May 26, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Welcome back! I'm filling in for Ina so she can have a real holiday weekend-in-place.

Axios will be hosting a live virtual event on the future of small business on Wednesday. Join Axios business editor Dan Primack and markets reporter Courtenay Brown, tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for a discussion featuring owner and head chef of Kith and Kin Kwame Onwuachi and Ann Patchett, the author and co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Today's Login is 1,347 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's long hot summer of antitrust

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Google, Facebook and other tech giants face a summer of regulatory grilling as long-running investigations into potential anticompetitive practices likely come to a head, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: Probes into the power of Big Tech launched by federal and state authorities are turning a year old, and observers expect action in the form of formal lawsuits and potentially damning reports — even as the companies have become a lifeline for Americans during the pandemic lockdown.

What they're saying: Antitrust enforcers “have foreshadowed there would be some event by the end of the summer,” said William Kovacic, a George Washington University law professor and former Federal Trade Commission chairman.

  • "They’ve poured a lot of cement around their feet so they don’t have a lot of room to maneuver on this. They have to do something that indicates forward motion come early autumn."

1. The Justice Department vs. Google: Attorney General Bill Barr has signaled his agency is full steam ahead on its investigation into Google, with the Wall Street Journal reporting the DOJ is preparing to bring a case as soon as this summer.

  • The probe, which came to light in June 2019, includes a review of Google's position in the ad tech marketplace, and the Journal indicated investigators are also looking at Google's search practices.
  • Obama-era antitrust enforcers recently outlined a roadmap for an antitrust case against Google based on the digital ad marketplace.
  • Google argues the ad tech industry is crowded and competitive, saying its rivals in the space include household names like Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Comcast and Oracle.

2. House Judiciary vs. Big Tech: The antitrust subcommittee's year-long investigation into competition in digital markets — focused on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — is expected to wrap up in June.

  • Chairman David Cicilline has said he wants to hear from the CEOs of the major companies, and put some muscle behind that request in a pointed letter to Amazon demanding testimony from CEO Jeff Bezos.

3. State attorneys general vs. Google and Facebook: State antitrust enforcers announced multi-state coalition investigations into both Google and Facebook last year.

  • The Google probe, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, could lead to a lawsuit this fall, WSJ reported. Paxton's office declined further comment.
  • The Facebook investigation, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, is proceeding despite the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesman declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

4. The Federal Trade Commission vs. Facebook: Last July the social media giant revealed the FTC was conducting an antitrust probe. Reports indicate the agency is reviewing whether Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp were anticompetitive.

  • While Chairman Joe Simons said earlier this year he'd like to see the agency's tech investigations wrap up by the end of the year, the FTC has also noted that the coronavirus pandemic could affect timelines of investigations overall.

Between the lines: Action by one enforcer could add pressure on others to act as well.

  • "The decision by one major institution to act does increase the sense of urgency to get your matter under way," said Kovacic, who said he expects lawsuits filed by the end of the year.

What's next: If antitrust lawsuits are formalized, companies and prosecutors will choose between pursuing a settlement of some kind or going to trial. The conflicts could easily drag on for years.

2. Palantir's CEO on leaving Silicon Valley

Palantir is "getting close" to a decision on whether to move the company out of California, CEO Alex Karp told Mike Allen in an interview for "Axios on HBO." He also told Axios that Palantir could go public within a year.

"We haven't picked a place yet," Karp said, "but it's going to be closer to the East Coast than the West Coast. ... If I had to guess, I would guess something like Colorado."

The big picture: Karp blamed the "increasing intolerance and monoculture" of Silicon Valley for the planned move. In recent years, employee action has pushed several large corporations, including Google, away from government contracts that staffers felt violated human rights.

Some of Karp's own staff were unhappy with Palantir signing a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he told "Axios on HBO."

  • "I've had my favorite employees yell at me," he said. "I've had some of my favorite employees leave."
  • "I had people protesting me ... some of whom I think asked really legitimate questions."

The big picture: Palantir has worked with ICE dating back to 2014, during the Obama administration. Such government contracts have stirred up employee protests at a number of Big Tech companies.

