprise software company that specializes in Linux operating systems, container management, storage, and edge computing. As the company’s first female leader, she has led Suse through the coronavirus pandemic, a 2021 IPO on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the acquisitions of Kubernetes management startup Rancher Labs and container security company NeuVector.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Enterprise

UiPath had a rocky few years. Rob Enslin wants to turn it around.

Protocol caught up with Enslin, named earlier this year as UiPath’s co-CEO, to discuss why he left Google Cloud, the untapped potential of robotic-process automation, and how he plans to lead alongside founder Daniel Dines.

Rob Enslin, UiPath's co-CEO, chats with Protocol about the company's future.

Photo: UiPath

UiPath has had a shaky history.

The company, which helps companies automate business processes, went public in 2021 at a valuation of more than $30 billion, but now the company’s market capitalization is only around $7 billion. To add insult to injury, UiPath laid off 5% of its staff in June and then lowered its full-year guidance for fiscal year 2023 just months later, tanking its stock by 15%.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins