Two Washington Post headlines about “Big Tech”

Congress agrees big tech creepy, can’t agree how

The second is:

Big Tech is worth even more the day after congressional grilling

Furthermore, the tech companies have been rising in popularity.  I am going to “call” that the “war against Big Tech” essentially is over, and that the critics have failed.  The new debate will be about ensuring universal access to various internet services (which will involve further regulation of some kind), not splitting up the major companies or eliminating their basic functions.  You might also try this National Journal headline:

Hopes for antitrust reform fade after blockbuster tech hearing

It is striking just how much that “blockbuster tech hearing” has not become an enduring story for people to talk about.

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Big tech is in cahoots with department of domestic spying. We will all suffer from the connection.

Pathetic post by Tyler. Facebook and Google are Enemy #1 when it comes to election interference, and they're just gearing up for November.

Now that people are starting to notice, Tyler says "it's over." Nice try, bud.

The irony of Trump's ban on TikTok is that it is one of the few social media platforms that doesn't censor conservatives. Trumpies can now enjoy the censorship and cancel culture they created.

"they created" doing a bit of work here Donnie

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Have we forgotten the Washington Post is owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos so of course it would have headlines friendly to tech.

Too early to declare mission accomplished Ty. I predict this post won't age well.

I agree.

I'm not sure I see a path to anti-trust action against these companies, as discussed in the last article, but the issue of speech is another matter. Left and right have nearly opposite complaints on this issue, but they both seem to agree that increased regulation of speech is the right answer, so it's hard to see something not happening on this issue. Nor do I see this dying down. Both sides are also using social media as a political scapegoat, so as politics heats up, so does concern over this issue.

As Tyler said, it's not clear there is enough consensus on the problems with big tech. This is true in general and I would argue it is true even in the case of speech. A few years ago (the Gamergate and Milo days), it was common for people on the right to complain about the power of big social media companies to cancel people for politically incorrect speech or to at least censor their speech. However, now we are in the era of #metoo and BLM ascendance and I am starting to see right-wing complaints about how social media makes it too easy for (left-wing) people to coordinate campaigns to get (politically incorrect or right-wing) people fired from their jobs or denied business opportunities in the real world. I doubt that the right will be committed defenders of laissez-faire speech standards on social media in the long-run. This was a convenient pose to strike when alt-righters and conservatives discovered how to use social media to broadcast their views but it less convenient now that leftists and woke types have discovered the same power and have started to use it.

"A few years ago...it was common for people on the right to complain about the power of big social media companies to cancel people for politically incorrect speech or to at least censor their speech."

You seem to be implying this trend has gone away, but perhaps you aren't paying close attention to conservative source, because this complaint appears louder than ever to me.

Nor do I see any movement among conservatives seeking to silence left-leaning voices on social media. Yes, there is a lot of concern about efforts of the left to get people fired, organize boycotts, etc. But I don't see that concern directed at speech or social media as the problem.

I see some complaints like "the left is allowed to say X" as part of an argument that there is a double standard (the conservative counterpart to X being banned). But this is not a complaint about the speech per se.

I think there is a consistent, growing conservative movement on this.

As a conservative, I don't agree with this movement. I think it's actually a betrayal of principles, as the principle of "laissez-faire speech standards" (as you put it) would be that a private company is allowed to shape speech on its platform as it wishes. I also think that any regulation in this area is highly likely to have unforeseen harmful consequences, and not even give conservatives the short-sighted victory they hope for. But I do think the trend on the right is toward regulation, and it is likely to happen one way or another (since the left also favors its own version of regulation).

p.s. yes, I'm aware of the conservative argument that tech companies actually have a special exemption from liability, and removing that exemption is not inconsistent with free speech principle.

I think this is a poor argument, because it fails to recognize that the internet is a new medium that doesn't fit old paradigms. I think current law is a sensible application of free speech principles to the internet, and those who wish to alter this don't recognize the extent to which this rule allowed the internet as we know it to exist.

I agree with you on that. The day CDA Section 230 is repealed is the day that Facebook's and Twitter's lawyers advise their respective companies to ban all controversial speech entirely and Google's lawyers advise the company's engineers to tweak the algorithms so that search results only return pages from mainstream media or certain reputable websites that have been vetted by Google. It is not remotely worth the litigation and liability risk to allow people to use your platform to say anything that could even remotely be construed as defamatory. Let people go back to using these platforms to share cat pictures and links to NYT and Reuters articles. I'm sure these companies would survive but the alt-right ecosystem would be forced underground.

Yeah. Legislators would probably realize the foolishness of removing this rule entirely, and aim for something less radical. However, what is the workable solution that enforces free speech on platforms while not ruining the internet?

The basic idea of what conservatives want is a rule that platforms have to be content neutral in order to continue to enjoy the exemption.

