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June 04, 2019

Another opportunity for those lucky ducks in D.C.:  Join Axios' Bob Herman Wednesday at 8am for Beyond 2020: Making Care Affordable on the future of health care and drug pricing.

  • He'll sit down with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), along with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Chester 'Chip' Davis Jr., CEO of the Association for Accessible Medicines.
  • RSVP here

Smart Brevity count: 1296, <5 minute read.

1 big thing: Feds crank up antitrust heat

Illustration of desktop computer sweating in extreme heat
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Broad U.S. antitrust action against Big Tech has moved firmly from the speculative realm to the investigative mode in the last 72 hours, as both Congress and regulatory agencies appeared to be moving forward with inquiries, Axios' David McCabe reports.

The big picture: While pressure on Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple has been mounting for years, the one-two punch of a public Congressional investigation into their dominance and possible antitrust probes by regulators marks a major escalation in tensions.

Driving the news: The House Judiciary Committee said yesterday that it was launching a bipartisan investigation into whether Big Tech platforms are engaged in monopolistic practices.

  • A person familiar with the investigation said that, in addition to public hearings, the inquiry would include requesting documents from a wide range of companies.
  • That could allow the committee to receive information from small competitors of the tech giants who would otherwise be wary of testifying publicly, the person said.
  • Tech stocks fell in Monday trading as the federal interest in the companies came into focus.

Between the lines: The investigation could help lawmakers develop a factual record to shape legislation overhauling the nation's antitrust laws, which reformers say are inadequate for reining in corporate power as it exists today.

The announcement followed reporting over the weekend and into Monday that the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission had split up the investigative field by tech giants, with DOJ getting Apple and Google and FTC getting Amazon and Facebook.

Why it matters: Of the many ways critics want to address concerns about Big Tech, antitrust action has always been among the most significant — although it was largely seen as the least likely route.

  • It could result in action as serious as the firms being broken up, but even if it doesn't, it could seriously distract the platforms' efforts to grow their main businesses and anticipate new waves of tech innovation.
  • Microsoft learned this lesson the hard way after its antitrust fight with Washington two decades ago.

What we're watching: Congressional hearings on the issue will unfold in the coming months, and signs that DOJ and FTC are moving forward with formal investigations into the tech giants could leak out in the form of official inquiries sent to the companies or their competitors.

Our thought bubble: Once inquiries like this get started, they develop their own momentum even as they proceed at what feels like a leaden pace to tech insiders. These companies likely face years of entanglement.

Go deeper: Read David's full story here.

2. Inside story of Apple's Mac Pro

Apple's new Mac Pro alongside two of its new 32-inch, 6K monitors
Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Two years ago, I was one of a handful of reporters as Apple SVP Phil Schiller and leaders of the Mac team disclosed their plan to scrap the existing Mac Pro in favor of an all-new design that was still at least a year away from readiness.

On Monday, the same reporters and Apple leaders gathered at WWDC to talk about the new Mac Pro and get the rest of the story.

Here are a few key takeaways:

1. That new Mac Pro was already a product with goals and a timeline when we met two years ago, though its design changed some and it took somewhat longer than Apple was anticipating.

2. Those cut-outs on the new computer's front — which some think are super cool and others think make it look like a cheese grater — are made by machining out spheres from the aluminum chassis of the Mac Pro.

  • They are functional, allowing far more air flow than would typically be possible from a front-facing grate.
  • And that design was kicking around in Apple's design labs for some time, before even the new Mac Pro was on the roadmap.

3. Redesigning its display was front and center to Apple, which put a lot of time and energy into this.

  • The display is designed to rival so-called reference monitors that cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Apple set up a room where we could see a number of high-end displays side by side. (Apple's looked quite nice, but I'm not qualified to judge monitors at these levels.)

4. Apple is planning a rack-mounted version of the Mac Pro. That model will use similar components and core design, but have a different chassis that goes around the core to make it better suited to a data center.

