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Amazon is on the verge of proposing major changes to US law. This could be great for many Americans and for the country, or this could be mostly talking.
Amazon has loudly advocated the federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. The company mentioned (briefly) in an April blog post that it supported raising the federal tax rate for companies. This week, Amazon wrote that it would “actively support” a proposed federal bill to legalize marijuana. Last year, the company said it wanted Congress to write rules about the ethical use of facial recognition technology, including Amazon’s Rekognition.
Some of these policies can make a real difference in people’s lives. My concern is that Amazon may want the public and policymakers to support these laws, but they won’t do the coordinated and sustained work needed to have real impact – unless it directly help Amazon.
We know that companies campaign vigorously or against laws in favor of their profits. But when companies say they support policies they believe can benefit everyone, do they spend money and opportunity on those efforts? (And should they?)
Emily Stewart, who writes for Vox’s Recode, recently asked the same questions to all businesses, including tech giants. But perhaps we should set tech superstars to an even higher standard because of their power over our lives and their influence over policymakers and public perception. .
Pressure from corporations has not been able to sway a Congress that is often deadlocked or slow to pass legislation. Labor organizations have been pressing for a $15 minimum wage for years. Maybe Amazon’s advocacy has been even more effective in rallying public support and changing the law. Ditto for Facebook’s ongoing promotions of supporting revised US internet regulations.
These companies deserve credit for taking on the big issues, but it’s important that they stick with it. As Stewart wrote, “The vague gestures from corporations and executives are a way to address real social and political problems and deflect the scrutiny it deserves.”
An episode of Amazon’s past also casts doubt on its motives in policy wars. For years, the company has loudly declared support for a national sales tax in the United States. Amazon knows that a national sales tax is most likely one that didn’t start in Congress. But Amazon’s position has helped it fight state laws to collect sales tax on online purchases.
National sales tax never happened. Amazon about a decade ago began reaching a compromise with the states to impose a sales tax. At the time, the company had benefited from years of price advantages over conventional retailers.
This bit of history shows that what Amazon says is a principled policy stance that is little more than a strategic maneuver.
Here are some questions American taxpayers might ask tech companies that are voicing policy changes: How are companies pushing for this legislation? What specific policy proposals does it have? How much money will the company spend lobbying for it? Does the company commit to reporting status on its advocacy and results?
The Amazon lobbying revelations suggest, without many specifics, that the minimum wage issue is one of the topics the company has pressured members of Congress on. Jodi Seth, an Amazon spokesperson, also pointed me to the company’s advertisements and comments about the minimum wage increase, and said it was one of the few issues that concerns everyone in the industry. Amazon policy team.
I’ll add one more question to my list: Why? No, the real answer. Radical confidence in companies’ motivations for proposed policy changes can help win confidence from legislators and the public.
For Amazon, why not be frank that raising the minimum wage could be good for many American workers and for Amazon’s business? The company may need to pay more to attract enough high-quality workers and keep them satisfied, and its competitors may not be able to afford higher wages.
Facebook and several other tech companies that are behind national digital privacy laws in the US often don’t say outright that they want more lenient regulations from Congress to usurp the strict laws that they don’t. Some states have passed.
I’m making a spreadsheet that lists policy positions taken by major tech companies. I promise to report back here periodically with what the companies have done. (And feel free to email me with policy recommendations from tech companies you’d like to follow. Put “policy” in the subject line.)
Before we go…
Facebook fights with itself: Several employees challenged Facebook bosses over actions they believe helped the Indian government stop online dissent and deleted some pro-Palestinian posts, my colleagues Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac reports. It’s the latest example of a split between some Facebook employees who want the company to stand up to authoritarian governments and a policy group that handles tough international relationships.
It’s hard to create a Silicon Valley from scratch: The Rest of the World looks at what happened to Kenya’s attempt to build a city imagined as a high-tech utopia for residents and a hub for tech companies. The article states: “Smart cities are not a cure for all socioeconomic problems but a way to distract people from larger, structural problems.
Meet the new king of TikTok: Khabane Lame, a 21-year-old former factory worker in Italy, has become the fastest-growing video creator on TikTok. My colleagues Jason Horowitz and Taylor Lorenz explain the appeal of his smart and easy-to-understand reaction videos. (Here, for example, he’s terrified of the Sour Patch Kid pizza.)
Chim is great. This is a macaw (I think?) dance and sing with the piano.
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