Election 2020 Politics

The Technology 202: Tech industry considers other Democrats after Booker’s exit from 2020 race

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The tech industry is losing one of its top picks for president as Cory Booker exits the race. The New Jersey senator was an early favorite in Silicon Valley, capturing hearts and wallets ahead of the 2020 elections. 

Booker had perhaps the deepest ties to tech power brokers of any candidate in the field. The Stanford University graduate previously co-founded a video start-up that raised funds from Google’s Eric Schmidt and LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner. His financial ties to the industry persisted as he rose in politics, with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg funding an education initiative in Newark during Booker’s tenure as mayor. And the New Jersey senator fundraised heavily among the tech elite. 

Booker’s departure from the 2020 race will create new openings for his former rivals to step up their fundraising efforts among tech titans, especially moderate Democrats including former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and ex-vice president Joe Biden.

“The Bay Area of Northern California is as divided and spread thin among different candidates as any other heavily blue region in the country,” said Gina Bianchini, a Booker donor and the CEO of Mighty Networks, a software platform for digital small business owners.

Buttigieg and Biden have already held multiple fundraising events in the San Francisco area. And despite her tough positions on antitrust and technology, there’s even momentum building around Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who along with Biden, Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fills out the top tier of Democratic candidates, according to national and state polling.

In a race where large tech companies have emerged as punching bags, Booker rejected calls to break up Facebook and sought to avoid attacking individual companies. But despite his support among high-profile tech donors including SV Angel co-founder Ron Conway and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, he didn’t shy away from at times casting skepticism on the industry. 

“I think that Cory was committed to running a campaign authentic to who he is,” said Jeff Berman, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur who attended law school with Booker. “He wasn’t just going to take the cheap shot or change a position to accommodate some donor block.” 

Booker’s industry allies say their support had less to do with the senator’s specific positions on tech policy issues, and more to do with their long-running relationships with him. 

Our support for Cory had nothing to do with my involvement in tech nor his positions that might have affected the tech industry,” said Gary Lauder, the managing director of the investment firm Lauder Partners. “It was mostly to do with having known him well since before he was mayor and having a lot of respect for his potential for great leadership.”

Lauder says he hasn’t decided who to support next. And the field is thinning, especially as other presumptive tech industry favorites, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) have also dropped out. 

With the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses just three weeks away, the tech industry hasn’t coalesced around a single candidate despite the fact there is more at stake than ever for Silicon Valley.The industry has come under increasing fire for becoming too consolidated and failing to police false news spread easily on its platforms. Democratic candidates have adopted a wide range of positions on how they would crack down, ranging from Warren’s plan to break up the biggest players to new privacy regulations. 

“There’s a huge divide in the tech community,” Berman said. “There are folks who work at or are heavily invested in some of these platforms, or have a pretty extreme libertarian view and are deeply, deeply anti-regulation. And then there are folks like me who are deeply concerned that the power that these platforms have and are extremely concerned about bad regulation but appreciate that there’s a dire need for national standards on a lot of what’s going on here.”

But it remains to be seen how much influence the candidates’ positions will have on potential donors. Many in the industry say their top priority is backing a candidate who can defeat President Trump.

“There is so much else that matters, whether it’s the environment, the economy or justice issues,” Berman said. “By and large, the people I’m speaking with are focused on much bigger questions than exactly who President X is going to appoint as associate attorney general for antitrust.”


BITS: Attorney General William P. Barr slammed Apple for not offering “any substantive assistance” to the Justice Department in its attempt to crack a pair of iPhones at the center of a terrorist attack at the Pensacola, Fla., military base last month. The standoff over the shooter’s phones marks the latest flash point in a years-long debate over law enforcement’s access to encrypted data.

“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause,” Barr said at a news conference. “We don’t want to get into a world where we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance.”

But it remains unclear whether this will set off a new legal dispute over encryption: Barr declined to say whether he would seek a court order to compel Apple to unlock the phone like the Justice Department did in 2016 after Apple refused to crack the phone of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooter. A legal decision was never reached because the department withdrew the request after finding a third party to allegedly crack the phone. 

Apple said it turned over all data in its possession and rejected Barr’s claims.

“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation. Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing,” the company said in a statement. “We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys.”

The Justice Department and FBI acknowledged to congressional staff on a phone briefing yesterday that the company was unable to unlock the iPhones and criticized the company for not having a method to do so, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Tech companies and privacy advocates are already pushing back.

