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June 06, 2022

I won't be in Cupertino (previously scheduled family travel), but will be covering Apple's WWDC from afar. Check out Axios.com and tomorrow's Login for the latest — and keep reading for a preview of what to expect.

Today's newsletter is 1,220 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Antitrust bill's progress sparks tech lobbying splurge

Illustration of a mouse arrow split down the middle, with both halves pointing in opposite directions
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Big Tech is going all out against a key antitrust bill winding its way through the Senate towards a possible full-chamber vote, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

The big picture: Passing restrictions on digital monopolies has never been closer, and spooked tech giants are spending big to stop them.

Driving the news: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) want to get their bill, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, on the Senate floor this summer before time and momentum run out.

The bill would ban Big Tech companies from favoring their own services in an anticompetitive way.

  • For example, Apple would have to allow apps to use their own payment systems.
  • Amazon could not preference its in-house label products over third-party sellers'.
  • Google could not surface its reviews over others in search results.
  • The Senate bill is a companion to a similar House bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee as part of a marathon markup last summer.

By the numbers: Tech companies are shelling out millions of dollars per quarter on lobbying. Apple spent more on lobbying last quarter ($2.5 million) than in any previous quarter.

  • There are numerous ad campaigns against the legislation from groups like the Consumer Technology Association and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which spent $22 million on ads across more than 30 broadcast and cable markets in the week of May 27, according to advertising intelligence firm AdImpact.
  • CCIA's "Don't Break What Works" campaign, which warns about what the bill could do to consumers' cell phones and online services, has spent nearly $2.8 million on just Facebook and Instagram ads, per Meta's ad disclosure database.
  • Since the introduction of the bill, Big Tech has argued that everything from small business’ search results to Amazon Prime to a secure phone ecosystem could be in jeopardy.

State of play: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Klobuchar to revise the bill to accommodate feedback, as Axios previously reported, but her new version, released last week, prompted another round of criticism from companies and their lobbying groups.

  • Several senators on the Judiciary Committee, where the bill passed in January, said they would not support the bill in the full Senate without changes.

Yes, but: Competition for Senate floor time is fierce.

  • Democratic leadership is focused on gun control, inflation, the war in Ukraine, the baby formula shortage, passing a China competition bill and trying to bring their major economic package back from the dead.

What they're saying: Some lawmakers say they are still worried about the bill's language. Others did not answer when asked whether they support the revised version.

The other side: "Any changes that were proposed that did not completely change the intention of the bill were properly considered, and a lot of them were incorporated in what we have," a Democratic aide close to the process told Axios.

What to watch: Schumer has told Klobuchar he will not put the bill on the Senate floor unless it can get 60 votes.

2. Three things to watch at Apple's WWDC

An illustration of a microphone with the Apple logo on it
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Apple watchers will be scanning today's announcements for clues to the company's long-awaited entrance into the evolving fight among tech giants to own the mixed-reality future.

The big picture: Apple's annual developer conference, opening today, always offers a preview of the next versions of Apple's software for Macs, iPhones and iPads and this year should be no exception. It's what comes on top of those announcements, though, that usually gets the most buzz, especially when it comes to new hardware.

Be smart: Apple doesn't typically talk about unannounced products, but when it is making big shifts it has been known to offer a sneak peek or clues. Here's what to expect based on recent reports:

  1. Apple's mixed reality headset: Apple appears to be making progress on the hardware (along with the software and content). The company isn't expected to unveil new hardware. However, Apple watchers will have their ears perked for any overt or subtle hints about the company's foray into what Silicon Valley now views as the next big platform.
  2. New software: Reports thus far make it sound like this year's OS updates should be relatively incremental, with much of the discussion centering around improved notifications for the iPhone and improved multitasking on the iPad.
  3. New MacBook Air laptops: While COVID-19 related production delays are expected to significantly slow Apple this quarter, many still expect the developer conference to debut an updated version of the Air featuring a new design and — perhaps — a more powerful M2 processor and new color options. But supply chain woes could mean a could be a long wait time before the laptops ship in volume.

3. Congress revives online privacy law efforts

A new bipartisan proposal released Friday sparked renewed action on Capitol Hill around online privacy, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Driving the news: House Energy & Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) unveiled a discussion draft of their American Data Privacy and Protection Act.

Why it matters: The U.S. has lagged behind the EU and China in establishing national privacy rules for online platforms. Observers see this push as the last shot to move a bill before Congress' summer recess and then fall midterms shut down most legislative work.

How it works: The bill would require companies to minimize the data they collect, ban targeted advertising to children under 17 years old and allow people to sue companies for violations under certain circumstances.

The intrigue: Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has a different privacy proposal in play.

  • Cantwell criticized the bipartisan draft for "enforcement loopholes" and for giving companies a four-year reprieve before consumers could sue them for privacy violations.

Flashback: Similar bipartisan privacy discussions between Cantwell and Wicker also broke down into dueling privacy bills at the end of 2019.

4. Amazon consumer chief Dave Clark to step down

Then-President Barack Obama with Amazon executive Dave Clark in 2013. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images.

The head of Amazon's consumer business, Dave Clark, is leaving July 1, Amazon announced in a regulatory filing Friday, Axios' Hope King reports.

Why it matters: Clark, who reports directly to CEO Andy Jassy, has helped build Amazon's logistics operations into the powerhouse it is now.

  • As of the end of 2021, Amazon had more than 400 fulfillment centers globally, 160 sortation centers, 1,000 delivery stations, 260,000 drivers, and 100 aircraft in its Amazon Air cargo fleet.

What he's saying: "I've had an incredible time at Amazon but it's time for me to build again. It's what drives me," he wrote in a note on Twitter.

5. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Disney has hired former Apple Games executive Mark Boxon to lead its creative strategy for the metaverse, as Variety reported.
  • Yandex CEO and co-founder Arkady Volozh has stepped down from his post and from the company's board after he was sanctioned by the EU.

ICYMI

  • Last week, Amazon told one of its consultants to push back against Congress' antitrust legislation, the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, with the narrative that it will harm communities of color. (Politico)
  • Alex Karp, co-founder and CEO of the data-mining software giant Palantir Technologies, visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv last week. (Twitter)

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