With Tonya Riley
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The tech industry’s most prominent leaders don’t want Bernie Sanders in the White House. But early Super Tuesday election tallies show their neighbors feel differently.
The Vermont senator’s lead as of this morning in the California primary was bolstered by many Bay Area counties that are home to major tech companies and tech workers. He either won or had a lead in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Alameda counties, according to The Washington Post’s election tracker this morning.
It now seems likely that employees at some of the major companies Sanders has attacked on the campaign trail are contributing to his success. There’s a growing divide between tech executives and rank-and-file employees who support the self-described Democratic socialist, said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley and serves as Sanders’s campaign co-chair.
“Look, most of the executives do not want Bernie Sanders,” Khanna told me in a recent interview. “But what surprised me is that there are hundreds of employees at Google, at Apple and at Facebook who are Bernie's supporters.”
It may seem counterintuitive that Sanders’s crusade against billionaires and corporate power would resonate so strongly in the cradle of some of the world’s most powerful companies. But skyrocketing costs of living in the region are hitting all Bay Area residents.
Khanna said many tech workers — even at major companies known for lofty salaries — are feeling financial stress and finding that Sanders’s policies resonate with them. “They're part of an anxious middle class,” Khanna said. “Because being part of the anxious middle class in Silicon Valley is you can be making $100,000 or $150,000, as hard as it is to believe, and still be very anxious given the costs of housing, the cost of education and costs of health care in our area.”
“I think that what appeals to them [about Sanders] is they have health care bills, and they have kids who want to go to college,” Khanna added. “They recognize the rising cost of housing.”
Sanders has been trying to speak directly to those anxieties on the campaign trail — even the local housing crisis. Last year, he criticized Apple after it pledged $2.5 billion to address the California housing crisis. He argued that the company helped create the crisis while raking in taxpayer subsidies and for not paying enough in taxes.
The senator has also campaigned on Medicare-for-all, a single-payer, national health insurance program that would expand health care coverage to all Americans. He supports providing free college, as well as wiping out $1.6 trillion in existing student loan debt.
There’s data that shows these policies are popular among tech industry workers. Sanders received the most in donations, from the highest number of individuals of any presidential candidate among employees of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Uber, Tesla and SpaceX, Oracle and Microsoft, according to a recent analysis of recent Federal Election Commission filings by The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong.
But despite that support, he’s no friend of Big Tech. A Sanders presidency would almost certainly result in greater antitrust scrutiny of the tech giants. He said at a Washington Post Live event last year that a Sanders administration would “absolutely” have a Justice Department that would seek to break up Facebook, Google and Amazon.
And his tax plans — especially his recent proposal to increase taxes on some start-up employees — have Silicon Valley venture capitalists worried.
Of course, Sanders’s lead in California was largely overshadowed by former vice president Joe Biden’s sweep of the South, as he threatens to outpace Sanders among delegates. Biden’s next test in Silicon Valley will be whether he’s able to win over some of the tech executives and investors who had previously supported other moderate Democratic candidates, such as Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.). Bloomberg's lackluster performance on Super Tuesday could also lead some venture capitalists and tech executives to reconsider which candidate they're supporting.
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: An Amazon employee in Seattle tested positive for the coronavirus as concerns escalated over its spread in the United States, CNBC’s Todd Haselton reports. The employee worked in one of the e-commerce giant's Seattle office buildings.
″We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” the company told CNBC. “The employee is based out of Amazon’s Brazil office building in Seattle, WA.”
The company notified employees of the diagnosis in a memo, saying, “The employee went home feeling unwell on Tuesday, February 25 and has not entered Amazon offices since that time.”
“We notified the employees who we know were in close contact with this employee,” the memo said, per CNBC. “The risk of transmission for employees who were not in close contact with this individual is assessed to be low.”
Amazon encouraged other employees experiencing symptoms to stay home and seek medical attention. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns The Post. The virus’s spread has been particularly acute in Washington state, as well as Silicon Valley's Santa Clara County, according to my colleagues.
Facebook, Google and Apple, announced several protective measures, canceling employee travel and events involving large gatherings, increasing office cleaning and asking employees to work remotely. Twitter became the first major technology company in the United States to advise employees to work from home earlier this week.
NIBBLES: The Texas secretary of state's office warned voters yesterday not to fall for robocalls trying to spread misinformation about the state's primary. An undisclosed number of calls tried to con voters into thinking voting was scheduled for Wednesday, not Tuesday, Merritt Enright, Ben Collins and Matthew Mulligan at NBC News reported.
The Secretary of State's office made clear on its Twitter account that Tuesday was voting day for all voters.
Our office has received reports of robocalls stating misinformation about today’s primary election. To be clear, all eligible voters should vote today. Look to @VoteTexas as your source for accurate election information. #TrustedInfo2020— Texas Secretary of State (@TXsecofstate) March 3, 2020
Claire Barnett, a Democratic candidate for Texas State House District 122, received one of the fraudulent calls on her way out of a polling station. “It was a local number in San Antonio. (The call) seemed designed to suppress the vote,” she told NBC News.
