Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and more tech companies are condemning Trump

Silicon Valley CEOs move past cybersecurity and taxes to comment on social issues like gay rights and immigration.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
5 min read

"Heartless, cruel, immoral."

That's how Airbnb described the move by President Donald Trump's administration to separate families seeking asylum when crossing the southern US border.

Airbnb wasn't the only company criticizing Trump. Microsoft spoke out after it was criticized for working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border," Microsoft said. "We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families."

Watch this: Tech CEOs speak out against family separation at border
US President Donald Trump Meets With Congressional Leaders

The tech industry has been criticizing President Trump on a range of issues.

Getty Images

The  tech industry  is one of America's great achievements. World leaders -- from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Chinese President Xi Jinping -- routinely stop for visits with the leaders of Google, Apple , Facebook and Intel  when they travel to the US. As president,  Barack Obama  made frequent trips to meet with executives and even dined at their homes.

Like any large industry, it has pushed pet political issues such as cybersecurity and tax policy. Its CEOs, though, are now looking beyond those concerns, speaking out on topics from immigration policy to the rights of women, minorities and the LGBT communities. They're doing so even as the tech sector draws criticism for being predominantly white and male.

Whether Washington likes it or not, Silicon Valley is emerging as a political power center.

Trump tried to enlist the sector's support before he was sworn in. The relationship has proved rocky, and tech executives routinely speak out against his policies.

Here's where the president and the tech industry have found themselves at odds. 

The first travel ban

Trump issued a travel ban as an executive order just two weeks into his presidency. Citing the threat of terrorist attacks, he  sought to establish "new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States." The move angered his political opponents, and protests occurred almost immediately at major airports. The ban was stalled by several US courts.

The incident also galvanized the tech industry to speak out. Executives, including leaders at Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel and Expedia, universally disagreed with the action and encouraged Trump to reconsider.

The second travel ban

Silicon Valley renewed its criticism when Trump issued a second travel ban. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted an image of his grandfather, who came to the US as a refugee. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said barring people from the country because of where they're from was "still wrong."

The white supremacist and Nazi rally in Charlottesville

Trump's response to a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, proved to be a breaking point for many executives. August's "Unite the Right" rally was ostensibly organized as an expression of support for a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. But it drew white supremacists and neo-Nazis who shouted anti-Semitic slogans and clashed with counter-protesters. One neo-Nazi allegedly drove his car into a crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman.

Speaking afterward, Trump blamed both sides for the violence and said there were "very fine people" among those white supremacists and neo-Nazis, sparking widespread criticism. Executives from his manufacturing and infrastructure councils resigned or condemned the president, and within days both groups had been dissolved. The incident eventually led some internet companies, including GoDaddy and Google, to cancel services to The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site that promoted the rally.

The transgender military service ban

The tech industry spoke out again in July when Trump announced via Twitter a ban on transgender people serving in the military. Among them were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg , who said, "Everyone should be able to serve their country -- no matter who they are." 

Apple CEO  Tim Cook , who is gay, said, "We are indebted to all who serve. Discrimination against anyone holds everyone back."

The end to DACA

In early September, rumors began circulating that Trump was planning to end DACA, short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, ahead of a legal challenge to the policy. The program had become a rallying point for Silicon Valley executives, who came together in several lobbying organizations to encourage immigration reform. Many tech companies, including Microsoft, are now committed to pushing Congress to act.

The rollback of net neutrality

On Dec. 14, the FCC voted to end Obama-era rules that established regulatory requirements for how internet service providers handled internet traffic. The rules, known as net neutrality, required that service providers treat all internet traffic equally. The Trump administration, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, argued that the rules were burdensome to the industry and that the internet needs "light touch" regulation. In addition, Pai argued the real threat to the internet was censorship by social networks. Many tech industry leaders responded, saying they're disappointed by the decision and plan to fight back.

Separating families at the border

Tech companies once again condemned the Trump administration on June 18, after a weekend of news coverage focused on its actions separating families of asylum seekers entering the US southern border. Microsoft said it was "dismayed" by the administration's actions and urged change. Airbnb, meanwhile, called the Trump administration's moves "heartless, cruel, immoral." Apple CEO Tim Cook called it "inhumane," and Box CEO Aaron Levi said it was "un-American."

A series of photos from both inside the detention centers and from photographers capturing the scenes of families being separated sparked additional outrage. Trump on June 20 bowed to pressure and signed an order ending the practice, and on June 21 he said he'd instruct authorities to reunite families split up by his zero-tolerance policy.

Supreme Court upholds Trump travel ban

Tech companies were much less vocal on June 26, when the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision that the Trump administration's travel ban was constitutional. The decision was somewhat of a surprise, as the ban had been ruled against several times in lower courts. Even Trump tweeted out "Wow!"

Some tech companies, meanwhile, were disappointed. Airbnb, which has been an outspoken Trump critic, said it was "profoundly disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the travel ban -- a policy that goes against our mission and values." Microsoft President Brad Smith meanwhile pledged "to support the legal rights of our employees and their families."

First published Sept. 6, 2017 at 5 a.m. PT. 
Update, Dec. 14 at 11:49 a.m. PT: Adds details about the FCC's net neutrality vote.
Update, June 18 at 4:29 p.m. PT: Adds details about tech response to Trump administration moves separating families at the border.
Update, June 19 at 11:30 a.m. PT: Adds more tech response to Trump administration moves separating families at the border.
Update, June 21 at 11:13 a.m. PT: Adds Trump administration changing course after public outcry over photos of children being separated from their families.
Update, June 26 at 5:01 p.m. PT: Adds tech response to Supreme Court upholding Trump's travel ban.

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