Sep 13, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

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Today's Login is 1,258 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: DOJ presses Google rivals for info

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As part of its antitrust inquiry into Google, the Justice Department is seeking a variety of documents and information from DuckDuckGo, a privacy-oriented search service that competes with Google, Axios has learned.

Among the information sought, according to an 8-page civil investigative demand sent earlier this month:

  • Any evidence or allegations that any player in the market is behaving in an anticompetitive manner.
  • Details of business deals to promote or preference its products.
  • Details on the company's revenue and expenses.

Driving the news: The requests for information are extremely broad. For example, the section on deals reads: "Submit all documents relating to any plans of, interest in, or efforts undertaken by the Company or any other person for any acquisition, divestiture, joint venture, alliance, or merger of any kind involving the sale of any product or service."

Why it matters: The Justice Department appears to be seeking information similar to what was gathered in an earlier EU inquiry — particularly about the types of deals and arrangements that Google and other companies have made to get their services installed by default on various devices and browsers.

The attorneys general from 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. have launched their own separate antitrust investigation into Google.

DuckDuckGo has until Oct. 7 to respond, according to the document, which was seen by Axios.

What they're saying: DuckDuckGo confirmed to Axios that it received the document request, which it referred to as a subpoena.

"While private search is only one of the privacy protection tools we offer, the subpoena concerns our experience competing in the search market, including search syndication contracts and default search deals. We intend to cooperate with this inquiry as best we can because robust scrutiny promotes healthy competition, greater choice for users, and stronger data privacy practices."
— DuckDuckGo, in a statement to Axios
  • The company noted that it won't need to share any personal information with the government to respond to the request, given that it doesn't collect any in the first place.

Between the lines: DuckDuckGo's civil investigative demand offers a window onto the nature of similar requests that Microsoft and many other players have presumably received from the DOJ. Google disclosed last week that it had received a document request from the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee's separate antitrust investigation also kicked into higher gear this morning, as lawmakers sent Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon broad document requests.

The bigger picture: DuckDuckGo is a relatively small player in the search market, which is dominated by Google, with Microsoft and Yahoo holding a distant second and third position.

  • However, DuckDuckGo has seen its business grow significantly in recent months amid greater privacy concerns.
  • The company reported that it saw nearly 1.38 billion searches in August, up from 989 million queries during February of this year.

Go deeper:

2. The streaming battlefield is getting crowded
Expand chart
Table: Axios Visuals

As the streaming wars heat up, consumers are going to have to be choosy about which services they subscribe to, or risk racking up steep monthly bills, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Digital streaming was supposed to break up the expensive cable bundle, but now that so many companies are launching their own services, paying for TV could get even more expensive and complicated.

Driving the news: Apple announced Tuesday that it would charge just $4.99 a month for its new streaming service, Apple TV+.

  • Its rivals, Netflix and Disney+, both price their services higher, at $8.99 and $6.99 monthly, respectively, for the cheapest packages.
  • But both services offer far more programming than Apple, including original shows and movies as well as older "catalog" content, including popular series with hundreds of episodes.
  • For Apple, streaming is less a core business than part of a larger strategy of holding on to customers. The same holds for Amazon's Prime Video service.

Be smart: According to Mike Bloxham, SVP of global media and entertainment at research consultancy Magid, people are willing to spend around $38 monthly total on streaming services.

  • That means that they will likely chose between 3–4 services to invest in monthly.

Yes, but: Unlike cable contracts, most streaming services allow users to share passwords, or cancel at any time. Because of this, streaming services need to worry about how to retain customers, not just accrue them.

Our thought bubble: The key differentiator for all of these new streaming offerings will be whether the packages are "sticky" enough to keep users coming back after they finish their favorite show or original series. For companies like Apple, even with a low pricing advantage, smaller content libraries will make it harder to attract and retain subscribers.

Go deeper:

3. A day in the life of a global content cop

The big tech platforms have long resisted assuming the role of policing the world's content, but increasingly it is a role that they simply have to perform. That means a mix of setting rules, enforcing rules and taking heat for the decisions they make. On Thursday, Facebook found itself doing all 3.

  • Setting the ground rules: Facebook updated the statement of "values" that it says guide its policy decisions. It said content decisions would be based on evaluating whether posts adhere to five values: voice, authenticity, safety, privacy and dignity. Per Bloomberg's Kurt Wagner, those 4 values replace 3 prior ones: safety, voice and equity.
  • Taking action: Facebook on Thursday suspended the campaign account of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after its bot sent out a message accusing the country's Arab politicians of being out "to destroy us all."
  • Taking heat: Facebook came under fire Thursday for spiking the work of one of its fact checking partners for accurately doing its job, labeling as false an anti-abortion group's claim that the procedure is never medically necessary to protect the health of the mother. Facebook made the move after complaints from Republican politicians and then endured blowback from the other side for removing the fact check.

My thought bubble: As yesterday's events showed, staking out values is comparatively simple, enforcing those positions is hard and blowback inevitable. Keeping values and guidelines vague — as Facebook's old and revised values both do — provides flexibility but also makes it harder to consistently take action, and inevitably invites criticism of bias.

  • Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all expressed degrees of uncomfortability with the position of deciding what is and isn't allowed, and lots of people of all political persuasions aren't happy with many of their decisions.
  • We're never going to be happy leaving these choices to fallible private institutions — but it's hard to think we'll be any happier handing that power to governments instead.
4. Google aims to boost original reporting in searches

Google said Thursday that it has recently adjusted its algorithms and the guidelines used by the people that rate its search results to elevate original reporting.

Why it matters: The moves aim to provide an incentive for news organizations to focus on fresh reporting as opposed to quick aggregation of other news reports.

Details: Google has rolled out 2 updates over the past few months, Sara reports.

  1. The company has adjusted its algorithms to ensure that original reporting stays near the top of search results longer.
  2. It has updated the guidelines that people use to evaluate search ratings to help them identify what original reporting looks like.

The big picture: News aggregation has become a big part of the online news business, thanks in part to the way publishers were rewarded by search and social media algorithms to deliver buzzy content, quickly.

Be smart: There's been an increase in pressure on Google and other tech companies to elevate quality news and information ahead of the 2020 election.

  • Facebook, for example, says it is investing millions of dollars to pay publishers to provide content for a new "news tab."

Go deeper: Power pendulum swings back to news companies

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • The iPhone 11 officially went up for pre-order from Apple and various U.S. cell phone carriers at 8am ET.


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Ina Fried