Other recipients reported a similar phone call in Spanish and from a different Texas area code. It's unclear whether the two were related.
Authorities were “proactive” in addressing the calls, Stephen Chang, director of communications for Secretary of State Ruth Hughs told NBC News, but did not specify what was being done.
BYTES: There are new efforts underway in Washington to hold social media titans accountable for content that harms or abuses children, my colleague Tony Romm reports. Lawmakers and Justice Department officials are preparing to unveil proposals that could escalate the battle over a decades-old law that protects tech platforms from liability for content on their services.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) could release legislation as soon as today that, if passed, would set up a commission at the Justice Department to craft a set of voluntary guidelines for tech companies to follow to combat child sexual exploitation, according to a copy of the measure obtained by The Post.
But without adopting them, companies would lose legal protections, opening the door for the government to hold Silicon Valley directly accountable for facilitating child sexual exploitation, experts told Tony.
Meanwhile, Justice Department officials are set to unveil 11 “voluntary principles” tomorrow that target child sexual exploitation, Tony reports. The agency and Facebook are clashing over the company's plans to expand its encrypted services — something law enforcement argues will make it harder to detect child abuse online.
Facebook expressed concerns that Blumenthal and Graham's “EARN IT Act” would give the Justice Department ammo in its quest to stop Facebook’s plans for encryption.
“We’re concerned the EARN IT Act may be used to roll back encryption, which protects everyone’s safety from hackers and criminals, and may limit the ability of American companies to provide the private and secure services that people expect,” Facebook spokesman Thomas Richards said in a statement.
— Telecommunications companies AT&T, Verizon and Juniper wrote to Senate Commerce Committee members in support of the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act ahead of a hearing on 5G supply-chain security today. The bipartisan legislation would provide more than $1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.
“Promoting leadership and innovation by telecommunications and networking suppliers in the U.S. and Europe is a critical part of the effort to maintain a secure and trusted global 5G supply chain,” Verizon's Robert Fisher and AT&T's Tim McKone wrote. “[This act] would foster U.S. innovation in the race for 5G, help shape global 5G network deployments, and drive the adoption of more secure network infrastructure.”
—, Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is urging Vice President Pence to create a website that combats disinformation about the coronavirus. The letter comes in response to an unreleased State Department report that identified 2 million tweets peddling coronavirus conspiracy theories, first reported by my colleague Tony Romm.
— Election year politics could drive lawmakers and President Trump to pass privacy and antitrust legislation, predicts Bruce Mehlman, who previously worked on tech policy in the George W. Bush administration. Mehlman said both House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Trump will need to show they’re getting things done to succeed in the 2020 elections.
“The conventional wisdom is, ‘after impeachment, they can’t negotiate anything together,’ ” Mehlman said on Technology Policy Institute’s Two Think Minimum podcast. “But reality is that the fourth year [of a presidency] has always seen more legislation than the third.”
— More news from the public sector:
– Facebook may be retooling its Libra cryptocurrency project to woo reluctant global regulators, Joe Light, Benjamin Bain and Olga Kharif at Bloomberg News report. The Facebook-led digital currency consortium stalled under scrutiny from regulators in the United States and abroad who worry the social media giant’s foray into finance could destabilize bank-backed currencies.
The new plan could reimagine Libra as a payment network that uses multiple currencies, including the U.S. dollar or euro. A pivot toward a payment network, rather than a single cryptocurrency, could ease some regulatory pressures. But it could also make it harder for Facebook to differentiate Libra from service providers such as PayPal.
Members of Libra denied reports it was scrapping plans for a currency.
“The Libra Association has not altered its goal of building a regulatory compliant global payment network, and the basic design principles that support that goal have not been changed,” Dante Disparte, head of policy and communications for the Libra Association, said in a statement to Bloomberg.
— News from the private sector:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
- The House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the proliferation of deceptive and dangerous products on online marketplaces at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Commerce Committee will host a hearing on "5G Supply Chain Security: Threats and Solutions" at 10am.
- The House Subcommittee on Government Operations, will hold a hearing to examine whether programs at the General Services Administration (GSA) designed to facilitate the modernization of existing technologies and the adoption of new technologies at 2 p.m.
- The House Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing titled Building Blocks of Change: The Benefits of Blockchain Technology for Small Businesses at 11:30 a.m.
- The Senate Judiciary will host a hearing “Dangerous Partners: Big Tech and Beijing” at 2:30 p.m.
- The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust will host a hearing on "Competition in Digital Technology Markets: Examining Self-Preferencing by Digital Platforms" on March 10 at 10 a.m.
- Nava Public Benefit Corporation will host a conversation moderated by the Technology 202's Cat Zakrzewski on “Impact at Scale: From Big Tech to Civic Tech” at 6 p.m. on March 10.
- The Code for America Summit will take place March 11-13 in Arlington, VA.
- SXSW will take place in Austin March 13-22.
- FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks and FTC Co missioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter will jointly host a field hearing in Detroit, Michigan on 5G technology and big data on March 16 at 1 p.m.
- The Game Developers Conference will take place in San Francisco March 16-20.