However, platforms have to be able to regulate content to some degree, or they will be ruined over by trolls attacking people, posting pornography, etc.

The most likely "solution" is the law allowing regulation of content, but only for permissible reasons and not for political views, etc. But this is what Facebook et. al. claim they are doing now. If conservatives back this as a legal solution, it puts them in the odd position of trusting government bureaucrats to do something better than a private company. And since government bureaucrats tend to lean strongly left overall, they almost certainly won't do it better from a conservative perspective. It will be the status quo, but with the force of law behind the behavior conservatives are complaining about (and with conservative ownership of the law).

Where people arrange to having something called a "host" provide Internet access to their home page.

What this model cannot do is generate lots of (any, really) money. Probably why no one ever thought of it before. This would be a huge step backwards, resembing the old fashioned world where printers used to print pamphlets, without having any liability for the content as long as they were providing nothing but printing services.

Probably a distinction without a difference. The key part of Section 230 says, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Take that away and cloud hosting platforms would have every reason to worry that they will be treated under the law as publishers of content that is made available through their services. I'm sure Congress wouldn't just outright repeal this law without providing for a set of legal rules establishing liability and "safe harbor" rules since the CDA was passed before courts had the opportunity to draw up clear rules.

Even if you decide to go old-school and set up your own physical server with a static IP address, your ISP might worry about being held liable for the content you are providing. Section 230 was passed to give ISPs and hosting platforms an assurance that they would not be responsible for policing content shared by their users. As always under tort law, the question is not whether a jury would hold the defendant liable, it is what the total expected loss is in terms of time and money of defending against all possible claims.

'Take that away and cloud hosting platforms would have every reason to worry that they will be treated under the law as publishers of content that is made available through their services'

These "hosts" could be based in another country, with a different legal framework. A Polish "hosting" company may provide services that an American one wouldn't. Or, even more radical, you have a private "home page" that is copied to archive.today every time it is updated, and people who are interested in the content can always visit the archive.

Notice how easy things get once you remove the profit motive from free speech? Amazing that no one ever thought about that in the history of the Internet.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here, really.

Sure, it's easy enough to come up with a legal regime in which hosts are not liable. But legal liability for content creators or processors would be a killer to many activities: search engines, social media platforms, political opinion sites, online forums, knowledge bases, blogs with comment sections...

If you think there is an obvious way this could work, as your comments imply, please give your practical proposal of what the legal regime should be: who should be legally liable, and for what content?

There is lots of criticism on this issue, but very few practical proposals (since the idea tends to fall apart when you try to define practically how this could work).

Simple - the world wide web has a large number of nooks and crannies in which a "home page" never needs to fear being taken down (with certain exceptions, which likely are not mentionable nor need to be mentioned).

"But legal liability for content creators or processors would be a killer "
Free expression is not about profit margins, which I am clearly not getting across. Probably because who could ever imagine such a radical idea being possible in 2020?

"who should be legally liable, and for what content'
The owner of the "home page" is legally liable for what appears. Another idea that appears too radical to imagine.

'since the idea tends to fall apart when you try to define practically how this could work"
I am not trying to save anyone's business model. Call it a feature, not a bug.

Prior: let’s break the internet, that’s a feature

Break the Internet? This nothing but a description of how the World Wide Web came into being. Section 230 only applies to the U.S.. The Internet continues to function globally. Facebook follows UK law in the UK, French law in France, etc. even without Section 230 protection existing in those countries.

But legal liability for content creators or processors would be a killer to many activities: search engines, social media platforms, political opinion sites, online forums, knowledge bases, blogs with comment sections...

I’m not familiar with European tort law so I won’t comment. In the US, this would effectively kill the modern internet.

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I'm pretty sure they would dispute that the U.K. or France have any jurisdiction over them when it comes to legal cases concerning speech on their site. Do they even have assets in these countries worth mentioning that could be seized in the event a court disagreed?

Facebook and Google in no way dispute that the UK and France have jurisdiction over their activities in those countries. Google and Facebook must comply with the law, such as those concerning hate speech.

"France has passed a new law that requires social media companies to remove certain content within one hour or face heavy fines.

The regulation requires firms like Facebook and Twitter to delete hate speech and illegal content from their platforms, with potential fines now capped at €1.25 million (£1m).

Hateful content includes racism, sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, while illegal content relates to child pornography and terrorism.

Under the new order, firms will have 24 hours to remove hateful content and just one hour to delete illegal content." www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/france-facebook-fine-social-media-a9514081.html

"Social media giants including Facebook and Twitter face the threat of fines if they fail to take down harmful content such as images of child abuse and material inciting violence, under a crackdown launched in the U.K.

