Washington Examiner: Big Tech cozying up to China and Russia undermines argument against breaking them up

September 22, 2021

Washington Examiner

Big Tech companies are complying with the requests of foreign adversaries such as China and Russia, which significantly undercuts their argument that breaking them up is a national security risk, according to both sides of Congress.

In the most recent instance of tech giants complying with authoritarian governments to conduct business, Google and Apple last week removed a voting app created by allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, thanks to pressure from the Russian government.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley and its allies have repeatedly said bipartisan House antitrust bills focused on regulating and breaking up the tech giants could harm the United States.

Congressional Republicans in favor of the antitrust bills say the Big Tech companies are acting hypocritically.

“The Big Tech companies are in bed with China and Russia, they lobby on behalf of China,” a legislative staffer for Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, told the Washington Examiner.

The staffer noted that last year, Apple lobbied against sanctions regarding the Chinese genocide of the Uyghurs, and Google has produced censored search engines for China for many years.

“So the notion that these national security concerns they express are sincere is just preposterous,” the staffer said. “All of this is just a ploy from Big Tech to try to convince Republicans not to crack down on their monopolistic behavior.”

Former top intelligence community officials from multiple administrations, including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, sent a letter last week to Congressional leaders from both parties arguing against the House antitrust bills due to national security concerns.

“Congress risks undermining America’s key advantage vis-à-vis China by pursuing domestic legislation that threatens to impede U.S. companies and their ability to pursue such innovation,” the officials wrote .

However, the former intelligence officials’ warnings are not to be taken seriously because of their ties to the Big Tech companies, Cotton’s staff said.

“I think what’s new is they paid some national security folks to try to make the same argument, and they don’t just appear out of thin air. It’s not like Leon Panetta is reading the news and all of a sudden said, ‘Boy, I’m pretty concerned about this antitrust legislation, I better contact my friends to write a letter,’” the staffer said.

“The letter was written by those funded Big Tech and their allies. So I don’t think any member of Congress is taking it seriously. Anyone who is inclined to crack down on Big Tech is not going to be persuaded by Leon Panetta making this argument,” the staffer added.

Cotton supports five of the six House antitrust bills expected to arrive on the House floor in the coming months. The Arkansas Republican will also be the lead sponsor on a bill focused on reducing anti-competitive mergers, the staffer said.

Tech giants such as Facebook and Google have expressed concern regarding the government regulating or breaking them up.

“When I brought up the Chinese internet companies, I think that that’s a real — a real strategic and competitive threat that, in American technology policy, we should be thinking about,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during his Senate testimony in 2018.

report released last week by the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative anti-Big Tech advocacy group, also argued the former intelligence officials are functioning as puppets for the tech industry by using the same talking points as them.

Some Republicans, such as Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, the top GOP member pushing for the House antitrust package, said Big Tech is like the new Big Tobacco, which harms Americans for profits.

“Does anyone honestly believe breaking up Big Tech is somehow bad for America’s national security? Apple and Google are literally siding with the Putin regime now. Who needs enemies when America has ‘friends’ like these two?” Buck said last week.

Democrats also say the Big Tech companies’ arguments against the antitrust bills on national security grounds are disingenuous.

“This is one of the oldest tricks in the book to confuse these issues of competition and national security. It’s the same thing the companies have been saying for years,” said a senior Democratic staffer familiar with antitrust bills. “Our markets are monopolized, which is bad for innovation and national security. How can you compete with China if you can’t compete in the U.S. itself?”

Advocacy groups in favor of the antitrust legislation say the tech companies are using their large lobbying arms to convince Congress of a problem that doesn’t exist.

“It’s an obvious hypocrisy. The companies are gaslighting by using national security because they just don’t want to be held accountable. It’s a red herring and not the last one we will see,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at the watchdog group Public Citizen.

“The narrative out there thanks to the lobbying, campaign contributions, and revolving door of the Big Tech companies is that they are so critical to Americans that they are almost government institutions, but it’s just not true,” Gilbert said.

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