President Biden appointed Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and staunch advocate of Internet freedom and openness, as special assistant for technology competition on March 5. Analysts believe that Wu’s entry into the White House, as a hawkish pro-antitrust scholar, signals a chilling winter for big tech companies in Silicon Valley, and reveals that the Biden Administration will be more deeply engaged in a comprehensive boycott of Tiktok and WeChat to punish the Chinese Communist Party for its restrictions on U.S. Internet platforms.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Wu Xiuming served as a senior advisor to the Federal Trade Commission during the Obama presidency and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of New York in 2014. A staunch antitrust believer, Wu has called in several interviews and articles for the federal government to crack down on big tech companies, particularly dismantling Facebook, which would otherwise threaten the fate of American democracy.
His most widely known jurisprudential concept, “network neutrality” – the idea that ISPs should be neutral and should not control connections to influence users and gain benefits – led to the passage of federal net neutrality regulations in 2010. In 2013, Wu was selected as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by the National Law Journal. Wu’s father is reportedly from Taiwan and his mother is Anglo-Canadian.
Assistant Professor Stallman, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
Erik Stallman, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, believes Wu’s appointment is a reflection of the Biden administration’s technology and competition policies. “Wu is an expert in the field of competition, which involves not only technology, but also aviation and telecommunications. Certainly, Xiuming Wu has recently been very concerned about competition issues related to large technology companies.”
According to Tejas Narechania, another assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, “This appointment indicates that the Biden administration will be thinking seriously about how and to whom antitrust law applies. Wu Xiuming is a very thoughtful person whose thinking about antitrust covers many dimensions, from the concept of ‘net neutrality,’ to Internet service providers, to applications, to competition from big technology companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and so on.”
Stallman: Wu Xiuming to Push Antitrust Law Against U.S. and Chinese Companies
Last August, Wu Xiuming wrote an article in the New York Times in support of banning TikTok, stating, “If the Chinese Communist Party refuses to abide by the rules of an open Internet, why should it continue to be allowed access to Internet markets around the world?” While Wu does not believe that Trump is “the right person to fight this battle,” he supports his ban on TikTok and WeChat as “the appropriate response to an eye for an eye in a protracted battle over the soul of the Internet.”
Wu’s central point is that the Chinese Communist Party has banned TikTok and WeChat competitors like YouTube and WhatsApp for years. effectively preventing foreign companies from competing fully and independently in the Chinese market, while Chinese services like TikTok are free to tap into Western markets. “This asymmetry is unfair and should no longer be tolerated. The privilege of Internet access – the Open Internet – should only be extended to companies from countries/regions that respect openness.”
As a leading advocate of a free and open Internet, Wu does not support Trump’s approach or motives, but argues that apps from Chinese companies like TikTok would cut off “the privilege of full Internet access” and therefore require special treatment. He criticized the long-standing U.S. approach to foreign affairs, arguing that the United States should become the strong democracy that other countries seek, and in particular needs to play a more active role in promoting its version of a free and equal Internet, rather than sitting on its hands.
Stallman said Wu Xiuming will continue to follow through on his regulation of anti-competitive behavior by large technology companies when he takes office and continue to assess the potential harm to U.S. technology competition from Chinese companies. “He will require the full application of antitrust regulations to U.S. and Chinese companies… But I have a feeling that he will not endorse the way former President Trump hinted at having Oracle acquire Tiktok and is unlikely to deal with antitrust issues by having them acquired by a U.S. company.”
Auburn: Wu Xiuming will demand fair competition from companies from the perspective of consumer protection
UCLA School of Law Lecturer Auburn
Alex Alben, a lecturer at UCLA School of Law, said the U.S. is now at a critical juncture in antitrust policy. “Our current antitrust statutes date back to the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the creation of the Federal Trade Commission that same year, and these antitrust philosophies were established at a Time when railroads and oil companies dominated the U.S. economy. It is truly shocking that we have had almost no updates to the antitrust laws in the last 130 years.” The U.S. explanation for monopolies is that “as anti-competitive behavior causes harm to consumers,” “the most typical example is to drive up the price of consumer goods.”
Auburn explained that this model does not fit the Internet business model because many Internet service providers, such as gmail, offer free services to users and there is no way to tell if the price of the service has risen because of the monopoly. “This forced U.S. regulators to propose a different model for anti-competitive behavior in the technology sector,” and “how the data on how consumers use Internet platforms is used becomes a measure of consumer interest damage.”
Wu Xiuming takes office Biden’s technology policy toward China will return to traditional U.S. values
In several speeches and several articles, Wu Xiuming has high-profile refuted arguments that anti-monopoly hurts U.S. companies while paving the way for the dominance of Chinese technology. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg and other U.S. tech leaders issued a stark warning to supporters of industry competition that “undermining tech giants is tantamount to putting the future in the hands of China because the Chinese government supports its tech companies, who want to put themselves ahead of the global competition.”
Wu rejected the “big business can’t fall” argument, noting in a lengthy article in the New York Times that anti-trust sanctions against telecom giants AT&T and IBM not only did not kill the two big companies, but contributed to the boom of the 1980s and 1990s. “When industry control broke down, we had a new telecom industry, a new Internet industry, and the big companies we talk about today. The lesson of this example is that stifling stifling monopolies will facilitate the rapid growth of the industry.”
Some analysts believe that Wu Xiuming’s arrival means that U.S. technology policy toward China may return to a traditional framework of American values. Wu cited the example of Japan’s technology competition, arguing that while the nationalist industrial policy it pursued in the 1970s and 1980s allowed Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba to grow rapidly for a time, the companies that dominated the world 10 years later were Facebook, Apple and Google. “We should believe that fierce competition within the United States will make the whole industry stronger. Challenge our greatest technology companies and force them to compete and America will continue to be the world’s technology champion.”
Auburn also noted three drivers of the Biden administration’s approach to Chinese technology companies, “One is security, and the new administration will be considering very carefully the potential national security risks of hugely popular Chinese apps; and two is the use of data from those software. The most important driver will be competition.
China will use national policy to gain a competitive advantage, while we will compete primarily through the private technology industry.” “Based on the above drivers, which are closely related to U.S. national interests, the appointment of Xiuming Wu will not result in a fundamental change in the Biden administration’s technology policy toward China.”
“When Wu Xiuming takes office, he will, along with the new Justice Department team, have to focus on two fundamental goals on antitrust issues: first, fair competition; and second, consumer protection.” Auburn said.
Since the early 2000s, Wu has left his mark on nearly every major government decision affecting Silicon Valley. As the author of the influential technology policy books “The Curse of Bigness,” “The Master Switch” and “The Attention Merchants,” Wu coined the term ” Net Neutrality” in 2002, and subsequently helped develop the FCC’s net neutrality regulations.
In 2013, as a key member of the Federal Trade Commission, Wu pushed for continued prosecution of Google, calling on the government to use all of its powers to break up monopolies in the “Age of Google”. to prosecute Facebook for anti-competitive behavior.
In his 2018 book, The Curse of Big Business, Hsiu-Ming Wu articulates the ultimate goal of antitrust as the creation of an economy and democratic government that is broadly concerned with the general welfare. Wu writes that “monopolies and anticompetitive phenomena should raise concerns that this represents the transformation of overly concentrated economic power into concentrated political power, thereby threatening the constitutional structure.”
Wu argues that large technology companies (especially Facebook, Google and Amazon) are creating a “Gilded Age” of unequal democracy through concentrated wealth and power similar to that of the late 19th and early 20th century American railroad construction. He once said that his “mission in Life” would be “to fight the bullies.