Code Conference – Some Thoughts on Big Tech Companies and the Government
Walker Sands had the opportunity this year to join a relatively small group of tech leaders at Recode’s flagship event, Code Conference. Over the course of two days, Recode’s Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka grilled CEOs and founders over a handful of tricky topics.
This year’s show started by looking back. In 2001, Microsoft lost its huge antitrust lawsuit to the U.S. government – marking the symbolic end of the first “tech boom.”
For the tech leaders onstage at Code Conference 2018, it appears we’re at at a similar inflection point. The negative impacts of the 2010s technologies continue to emerge, and leaders who have enriched themselves on their unbridled growth are being held accountable both by the public at large and our government.
Fake news, smartphone addiction, lack of privacy and data free-for-all, cyber security, sexual harassment and #MeToo dominated the lines of questioning and the conversations at Recode’s annual tech leader conference.
From Snap CEO and founder Evan Spiegel to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, every speaker hit a note of contrition. While Snap apologized for its ugly app redesign, Facebook said sorry for losing billions of data points to such shady data brokers as Cambridge Analytica.
Federal action seemed to be a consistent thread in Microsoft’s early 2000s court date and today’s reckoning. Brad Smith, who lived the Microsoft slapdown in 2001, said this: “If you create tech that changes the world, the world is going to want to regulate and govern you. You’re going to have to get used to it.”
But, when federal lawsuits challenge a tech company’s dominance, there comes a potential opportunity for smaller players to enter the fray and take larger competitors by surprise.
Because Microsoft was preoccupied with divesting its many businesses, Smith continued, Google could rise and dominate the Search category. That opening has allowed Google to innovate without the press of a direct competitor and grow to define an entire category.
For Walker Sands’ part, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for a new class of tech company that brings to market socially conscious technologies that adhere to a more strict regulatory environment. Maybe there’s a company that can create a social network that can’t be used for voter manipulation and fake news, or a transportation company that pays its employees competitively. As Brad Smith said, our government can “oxidize the market.” Companies that support, work with, or invest in a new class of socially conscious company will participate in the third technology boom.