Democrats’ have a new 2020 boogeyman: Big tech

By Caitlin Huey-Burns, Dan Patterson

/ CBS News

Warren on breaking up tech companies

When running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, Barack Obama visited Google's Mountain View headquarters, which was then considered a critical campaign stop for White House hopefuls. "What we shared is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up, not from the top down," Obama, then a U.S. senator, said as he drew parallels between the ambitions of the company's founders and his own political career.

Now, a decade later, Democrats eyeing their party's nomination see connections to executives in Silicon Valley as more liability than asset, as tech companies have come under fire for privacy breaches, international interference, monopolization, discriminatory work cultures, and failures to control hate speech.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, has introduced a proposal to break up the tech giants. In her campaign launch, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar slammed tech companies over data mining and privacy. Others have signed on to legislation to protect personal data, and have grilled Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, and Google's Sundar Pichai in congressional hearings.

For 2020 candidates, it's now cool to be tough on tech — even as their campaigns utilize and benefit from data collection and social media.

"It's been a huge sea change," says Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.

"There was a lot of idealism, and maybe a utopian view of how all this tech and social media was going to put more power in people's hands and bring people together," says Trippi. "There is now this dystopian side…the glow is off."

Taking on tech companies speaks to broader themes of accountability, corporate corruption, and fairness within the 2020 Democratic primary. But it could also add another layer of scrutiny to the candidates themselves, as Democrats have been the top recipients of donations from the electronics and communications industry. Some candidates count industry heads as constituents. And one veteran Democratic campaign operative told CBS News there should be criticism of any candidate who fundraises with wealthy tech chiefs.

Democratic candidates have a long history of working alongside Silicon Valley power brokers.

Trippi, the architect of Howard Dean's rebellious run at the 2004 Democratic nomination, used the internet to bypass the Democratic establishment and raise small dollar donations directly from voters. Though Dean was unsuccessful, the tactics pioneered by Trippi established a template used by many of the candidate's successors in the years since.

Social media, then in its infancy, was a major factor in the 2008 general election. The Obama campaign used Twitter and Facebook to communicate with young constituents. His campaign also launched my.barackobama.com, a social network that used Facebook's Connect API to populate the network and target potential voters, organize get-out-the-vote initiatives, and target fundraising initiatives. The product was so successful that in 2016 the Ted Cruz campaign deployed a mobile application with several features seemingly inspired by the my.barackobama.com web app.

The use of big data to micro-target voters and get-out-the-vote then became a key factor in the 2012 election. In an interview with TechRepublic, Obama's Chief Technology officer Harper Reed explained that campaign saw technology as "a first class citizen, as part of the campaign, just like field [operations], just like analytics, just like anything else."

It was clear early in the 2016 cycle that technology, especially big data generated by social media, would be a critical component of the Democratic Party's campaign strategy. The Clinton campaign employed former Google and Facebook employees who worked alongside a large cohort of social media-savvy millennials to craft messaging specifically for social networks.

The Clinton team's technological prowess, however, proved vulnerable to Russian hackers. Phishing attacks targeting top staffers helped derail the campaign by exposing critical information. Strategists say the evidence of Russian interference, and the revelations of Facebook's connections to firms like Cambridge Analytica, was a turning point in the relationship between Democrats and tech companies.

"People all of the sudden realized these were powerful manipulation engines they put out for rent and that's dangerous," says Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, advocating for proposals like Warren's. "You're seeing across both parties a real understanding of the power of these institutions. Even the platforms themselves are aware of the increasing political pressure."

While it could be politically tricky to talk about regulating companies that are now so ingrained in people's lives, public opinion of social media companies has also changed. Americans now "understand these companies are doing things they really like, but that doesn't make them immune from criticism," says Stoller.

Warren's proposal is focused on expanding anti-trust regulations and combating the emergence of tech monopolies.

"The giant tech companies right now are eating up little, tiny businesses, startups — and competing unfairly," Warren told CBS News' Ed O'Keefe. "What I'm saying is we've got to break these guys apart. You want to run a platform? That's fine. You don't get to run a whole bunch of the businesses as well. You want to run a business? That's fine. You don't get to run the platform."

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, another 2020 hopeful, agreed with Warren's proposal, and said she would introduce similar legislation in the House.

Candidates with ties to the tech industry have also grown critical of it.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Stanford graduate, has been known for connections to Silicon Valley leaders, and came under scrutiny in his 2013 Senate campaign for the big investments that poured into his own tech start-up. In 2010, as Mayor of Newark, he secured a $100 million dollar donation from Zuckerberg to reform his city's public schools to mixed reviews.

Booker and other Democrats have concentrated on concerns over privacy and discrimination. During the Zuckerberg's congressional hearing last year, Booker told the CEO: "We've seen how technology platforms Facebook can actually be used to double down on discrimination." Booker asked Zuckerberg to allow civil rights groups to audit ads on housing, employment and credit to prevent discrimination.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, who represents the state where Silicon Valley is located, has highlighted revenue Facebook acquired from 2016 election propaganda. And when Sheryl Sandberg testified last year, Harris questioned her about reports that Facebook removed hate speech directed at white men but not black children.

At the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Klobuchar suggested taxing tech companies for using consumer data. "When they sell our data to someone else, well maybe they're going to have to tell us so we can put some kind of a tax on it, just like we do with other businesses," Klobuchar said. "For so long these companies have said 'we got your backs' — well, that's just not true."

First published on March 13, 2019 / 2:21 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Caitlin Huey-Burns

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a political correspondent for CBSN

Democrats’ have a new 2020 boogeyman: Big tech

How tech and social media companies went from friend to foe in Democratic politics

9M ago

Judge refuses to lower R. Kelly's child support payments

The child support issue is separate from the singer's criminal case, in which he faces 10 sexual abuse counts

32M ago

Verizon 5G network access will cost an extra $10 per month

The faster mobile network will roll out in 30 cities in 2019, but will T-Mobile and Sprint be allowed to soon follow?

