The United States has a powerful weapon that Ukraine has unleashed on Russia without having to plead or ask for U.S. government permission: the American tech sector.
In the early days of the war, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple halted business in Russia. Following enactment of Russia’s onerous censorship law, on March 21, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram were banned by a Russian court for what it called their “extremist activity.”
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, has used his considerable social media and digital expertise to align hundreds of the world’s companies in support of Ukraine. He has also gotten many of them to withdraw their services from Russia.
Tweets from the relentless 31-year-old patriot, who also serves as Vice Prime Minister and worked on Volodymyr Zelensky’s presidential campaign, help the war effort.
For example, he has persuaded Elon Musk to provide Starlink satellites to Ukraine, thereby ensuring much more reliable Internet service in the war-ravaged country. Fedorov has shamed a litany of companies doing business in Russia, forcing them to end or curtail their sales and services in Russia, thereby imposing more economic pain on Moscow.
Fedorov knows that the world’s leading technology companies impact events way beyond their borders. The U.S. Congress should take this to heart.
One of the few areas of general, underlying political agreement today in Congress is bashing “Big Tech.” Many Democrats do not like large, successful, companies and many Republicans are concerned about the woke culture and speech restrictions that they perceive Big Tech imposing.
But the proposed cures are worse than the disease.
Both the House and Senate have put forward multiple bills seeking to prevent what members feel is monopolistic behavior by these companies. Some of the proposed laws are draconian, others downright silly. For example, one such bill would require large tech companies to prove their acquisitions were lawful, a reversal of the traditional notion of innocent until proven guilty.
Another measure, the American Innovation and Choice Online (AICO) Act, which has passed the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, would arbitrarily restrict companies with more than $650 billion in market cap from using their online platforms to “unfairly” promote their products and services versus others on the platform.
The benefits to hundreds of thousands of new businesses that have thrived through this business model is being threatened. Meanwhile, large companies like Walmart, Oracle, and PayPal are not impacted by AICO, since they fall under the market cap. They also provide substantial competition to products hosted by large tech companies.
Besides Ukraine, China must be considered in the context of tech legislation. On September 15, 2021, a bipartisan group of 12 former national security and intelligence officials wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about this.
“At the very least, legislation intended to ban new acquisitions and force break-ups of some of the largest U.S. tech companies – and, in particular, those focused on consumer markets – deserves more study. Provisions in these bills that target a narrow group of U.S. companies without requiring similar oversight of Chinese tech giants such as Huawei, Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba would place these already formidable competitors in a better position to assume global preeminence.”
As Congress reflects on the next steps for Big Tech legislation, it should pause to consider what would happen if China were the dominant provider and innovator of tech services. Surely, that would make the fight in Ukraine harder, while endangering our economic and national security.
Mykhailo Fedorov understands tech companies are integral to protecting freedom. The U.S. Congress should take this to heart.