If the tech giants have grown too big, we ought to break them up — that’s the proposal forwarded most prominently by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Facebook (FB) co-founder Chris Hughes.
“I don’t think it’s sufficient,” says John Borthwick, whose firm Betaworks has backed more than 150 companies including Twitter (TWTR) and Gimlet Media, since acquired by Spotify (SPOT). “Facebook and Instagram and Whatsapp and Oculus—breaking them up, you still have this incredible base of data within these companies.”
“We've had this sort of laissez-faire approach to data ownership,” he says. “I personally believe that you, as a user, as a company who likes technology, wants to use technology, that you should have more formal rights about your data usage than we have today.”
In that vein, consumer advocates have demanded lawmakers pass measures that protect online user data. A law passed last year in California, like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, guaranteed users the right to know the data a company has obtained and to request it be deleted. In turn, roughly half of U.S. states took up data privacy bills this year.
The big tech companies say they support a strong federal data privacy measure, though lobbyists on their behalf have fought against over a dozen state bills.
Borthwick, who in the 1990s and 2000s worked on technology development at AOL and Time Warner, criticized what he considers largely an absence of U.S. regulation of big tech, calling it “basically self-regulation.”
“To date, it’s tech companies saying, ‘we got it, don’t worry, it’s OK,’” he adds.
‘It’s similar to cigarettes’
Borthwick made the comments to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that aired on Yahoo Finance in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Americans are reckoning with the negative effects of technology, as it increasingly pervades their lives, Borthwick said.
“In 2019, tech is both the solution to some problems, but it's also the problem in our society,” he says.
“It's the addictive nature and it's also the constant temptation,” he adds.
Highlighting the addictive nature of technology, Borthwick compared social media platforms to a past product that inspired a consumer advocacy campaign and a regulatory response.
“It's similar to cigarettes, and it's just not what I wanted to create in this business.”
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.