Big tech companies are standing up departments dedicated to geopolitics.
Some lawmakers are asking if our tech companies are so expansive and powerful that they now function like nation states.
In the U.S., our largest companies have always engaged in lobbying for the purpose of influencing policy and regulation. But as the tech giants amass power and wealth, delegations from foreign governments are establishing small outposts in Silicon Valley.
Austria and Denmark both maintain missions in San Francisco so that they can actively engage with the tech community, while China maintains several offices for venture funding all throughout Silicon Valley. In 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook met with China’s head market regulator in Beijing; the company subsequently removed a live app map from its app store that was being used by protestors in Hong Kong.
Microsoft president Brad Smith spearheaded a corporate foreign policy group within the company, and he champions multi-stakeholder approaches to geopolitics. He regularly meets with foreign ministers and heads of state. In 2017, Smith introduced a Digital Geneva Convention—an international treaty intended to protect citizens against state-sponsored cyberattacks—and his team actively works on a tech-focused approach to foreign policy.
Tech companies are actively poaching staff at the State Department, especially those who have become jaded under the chaotic and confusing working conditions of the Trump Administration.
In a globalized world, tech companies could wield great influence on the future construction of wireless networks, device ecosystems, artificial intelligence, and more. As they consolidate power in the commercial sector, big tech could wind up consolidating power in the public sector, too.
It’s one thing for a big company to lobby domestic lawmakers, but some are wondering what the longer-term implications would be for corporations trying to influence geoeconomics. What if a company’s priorities differ from the national priorities of its government at home?
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