The government is “minded” to give broadcast regulator Ofcom a role as internet watchdog, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan and Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Wednesday. The proposals are yet to be fleshed out in detail, but the regulator is likely be handed the power to fine companies if they fail to protect British users from harmful content, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government will “ensure that the U.K. is the safest place to be online.” www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-12/u-k-to-regulate-internet-in-crackdown-on-social-media-companies

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"The basic idea of what conservatives want is a rule that platforms have to be content neutral in order to continue to enjoy the exemption.

However, platforms have to be able to regulate content to some degree, or they will be ruined over by trolls attacking people, posting pornography, etc."

This concisely summarizes one of the key problems of the 21st century, how to regulate speech in an internet-based world of communications?

I surmise that Tyler and Alex would advocate that private firms be permitted to regulate contents on their sites (a few free speech zealots complain that Tyler and Alex should not be permitted to remove comments, but that's idiotic; this site would be inundated with automated spam in about two weeks; see what happened to Usenet).

But they do not want the government to tell private firms how to control speech on their private sites. Which leaves the world at large at the mercies of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, etc. and how they choose to control speech.

Is that the best solution, imperfect though it is? I have my doubts but I don't have a clearly superior answer, this is one of the more important but also most difficult questions that we face today.

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I predict it ages well. Recall Judge Greene split of Ma Bell in the early 1980s and it didn't work out well, now we're back to three US carriers and arguably we only need two or even one (international competition is sufficient IMO). Microsoft won its case vs the DOJ in the late 1990s. So the war on Big Business has been going badly for the government for the last forty years.

Bonus trivia: Big Business is more innovative, in terms of number of patents, than mom-and-pop stores. You can correctly argue that most of these patents are not breakthrough but industrial design, however, that's what the law and the market rewards. Not the true pioneer but the incremental improver (in my ideal world it would be a bit different). That's why it's been said that the first business in a new field prospers, but so does the second business, that thinks of a slight improvement. Coke vs Pepsi, Boeing vs Airbus, New Summer Movie #1 vs a similar themed New Summer Movie #2 (studios routinely spy on each other), that sort of thing, there's numerous other examples. Today's patent laws also reward the incremental improver. Now you actually learned something reading the comments.

I agree on the monopoly question. Besides the issues you raise, how would one split up tech companies which have market dominant simply because users have flocked to their free services?

The main value of Facebook is simply that everyone is on Facebook. The equilibrium for a social media platform like this is having one of them, and if it were split up, then one would probably "win" and get the vast majority of users within a few years. And, related to this, what would a breakup of Facebook actually look like? The unworkability of the idea would stop it.

However, anti-trust concerns are only one front in the "war against big tech", as Tyler puts it, and I think other aspects of this trend are likely to result in action (as I have argued above).

"what would a breakup of Facebook actually look like?"

You split off Whatsapp and Instagram and make them compete.

I guess, but I find this idea pretty underwhelming as a response. If there is a monopoly concern with Facebook, it's primarily that the Facebook site itself has near-complete dominance of that format.

Not to be snarky, but is competition considered a "pretty underwhelming" response these days in libertarian-land or have we all jumped on the "winner takes all" bandwagon? I imagine I'm not the only one on this site who thinks competition produces better results than centralized capital. A sports league with just one team isn't much of one.

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Yep, the only place Alex and Tyler can create community is on Facebook, totally controlled by the extremist biases of Zuckerberg.

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"...split of Ma Bell in the early 1980s and it didn't work out well."
It worked out fantastically well... if AT&T had not been split up we would not have cell phones today.
We did go through a painful period (MCI, all that crap) but technologies and means of payment (ie: free long distance, unlimited data) that are now common would never have seen the light of day in an AT&T monopoly.

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Microsoft lost, appealed, and then settled for government oversight of their business practices. They also held back innovation in the web browser and the internet in general by at least a decade until Google arrived on scene. Looking back, I'd say they were a net negative for the consumer.

Google was virtually the last on the browser scene, and IE has dozens of M$ specific extensions plus lots of bloat, and many errors in html interpretation. Many got frustrated with IE specific web code we switched to Opera, FireFox and hammer on webmasters to write standard code. M$ authoring tools were horrible for the bad code that wouldn't work across clients. Meanwhile Netscape was trying extract rents high enough to justify its market cap. Then there was Safari off it its universe.

Chrome was a fresh start from the open source base which had paid coders and architects to create something that worked on the limited resources of android hardware, later ported to other platforms. Chrome/Google supported the standards process which M$ and Apple fought.

I've been using the web for 30 years on multiple hardware/OS platforms and maybe a dozen browsers. Chrome has only been useful/competitive for a decade, and on Windows for 7 years.

But Sun, Oracle, Netscape, FireFox, Opera, and others, plus the web standards community fought to prevent a M$ IE takeover of "the web", not "the government".

