Voters Stop Short of Breaking Up Big Tech

10/14/21 11:21AM EDT

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Voters Stop Short of Breaking Up Big Tech - AdobeStock 281052054

According to new polls, there’s broad support among voters for the federal government to curb the influence of Big Tech. Most Americans want stronger antitrust and data privacy laws. (The Wall Street Journal)

NH: This might be the only thing that voters from both parties agree on: 83% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans, respectively, believe that the federal government “needs to do everything it can to curb the influence of big tech companies that have grown too powerful and now use our data to reach too far into our lives.”

Even higher shares said they are “very nervous” about the effects of social media on children.

These findings come from a survey conducted by the Future of Tech Commission, which also found widespread support for strengthening federal data privacy laws and holding social media companies accountable for what gets posted on their sites.

A recent AP poll also found strong bipartisan support for the creation of federal standards for how companies can collect and store personal data.

But when asked what should happen to the tech giants, a split emerges.

Americans are united in wanting greater privacy, data security, regulation of social media content, and stronger antitrust laws. But by 54% to 45%, voters think that “breaking up big tech companies threatens our country’s biggest drivers of innovation and growth.”

Another survey from the Progressive Policy Institute of voters in battleground states produced similar results.

Though 57% agree that our largest tech companies are monopolies with too much power, just under half (49%) said that Congress needs to break them up. Two-thirds said the size of these companies is “a good thing” for U.S. workers and the U.S. economy.

This wave of new surveys has arrived as the momentum grows within Congress to rein in the tech industry.

While many Democrats support the idea of breaking up these companies, the relative lack of public enthusiasm for this goal suggests that we’re likely to see other legislation, such as regulation requiring stronger privacy and security measures.

Congress will continue to call for stronger antitrust laws, but it's unlikely that breakups will gain traction. If they do, it may ultimately be at the behest of the FTC, the SEC, or the Justice Department.

Outside the U.S., lawmakers may feel less constrained. The past week’s testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haughen has intensified calls in Europe for regulators to act aggressively on enacting stronger antitrust laws as early as next year.

While European leaders have not (yet) proposed breaking up the companies, their new legislation (the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act) shows that regulators are more willing to restrict Big Tech's power via new competition laws and are less concerned about blowback.

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ABOUT NEIL HOWE

Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.

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