33M ago

Paul Manafort indicted in New York moments after sentencing in D.C. case

Manafort was sentenced to a total of 90 months in prison in federal court in Washington earlier on Wednesday

1H ago

Education expert: College scandal points to "much bigger issue"

"There's an obsession in America with people going to college," Sir Ken Robinson says

1H ago

Democrats’ have a new 2020 boogeyman: Big tech

How tech and social media companies went from friend to foe in Democratic politics

9M ago

Paul Manafort indicted in New York moments after sentencing in D.C. case

Manafort was sentenced to a total of 90 months in prison in federal court in Washington earlier on Wednesday

1H ago

Stormy Daniels believes Cohen told the truth to lawmakers

In her first public remarks since Cohen testified publicly about the hush money payments he arranged to her, the adult film actress also disparaged Trump's former fixer

2H ago

Manafort sentenced in District case

Paul Manafort was sentenced to four years in prison in Virginia last week

2H ago

Shackling pregnant inmates is still a practice in many states

Utah and other states are considering bans on the practice

4H ago

Soyuz crew to try again after frightening launch abort

Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut commander set for launch to International Space Station Thursday

1H ago

10 dead including gunmen in Brazil school shooting

Police say 2 men in hoods, not believed to be former students, entered school in Sao Paulo suburb and opened fire before killing themselves

2H ago

Abuse victim: "Hard to take comfort" from Cardinal Pell sentencing

Australian Cardinal George Pell, sentenced to 6 years in prison, is the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes

4H ago

Frantic rescue effort underway after Nigerian school collapses

"Many people including children" feared trapped in rubble of 3-story building that crumbled in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos

5H ago

Ben Stiller urges U.S. to save more Syrian refugees from "limbo"

"We are a country that was built on refugees and immigrants," actor and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador says. "They should not to be demonized."

6H ago

Loudon Wainwright III on living in his father's shadow and "Surviving Twin"

"It was kind of annoying to have a famous father. Particularly one who had the same name"

1H ago

FBI arrests "Full House" actress in admissions scam probe

"Full House" actress Lori Loughlin taken into custody by the FBI in Los Angeles

2H ago

Oscar nominee defends TV star charged in college bribery scheme

Playwright David Mamet says longtime friend Felicity Huffman should get a slap on the wrist

3H ago

Parents of R. Kelly's live-in girlfriend say she threatened suicide

Alice and Angelo Clary say they are now afraid for the life of their daughter

6H ago

Ben Stiller urges U.S. to save more Syrian refugees from "limbo"

"We are a country that was built on refugees and immigrants," actor and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador says. "They should not to be demonized."

6H ago

Soyuz crew to try again after frightening launch abort

Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut commander set for launch to International Space Station Thursday

1H ago

Facebook is creating a 3D video chat — but is there a "dark side"?

"You can both sort of say, 'let's meet at the Eiffel Tower' and suddenly you materialize there"

6H ago

Verizon texting outage hits East Coast

Wireless carrier says service has been restored after disruption in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania

Mar 12

#Trashtag challenge encourages people to clean the planet

It may seem there's a new and viral hashtag every day online, but this challenge is a trend with a greener purpose

Mar 11

Facebook restores Warren ads touting plan to break up tech companies

A Facebook spokesman says the ads were removed "because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo"

Mar 11

After multiple recalls, FDA OK's new generic for valsartan

FDA said new approval will help alleviate shortages of blood pressure drugs after repeated recalls over cancer-causing chemicals

2H ago

Alex Trebek resumes taping "Jeopardy!" after cancer diagnosis

Trebek, 78, said last week that he would continue working after he received his diagnosis, saying he still had three years left on his contract

18H ago

Quarantine over mumps outbreak at immigration centers

A spokesman said 236 detainees have had confirmed or probable cases of mumps in 51 facilities in the past year

21H ago

Man cleaned ear with cotton swab, got infection in skull

A bit of cotton left in the ear may sound harmless, but in this case, it wreaked havoc

Mar 12

Falling in love while caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's

For couples battling Alzheimer's, love can be complex and unconventional

Mar 12

Verizon 5G network access will cost an extra $10 per month

The faster mobile network will roll out in 30 cities in 2019, but will T-Mobile and Sprint be allowed to soon follow?

33M ago

Kayak, TripAdvisor can exclude Boeing 737 Max flights

Travel websites seek to help customers avoid particular aircraft models following the fatal Ethiopia Airlines crash

38M ago

After multiple recalls, FDA OK's new generic for valsartan

FDA said new approval will help alleviate shortages of blood pressure drugs after repeated recalls over cancer-causing chemicals

2H ago

Reinventing snacking one waffle at a time

A Dutch entrepreneur found his niche in business by bringing a hometown specialty to his American college campus

3H ago

When retailers go bust, workers often get nothing

Like industrial and mining workers, they're losing jobs and pensions while lawyers, bankers and execs are made whole

6H ago

Judge refuses to lower R. Kelly's child support payments

The child support issue is separate from the singer's criminal case, in which he faces 10 sexual abuse counts

32M ago

FBI arrests "Full House" actress in admissions scam probe

"Full House" actress Lori Loughlin taken into custody by the FBI in Los Angeles

2H ago

Oscar nominee defends TV star charged in college bribery scheme

Playwright David Mamet says longtime friend Felicity Huffman should get a slap on the wrist

3H ago

Michael Flynn asks for delay in sentencing

The special counsel's office said Flynn's work with the government is "complete"

13H ago

California's governor to put a freeze on executions

"I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people," Newsom said

15H ago  Original Article