IE reached 90% of all web client traffic until users switched to Apple or a competing browser dropping IE to 70%. The earliest stats I can quickly find is 13 years ago:
IE 67%
Firefox 25%
Safari 2%
Opera 2%

Then, overnight Chrome 10 years ago:
IE 48%
FireFox 34%
Chrome 10%
Opera 2%
Safari 2%

And today:
Chrome 63%
Safari 14%
IE 10%
FireFox 5%
Opera 2%

But Chrome beat IE by selling users on Android/ARM over Windows/Intel.

The last sentence of your post is important! Chrome comes with android phones just as IE always came with Windows.
Desktop browser stats are a bit different than overall stats because android phones skew the result.

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Ray,

Time for you to learn something...

Breaking up ma bell lead to great innovation, price falls, and widespread internet.

@Tim K- nope, MSFT won (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Corp.#Appeal ("The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Jackson's rulings against Microsoft."))

@mulp - I agree with your analysis. Netscape/Mosaic/Firefox was more innovative than Google's browser ever was, which simply got popular due to Android

@dan1111 - good points, that's called "tying" in antitrust and the general consensus--prior to the rise of the internet--was that tying was unsustainable (MSFT won on this point on appeal). But nowadays, where companies compete for eyeballs, this tying theory of monopoly is coming back. No easy answers to be sure. Give away the razor blade holder in order to sell the razors (tying, old fashioned kind).

@Peter Shaw - nope, I claim Ma Bell had positive externalities that were forever lost when it was broken up. Bell Labs, Murray Hill, a national treasure, was destroyed. Internet would have come anyway. You think China would not have invented the internet? Just Al Gore?

Ray Lopez is always right. Always.

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Really?

Everyone has universal Internet access for $50 a month from all the copper wiring being replaced with FiOS because FCC/State regulators required Bell and GTE monopolies to provide universal basic service to all customers for a price based on fair ROIC which reduced the capital value of copper to zero by 2000 so the only way to charge for a connection was by replacing copper with fiber, which was determined by FCC and State regulators as the only reasonable capital expenditure?

Economic profit could come only by selling "luxury" services over basic residential (like 25/5megabit residential, 100/100 business) such as gigabit service, cloud services, reliability/fault tolerance, etc.

Bell/ATT were forced to cut "basic" prices to cut ROIC down to 8-10% which they advertised heavily driving more customer use requiring more capital investment offsetting depreciation and tracking customer growth keeping revenue growth.

R&D was an allowed expense so they invested heavily in computer switches, fiber, data encoding/compression, reliability, etc.

Note, Tone service, caller ID, voice mail, are luxury services still added on top of basic service. Ironically, pulse dialing in basic service requires higher capital investment than luxury Tone dialing. Only 5% don't pay extra for Tone. The only way to not pay for Tone is to get Lifeline which requires you be on welfare to get a lower rate that costs more to provide service.

And FTTH is cheaper than copper as China, etc prove with their universal FTTH programs, which is about the fifth generation of fiber installation technology.

The US is installing fiber everywhere in the most inefficient fashion with lots of government grants to install fiber to politically connected towns, or to provide cell service backhaul. 5G will require fiber run down all primary and secondary roads, otherwise it will be 4G at a higher price.

US cell service is behind Asia, and no better than Europe, because all the innovation in real world network building is in Asia, Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan.

In 1980, the US was the telco leader by far thanks to regulation of the ATT/Bell monopoly. Those days are long gone.

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I try to keep my finger on the pulse of current events.

I can't work out what problem, in the context of a regular user of these tech company's products, an anti-trust move is trying to solve?

The Apple store framework is not something you see as a problem?

It's not a problem for me, since I use Android.

How can there be a monopoly case against a company with 39% of the US smart phone market (and only 13% of the global phone market)?

Ok, this is a somewhat flippant comment. I do see how Apple's practices are problematic and not desirable. But I'm not sure I see what the legal case is against them.

They don't allow other app stores to exist. They only allow one browser, theirs, to be on their devices. They cut special deals only for other large companies like Spotify or Amazon. You can make the case for any one of: restraint of trade, preventing competition, collusive tactics, or abuse of monopoly power. In most ways, Apple's grip is much tighter and more draconian than Microsoft's in its heyday.

I think Apple's response would be that they offer a curated experience to customers in which they can purchase Apple devices and install Apple-approved apps that allow for seamless synchronizing of data between all devices. If customers do not want that experience, they can follow the lead of the vast majority of (global) smart phone users who do not use iPhones and the vast majority of laptop users who do not use MacBooks.

