It's time for the government to step in and regulate big tech companies, says Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
With tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and others exerting so much influence over culture and the economy, not to mention users' daily lives, it's become necessary for lawmakers to become more involved in how those companies deal with essential issues like privacy and cyberbullying, Gates said in an interview posted online by Bloomberg on Wednesday.
"Technology has become so central that government has to think: What does that mean about elections? What does that mean about bullying?" Gates said in the interview, which took place at the Economic Club of Washington, DC in June. "So, yes, the government needs to get involved."
Gates expects that one area where we're likely to see additional government regulation of tech companies is around the issue of data privacy. Facebook, Google and other tech companies (Microsoft included) have been rocked by a series of privacy scandals in recent years that affected millions of users' personal information.
"There will be more regulation of the tech sector, things like privacy … there should be, at some point, federal regulation that relates to that," Gates said.
Meanwhile, the fact that more and more people today get their information online, including from social media platforms, has sparked concerns from regulators over whether or not tech companies are taking enough precautions to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms. Count Gates among those who believe that government regulations could help ensure that the information being widely disseminated on many of those online platforms can be trusted.
"The fact that, now, this is the way people consume media has really brought it into a realm where we need to shape it so that the benefits need to outweigh the negatives," he said in the interview.
Of course, Gates wasn't always such a fan of government oversight of the tech industry. As CEO of Microsoft until 2000, Gates and the company spent nearly a decade pushing back against the government's attempts at labeling Microsoft a monopoly.
The Department of Justice began an antitrust investigation into Microsoft in 1992 before suing the company in 1998. Microsoft eventually reached a settlement with the government in 2001, with the deal imposing multiple rules the company had to follow for several years, including sharing the company's records and source code with competitors.
In the interview posted online by Bloomberg, Gates pointed out that newer tech companies might have learned a lesson from Microsoft's past actions. Tech companies today are "very engaged" with the government, Gates said, as tech leaders like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg have expressed a willingness to work with the government on creating more tech regulations.
"I, for the early years of Microsoft, bragged to people that I didn't have an office in Washington, DC, and eventually I came to regret that statement, because it was kind of almost like taunting [government regulators]," Gates said.
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