Tech sec­tor goes from the White House to the dog­house in Trump’s Wash­ing­ton

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Todd Shields, Mark Ber­gen and Ben Brody

WASH­ING­TON— Google once had Ba rack O ba ma’ s ear, served as a re­volv­ing door for White House staff and saw its po­lit­i­cal agenda ad­vance. In Don­ald Trump’s Wash­ing­ton, some con­ser­va­tives say it’ s got­ten so pow­er­ful it should be reg­u­lated like a pub­lic util­ity.

Google is not alone in a fall from grace. Tech com­pa­nies — in­clud­ing Face­book and Amazon.com — that were pre­vi­ously lauded as in­no­va­tors are fac­ing in­creased scru­tiny over their size, their hir­ing prac­tices and whether on­line news feeds skew lib­eral.

“The mood in Wash­ing­ton, at least on the right side of the aisle, is more crit­i­cal of com­pa­nies like Google and Amazon,” said Fred Camp­bell, a former Repub­li­can FCC aide and di­rec­tor of Tech Knowl­edge, which pro­motes mar­ket-based poli­cies.

The shift int one comes as Con­gress and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sider chang­ing tax, en­ergy and im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies im­por­tant to Sil­i­con Val­ley. A reg­u­la­tion that pro­tects data flows is al­ready slated for gut­ting by the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, and, in Con­gress, a law has been pro­posed that would bring in­ter­net com­pa­nies un­der a pri­vacy reg­u­la­tor. An­other would in­crease le­gal li­a­bil­ity for web­site op­er­a­tors as a way to com­bat on­line sex traf­fick­ing.

Mean­while, tech’s made no se­cret of its dis­taste for Trump poli­cies. Al­pha­bet’s Google, Ap­ple and Face­book is­sued crit­i­cal state­ments af­ter the pres­i­dent­ban on trans gen­der peo­ple in the mil­i­tary, stepped away from the Paris cli­mate ac­cords and is­sued a ban on travel from ma­jor­ity Mus­lim na­tions.

The Aug. 12 street vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Va., pro­voked an­other rift. Af­ter the pres­i­dent said “both sides” shared blame for the fight­ing, Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook told his staff he dis­agreed with Trump. So many ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing In­tel CEO Brian Kr za ni ch, quit White House ad­vi­sory coun­cils in protest that Trump ended up dis­band­ing them.

Amid the turmoil, Trump un­loaded on Amazon, tweet­ing that the com­pany is hurt­ing other re­tail­ers, and caus­ing shares in the on­line re­tailer to fall.

“Towns, cities and states through­out the U.S. are be­ing hurt — many jobs be­ing lost!” Trump said in the tweet.

It was the latest con­ser­va­tive broad­side on the tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies over their size, in­flu­ence and pro­mo­tion of so­cial poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion, trans­gen­der rights and other mat­ters.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the chair­man of the En­ergy andCom­merce Com­mit­tee, chal­lenged tech and broad­band ex­ec­u­tives to ap­pear next month as his com­mit­tee con­sid­ers un­do­ing the Obama-era net neu­tral­ity rules that Sil­i­con Val­ley backs. In what could be in­ter­preted as a snub, ex­ec­u­tives didn’t re­spond to the in­vi­ta­tion by the dead­line. It has been ex­tended.

“Repub­li­cans have al­ways been fine with most of tech, be­cause Repub­li­cans have usu­ally de­faulted pro-busi­ness,” said Bruce Mehlman, a Repub­li­can lob­by­ist and former Com­merce De­part­ment of­fi­cial said in an in­ter­view. “This is less about any one is­sue and more about the new pop­ulist wing of the Repub­li­can Party — pop­ulism is sus­pi­cious of big­ness, and the big­gest com­pa­nies now are tech .”

In this at­mos­phere, pub­licpol­icy as­teroids can strike sud­denly and dent tech’s im­age in the cap­i­tal. Google dis­missed James Damore, an en­gi­neer who wrote about gen­der dif­fer­ences and said the com­pany had a “left bias” that si­lenced dis­senters. Wash­ing­ton no­ticed.

“The mis­treat­ment of con­ser­va­tives and lib­er­tar­i­ans by tech mo­nop­o­lies is a civil rights is­sue,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a tweet. The Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can is con­cerned tech giants may be ex­clud­ing top tal­ent for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, said his spokesman, Ken Grubbs.

Trump ad­viser Kelly anne Con­waytweeted an op-ed that Dam ore wrote in the Wall Street Jour­nal about his fir­ing, in which he called Google “ide­o­log­i­cally driven and in­tol­er­ant of sci­en­tific de­bate and rea­soned ar­gu­ment.”

Fox News’s Tucker Carl­son said Damore’s dis­missal showed Google couldn’t be trusted, for in­stance, in ways its al­go­rithms de­ter­mine where to rank fake news when re­turn­ing search re­sults.

“Google should be reg­u­lated like the pub­lic util­ity it is, to make sure it doesn’t fur­ther dis­tort the free flow of in­for­ma­tion to the rest of us ,” Carl­son said on show.

Amazon has be­come a tar­get at least in part be­cause of its size. The com­pany with about 30 per­cent of all U.S. e-com­merce drew crit­i­cism from Trump that had started on the cam­paign trail when Trump said in February 2016:“Be­lieve me, if I be­come pres­i­dent, do they have prob­lems.” Trump’s also ob­jected to cov­er­age by the Wash­ing­ton Post, which is owned by Amazon CEOJ­ef­fBe­zos.

Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Mi­crosoft CEO Satya Nadella, cen­ter, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at­tend a meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Tech­nol­ogy Coun­cil in June at the White House.

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