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The US election: What it could mean for technology

Biden has to date said little on big tech and has no clear tech policy advisors; he has said in interviews he is more interested in content moderation than competition policy. However House Democrats have put forward a report advocating major changes to anti-trust laws aiming at limiting the ability to acquire smaller competitors...

We now know that Biden has effectively won the US presidential election. One thing that has come out of the election that does impact tech is the vote that took place in California. In addition to the presidency the state voted on Prop-22. California has brought in a law called AB5 which meant contractors would have to be classed as employees and would then receive full employment benefits and a minimum wage. Prop-22 would allow gig economy workers to remain as independent contractors, however it does offer some concessions of additional benefits (but these will only be linked to active time on jobs, not wait time). At the time of writing, Californians have voted 58% in favour of Prop-22 with 80% of the vote counted.

This is important for companies such as Uber and Lyft, as well as food delivery companies such as Grubhub or DoorDash (private). Uber and Lyft had contributed approximately USD 100 million to the campaign to get Prop-22 passed. The implications for it not passing would have been a significant increase in costs and questions over the validity of their business models. More importantly, had Prop-22 not passed, it was expected similar legislation would follow in other states, which is now looking much less likely.

Regulation in the tech sector is unlikely to be a top priority for Biden post election – health and the economy will take priority. Both Trump and Biden had made it clear they want to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was enacted in 1996 to make the internet more commercial. Their opposition to the act, though, is coming from polar opposite angles. Trump was concerned conservative voices are stifled, while Biden is more worried about harmful content which could be interpreted as too much noise from the right.

Biden has to date said little on big tech and has no clear tech policy advisors; he has said in interviews he is more interested in content moderation than competition policy. However House Democrats have put forward a report advocating major changes to anti-trust laws aiming at limiting the ability to acquire smaller competitors and restrictions on selling their own goods in their own marketplaces, which would impact Amazon in particular. Anti-trust laws would be expanded to cover ‘harm to workers and innovation’ rather than just harm to the consumer. This is a big deal, as the main line of defence for companies is that the consumer is getting their products for free, therefore where is the harm? The report also proposes increased funding to the Federal Trade Commission, which is currently held back by budget constraints. If Biden were to support this report it could be a big negative for tech; antitrust can take years to go through the courts and would likely end up in the Supreme Court.

Amanda Lyons , November 13

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