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This week’s showdown between Congress and Silicon Valley, explained

Yelp VP Luther Lowe and trial lawyer Beth Wilkinson break it down on Recode Decode with Kara Swisher and political strategist Hilary Rosen.

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Tony Romm for Recode

If, by now, you’ve caught up on the first day of congressional testimony by top lawyers from Twitter, Google and Facebook, then you already know this much: Representatives on both sides of the aisle are angry.

“They’ve transformed the economy, and Washington follows the money,” trial lawyer Beth Wilkinson said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “And [Congress is] going to talk about the companies that are really affecting their constituents’ lives, and that’s these companies.”

Wilkinson — a co-founder of Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz — and her fellow guest, Yelp VP of Public Policy Luther Lowe, were interviewed by Recode’s Kara Swisher and special guest co-host Hilary Rosen, a democratic political strategist and CNN commentator. Talking before the hearings about tech’s role in the 2016 election had begun, both Wilkinson and Lowe noted that the politics here are messier and more bipartisan than one might expect.

“What’s sort of weird about the job these days is that you have things that you can almost sort of put in quotes and say, ‘Was this Elizabeth Warren or Steve Bannon that said this?’” Lowe said. “That’s made the year a bit interesting.”

“There are people out there that are afraid of tech, whether they’re taking the jobs or they don’t know how to use tech,” Wilkinson noted. “There’s a huge divide between Silicon Valley and D.C., and how people understand it.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Wilkinson’s past clients include Microsoft, the FTC and Facebook-owned Oculus VR. On the podcast, she said she doubts that anything related to the 2016 election will become a criminal case, but that representatives from Silicon Valley need to do a better job of explaining what they’re capable of seeing and doing.

“People don’t understand, and what tech says is, ‘Well, Washington doesn’t understand,’” she said. “That’s true, but it’s your job to teach them. Microsoft had that problem many years ago, and it was very costly, that idea of like, ‘Well, you don’t understand, so we don’t need to talk to you.’”

Lowe, on the other hand, has been a longtime crusader on Yelp’s behalf for more regulation of companies like Google. He praised the same antitrust case, United States v. Microsoft Corp., for having “oxygenated” the tech ecosystem, paving the way for new companies to emerge that today might be suppressed.

And, on top of that, Lowe argued that there’s a direct link between the consolidation of big tech firms and the Russia hearings.

“There’s a reason that we didn’t have these hearings four or eight years ago,” Lowe said. “The internet was more open, it was more pluralistic, and that’s just simply not the case today.”

“If you don’t have that kind of oxygenating enforcement happening, then you could easily see these firms just getting more consolidated, more dominant, more deeply entrenched,” he added. “I think that that is a major test.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

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  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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