Throughout the fourth Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) continued to argue for breaking up big tech companies, but not everyone on the stage was ready to take that stand.
Warren has made taking on big tech one of her biggest campaign promises. Leading up to the debate, she publicly sparred with Facebook over its policy for political ads and vowed to turn down large donations from big tech executives.
“I'm not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy. It's time to fight back,” said Warren during the debate.
Warren went on to specifically call out Amazon.
“It collects information from every little business, and then Amazon does something else. It runs the platform, gets all the information, and then goes into competition with those little businesses. Look, you get to be the umpire in the baseball game, or you get to have a team, but you don't get to do both at the same time. We need to enforce our antitrust laws, break up these giant companies that are dominating,” said Warren.
While the other candidates repeatedly expressed concerns about competition, they did not explicitly call for breaking up the companies. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang questioned whether it would be realistic.
“Competition doesn't solve all the problems. It's not like any of us wants to use the fourth-best navigation app,” Yang said. “That would be like cruel and unusual punishment. There is a reason why no one is using Bing today. Sorry, Microsoft. It's true. It’s not like breaking up these big tech companies will revive Main Street businesses around the country.”
Yang argued the better solution would be allowing consumers to own their own data.
“Right now, our data is worth more than oil,” said Yang. “If we say this is our property and we share in the gains, that's the best way we can balance the scales against the big tech companies.”
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) made the case that a president or candidate shouldn’t decide which companies should be broken up, but there should be rules of the road in place for social media companies.
“Right now, we treat them functionally as a utility, when, in reality, they're more akin to a publisher. They curate the content that we see,” O’Rourke said. “Treat them like the publisher that they are. That's what I will do as president.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) raised concerns about anti-competitive behavior and big tech’s influence on elections. He said there is need for “regulation and reform,” but didn’t call for breaking up the companies. “We have a reality in this country where antitrust, from pharma to farms, is causing trouble, and we have to deal with this. As president of the United States, I will put people in place that enforce antitrust laws,” said Booker.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted her legislation to modernize antitrust laws, with the goal of encouraging more competition. “Changing the standard so we can do a better job of doing just what we've been talking about here, is breaking down some of this consolidation, and also making sure that the enforcers have the resources to take them on because they're so overwhelmed,” said Klobuchar. “Start talking about this as a pro-competition issue. This used to be a Republican and Democratic issue.”
When asked about breaking up big tech, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) pivoted to attack Warren and pressure her to call on Twitter to suspend President Trump’s account. Warren brushed off the request.
“Look, I don't just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House. That's our job,” Warren said.
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.