I don't know much about anti-trust law but arguments about restraint of trade and the rest typically need to show signs of substantial market power. Microsoft in its heyday had much more market power in the consumer market than Apple does. It seems to me the people with the most legitimate complaint against Apple are smartphone app developers given Apple's popularity in the U.S. smartphone market. For its users, though, Apple can argue that its products are somewhat bespoke offerings in highly competitive markets and its users must know full well what they are getting in to when they decide to pass over competitors in favor of Apple.

Yeah, exactly. How does this work as an anti-trust argument if Apple has less than 40% market share?

It seems like just another example of vendor lock-in, which has a long history. It's analagous to the issue of farmers not being allowed to repair their own tractors, which was recently highlighted here.

I agree that excessive levels of vendor lock-in are bad for consumers, and possibly something that could be addressed with legislation guaranteeing consumers certain rights over things they purchase. However, I don't see the anti-trust case when the company is nowhere near being a monopoly.

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I'm a big Apple fan ever since Steve Jobs showed me the original Mac prototype in 1982, but Apple is stifling smart phone technology. The phone companies stifled technology for years trying to control the cell phone marketplace. It was impossible to get a phone with an open browser in the US because the phone companies wanted to own the market for ring tones, information services, email and so on. Sure, you could dial an 800 number and get around the gate, but it was awkward.

Now Apple controls the gate. It's like the way Microsoft took over IBM's old monopoly. There are almost always gateways, and it is always profitable to control them.

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So much of this comment is just wrong that it ceases to make any sense almost immediately.

“ They don't allow other app stores to exist.”

Yet other app stores do exist, not just on other companies’ devices, but on Apple’s devices, too. Apple doesn’t support or condone other companies’ App Stores, but would you expect Target to help Wal-Mart set up a kiosk in their parking lot?

“ They only allow one browser, theirs, to be on their devices.”

Just flat wrong. You can get any browser you want on an Apple device. Even directly from the App Store. You can even set that browser as default and delete Apple’s browser. Have you ever used an iPhone, perchance?

“ They cut special deals only for other large companies like Spotify or Amazon.”

Um. Do you think there’s some sort of law against negotiating supplier prices? What do you actually know about antitrust that you didn’t get from tweets?

The problem with the argument against Apple is that it’s usually just this incoherent and ignorant of facts, as if its strongest proponents can’t be bothered to gather any intelligence before launching their assault.

The other browsers you get from the app store are all reskins of Safari:

"Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Brave, and others have to use Safari’s WebKit-based browser engine in their apps, as Apple doesn’t allow rival rendering engines on iOS."

To butcher some Henry Ford, you can get any browser you want as long as it's Safari.

https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/21/21146804/apple-ios-14-features-default-apps-settings-restrictions-apis-rumors

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Anti-trust isn't strictly about the consumer but also about competition. The more competitors, the more choices and the more things actually resemble a market. With this, the app stores are monopolies/rentiers at least in the eyes of other businesses many of whom don't directly compete with Apple/Google. For starters, see the grumblings on social media by Tim Sweeney, David Hennemeier Hansson and Protonmail.

https://protonmail.com/blog/apple-app-store-antitrust/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/24/epic-games-ceo-tim-sweeney-apple-crippled-app-store-with-30percent-cut.html

Exactly! Apple was an innovator. Now, it is inhibiting innovation. This what happens to successful companies, but if there is no antitrust enforcement, we could lose the entire industry if it moves elsewhere. That's what happened to the Detroit oligopoly. They innovated big time, then they got fat and lazy. Then the Germans and Japanese clobbered them. How? They innovated, something impossible to do in the US.

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I'm still not clear on what point critics were trying to make. These companies are so big because they serve their consumers well. They're constantly looking to improve and make their offerings cheaper or more relevant. Companies will always prioritize their own goods and services. Why wouldn't they? Just wait until critics find out about defence, supermarkets, and big pharma...

They also buy or predatory price out their competitors and play the role of censor in their own interest.

And "their interest" just happens to be in 100% alignment with the DNC.

So Tyler doesn't see a problem.

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Re: "I'm still not clear on what point critics were trying to make. These companies are so big because they serve their consumers well."

Yes, but now they are big and not serving their consumers as well. They were small, but now they are big. If you are big, you don't have to serve your customers or consumers well, you just have to use your market power, lobbying arm and cash reserve to keep competitors at bay. You don't have to do what got you big in the first place.

The only reason we have companies like these is because the government sued Microsoft for antitrust. Otherwise, we'd have some lame Microsoft search engine, 800 times worse than Bing, instead of Google, because Microsoft would have made it a pain in the ass the use a service like Google by icing it out of Explorer back before Google was big enough to write something like Chrome to compete. As with AT&T, the government doesn't even have to win its case in court. It just has to scare them.