Encryption “backdoors are a horrible idea,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in response to the speech, the Information’s Jessica Lessin tweeted.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) slammed Barr and the Trump administration, Gizmodo’s Dell Cameron reports:

But Republicans supported the attorney general. “Companies shouldn’t be allowed to shield criminals and terrorists from lawful efforts to solve crimes and protect our citizens,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “Apple has a notorious history of siding with terrorists over law enforcement. I hope in this case they’ll change course.”

NIBBLES: Doctored videos and images, once the purview of online trolls and meme-makers, are becoming a potent weapon for politicians in 2020, my colleague Drew Harwell reports. Researchers say such fakes are gaining momentum during the Trump presidency, in part because of the president’s willingness to share them.

Trump retweeted a false image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday that was photoshopped so to make it appear the leaders were wearing a hijab and turban in front of an Iranian flag.

The tweet, which falsely claims that the two Democrats had “come to the Ayatollah’s rescue,” has been retweeted more than 20,000 times. 

Other fakes are more convincing. A troll doctored Black Lives Matter protest photos with an Elizabeth Warren sign to suggest her campaign had attempted to misrepresent her base. The majority of these kinds of images have been targeted at Democrats, researchers say. 

These photos can have a serious impact on political discourse, regardless of whether they’re debunked, researchers say. 

“They’re broadcasting to an audience that already believes or feels a certain way about a politician, so, often, when [the truth of the alteration] comes to light, people just don’t care,” Becca Lewis, a researcher at Stanford University, told Drew. “They say ‘it could have been true’ or ‘nonetheless, it reflects who the person really is.’ ”

BYTES: Google rallied some of its biggest rivals for support ahead of a Supreme Court battle with enterprise software giant Oracle. Microsoft, IBM and Mozilla filed amicus briefs on behalf of Google yesterday, arguing that opening up some software building tools to copyright law would irrevocably damage the multibillion-dollar software industry.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in March in a case that could bring an end to a years-long legal battle between the tech giants. Oracle first sued Google 10 years ago for using a programming language to build its Android operating system. The Supreme Court agreed to revisit a lower court decision that ruled in favor of Oracle this fall.

“Subjecting open public interfaces to copyright law would hurt business and impede innovation,” Michelle H. Browdy, senior vice president of legal and regulatory affairs and general counsel at IBM, wrote in a statement. “We must continue to foster an environment where companies of all sizes can use openly available interfaces to fuel the research and innovation that has reshaped our world.”

But Oracle stood by its case.

“Google makes its money free-riding on the intellectual property and content of others,” Oracle said in a statement to the Hill’s Emily Birnbaum yesterday. “Google stole Java and killed interoperability to create its proprietary Android operating system. We believe the Supreme Court will see through all of Google’s self interested arguments and stand with content owners, creators, and innovators.” 


— News from the public sector:

Senior U.S. officials visited London on Monday with a last-ditch plea that Boris Johnson’s government not allow Huawei Technologies Co. to supply equipment for its 5G broadband networks, warning that U.S. intelligence-sharing could be at risk.



— News from the private sector:


— Instacart workers called for a national boycott next week in their latest effort to get the company to address declining wages and slashed tips, according to a Medium post released yesterday.

“[Instacart is] squeezing us — the workers you’ve met — dry, and they are using labor laws that haven’t caught up yet in order to get away with it,” a group of workers wrote. “We have fought for fair pay, but Instacart continues to lower it.”

In addition to abstaining from using the app, workers are asking consumers to email CEO Apoorva Mehta directly.

Workers launched a three-day strike in November to lobby the company to change its default tip from 5 percent back to a previous 10 percent minimum. But the company instead eliminated a bonus that it doled out to highly rated shoppers, something employees alleged was retaliation for the strike. The company told workers the bonus “did not meaningfully improve quality,” according to an email obtained by Motherboard.

— More news about tech workforce and culture:


—  Tech news generating buzz around the Web:


  • Tom Foulkes has joined BSA | The Software Alliance  as senior director of state advocacy, according to a news release. Foulkes previously managed the national state-level advocacy program at the Entertainment Software Association.
  • Amazon named Matt Garman the new sales chief for its AWS cloud unit, Bloomberg reports.
  • Intel has hired Archana Deskus as its new chief information officer, the Wall Street Journal reports.


— Coming up:

  • The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing called “Facial Recognition Technology (Part III): Ensuring Commercial Transparency & Accuracy” on Wednesday at 10am.
  • The House Antitrust Subcommittee will host a field hearing on the role of competitors in the digital economy at 10 a.m. on Friday at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder.
  • Silicon Flatirons will host its “Technology Optimism and Pessimism” conference Feb. 9 and 10 at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, Colorado. Speakers include FCC Michael O’Rielly and FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra.
  • Mobile World Congress takes place Feb. 24 to 27 in Barcelona

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