Tech

Pro-tech advocacy group backed by Facebook and other silent investors releases its first ad

Key Points
  • A Facebook-backed group created to tout the innovation of American tech companies is launching its first ad on Friday, a representative for the group told CNBC.
  • The American Edge Project aims to "tell the story about the positive impact technology and innovation have on America's economy and businesses, particularly small ones, and how they enhance freedom of expression and our nation's overall security," according to a description on a YouTube video of its first ad. 
  • The campaign shows the positive impact tech companies have had for many consumers throughout the coronavirus pandemic at a time when they are under intense scrutiny for their data practices and potential competition law violations.
AleksandarNakic

A Facebook-backed group created to tout the innovation of American tech companies is launching its first ad on Friday, a representative for the group told CNBC.

The American Edge Project aims to "tell the story about the positive impact technology and innovation have on America's economy and businesses, particularly small ones, and how they enhance freedom of expression and our nation's overall security," according to a description on a YouTube video of its first ad. 

The campaign, which will run online in large media markets throughout the U.S., shows the positive impact tech companies have had for many consumers throughout the coronavirus pandemic at a time when they are under intense scrutiny for their data practices and potential competition law violations.

While the ad features brands including Facebook, Amazon, Google and Zoom, so far, only Facebook has confirmed its involvement in the coalition, as first reported by The Washington Post in May. The ad itself does not disclose its backers and representatives from the other companies that appear in the ad did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether they are formally funding the group. The American Edge representative declined to name other backers.

The spot, called "Time for innovation," depicts empty airports, offices and classrooms and then shows people connecting with friends and family through Zoom, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, receiving deliveries from Amazon and googling "how can i help" and "telemedicine." 

At the end, the words, "We're distant. But we're not alone," appear on the screen, followed by the American Edge logo with a tagline, "Technology is keeping America connected."

The ad shares a positive message about American tech companies as lifelines during the pandemic. That could play into a different message tech companies including Facebook have repeated to those advocating for more regulation: that American tech dominance can help fend off Chinese tech dominance, which is less likely to be regulated. U.S. officials are increasingly skeptical of Chinese tech companies including Huawei, ByteDance and Tencent, citing national security concerns.

American Edge says on its website that one of its core principles is that "American Innovation Plays A Key Role In Protecting Our National Security." It also mentions the importance of American innovation for economic growth and an open internet with free expression. The organization is directed by a bipartisan group of former officials: former Republican Governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez, former Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Chris Carney, and former Republican Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley A. Smith

Scrutiny of Big Tech has spanned several branches of government in the U.S. and abroad. The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google parent company Alphabet all appeared before the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust last month to defend their companies' competitive practices as the panel concludes an antitrust inquiry. All four have attracted antitrust scrutiny from a mix of federal, state and international regulators as well.

Lawmakers and regulators have also expressed concerns about data security at several of the companies, especially as more workers and students relied on their services under stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic. Zoom in particular found itself in hot water after several high-profile cases of "zoombombing" occurred, where hackers intruded on Zoom calls. Three state attorneys general announced a probe into its privacy practices. The company later struck a deal with the New York AG's office, promising heightened security measures, especially for students.

Still, officials and consumers have recognized the important role technology has played during the pandemic, from connecting people to one another to delivering essential items. With the presidential election looming, the new project appears to be a way to shift the focus to these positive aspects of the industry's impact.

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