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Top startup investors see mounting 'backlash' against tech

[LAGUNA BEACH, California] Two of the technology industry's top startup investors took to the stage at a conference on Wednesday to decry the power that companies such as Facebook Inc had amassed and call for a redistribution of wealth.

Bill Maris, who founded Alphabet Inc's venture capital arm and now runs venture fund Section 32, and Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, said widespread discontent over income inequality helped elect US President Donald Trump and had put wealthy technology companies in the crosshairs.

"I do know that the tech backlash is going to be strong,"said Mr Altman. "We have more and more concentrated power and wealth."

The market capitalisation of the so-called "big five" technology companies - Alphabet, Apple Inc, Amazon Inc , Microsoft Corp and Facebook - has doubled in the last three years to more than US$3 trillion. Silicon Valley broadly has amassed significant wealth during the latest tech boom.

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Mr Altman and Mr Maris spoke on the final day of The Wall Street Journal DLive technology conference in Southern California.

Facebook's role in facilitating what US intelligence agencies have identified as Russian interference in last year's US presidential election is an example of the immense power the social media company has amassed, the investors said.

"The companies that used to be fun and interesting and benevolent are now disrupting our election," Mr Maris said.

Mr Altman said people "are understandably uncomfortable with that." Mr Altman said he expects more demands from both the public and policy makers on data privacy, limiting what personal information Facebook and others can collect.

Facebook said last month it had discovered an operation likely based in Russia that spent US$100,000 on political ads and created 470 fake accounts and pages that spread polarising views on political and social issues.

Mr Altman and Mr Maris offered few details of how to accomplish a redistribution of wealth. Mr Maris proposed shorter term limits for elected officials and simplifying the tax code. Mr Altman has advocated basic income, a poverty-fighting proposal in which all residents would receive a regular, unconditional sum of money from the government.

REUTERS

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