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This is the punditocracy syndrome in a nutshell. "not become an enduring story" If it did become an enduring story, the pundits would need to find something else to talk about. Today, the talk is how tech companies are more popular, even if yesterday, they were suffering from a reputational decline. However, comparing an opinion headline/story with a news section headline/story seems to be a bit misplaced, unless such distinctions are considered unimportant.

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A lot of kids going into fall school-at-home without adequate internet access or devices. I wish Congress would become more indignant about that.

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Whenever I see the word "blockbuster", as in "blockbuster tech hearing", I remind myself that a blockbuster was originally a huge bomb.

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Cowen missed this headline: "Big Tech develops innovative plan for nationwide covid-19 testing". What the article below the headline reveals is that the "innovative plan" isn't for actual testing but virtual testing.

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The natural evolution of testing in a tech world, where anti-viral software has been a reliable revenue source for a couple of decades.

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I don't think it makes much sense to count it as a broad war against Big Tech, despite the recent congressional hearing that suggests otherwise. Congress and regulators are unlikely to launch serious actions that affect all major tech companies, since these firms have different business models and different impacts on the economy and politics. Concerns over Amazon (essentially a retailer) are fundamentally different from those over Facebook (essentially a media platform and ad broker). Legislative or regulatory action would need to reflect those differences for them to be effective.

So I can imagine the proverbial war continuing for some tech companies and not others. For example, I can imagine scenarios where Amazon faces few political challenges, but where Facebook faces increasing scrutiny.

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I'm very surprised that the word TikTok doesn't appear on this page. FWIW:

1) If TikTok is spying, I have no problem with them being removed

2) If TikTok is spying, I'm very confused about why they are still in the Apple and Android web stores.

Something doesn't smell right. Apple and Alphabet have a strong incentive to protect their platforms and users. If they haven't found a smoking gun, is there one really?

Maybe I should add some supplemental information for non-developers.

Apple and Alphabet have a strong incentive to protect their platforms and users. They do this by testing every app in their stores, sometimes even decompiling them, to look for sneaky and verboten actions. Some things sneak through, but the whole architecture is in place to only present approved and safe apps. Any app found unsafe is taken down very quickly. For example:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/these-17-iphone-apps-have-been-removed-from-the-apple-app-store-for-delivering-malware/

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To back up further, the main justification for "stores" is that they can provide this security checking service. It's very easily technically to let users download apps from any website, but it's recognized as an unacceptably risky plan. We users give Apple and Alphabet their cut because they do police their platform.

Of course, when there are only 2 stores, that might rise to something like monopoly and be worthy of oversight.

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This isn’t complicated.

Do the same thing for Grindr

April 3, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. Last week, the U.S. government revealed it was demanding the Chinese owners of Grindr, the gay dating app, give up their control of the company. The Chinese owners, Beijing Kunlun Tech, had bought 60 percent of Grindr in 2016 and completed the buyout early last year. But the U.S. government has now decided the transaction is a threat to U.S. national security. Kunlun is expected to sell Grindr at auction.
---
In March 2020, Kunlun announced that it will sell its 98.59% stake in Grindr to U.S.-based San Vicente Acquisition LLC for $608.5 million.

Helpful prior is best prior.

You missed the most hilarious part about the final transaction though.

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Since it occurs to me that prior_approval thought he was doing a “gotcha” instead of posting a wall of text to explain why I chose Grindr, I fear he may leave out the punchline.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-grindr-m-a-sanvicente-exclusive/exclusive-winning-bidder-for-grindr-has-ties-to-chinese-owner-idUSKBN2391AI

Kunlun’s founder Zhou Yahui was hoping that the company would have enough time to pursue an initial public offering of Grindr that would value it at between $800 million and $1 billion, according to a source familiar with his thinking.

One of Zhou’s advisers on the sale of Grindr was Ding’an Fei, according to six people familiar with the sale process.

A former employee of private equity firm Warburg Pincus, Fei had advised Kunlun in its $245 million acquisition of Grindr over two transactions in 2016 and 2018. He also previously served on the dating app’s board, according to the fundraising documents and three of the sources familiar with the matter.

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Every app collects data on users. It should be up to the user to decide whether they want to use the app in light of the data collection and privacy risks. If the government is able to ban TikTok or force it to sell because of its content and privacy issues, the next target would be Twitter, which has also pissed Trump off with its content moderation issues and recent privacy problems like that hack.

The ban or forced sale of TikTok is a massive, unprecedented act of government censorship. It's state-mandated cancel culture intended to suppress young people's main social media platform that they use for communicating with each other and organizing. It's equivalent to Democrats banning Fox News or forcing it to be sold to a new owner. Anyone who supports this has no standing to complain about any other supposed violations of freedom of speech, free market principles, etc.

No, it’s exactly what happened with Grindr and for the exact same reasons.

