In coronavirus crisis it's time to back off big tech: Consumer Technology Association CEO

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Innovation is one of the solutions to carrying us through the coronavirus crisis – and bringing us out of it. Imagine how challenging it would have been for us, just a few decades ago, if we had to stay at home for several weeks.

A few decades ago there would have been no internet, choice in entertainment, social media, tablet, smartphones, apps, printers, tablets, computers, HDTVs, streaming services, video schooling, websites, or the plethora of options which now allow us to function and stay connected and informed virtually.

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The technology industry has not only provided our essential connectivity, but it has rallied to the cause. It is developing digital health solutions, finding production hacks and improving efficiencies.

So, when Hugh Hewitt on his radio show several weeks ago suggested to me a “Truce for Tech” to target the virus, I embraced it.

He is right. It is time we insist that antitrust regulators back off big tech and start specifying helpful changes they want tech companies to make going forward.

Finding new legal theories to tie up the brainpower of our nation’s most innovative companies is not in the best interest of America – or Americans, especially now.

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Last year, both Republicans and Democrats increased their scrutiny of big tech firms, claiming some of our world-leading companies stifled competition and misused consumer data. The calls to break up big tech continued into this year, with the debate even taking the stage for the first time ever at CES® 2020 – the world’s most influential technology event.

Finding new legal theories to tie up the brainpower of our nation’s most innovative companies is not in the best interest of America – or Americans, especially now. 

More, some policymakers even cast doubt on the fundamental value of the technology innovations our society has seen over the past decade. They called for changes to the law to restrict online speech – the same online speech that Americans now rely on to get up-to-the-minute information on the pandemic.

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Every industry needs feedback, and the tech industry is no exception: We can always improve. It's important to know consumers' experiences and how products and services will augment their lives, but the hyperbolic and non-fact-based attacks that continue against tech threaten the industry's ability to improve and bring life-saving innovations to market.

Our largest technology companies – and the innovation they have inspired over recent years – are helping save lives and creating much-needed jobs during this crisis.

As a country, we’re reminded of the tremendous resources and vision these companies deliver: Amazon home delivery is providing food and essential items to Americans in lockdown. Apple created a new tool to screen for COVID-19 and is helping the White House launch a coronavirus website. Google committed over $800 million to support health care workers, small businesses and governments. Facebook is investing millions of dollars in grants to small businesses while providing resources to local media outlets hit hard by the pandemic.

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America’s leading companies are pioneering new uses for tech, including using artificial intelligence to help find a vaccine, applying machine learning to allocate scarce resources, diagnosing COVID-19 and other illnesses via telemedicine without spreading the virus, and employing teleworking tools on a larger scale than ever to keep entire industries afloat.

We get our news and entertainment digitally. Celebrities, musicians and news personalities alike are using social networks to broadcast live from the safety of their homes. When we find our way out of this, the tech industry’s ingenuity will have played a key role in protecting our citizens and leading our recovery.

Even policymakers and elected officials are holding virtual office hours and town hall meetings to reach out to voters and respond to urgent constituent needs.

The reality is that without these technologies, we would not be nearly as prepared as a country to deal with the challenges we’re seeing now. This isn’t the result of luck – rather, it’s produced by ongoing innovation and collaboration within the tech industry.

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In the past few years, for example, the telemedicine market has grown at a staggering rate, from $1.7 billion in 2016 to a projected $2.6 billion in 2020 – a January Market Study Report projected the global telemedicine market would reach $16.7 billion by 2025, but now I expect the number to be much higher. The support of the administration, the vision of tech platforms and the eager participation of many medical providers helped usher us into this promising future of telemedicine.

America’s tech companies are the crown jewels of this country’s economy. They’re leading the world in maximizing our health, safety and productivity. And they need the freedom to continue to innovate during this difficult time.

I am confident we will leverage the power of technology to pull our economy and country through this crisis and emerge on the other side stronger, safer and more connected because of it.

In this unprecedented and challenging time, I am thankful for the power of technology, which keeps us in touch with loved ones, provides us with information and entertainment, brings vital goods to our doorstep and broadens access to medical care. And I am confident we will leverage American innovation to pull our nation through this crisis and emerge safer and stronger than before.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. He is the author of the new book, "Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation." His views are his own.

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