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February 04, 2021

Good morning. Now this is a good optical illusion.

Today's Login is 1,381 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook's booming business, sinking reputation

Data: Company Filings; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Company Filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

Facebook's business may be booming, but for the first time in the company's history, that doesn't seem to be enough to convince Wall Street its future is bright, Axios' Sara Fischer and Ashley Gold report.

The big picture: Several Facebook executives have told Axios over the past year that big scandals — like the 2020 ad boycott, the Capitol siege, or the company's high-profile battle with Apple — have been the hardest challenges they've ever professionally faced. Now, Wall Street is having doubts, too.

Driving the news: Last week, Facebook continued to show resiliency during the pandemic, beating Wall Street forecasts on top and bottom lines and on user additions.

  • But despite that momentum, the company's stock sunk in after-hours trading amid fears that changes to internet privacy will hurt its ad business long-term.
  • A week later, the stock still hasn't recovered.

Flashback: Over the past two years, few hiccups have really spooked investors about Facebook, with the exception of the onset of the pandemic, which plagued most ad-driven businesses due to uncertainty.

Facebook does not appear on Fortune's annual list of most-admired companies, out yesterday. Apple has topped the chart for the 14th year in a row.

  • Facebook's ranking in a July 2020 Axios/Harris poll of corporate reputation rankings was No. 97 out of 100, down three spots from 2019.

The company is facing several existential crises that are starting to weigh on investor confidence:

  • Activists and consumer groups argue Facebook has helped the Capitol rioters and other radicals organize. A new WSJ report finds that Facebook knew its groups were planning violence, and the company now plans to dial down politics on-platform.
  • A high-profile battle with Apple has Facebook warning investors that changes to an iOS user tracking feature will likely hurt its ad business.
  • Regulators are circling, with the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general suing Facebook on antitrust grounds.

Yes, but: Facebook is still richer than ever.

2. Klobuchar introduces sweeping antitrust reform bill

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is out today with a plan for how Congress could update antitrust laws to give enforcers better odds and more ammunition for taking on Big Tech and other industries dominated by a handful of mega-corporations, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley report.

Why it matters: The Minnesota Democrat will lead the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel, putting her in position to take the lead on rewriting competition laws. Her new bill aligns with proposals from House Democrats and some populist Republicans, upping the chances she can get it passed.

Driving the news: Klobuchar on Thursday introduced the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act, which would make it harder for big companies to get mergers approved and would give enforcers like the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department sharper teeth.

  • Klobuchar is introducing the bill with fellow Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey and is coordinating with her antitrust counterparts in the House, as well as reaching out to Republicans, she told Axios.

Details: The bill would update longstanding antitrust statute to forbid mergers that "create an appreciable risk of materially lessening competition." Current law only bars mergers that demonstrably reduce competition — a tough thing to prove with tech mergers particularly.

  • The bill would also bar dominant firms from conduct that puts competitors at a competitive disadvantage.

Meanwhile: The FTC and DOJ would get an influx of cash and resources, in addition to the ability to issue civil fines for violations.

  • Regulators would also be relieved of having to precisely define a market before mounting an antitrust case — a notoriously difficult challenge in tech.
  • Many companies trying to merge would have to prove their deal won't hurt competition. Right now, the burden is on enforcers to prove a given deal will hurt competition.

The big picture: Klobuchar's bill tracks with recommendations House Democrats made in a sweeping report last year, and some Republicans also want antitrust action against Big Tech.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday offered an amendment to budget legislation to preemptively prohibit mergers and acquisitions by dominant online platforms.
  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House antitrust subpanel, said going after anticompetitive behavior by Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple is a top priority.

3. Tech pays for news as regulators loom

Illustration of a megaphone made of newspaper
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Tech giants spooked by threats of regulation around the world are finally starting to pay news companies for their content, giving the struggling news industry a glimmer of hope at a critical time during the pandemic, Margaret and Sara report.

Why it matters: Without government intervention, experts predict that many quality news outlets will eventually crumble, leading to a more serious global misinformation problem.

  • "I think it's a moment where people understand the importance of news publishing, given the events of 2020," said David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, which represents thousands of U.S. news publishers.

Driving the news: Australian regulators have introduced a new bargaining code that would make it the first country to force both Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for their content or else be subject to hefty fines.

  • Both Facebook and Google have warned that if the code takes effect, they will pull their services from the region, arguing that the law isn't fair and would make it commercially unviable to operate in Australia.
  • Microsoft threw its support behind the code Wednesday, suggesting its Bing search engine could become a strong substitute for Google in the region.

The big picture: Australia's code of conduct will serve as a litmus test for many countries around the globe on the best ways to update their laws.

  • The European Parliament approved a copyright directive in 2019 that includes a provision that members states can use as a framework to force tech platforms to pay publishers for their content.
  • France became the first member state to ratify the law shortly thereafter. Google last month finally agreed to pay French publishers for their content after months of tense negotiations with publishers.

In the U.S., Klobuchar told Ashley on Wednesday that she plans to reintroduce her bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to let newspapers collectively bargain with dominant platforms over payment and other issues.

Be smart: The global proposals have forced tech giants to create new features that steer money to news outlets without having to totally reimagine their businesses.

  • Google said last fall it would pay publishers $1 billion for their content to appear in a new product called the Google News Showcase.
  • Facebook has spent millions of dollars paying publishers to be a part of its Facebook News tab. Facebook News launched last week in the U.K.

The bottom line: Tech giants are showing that they’re willing to pay for quality news — but only on terms they find acceptable.

Go deeper: The power pendulum is swinging back to news companies.

4. Exclusive: Poll shows wide distrust of tech, media

Americans largely think tech giants are too big and should be regulated, and mostly don't believe the news media is good for U.S. society, according to a poll from YouGov and the Center for Growth and Opportunity shared exclusively with Ashley.

Why it matters: After an ugly election season marred by extremism on social and traditional media, tech and media firms have a lot of work to do to maintain and grow trust.

By the numbers: The poll, which has a 3.3% margin of error, surveyed 1,000 people shortly after the 2020 presidential election. Of those participants, two-thirds said social media companies should ban hate groups.

  • 63% of baby boomers polled said the government should regulate social media, while 40% of Generation Z agreed.
  • Two-thirds of those polled say Big Tech companies are too big, although less than half said they think the government should break them up.
  • 40% of 996 people polled said they "completely distrust" Facebook on handling personal data. For Google, that number was 22%; for Amazon, it was 14%; for Microsoft, it was 15%.

Views on the news: 69% of those polled say news companies and media outlets should be fined for reporting biased or inaccurate information.

  • 29% of participants "somewhat agree" that most news coverage is good for American society.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • Today's earnings reports include Snapchat, Unity and Pinterest.

Trading Places

  • Parler CEO John Matze said he was fired by the company's board.
  • Andreessen Horowitz named former Twitter, Facebook and Snap product executive Sriram Krishnan as a general partner.
  • The Technology Coalition, an effort formed in 2006 by large technology companies to fight child sexual abuse, is naming former International Justice Mission president Sean Litton as its first full-time executive director.


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