Joe Biden adviser puts tech giants on notice
A member of incoming US President Joe Biden's team put tech giants on notice overnight, warning that companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon needed to consider how they dealt with consumers' privacy and treated their workforces to keep "their licence to operate".
The message, delivered during the Consumer Electronics Show, comes just weeks after the US regulator launched legal action against Facebook for monopolistic behaviour, and as privacy representatives from some major US tech firms at the show admitted they expected more big fines from European politicians this year.
Former political adviser to President Barack Obama and now US National Economic Council director-designate Brian Deese told the Consumer Technology Association that America's tech giants faced serious challenges in 2021, and would be expected to up their game when using and protecting consumers' private information.
"Our private sector companies, our large employers and the technology companies in particular have an obligation to think about what it is that they can do to address persistent challenges," Mr Deese said.
"There's an opportunity here but also an obligation on companies to say what is it that they can do to be more thoughtful about how they're treating their workforce, about how they're dealing with the data that they're operating with, and about recognising there are stakeholders other than the shareholders that are important and essential for their own long-term profitability and their licence to operate."
Mr Deese said social networks such as Facebook and Twitter also had a responsibility to "help the public health response" to COVID-19 in the US by "combating misinformation," and said the new government may reach out to some tech firms to spread health messages, particularly in relation to the new vaccines.
The approach follows predictions from United States Studies Centre associate Claire McFarland, from the University of Sydney, that a Biden administration would strive to set new standards on free speech and privacy for the tech giants.
It also comes during what appears to be a challenging year for the multibillion-dollar firms, after the US Federal Trade Commission sued Facebook last month, claiming it had "illegally maintained its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anti-competitive conduct".
Facebook and Google also face new regulation in Australia, with a news bargaining code to force the companies to pay local publishers for the news they use expected to be made into law in the coming months.
And Twitter was fined more than $700,000 last month by the Data Protection Commission in Ireland for failing to disclose a data breach within 72 hours, as required by their privacy laws.
Twitter chief privacy officer Damien Kieran told CES overnight there was "definitely going to be more fines in the near term" but the company would strive to work with the regulator.
Google chief privacy officer Keith Enright also said the internet giant expected to see more work on national privacy laws in the US from the Biden administration, potentially delivering uniform data controls for consumers across different tech platforms.
Originally published as Joe Biden adviser puts tech giants on notice