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.

Workplace

The tools that make you pay for not getting stuff done

Some tools let you put your money on the line for productivity. Should you bite?

Commitment contracts are popular in a niche corner of the internet, and the tools have built up loyal followings of people who find the extra motivation effective.

Photoillustration: Anna Shvets/Pexels; Protocol

Danny Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Beeminder, is used to defending his product.

“When people first hear about it, they’re kind of appalled,” Reeves said. “Making money off of people’s failure is how they view it.”

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less

Elon Musk has bots on his mind.

Photo: Christian Marquardt/Getty Images

Elon Musk says he needs proof that less than 5% of Twitter's users are bots — or the deal isn't going ahead.

Keep Reading Show less
Jamie Condliffe

Jamie Condliffe ( @jme_c) is the executive editor at Protocol, based in London. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, he worked on the business desk at The New York Times, where he edited the DealBook newsletter and wrote Bits, the weekly tech newsletter. He has previously worked at MIT Technology Review, Gizmodo, and New Scientist, and has held lectureships at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. He also holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Oxford.

Policy

Nobody will help Big Tech prevent online terrorism but itself

There’s no will in Congress or the C-suites of social media giants for a new approach, but smaller platforms would have room to step up — if they decided to.

Timothy Kujawski of Buffalo lights candles at a makeshift memorial as people gather at the scene of a mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Sunday, May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, NY. The fatal shooting of 10 people at a grocery store in a historically Black neighborhood of Buffalo by a young white gunman is being investigated as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism, according to federal officials.

Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The shooting in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people over the weekend has put the spotlight back on social media companies. Some of the attack was livestreamed, beginning on Amazon-owned Twitch, and the alleged shooter appears to have written about how his racist motivations arose from misinformation on smaller or fringe sites including 4chan.

In response, policymakers are directing their anger at tech platforms, with New York Governor Kathy Hochul calling for the companies to be “more vigilant in monitoring” and for “a legal responsibility to ensure that such hate cannot populate these sites.”

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

We're answering all your questions about the crypto crash.

Photo: Chris Liverani/Unsplash

People started talking about another crypto winter in January, when falling prices had wiped out $1 trillion in value from November’s peak. Prices rallied back in March, restoring some of the losses. Then crypto fell hard again, with bitcoin down more than 60% from its all-time high and other cryptocurrencies harder hit. The market’s message was clear: Crypto winter was no longer coming. It’s here.

If you’ve got questions about the crypto crash, the Protocol Fintech team has answers.

Keep Reading Show less
Latest Stories
Bulletins