by Ailian Evans
Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters wants to break up Big Tech and ban their business practices he believes are harmful.
“I think Republicans need to reacquaint themselves with their history of antitrust enforcement, and realize huge concentrations of power in private hands can violate people’s liberties just as much as government,” Masters said in an interview with the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Masters, who announced his candidacy in July, serves as chief operating officer at investment firm Thiel Capital and runs the Thiel Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. He competes in a crowded Republican primary with fellow candidate and current Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for the chance to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in 2022.
If elected, Masters would join a growing contingent of Republican lawmakers, including Colorado Rep. Ken Buck and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, advocating for breaking up Big Tech. Hawley has proposed several pieces of antitrust legislation targeting monopolies in digital markets, while Buck led the introduction of a series of bills in the House Judiciary Committee regulating tech companies’ alleged anticompetitive business practices.
Masters said he generally agrees with the lawmakers’ approach to Big Tech, and told the DCNF he plans to continue the push among Republicans for more aggressive antitrust enforcement and legislation.
“They’re just too big, and have too much power,” he said, referring to large tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google. “This is a new, modern problem for us to solve, and a few Senators who understand the problem could get the ball rolling.”
Masters argued the sheer size of major tech companies like Google and Facebook enable them to engage in businesses practices that inflict harm on consumers, such as targeted advertising, in which online platforms collect data on a user’s habits and preferences to inform what kind of ads the user sees.
“It’s not clear to me why Facebook should also own Instagram and WhatsApp to mine private information and share data to more effectively serve users advertising,” he said. “I think it’s predatory.”
Though Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have faced an onslaught of antitrust complaints over the past year from states, private parties, and the Federal Trade Commission, courts have repeatedly ruled in their favor.
“Existing interpretations of antitrust laws tend to define consumer harm in terms of higher prices. That might work for a railroad or a telegraph monopoly, but you don’t pay to use Facebook; you’re the product,” Masters said.
He suggested rewriting antitrust laws to accommodate the unique business model of social media platforms that lack a consumer-facing charge. The Senate candidate also encouraged lawmakers to think outside of antitrust law when addressing the potential harms of social media, proposing an outright ban on targeted advertising and similar business practices.
“The right solution is better data privacy laws that can actually prevent companies from using consumers’ data against them,” Masters said. “A good default would be to allow users to opt-in to all tracking and data collection practices.”
Comprehensive regulation of data collection and privacy currently occurs primarily at the state level, with notable examples such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act serving as the most expansive privacy legislation on the books. Though lawmakers have previously proposed federal data privacy legislation, most recently a bill introduced in July by Republican Sens. Roger Wicker and Marsha Blackburn, no comprehensive privacy laws have been enacted.
Masters also cited less obvious social harms he believes are caused by social media as potential targets for legislation. He pointed to recommendation algorithms that serve users content based upon their preferences as fostering addictive behavior.
“I think it clearly harms people’s brains, especially developing brains,” Masters told the DCNF. “It’s something that lawmakers should, and need to, look into.”
Masters’ campaign will have a $10 million jumpstart thanks to Peter Thiel, who placed the donation in April following another $10 million contribution to Ohio Senate candidate and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance.
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Ailian Evans is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.