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Tech titans are a 'risk to democracy:' Ian Bremmer

Tech leaders ranging from Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk are powerhouses of industry, generating billions of dollars in revenue for their companies each year. But according to Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer, their focus on growth and their companies' unchecked strength pose an existential risk to the U.S.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bremmer claimed that tech CEOs and founders are contributing to business models that hurt America's democracy.

"The fact is that those people, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, also at the same time have literally no interest or conception in their role as stewards for civil society and American democracy," Bremmer said.

"All of America's lionizing of free markets and capitalism has also led to a vastly more dysfunctional democratic process, because these companies are inadvertently, but nonetheless, aligning with business models that destroy democracy."

In a December 2021 op-ed that appeared in Foreign Affairs titled, “The Technopolar Moment: How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order,” Bremmer wrote that Big Tech companies are "exercising a form of sovereignty” and are increasingly shaping geopolitics. "They have created a new dimension in geopolitics—digital space—over which they exercise primary influence. People are increasingly living out their lives in this vast territory, which governments do not and cannot fully control," he wrote.

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

And while Democrats and Republicans in Congress recognize tech giants' unfettered expansion could prove dangerous, Bremmer says neither side of the aisle can agree exactly why.

"Democrats, Republicans, they don't agree on what should be done. They don't agree on what the problem is. Some people want to break them up. Some people want regulate them harder. Some people think it's all about free speech. Some people think it's about woke capitalism," Bremmer said. "I mean you pick a congressman, you have a different issue with AI, right?"

Members of Congress have been battling over how they can bring Big Tech to heel for years. While they agree that they need to pass some form of legislation to protect user privacy, address competition, and revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which allows web operators to moderate user speech and content as they see fit), there's been little movement toward any kind of regulatory solution.

While Republicans believe something needs to be done about Big Tech's alleged anticompetitive behavior, they don't want to stifle growth in the industry. Democrats, however, believe they should take bigger steps to curtailing tech companies' ability to box out smaller competitors.

And though both sides want to reform Section 230, Republicans say they need to ensure that tech companies can't limit speech on their platforms, while Democrats want firms to moderate content more aggressively.

Bremmer also called out tech companies for attempting to get Americans addicted to their services.

“These are literally platforms where the A-B testing they’re doing is: How can we better addict our product?" he said. "And our product happens to be citizens of the United States and other democracies around the world.”

So when will Congress make meaningful reforms with regards to Big Tech? According to Bremmer, it'll likely still take some time.

"I would say until you have a serious crisis," he said.

Julie Hyman is the co-anchor of Yahoo Finance Live, weekdays 9am-11am ET. Follow her on Twitter @juleshyman. Dan Howley is Yahoo Finance's tech editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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