Warner: Yeah. I’ve done a lot of work and thinking around the future of work. I’ve convened sessions where I’ve brought companies and advocates to talk about the gig economy. Some of my Democratic colleagues’ reaction was, “Oh, this episodic work-on-demand is horrible. We need to think about this whole issue in the context of 20th-century labor, classic labor classification, and try to move everybody back into it.” And one of my other colleagues, on the younger side, stood up and said, “Before we go against all of these new companies and try to turn this into a 20th-century battle, every one of you senators needs to go back and ask your whole staff how many of them use Airbnb or Uber or Lyft.” This was about three years ago. And I think there’s concern that if somehow you simply look at 20th-century solutions, you can appear anti-future, anti-tech.
Foer: You’re an expert on the abuse of data and the ambiguity of surveillance. Are there ways in which your own relationship to technology has shifted as you’ve started to analyze these questions? Are there devices that you won’t allow into your house?
Warner: I actually know more than even most because of the nature of being on the Intelligence Committee. So I’ve gotten better in terms of personal cyber and tech hygiene. But frankly, I’m not as good as I should be. I have not taken the Alexa completely out. We have it mostly turned off; we have it mostly unplugged. We have not gone cold turkey on some of the tools, but I’m safer on how I use them. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m still very frustrated, especially as we move into Internet of Things–connected devices. I have the most recent estimate: We’re about 20 billion connected devices now; we’ll be at 500 billion within a decade. We’re creating all these devices right now, but with minimal security built in. It’s just insanity.
Foer: It’s a hacker’s delight.
Warner: Guaranteed hacker incomes.
Foer: So about nine months ago, when Al Franken was still in the Senate, he invited me to his office because he had read my book. And he was comically wringing his hands about how as soon as he gave a speech taking on these companies, they were going to come at him. Is there a cost to politicians tangling with these companies?
Warner: There’s clearly been a reluctance to take them on. I think because I’ve got some tech background, they haven’t viewed me as a total adversary. I’ve tried not to constantly demonize them. And I’ve said, “If you leave it to us, we’re going to screw it up. So come work with us.” They clearly all realized how annoyed I was—and a huge number of members up here—when they failed to acknowledge the Russian intervention. And in their first eight or nine months of dealing with the controversy, their response was pathetic. All of them. But I’ve not felt the political price yet. The jury’s out.
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