June 15, 2021
Does anyone know how to say "gobbledygook" in gibberish?
Today's newsletter is 1,323 words, a 5-minute read.
1 big thing: Antitrust bills take tight aim at tech giants
The sweeping antitrust bills House lawmakers introduced Friday don't just propose broad new principles of digital-age competition — they put giant bullseyes on the backs of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, Axios' Ashley Gold, Margaret Harding McGill and Scott Rosenberg report.
Why it matters: Laws crafted now to tie the hands of today's dominant companies will still be on the books for years and decades to come, and critics are already flagging possible unintended consequences.
The big picture: The foundational U.S. antitrust laws were shaped over 100 years ago to bust monopolies like Standard Oil that dominated the economy.
- Lawmakers and critics fear that bundle of rules and precedents no longer protects competition in the digital era.
- The Microsoft antitrust battle 20 years ago showed how tough it was to apply these old laws to a world of software and platform competition.
Details: The new bills apply to companies that have a market capitalization of $600 billion or more and at least 50 million monthly active U.S. users or 100,000 monthly active U.S. business users.
- That's most clearly Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. Some aspects of the bills could also apply to Microsoft.
- To be covered by these bills, companies also have to function as "critical trading partner" for other companies operating on their platform. This would, for instance, include the roles Google and Apple play managing their app stores, or Amazon's relationship to its third-party sellers.
Yes, but: Today's definition of a "giant tech company" may become meaningless in short order.
- The term "monthly active users," which is of recent vintage and has varying definitions, could easily lose its usefulness as a measure of a service's popularity.
- Over time, the $600 billion market cap limit could also end up covering many more companies, thanks to inflation and the impact of future investment bubbles.
- Today's online platform model dominates the industry, but it's only a couple of decades old, and tech could evolve in a wildly different direction over the next two decades.
What they're saying: "It's OK for people to think that a certain kind of business practice is unethical, unfair, not currently illegal but should be illegal," Alec Stapp, director of tech policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, told Axios. "But it doesn't make sense to say it should only be an illegal business practice when an extremely large tech company does it."
The other side: "We are at a time now where individual big tech companies are actively harming our economy, democracy, small business and consumers," said Jane Chung, who works on big tech accountability at consumer rights group Public Citizen. "It's a threat Congress can't afford to ignore any longer."
Our thought bubble: The House bills are backward-looking, aiming to solve problems created by the rise to dominance of today's industry's giants. By zeroing in narrowly on their specific targets, these proposals may lack the flexibility and breadth to handle new challenges to competition that the rapidly changing tech world will inevitably develop.
What's next: The introduction of these bills begins a long legislative process that could end in the enactment of some of their provisions in coming years. Given Congress' current deadlocks, they are just as likely to go nowhere.
2. Exclusive: Dish starts signups for its own 5G
Dish Network is quietly starting to take customer signups for its homegrown 5G service. The company launched a new website today that allows people to get notified when service is available in their area.
Why it matters: Dish bought Sprint's Boost Mobile business as part of a deal that allowed T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint to pass legal muster. Dish has been reselling T-Mobile service to customers while it begins the years-long effort to build out its own nationwide 5G network.
Between the lines: Anyone in the U.S. can submit a request, but the company has only committed to launching in at least one city this year. The first city is expected to be Las Vegas, with service launching soon, sources said. More cities this year are still possible.
The big picture: It will still be some time before Dish has service in most places. That leaves Dish heavily reliant on T-Mobile, even as it wages a public battle with its erstwhile partner. Dish says T-Mobile shouldn't be allowed to shut down Sprint's CDMA network, used by many Dish customers, as soon as Jan. 1.
3. High court orders new review of data scraping
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling on Monday that would have given companies and individuals broad scope in scraping information from online services.
Why it matters: In remanding the case between LinkedIn and hiQ back for further proceedings, the Supreme Court will give Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, another chance to make the case that bulk collection of even publicly available data threatens individual privacy.
Catch up quick: LinkedIn argues that upstart rival hiQ shouldn't be able to scrape public profiles on its site to gather the vast amount of information it provides on people's work history and other business-related data.
- A federal appeals had sided with hiQ, but Monday's ruling by the Supreme Court will send things back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Between the lines: The legal question is how broadly to apply the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits accessing a computer system without proper authorization.
My thought bubble: Technology has made questions around combining masses of public data a lot trickier.
- "Public information" once meant you could access a particular record by visiting a government building.
- Electronic databases have already changed the game, as has the emergence of data brokers who compile public records in new ways.
- Mass scraping of data takes things a step further, enabling personal data to be combined, or even used to create and train algorithms. That's how Clearview is said to have used photos scraped from Facebook and Google to hone its facial recognition technology.
4. Charted: Tech giants gobble up ad share
Five of the world's largest tech companies owned nearly half of all global ad revenues last year, according to the latest mid-year forecast from GroupM.
Why it matters: The percentage of the entire global ad market owned by the top five biggest publishers has grown dramatically from roughly 26% five years ago to 46% today.
Be smart: While firms like Google and Facebook continue to own the biggest share, Amazon and Chinese firms like Alibaba and ByteDance (TikTok's parent) are rapidly growing their ad businesses, replacing traditional media giants that used to rank in the top five, like Disney and Comcast.
Yes, but: GroupM predicts that media giants will be able to increase their market share as they invest more in ad-supported streaming video services globally.
5. Take note
- Oracle is set to report earnings, while California today lifts many of the state's coronavirus-related restrictions.
- The Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee will hear from Amazon, Google and Sonos in a hearing about competition in the connected devices market. Sonos and Google have been in a heated legal battle over patents and other issues.
- Low-code app platform AirTable has hired Facebook executive Raymond Endres as its chief technology officer. Endres was previously a VP of engineering for Facebook Messenger and worked at Microsoft before that.
- A deep look at the cozy relationship between ransomware hackers and the Russian government. (Washington Post)
- YouTube will stop accepting ads for its highest profile "masthead ad" unit from some categories, including alcohol, gambling and some political ads, Axios' Sara Fischer scooped on Monday. (Axios)
- Amazon's automated HR systems failed workers at its giant NY warehouse during the pandemic. (New York Times)
- Amazon employees tell Recode's Jason Del Rey that racial bias and discrimination remain commonplace at the retailer. (Vox)
- Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a worthy read on the secretive safety team at Airbnb that helps intervene when rentals go bad. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)
6. After you Login
This is pretty cool. Jennifer Rocha, who is the daughter of farm workers and the first in her family to graduate from high school, took her graduation photos in the California produce fields, alongside her immigrant parents.