Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge In 2018, tech needed government more than ever. We were surrounded by problems that the industry couldn’t solve on its own, whether it was Russian trolls, growing monopoly fears, or the ever-escalating pace of cybersecurity failures. Unfortunately, in the second year of undivided Republican control, the US government…
In 2018, tech needed government more than ever. We were surrounded by problems that the industry couldn’t solve on its own, whether it was Russian trolls, growing monopoly fears, or the ever-escalating pace of cybersecurity failures.
Unfortunately, in the second year of undivided Republican control, the US government was too busy punching itself in the face. This year saw unprecedented dysfunction in even the most basic mechanisms of government, a point driven painfully home by the ongoing government shutdown (the third of the year) which has left thousands of government employees without a paycheck over the holidays. This year, tech policy largely took a backseat to immigration, taxes and the ongoing Mueller investigation, but whenever there was a problem that needed to be solved or an issue that needed federal guidance, we ran head-first into that same basic brokenness.
The big story was whatdidn’thappen. The year began with a cataclysmic election interference investigation, as social networks slowly came to terms with their role disseminating Russian propaganda during the 2016 campaign. In March, Cambridge Analytica put the spotlight on Facebook, generating an unprecedented amount of political will for platform regulation. But instead of taking meaningful action, Congress descended into general tech support interrogations and increasingly petty accusations of platform bias, culminating in the painfully embarrassing Diamond & Silk hearing. We may still get comprehensive data privacy legislation or a telecom act for platforms, but this Congress didn’t do much to push it forward.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s anti-immigration policies left tech employees expecting their companies to address problems that would usually fall to the state. The White House showed no interest in restraining ICE, so the agency’s shameless belligerence became a liability for contractors like Microsoft and Amazon, inspiring a new wave of employee activism. At the same time, federal law enforcement’s failure to recognize and respond to the threat of right-wing extremism put more pressure than ever on companies to take action, often de-platforming groups month before there could be any judicial action.
Other failures were more straightforward. For years, self-driving programs have been operating under hazy and often inconsistent state-level bills. The AV Start Act was Congress’s chance to step in and make sense of it, creating new standards separate from easily-swayed state legislatures. The bill passed the House earlier this year, and the Senate planned to push it through during the lame duck session. But the inherent complexity of the country’s first federal self-driving bill was too much for lawmakers, and the effort fell apart at the last minute.