If history is any guide, it will be forced to sell to a brand new LLC vehicle with slightly more hidden connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

Grindr is a platform for dating, not speech. That’s different.

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Not that I necessarily disagree as I am a free trader but China doesn't allow many US tech companies to operate inside the Great Firewall so how is it fair for China to ban US companies while we must hold to free trade? They are no longer a Third World country when it comes to technology and have a few near half-trillion dollar companies in their borders. China should remove its firewall and let companies compete.

The problem is, nothing resembling "trade" is happening here. TikTok is a free piece of software that communicates with cloud servers that are apparently located in the U.S. and Singapore. I'm not aware of any precedent for the U.S. government banning a free piece of software or a free service that is not directly linked to criminal activity that can be proven in court. If TikTok was a subscription service, they could always block payments with a sanctions or trade-related argument but for a free service... that's a stretch.

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This is a free speech issue, not a free trade issue. Just because the Chinese government censors the media in China doesn’t mean the US government should censor the media here. In fact, that censorship would be unconstitutional. The rights at issue include Americans’ right to communicate on TikTok.

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"Every app collects data on users. It should be up to the user to decide whether they want to use the app in light of the data collection and privacy risks."

I gotta stop you right there, because it ignores some architecture. Apple and Alphabet, knowing that they must make commitments to safety and privacy, have implemented explicit "permission" systems in the application framework.

So at the top level there are two kinds of apps:

1) those that conform to the architecture, and explicitly ask users for well defined permissions, for instance access to gps location ("never," "always," or "when app is active").

2) those that flout those rules or explicitly bypass the privacy architecture.

It is important not to confuse the two. The second class should be banned by Apple and Alphabet for their own good and ours as well. If the government wants to ban them too, or bring criminal charges, fine.

On the other hand, if an app is playing by current platform rules, and legal by applicable privacy law, cool.

The claim has been that TikTok has acted in a class 2 way, and inserted unauthorized and probably illegal surveillance functions.

But as I say, there is some contradiction with that charge and them still being in the app store.

One such claim:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/tiktok-china-data-privacy-lawsuit-bytedance-a9230426.html

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As a note, with each OS upgrade Apple and Alphabet have been strengthening their privacy systems. A new phone will be better than an old (no longer receiving updates) phone in this regard.

My phone is Android 10, but my tablet is only Android 7, so perhaps less secure.

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You're missing the forest for the trees.

All of this data can be de-anonymized. It's in fact trivial to do so. That includes everything from medical procedures to drug prescriptions to location data from the phone in your pocket.

Whether this specific instance is 1) or 2) in your framework is probably irrelevant to the Cfius board.

I don't follow, which data? The data collection explicitly granted by users to apps, or the data collected out of bounds?

If it is collected by the app under platform rules, there may be a number of agreements in play (vendor to developer, developer to user).

And as I say, Apple and Alphabet have a business case for preserving faith in such systems, and improving them over time.

Sure, let's keep it simple and limited for the sake of discussion. Let's limit it to location tracking under your 1) category.

In your words, this data would be 'collected in bounds'. From the app store perspective, no problem. This is standard for hundreds/thousands of apps that passively track location data and sell it to data firms for processing/packaging and further selling the anonymized data to advertisers.

The Cfius board doesn't really care if it's 1) or 2). They know the data can be easily de-anonymized.

The concern is that the CCP would have easily de-anonymized location tracking for tens of millions of Americans.

"This is standard for hundreds/thousands of apps that passively track location data and sell it to data firms for processing/packaging and further selling the anonymized data to advertisers."

Not under Android 10, no.

When a new app requests location I may grant access ("never," "always," or "when app is active").

Anyone who is granting background access to location has made that choice themselves.

Android also makes a distinction between course and fine location data, which again protects user privacy.

https://developer.android.com/training/location/permissions

Yes, we're using your example of 1). So you get to choose whether the app can access location data.

Anyone who is granting background access to location has made that choice themselves.

Android also makes a distinction between course and fine location data, which again protects user privacy.

Sure, let's run with that. Again, it makes no difference to the Cfius board. The primary concern is that the PLA and MSS now have access to tens of millions of Americans' location data.

That's before even running into the issue of backdoors.

Ignoring of course that the strongest criticism of TikTok was that it made the second type of attack, bypassing system security and installing malicious code.

That's a very specific claim.

Please provide evidence that there was malicious code identified.

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I guess that is a problem if you are business person or politician whose visits to your mistress would be traceable by CCP spies. In that case, uninstall TikTok and, ideally, switch your smart phone off entirely during these clandestine visits. For everyone else... who cares? So many Americans have their name, home address, home phone number, names of friends and relatives, employers, and pictures available freely on the internet already. CCP, and anyone else, is free to scrape this data as they see fit. Does location tracking really compromise the average person's privacy much more than the above details for anyone who is not engaged in illicit activities or romances?

