President Barack Obama will meet technology leaders on Tuesday morning for a two-hour discussion about everything from the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programme, to how the industry can address income inequality.
Big name tech executives from the eight companies which called on the US government to stop the spy agencies collecting such vast amounts of communications data will be pressing their case home “aggressively”, according to a spokesperson for one of the companies.
These leaders include Eric Schmidt from Google, Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, Tim Cook from Apple, Dick Costolo from Twitter and Marissa Mayer from Yahoo. But the guest list is much broader, from telecoms execs from AT&T and Comcast, to Shervin Pishevar, an Obama fundraiser and founder of start-up fund Sherpa, and even Chad Dickerson, the chief executive of Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods.
But while pushing for reforms to restore trust in technology is top of the executives’ agenda, Obama has other priorities. He wants to seek ideas from those experienced in running websites to help save his own, the healthcare exchange Healthcare.gov, which has suffered from a very shaky roll-out. A White House official said the meeting will “discuss progress made in addressing performance and capacity issues with Healthcare.gov and how government can better deliver IT to maximize innovation, efficiency and customer service”.
With Google and Oracle already among the technology companies who last month committed engineers to help the project, the White House could be asking for more computer geeks on the ground, or looking slightly beyond the immediate problems to how to better deliver large IT projects in the future.
The White House also said the president will be discussing ways to partner with the tech sector to grow the economy, create jobs and address income inequality and social mobility – issues which Obama is trying to drive home in almost every meeting. Talks with the tech sector are most likely to focus on education or immigration.
Obama recently promoted Code.org’s “Hour of Code” which called on high school students to spend an hour learning to programme computers, telling them it was important to keep America on the cutting edge.
“Don’t just buy a new video game, make one. Don’t just download the latest app, help design it. Don’t just play on your phone, program,” he said.
Before the NSA revelations, the industry’s most fervent lobbying was for immigration reform. Many of the companies represented at the meeting have leaders or founders who support FWD.US, the pro-immigration reform lobby group, including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn. Frustrated by the barriers to hiring in-demand programmers from abroad, the technology industry has become a vocal critic of the immigration laws, while reforms have stalled in Congress.
As Silicon Valley becomes a target of protests in San Francisco for pushing up rents and alienating locals – with demonstrators blockading a private commuter bus full of industry employees last week – the meeting could also be a chance for the executives to show they are engaged with wider issues across the country. Rather than, as Business Insider claimed “living inside a bubble of tone-deaf arrogance”.