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Under Trump, business leaders have become the country's moral compass, tech investor says

  • Technology companies such as Amazon have had their business models targeted directly by President Donald Trump.
  • A slew of high-profile CEOs, including IBM's Ginni Rometty, relinquished their roles on Trump's advisory councils.
  • The role of private companies, as well as organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is likely to keep intensifying, a tech investor says.

The tech industry will continue to feel more pressure to assert its values and address the size and scope of its influence, after a week of events that pitted CEOs against President Donald Trump, one technology investor told CNBC on Friday.

"Business leaders are being asked to step forward and try and set policy for our country. It's kind of an awkward situation overall," Jeff Richards, managing partner at GGV Capital, told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Friday.

Technology companies such as Amazon have seen their business models targeted directly by Trump. "Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt — many jobs being lost!," Trump tweeted this week.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet Inc. and Larry Page, CEO and Co-founder of Alphabet enter Trump Tower ahead of a meeting of technology leaders with President-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 14, 2016.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet Inc. and Larry Page, CEO and Co-founder of Alphabet enter Trump Tower ahead of a meeting of technology leaders with President-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 14, 2016.

The tensions between tech companies and Trump were cranked up after a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by white nationalists. Some critics said that Trump's remarks did not come down harshly enough on the organizers, and a slew of high-profile CEOs, including IBM's Ginni Rometty, relinquished their roles on Trump's advisory councils.

Many technology CEOs did not have formal roles in the White House panels, but some CEOs, such as Apple's Tim Cook, spoke out anyway. Still, compared with some other industries, the response was slow. Amazon, for instance, did not comment to CNBC earlier this week.

It's an unprecedented situation for many business leaders, according to Richards, whose firm invests in technology companies such as Alibaba, Pandora and Airbnb. But the role of private companies, as well as organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is likely to keep intensifying, Richards said.

"We've never really seen this before. We've never seen the moral compass of our country placed in the hands of private business leaders," Richards said. "And I think one of the reasons you're seeing that is because many of us would argue that our president is tending to go back and forth on various things."