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Tech execs weren't being totally fair when they trashed Trump's tech policy

Rob Pegoraro
·Contributing Editor
Donald Trump is interviewed in New York on April 25, 2011. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)
Donald Trump is interviewed in New York on April 25, 2011. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)

One hundred forty-five technology executives, investors, inventors and other bold-face names posted an open letter Thursday to make one thing clear: They can’t stand Donald Trump.

Many people share that sentiment, to judge from the continued high negative approval ratings the presumptive Republican nominee keeps racking up in polls. But “An Open Letter From Technology Sector Leaders On Donald Trump’s Candidacy For President” is a little unfair on one point: Trump doesn’t actually have a coherent technology policy to critique just yet.

What they don’t like

The signers of the document posted Thursday — including eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, internet pioneer Vint Cerf, IAC chairman Barry Diller and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — declare upfront that “Trump would be a disaster for innovation.”

(This group doesn’t include some high-ranking and otherwise outspoken US tech leaders: Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey have all voiced their thoughts on recent political controversies but did not sign the letter.)

Most of that critique rests on Trump’s calls to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and deport undocumented immigrants and then curb legal immigration, all of which have often been salted with language suggesting Hispanics and Muslims should be feared.

“Great ideas come from all parts of society, and we should champion that broad-based creative potential,” the signers wrote. “Donald Trump, meanwhile, traffics in ethnic and racial stereotypes, repeatedly insults women and is openly hostile to immigration.”

Note that while the tech industry loves to talk about itself as a meritocracy, its own record on ethnic and gender diversity needs improvement — a point that President Barack Obama has made more than once.

The letter also decries Trump’s intention to shut down the parts of the internet used by the ISIS. The letter says this proposal demonstrates “both poor judgment and ignorance about how technology works.”

One early participant in the drafting of the open letter, which began a few weeks ago, said the authors’ overriding concern was Trump’s habit of focusing on how things used to be.

“We cannot thrive or lead (or perhaps even survive) by continuing to aim at being the best at what we used to be the best at,” Washington startup hub 1776 co-founder Donna Harris wrote in an e-mail. “We need leaders who can acknowledge that.”

What they — and we — don’t know

Towards the end, this short document pivots to admit that critiquing Trump’s tech policy amounts to wrestling with shadows.

“We believe that government plays an important role in the technology economy by investing in infrastructure, education and scientific research,” it states. “Donald Trump articulates few policies beyond erratic and contradictory pronouncements.”

That is true. While presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton shared a detailed tech-policy outline two weeks ago — and some of Trump’s defeated rivals for the Republican nomination also went into some detail about their goals — Trump’s tech-policy ambitions barely amount to a cloud of probability.

There are important debates to be had about what the US should do about major tech-policy concerns — ranging from the abuse of software patents to cybersecurity to our our choices in consumer broadband. But Trump has yet to engage in them.

Scour Trump’s site for insights on those areas, and you’ll only find such scattered tidbits as his denunciation of China for ripping off US intellectual property and his declaration that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs a technology upgrade.

The Consumer Technology Association noted this shortfall in a Thursday statement calling on Trump and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson to state their intentions. Asked CTA president Gary Shapiro: “Do they have any plans at all on spectrum, investment, broadband, training and education and competitiveness?”

Indeed, it’s strange that the applicant for America’s top job has a “continued absence of a tech/innovation agenda,” as 1776’s Harris mentioned. That doesn’t prove Trump has no thoughts on those issues; but it does mean it’s time for this businessman to share his ideas on this key part of the nation’s business.

Read more:

How to see if your apps know too much about you

Those massive data overage charges may be a thing of the past

Big cable has a plan to help you dump the box you’re renting

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.