Jun 29, 2021

Axios Login

I'll be hosting an Axios event on the state of LGBTQ rights tomorrow, with a great lineup of guests including U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, National LGBTQ Task Force executive director Kierra Johnson and Stella Keating, a transgender teen who testified before Congress earlier this year.

Today's newsletter is 1,215 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Ruling slams brakes on tech's legal foes

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A federal judge's decisions Monday tossed out antitrust lawsuits against Facebook — and threw cold water on the heated campaign to brand Big Tech's leading companies as illegal monopolists, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

Why it matters: The rulings show just how tough it will be for regulators at the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department to make their charges of tech malfeasance stick.

Yes, but: It could also strengthen the hand of lawmakers who argue that today's outdated antitrust laws lack the teeth to restrain the power wielded by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

Driving the news: Judge James Boasberg of the Federal District Court in D.C. sent the Federal Trade Commission back to the drawing board to show exactly how Facebook has a monopoly in the market for "personal social networking services."

  • The FTC's suit, filed in December, is "legally insufficient," Boasberg wrote: "It is almost as if the agency expects the court to simply nod to the conventional wisdom that Facebook is a monopolist."
  • He also threw out a parallel lawsuit by a coalition of state attorneys general, whose objections to Facebook's acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, he ruled, came nearly a decade too late.

Facebook investors received the news with glee, sending its stock up nearly 5% and driving the company's market cap over $1 trillion for the first time.

The big picture: The rulings came at a moment of high hopes for tech critics.

  • For five years, a coalition of activists, lawmakers and scholars has castigated the giant tech companies over their market dominance, privacy and data policies, and failure to control the spread of online misinformation.
  • Key Biden administration appointees — including Tim Wu at the White House and new FTC chair Lina Khan — have come from this camp.
  • Just days ago, the House Judiciary Committee approved a package of a half-dozen new bills aimed at redefining antitrust rules to cover giant tech platforms.

Advocates of stronger tech regulation argue that these proposals will give regulators tough new tools to restrain the industry's power. But even if they became law — a challenging prospect in the face of a sclerotic Senate — they would face inevitable judicial challenges on constitutional and other grounds.

Between the lines: Antitrust prosecutions remain dauntingly complex and forbiddingly difficult to clinch.

  • Under current law, you have to define a market, show that a company has a monopoly in that market, and then prove that the company has abused its monopoly.
  • You can change the rules of the game, as the House Judiciary proposals aim to, but any law still needs to devise coherent tests for corporate misbehavior that courts can apply.

Supporters of the new House bills say they will do just that. But the new laws are narrowly tailored to target a handful of companies and practices. They could be out of date before the appeals process has run its course.

2. Scoop: Instagram to share ad revenue

For the first time, Instagram plans to share some of the ad revenue it generates with publishers. The Facebook-owned site will start testing a program this month with a small set of IGTV publishers this month, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: The move is the latest in a series of efforts by Instagram, and Facebook more broadly, to convince publishers to produce content for their audience.

Details: Publishers Facebook has approached include those with sizable Instagram audiences, sources tell Axios, like ATTN: and Group Nine Media, which is home to brands like NowThis, PopSugar and others.

  • Instagram rolled out ad revenue share programs broadly for creators on IGTV earlier this month.

Why it matters: Publishers with massive followings were growing frustrated with Instagram over prior monetization talks that were tabled during the pandemic.

  • Because Instagram doesn't have a designated news tab, the service doesn't have a formalized program for paying publishers for content, the way Facebook's News Tab does. (It does pay a few publishers for select content.)
3. Google Maps adds info on nearby food pantries

Image: Google

Google is making it easier for those who are hungry to find a local food bank by offering a new locator tool within Google Maps.

Why it matters: The 2021 reality is there are plenty of people in the U.S. who have plenty of access to the internet, but not enough access to food.

Details:

  • Google said the new map feature allows people to search for their nearest food bank, food pantry or school meal program pickup site.
  • Data, including nearly 90,000 locations offering assistance, is provided by No Kid Hungry, FoodFinder and the Agriculture Department.

The big picture: Hunger has reached crisis levels amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Feeding America estimates that 45 million people, or one in seven Americans, experienced food insecurity in 2020, a nearly 30% increase from 2019.
  • Google said that searches for nearby food banks, applications for government nutrition aid and info on school lunches all reached record highs last year.
4. A Hippocratic Oath for your AI doctor

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A broad new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) lays out ethical principles for the use of artificial intelligence in medicine, Axios' Bryan Walsh writes for the What's Next newsletter.

Why it matters: Health is one of the most promising areas of expansion for AI, and the pandemic only accelerated the adoption of machine learning tools. But adding algorithms to health care will require that AI can follow the most basic rule of human medicine: "Do no harm" — and that won't be simple.

Driving the news: After nearly two years of consultations by international experts, the WHO report makes the case that the use of AI in medicine offers great promise for both rich and poorer countries, but "only if ethics and human rights are put at the heart of its design, deployment and use," the authors write.

Between the lines: When it works, AI holds the promise of helping human clinicians provide better and cheaper care — as in a project that uses AI to rapidly scan for cervical cancer in under-resourced parts of Africa and India.

  • But if something goes wrong, a mistake in a single algorithm risks doing far more widespread harm than any single doctor might do. In a recent study, an algorithm used to identify cases of sepsis was found to miss two-thirds of cases while frequently issuing false alarms.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • Mobile World Congress continues online and in Barcelona.

Trading Places

  • Maria Kirby, formerly Apple's senior policy counsel, has started a new job as Disney's VP of government affairs in the company's D.C. office.
  • Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley is stepping down from full-time work at the company, but will remain on its board of directors.
  • Nundu Janakiram, a six-year Uber veteran, has joined Cameo as VP of product.

ICYMI

  • Duolingo, known for its mobile language-learning app, filed to go public. (Reuters)
  • Microsoft released the first test version of Windows 11. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

I'll say this for Beluga whales: They sure know how to photobomb, as evidenced here, and here. Those are both a bit old, though, so do send any new examples my way.