Between the lines: Palantir joins Elon Musk's Tesla as high-profile companies publicly considering leaving California.

  • Karp works from a barn in New Hampshire.
  • "I've been distanced [from Silicon Valley] for the last 15 years," he says.

By the numbers: Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Palantir documents showed the company expected $1 billion in 2020 revenue.

Watch clips from the interview.

3. Wikipedia plans a new code of conduct

Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit behind Wikipedia, have tasked the organization with developing a new code of conduct to curtail "harassment, toxic behavior and incivility" among Wikipedia editors, The Verge reports.

The big picture: Wikipedia remains one of the web’s most enduring collaborations, drawing volunteer editors from around the globe. But it has long faced charges that its editorial ranks aren’t sufficiently diverse and have been rife with abusive behavior.

What they're saying:

"The Board does not believe we have made enough progress toward creating welcoming, inclusive, harassment-free spaces in which people can contribute productively and debate constructively.... the Board is directing the Wikimedia Foundation to directly improve the situation in collaboration with our communities. This should include developing sustainable practices and tools that eliminate harassment, toxicity, and incivility...."
— Wikimedia Foundation trustees

Context: Wikipedia's editorial process has evolved over almost two decades to organize contributions and edits from volunteers who often deeply disagree over politics and various controversial issue.

  • But the project has failed to meet goals of diversifying its ranks, particularly in terms of attracting women editors.
  • Its procedures have sometimes been opaque and have sparked conflicts among the project's volunteers, most recently in 2019, after the ban of a longtime editor.

Our thought bubble: Facebook, Twitter, Google's YouTube and other commercial platforms are struggling to curtail misinformation, harassment, and hate speech by beginning to evolve more Wikipedia-style collective processes.

  • Meanwhile, Wikipedia is trying to follow the giant platforms in standing up clearer policies to rein in some of its more toxic users.
4. How videogame platforms became music venues

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With concerts and music festivals canceled across the country, artists are flocking to virtual platforms like the video games Minecraft and Fortnite to give fans the next best thing to a live music experience, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: As artists continue to figure out how to get paid performing online and aim to connect with even bigger audiences there, expect more virtual concerts to pop up, even as the country reopens.

Driving the news: Minecraft will host a dance music festival with some of the biggest electronic artists next month, including Electric Blockaloo, Diplo, A-Trak, Above & Beyond and others.

  • It comes on the heels of several successful Minecraft concerts, a virtual spin-off of the cancelled SXSW festival called Block by Blockwest.
  • In the absence of live concerts, some venues are recreating stages for performances within Minecraft.

Background: Electronic artist Marshmello introduced the idea of the first-ever virtual concert last year, drawing over 10 million viewers on Fortnite.

The big picture: The pandemic has accelerated a budding trend of transitioning the $12 billion+ live concert industry online.

  • Many artists are also turning to Twitch, the Amazon-owned live-streaming platform, to make money during the crisis.
  • While Twitch has long been considered a destination for gamers and esports, it has started to diversify its live content to include everything from video blogging to live music.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's a lighter week for (virtual) events. Salesforce reports earnings on Thursday, as does VMWare.

Trading Places

  • Heidi Obermeyer is joining BSA's D.C. office today (well, not *in* the office, but eventually) as a manager for policy. She was previously at CTIA, where she was a manager for policy and communications.

ICYMI

  • As Europe's GDPR privacy law turns two, pressure is rising for a tougher stance by the Irish data protection authority, which has jurisdiction over many big tech firms' EU subsidiaries. (Politico)
  • A hacker group Saturday released a new tool for jailbreaking all modern versions of iOS. (Wired)
  • How conspiracy theorists turned Bill Gates into a coronavirus bogeyman. (Buzzfeed)
  • Veteran computer scientist Ben Shneiderman argues that robots should come with the equivalent of flight data recorders. (New York Times)
  • The widower of a late Joe Scarborough staffer wants Twitter to remove President Trump's tweets baselessly alleging a murder cover-up. (Axios)
  • Beijing may look to repurpose apps developed to track coronavirus infections for post-pandemic surveillance. (New York Times)
6. After you Login

Just like the rest of us, dogs are finding new ways to entertain themselves these days.

Ina Fried