My thought bubble: Yes, these devices are extremely expensive and I too chafe at the notion of a $1,000 monitor stand. But the point here is the ambition of the product.

  • My guess is that over time there will be somewhat less expensive options, though most of Apple's focus will likely be on adding the latest and greatest to the machine, not in bringing down its price. This one really is for pros.

Meanwhile, here's a first look at that new Mac Pro (video).

3. The boldest WWDC move: Sign In with Apple

The Sign on With Apple feature as seen in a Bird scooter app
Photo: Apple

Many of the changes coming to Apple's operating system this fall are nice-to-have tweaks rather than big, bold changes. However, the announcement of Sign In with Apple stands out.

Details: This service will work on Apple devices and on any website that adds Apple's button, letting consumers use their Apple ID as a means of authentication.

  • App developers will get only limited information — as little as a unique, random ID — with consumers having the option to share their real e-mail or just a proxy that will be managed by Apple.

Why it matters: Apple's service is similar to ones already offered by Facebook and Google. But Sign In with Apple is making privacy an explicit feature and doing so in a way that will make it tough for Facebook and Google to compete.

  1. Apple isn't looking to gather data or make money from its effort.
  2. It's offering features that should appeal to both developers and consumers.
  3. It's making Apple sign-on a mandatory option when iPhone developers offer third party-options, such as those from Facebook or Google.

What they're saying:

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook talked more about the sign-in service in an interview with CBS' Norah O'Donnell. Cook downplayed the competitive angle, although there's little doubt who Sign In with Apple targets.
"We’re not really taking a shot at anybody. We focus on the user. And the user wants the ability to go across numerous properties on the web without being under surveillance. We’re moving privacy protections forward. And I actually think it’s a very reasonable request for people to make."
— Tim Cook, to CBS
  • Twitter product head Sriram Krishnan: "This 'Sign in with Apple' feature is *huge*. Anonymous sign in without any of the privacy baggage."

4. Tinder adds more sexual orientation options

iPhone screenshots showing Tinder's redesigned sexuality options
Photo: Tinder

Tinder is adding several options to make it easier for people to describe their sexual orientation and find matches better suited to them.

Details: The update adds sexual orientation to Tinder's standard onboarding process and users can also choose up to 3 words to describe their sexual orientation in their profiles.

Why it matters: Sexuality and gender are complicated and many people say they have experienced either frustration, discrimination or both when using dating apps.

Between the lines: Tinder worked with GLAAD on the new options, as it did back in 2016, when it worked to improve the experience for transgender daters.

What they're saying:

  • Tinder CEO Elie Seidman: "Tinder was launched in 2012 and so much has evolved since then in terms of how we view and discuss sexual identity.  We've heard the call for an update like this from our bisexual, pansexual, queer and asexual, communities on Tinder."
  • GLAAD chief communications officer Rich Ferraro: "What seems like a simple change is going to mean a lot to LGBTQ users who want to share their full selves on the app."

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Earnings reports include Salesforce and IAC.
  • Apple's WWDC continues in San Jose, California.

Trading Places

  • SurveyMonkey named longtime Autodesk finance executive Debbie Clifford as CFO.
  • Waymo hired Monique Meche as head of global public policy. Meche was most recently a senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group and previously did policy and government relations work for Netflix, Amazon, Cisco and Amazon.


  • Researchers say that YouTube's recommendations algorithm is effectively creating playlists of suggestive videos of children out of unrelated family home movies uploaded to the service. (NYT)
  • Longtime Microsoft reporter Dina Bass has an inside look at the software maker's decision to buy GitHub, which its top cloud executive had been eyeing for the past 5 years. (Bloomberg)
  • Advertisers spent $479 million on podcasts ads last year, up 53% from 2017, according to a study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC.

6. After you Login

Anyone can write "Wash me" on a dirty car, but it takes a true artist to do this.