- Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger responded to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up large tech companies like Google and Facebook at SXSW on Monday.
- They said that while there was a lot of anger against big tech, Warren’s proposal wasn’t "nuanced" enough.
- "Breaking companies up is a very specific prescription for a very specific problem," said Systrom.
AUSTIN, Texas — Calls to break up tech giants like Google and Facebook are overly simplistic and unlikely to be effective, according to the creators of Instagram, one of the most high-profile tech acquisitions of recent years.
"Being big, in and of itself, is not a crime," Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom said on stage Monday at the SXSW festival in response to a question about presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recent proposal to split up powerful tech companies.
Systrom and cofounder Mike Krieger sold Instagram to Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion. After working at Facebook for several years and helping to turn the photo-sharing app into one of the world’s most popular social media services, Systrom and Krieger left Facebook last year amid differences over strategy and direction.
When asked if he supported the thrust of Warren’s proposal at SXSW on Monday, Systrom initially said "Do we get our job back?," before clarifying that he was joking.
Systrom acknowledged that while there was a lot of anger against big tech — whether due to Russian meddling in elections or rising property prices — that doesn’t mean that the companies ought to be broken up.
"We live in a time where I think the anger against big tech has increased tenfold," he said. "Breaking companies up is a very specific prescription for a very specific problem."
He added that if the objective was to fix economic issues or Russian interference, there were other ways of doing that. But he said that companies shouldn’t be penalized merely for their size, and that Warren’s solution was "not nuanced enough" and shows "that the understanding of the problem isn’t there."
"Better ideas came out because of it"
Talk of regulating Silicon Valley has dominated SXSW this year, with Warren’s proposal to break up Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook coming up in conversation at almost every panel. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, for instance, said on Friday that platforms and media need to work together.
Systrom said that doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t be broken up if they get too big, or are monopolies and can cause problems. But that it was going to take some more thought.
"It’s going to take a more nuanced proposal, but my fear is that something like a proposal to break up all tech is playing on everyone’s current feeling of anti-tech, rather than doing what I think politicians should do, which is address real problems and give real solutions," he said.
And Systrom said that his company’s marriage with Facebook made Instagram a better product.
"Better ideas came out because of it — we grew both companies, not just one company," he said. "I think there’s a strong argument that, in fact, the acquisition worked out for consumers."
Krieger too shared his thoughts, saying that there needed to be clarity on the specific problems that Warren’s plan was trying to solve, and that different problems required different solutions.
"Is it about Amazon white-labeling products inside Amazon?," said Krieger. "Because that’s a very different problem than whether Facebook should also own Instagram, which is a really different problem than whether Apple has the right to be one App Store only."
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