Evan Greer is a transgender activist, writer, and musician based in Boston. She’s the director of digital rights group Fight for the Future. Follow her on Twitter @evan_greer.
Washington is on the verge of doing something big: finally passing meaningful legislation to rein in the monopoly power and abusive practices of Big Tech giants.
Feeling the heat, Silicon Valley’s lobbyists have sunk to a new low: using the safety of trans and queer people as a wedge issue to undermine tech reform bills that would help, not harm, the LGBTQ+ community. My community.
Earlier this month, the Chamber of Progress—an organization that lobbies on behalf of Big Tech and is run by Google’s former head of policy, called on Sen. Klobuchar and Rep. Cicilline to throw cold water on their own bipartisan antitrust bills: The American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act.
The Chamber opportunistically seized on false claims made by Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO) and Fox News host Laura Ingraham that antitrust reform is a way to “stop woke companies' from standing up for LGBTQ+ rights. In a letter to Klobuchar and Cicilline, the lobbyists encouraged the lawmakers to denounce Buck's claims. “If antitrust is used to punish companies for speaking up on social justice issues, the result could be a chilling effect on corporate leadership against hate and bigotry,” the tech lobbyists wrote.
That seems reasonable enough on its face, but it could not be more obvious that the Chamber’s goal was not to support LGBTQ+ rights, but rather to undermine legislation that their Big Tech backers oppose.
The lobbyists eagerly attempted to use these hateful comments to divide the rare bipartisan coalition that has emerged around antitrust reform in Congress. They also took the opportunity to pat their corporate funders on the back, noting “many leading tech companies have signed statements opposing anti-LGBTQ state legislation.” Just in case there was any doubt about their intentions, the Chamber followed their letter with an op-ed arguing that Big Tech companies should be “applauded,” rather than regulated.
It's disgusting, but not surprising, to see conservatives stoke anti-trans fear to score points with their base. But it’s even more shameful that the Chamber—ostensibly a “progressive” organization—is putting our safety and interests in the crosshairs, using trans people as a bargaining chip to kill tech reform bills. The fact that they’re doing this at a time when trans people, particularly trans children, are actively under siege and being targeted by dozens of hateful and violent legislative attacks across the country, is immoral and inexcusable.
And in the process, the Chamber is amplifying a blatantly misleading interpretation of these common sense antitrust bills pushed by some of the most bigoted members of Congress.
The sick irony is that the bills the Chamber is trying to kill are the first step to reforming Big Tech’s business practices that disproportionately harm trans and queer people. Big Tech’s monopolistic business model is built on surveillance capitalist practices that are fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights. While Silicon Valley giants have talked a good game about their support for LGBTQ+ rights, their actions tell a different story.
From Facebook’s notoriously transphobic “real names'' policy, which it refused to change for years despite repeated pleas from the LGBTQ community, to Google’s systematic demonetization of LGBTQ related content on YouTube, Big Tech has a terrible track record when it comes to LGBTQ rights and safety. A 2021 report from GLAAD, a leading national LGBTQ+ rights organization that supports antitrust reform, blasted Big Tech companies for its “inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI which disproportionately impacts LGBTQ users and other marginalized communities who are uniquely vulnerable to hate and harassment and discrimination.”
Apple’s draconian app store monopoly enables censorship of LGBTQ related apps in 152 countries, and the company came under fire last year for proposing “safety” updates that experts said would get LGBTQ teenagers “kicked out of their homes, beaten, or worse.” Apple and Google’s long running war on “NSFW” content has disproportionately lead to censorship of LGBTQ+ content, even when it’s not pornographic in nature.
Extreme concentration in the tech marketplace has removed alternatives that would allow trans people to take our business elsewhere, even when our security is on the line. Apple’s insistence on maintaining total control over what software people can and can’t run on their phones is a disaster for human rights and privacy. For example, after it was revealed that spyware companies had exploited a vulnerability in iMessage, iPhone users couldn’t uninstall it. That security vulnerability could have life or death consequences for queer and trans activists in repressive countries.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act begin to unwind those abuses. They would ban Big Tech companies from self-preferencing their own products and services, and they would free app stores from the chokeholds that limit which apps are offered to users online.
These bills won’t fix everything that’s wrong with Big Tech. We urgently need data privacy legislation, policies targeting algorithmic discrimination and other harm reduction measures. But if we want a future where LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized communities, can truly be safe and express ourselves online, these antitrust bills are an essential first step toward a future where all Internet users have meaningful choices and more control over their online experience.
We expect conservatives to denigrate and attack trans people to score points with hateful elements of their base. But we will not accept tech companies waving the rainbow flag with one hand while using the trans community as a wedge to protect their monopolies with the other.
Progressive antitrust advocates are not backing down. We are not afraid. We can call out bigotry and monopolies at the same time. We must.
Big Tech is free to oppose bills that will finally hold them accountable, but at the very least, they should tell their lobbyists to keep our names out of their mouths.