For Republicans going to the Senate this year, “Big Tech” has become an all-encompassing target, a phrase used to condemn the censorship of conservative voices on social media, invasions of privacy, and the corruption of American youth — or all of the above.
But for three candidates in some of the hottest races of 2022 – Blake Masters, JD Vance and Mehmet Oz – the allegations come with a complication: They have deep ties to the industry, whether as investors, promoters or employees. What’s more, their work has included some of the questionable uses of consumer data they now criticize.
Mr. Masters and Mr. Vance have embraced the contradictions with the zeal of the converts.
“Basically, it’s my expertise of working in Silicon Valley and working with these companies that has given me this perspective,” said Mr. Masters, who heads into the Republican Senate primaries in Arizona on Tuesday. on Wednesday. “As they’ve gotten bigger, they’ve gotten too pervasive and too powerful.”
Mr. Vance, on his campaign for Ohio’s open Senate seatcalls for the break-up of major tech companies, stating, “I know the tech industry well. I’ve worked in it and invested in it, and I’m tired of politicians who talk a lot about Big Tech but don’t do anything about it. industry promised us all a better life and faster communication; instead it steals our private information, sells it to the Chinese and then censors conservatives and others.”
But some tech activists just aren’t buying it, especially from two political newcomers whose Senate round was funded by Peter Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook and a longtime board member of the tech giant. Mr. Thiel’s own company, Palantir, works closely with federal military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies eager to access his secret data analytics technology.
“There’s a huge, hugely profitable industry in tracking what you do online,” said Sacha Haworth, the executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a new liberal advocacy group pushing for tougher rules for tech companies. “Regardless of the prospects of these candidates in the Senate, I can imagine that if Peter Thiel invests in them, he invests in his future.”
Mr. Masters, a protégé of Mr. Thiel’s and the former chief operating officer of Mr. Thiel’s venture capital firm, oversaw investments in Palantir and pushed for the spread of his technology, which analyzes mountains of raw data to detect patterns. that can be used by customers.
dr. Oz, the Republican nominee for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, was part of a consortium of investors that Sharecare, a website that gave users the opportunity to ask questions about health and wellness — and gave healthcare marketers the chance to answer them.
A feature of Sharecare, RealAge Testsurveyed tens of millions of users about their health characteristics, ostensibly to shave years off their age, the test results released to paying customers in the pharmaceutical industry.
The Vance campaign said the candidate’s interest in Hallow did not give him or his firm decision-making powers, and Alex Jones, Hallow’s CEO, said private, sensitive data such as journal entries or reflections was encrypted and not sold, rented or otherwise shared. with data brokers. He said that “private sensitive personal information” was not shared “with advertising partners”.
All three Senate candidates have targeted the technology industry in their campaigns, rioting against data collection from unsuspecting users and privacy breaches by greedy corporations.
In a gauzy video posted in July 2021says Mr Masters: “The internet, which should give us a great future, is instead being used to silence us.”
Mr. Vance, in a campaign Facebook videosuggested Congress would make data collection illegal — or at least mandate disclosure — before tech companies “harvest our data and then sell it back to us in the form of targeted advertising.”
In a December video appearance shortly after announcing his campaignexplained Dr. Oz: “I’ve fought Big Pharma, I’ve fought Big Tech, I’ve fought agrochem companies, big ones, and I’ve got scars to prove it.”
Unsurprisingly, more senior candidates have deep ties to the technology industry, said Michael Rosen, an adjunct fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has written extensively about the industry. That’s where the money is these days, he said, and the reach of technology extends to sectors such as healthcare, social media, hardware and software, and consumer electronics.
“What is new in this cycle is to have candidates on the right advocating for the government to step in and regulate these companies because they believe they cannot be trusted to self-regulate,” said Mr. Rosen. .
He expressed surprise that “a conservative-type candidate thinks the government will do a fairer and more reliable job regulating and moderating speech than the private sector.”
Technology experts on the left say candidates like Mr. Masters and Mr. Vance are Trojans, taking popular positions to win federal office with no intention of pursuing those positions in the Senate.
Ms. Haworth, whose group focuses on platforms such as Facebook and Amazon, said states like California were already making progress with regulations to prevent online marketers from directing consumers to certain products or unduly influencing behavior.
She said she believed that if Republicans took control of Congress, they would impose weak federal rules that would replace state rules.
“Democrats should be calling out the hypocrisy here,” she said.
Mr Masters said he sympathized with concerns that empowering the government to regulate technology would only lead to a different kind of abuse, but added: “The answer in this age of networked monopolies is not on your hands. up in the air and ‘laissez fair.’”
Multinational tech companies like Google and Facebook, Mr Masters said, have surpassed national governments in power.
As for the “Trojan Horse” claim, he said, “If I’m in the U.S. Senate, I’ll live up to everything I say.”
It is not clear that such complex matters will have an impact in the autumn campaigns. Jim Lamon, a Republican Senate rival to Mr. Masters in Arizona, has… broadcast ads considering him a “fake” stalking horse for the California tech industry – but with limited effectiveness. During a debate this month, Mr Lamon said that Mr Masters was “owned” by his paymasters in Big Tech.
But Mr. Masters, who has the backing of former President Donald J. Trump, seems to be the clear favorite for the nomination.
Representative Tim Ryan, Mr. Vance’s Democratic opponent in Ohio, has made cursory reference to the “Big Tech Billionaires Drinking Wine in Silicon Valley” and fund the Republican campaign.
John Fetterman, the Democratic opponent of Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, has not raised the issue.
Taylor Van Kirk, a spokeswoman for Mr. Vance, said he was very serious about his promises to limit the influence of tech companies.
“JD has long been outspoken about his desire to break up Big Tech and hold them accountable for their overreach,” she said. “He is convinced that their power over our politics and economy must be reduced to protect the constitutional rights of Americans.”
Representatives of the Oz campaign did not respond to requests for comment.