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Kamala Harris might alter big tech regulation

Vice President Kamala Harris' friendliness toward the tech sector could affect President Joe Biden's regulatory efforts if she replaces him as the Democratic presidential nominee.

This article was updated on 7/22/2024.

With President Joe Biden's withdrawal from the presidential race and his endorsement of Vice President Kamala Harris, all eyes shifted to how Harris might handle issues such as tech regulation. While Harris has largely aligned with Biden's tech policies, her ties to Silicon Valley have raised questions about her approach to big tech if elected president.

Several names have cropped up as potential replacements for Biden, including Harris and California Governor Gavin Newsom. Given her position within the current administration, Harris will likely be the top contender, and she's secured endorsements from Biden as well as New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

As vice president, Harris has supported Biden's efforts bolstering U.S. policy around semiconductor manufacturing, clean energy and artificial intelligence. But Harris' direction on regulating big tech companies might not align with Biden's.

Biden has prioritized U.S. policy on tech and regulation, said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. West said he's not sure if a replacement will carry out Biden's agenda.

"The question is whether any replacement would maintain that or change it in some respects," he said.

Big tech regulation approach questionable under Harris

West said he's unsure how strong Harris' regulatory approach to big tech might be, given her history. During her time as California's attorney general, big tech companies largely backed Harris and contributed to her campaigns, West said.

Meanwhile, federal agencies under the Biden administration have taken legal action against several big tech companies, including the Department of Justice's case against Apple for monopolizing the smartphone market and the Federal Trade Commission's case against Meta for dominating the social media market. In an executive order, Biden tasked agencies like the FTC with promoting competition and addressing big tech's monopolization of different markets.

"Biden has been very tough on tech regulation," West said. "He has put aggressive individuals in charge of the various regulatory agencies." That includes FTC Chair Lina Khan, who has initiated cases against big tech companies such as Amazon.

While Harris has largely been considered friendly to the tech industry, West said that if she were to be selected as a replacement for Biden and win the presidency, she would have to decide whether to continue friendliness or strengthen regulatory oversight.

Biden, Harris aligned on other U.S. tech policies

Despite her ties to Silicon Valley, there likely wouldn't be much difference between Biden and Harris on U.S. tech policy, said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

[Harris] has supported provisions that would help maintain America's competitiveness, so she wants a strong tech sector.
Darrell WestSenior fellow, Brookings Institution

He said Harris has been in "lockstep with the Biden administration's positions on the tech industry," as well as on technologies like AI.

"Harris was point on the AI Safety Summit, and in her speech in the U.K., she emphasized the importance of civil rights issues around AI, such as to address bias, in quite personal terms," Castro said.

West said he would expect Harris to maintain focus on AI and technology innovation for the U.S. economy. That also leads to questions about her views on competition policy, he added.

"She has supported provisions that would help maintain America's competitiveness, so she wants a strong tech sector," he said.

Makenzie Holland is a senior news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general assignment reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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