I see an argument for generally applicable privacy regulations but not for selective alarm over smartphone apps that may or may not have Chinese government connections.

I haven't downloaded it, but I would expect TikTok to work on Android 10 even with location blocked, and that privacy protected.

But sure, I shy away from obscure apps for that reason. They are more likely to be Trojan Horses.

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I'm not defending the Cfius board, I'm explaining the rationale.

Sure, you can expect the pushback by the US to be both wildly ineffective and randomly high cost to the population. That's par for the course for everything the US government does!!

See above with Grindr, after all of the kvetching and forced sale, all of the data the CCP wants it can still get to include sexual partners and HIV status. The ownership might be slightly more obscured, but that's obviously not going to change the outcome.

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The use of CFIUS is incredibly pretextual here. ByteDance purchased Musical.ly, but that was also a Chinese company. Since the US government is taking the position that every Chinese company is a security threat, there’s no basis for saying that one Chinese company’s acquisition of another Chinese company poses a security threat.

The privacy threat is a good reason for consumers with sensitive information not to have the app. I don’t have TikTok and in fact try to minimize the number of apps I have on my phone. But this is a risk consumers should be permitted to take as there are no externalities on other people and for virtually all consumers this data will be used in a way to target videos to your preferences rather than to blackmail or otherwise harm you. Even something like your medical procedures or prescription drugs, I can see how a tech company could help a consumer by using knowledge of the consumer’s medical history to recommend products, but it’s hard to see how that information could be used to harm the consumer—is TikTok going to tell your insurer you have a preexisting condition unless you record a video praising Xi? Seems unlikely.

Obviously it will be used for blackmail. Among other things.

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This is about the only issue Elizabeth Warren had a sensible idea.

The real problem is these companies have too much power. The real answer is to break them up into smaller parts. Collectively they would be worth more as parts, free speech, competition and innovation would be improved. Anyone except a few mega billionaires would benefit (they would be richer financially but have far less power)

That won't happen, no one has the will, the owners too powerful, the public dont care, and the anti trust legislation is based on prices not power. Instead they will be regulated which might moderate their behaviour but it will also entrench their power. The whole situation is very sad.

I have no problem with break-ups. But we've also had periods with stronger monopoly oversight. I could see that happening again. Especially as a generation that can't quit their iPhones examines their options.

Personally I like a 2-tier system, where companies well below the monopoly threshold have high freedom to innovate, but companies above the threshold are blocked from arbitrarily crushing those small fry.

When all small fry are crushed, innovation is much reduced. As it was for instance in the long dominance of the Windows desktop.

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Does Francis Fukuyama agree with this prediction of the end of history?

Interestingly enough,

"Corporate concentration in the United States is not only increasing inequality but also undermining competition and consumers’ standard of living. Politically, the commensurate lobbying influence of big tech, big finance and other large conglomerates has created what political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” — where vested concerns have amassed the clout to choke off legislative reforms that would diminish their spoils."

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"It is striking just how much that “blockbuster tech hearing” has not become an enduring story for people to talk about."

Not striking at all. They control the levers of what gets covered and how. They control every aspect of popular online discourse: which voices get amplified and which get memory-holed.

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satire/not satire
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/31/opinion/federal-agents-trump-uniforms.html

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Let's face it. In the Covid-19 era, government institutions have demonstrated almost a total institutional failure, while big tech has responded to the challenges brilliantly. With a massive demand increase, amazon seems to have actually speeded up its delivery. I ordered something in the late afternoon and had it by the next morning.

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Look, I really like Alexandra Petri's work (I giggle just remembering her column in Christie's endorsement of Trump) and it's good. But citing the headline on her column in support of your thesis here is a bit dishonest since she is a goofy humor columnist.

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The big antitrust reform I would like to see is that governments should be subject to the same antitrust laws as everyone else when they are acting in a commercial market. The most anti-competitive things that are going on right now are the US government's sanctions against Nordstream (which is specifically to support the commercial interests of US natural gas producers and some Eastern European countries) and many Chinese companies, including the possibility of ordering Google and Apple to shut down TikTok outside the United States. If any private company had the power to engage in these sorts of sanctions against its competitors, it would be broken up, fined heavily, and required to deal with all customers and competitors equally according to any civilized country's antitrust laws. These same laws should apply in the same way to the United States government, which effectively controls a global monopoly over many industries such as finance and tech (certainly much larger than Facebook's share of social media, Amazon's share of retail, etc.)

China could make the first move by letting US tech companies into their market. The list of companies banned by China is a who's who of tech:

Facebook
Google
Twitter
Snapchat
Reddit (ironically owned by Chinese investors)
Tumblr
Pinterest
Slack
Twitch
Discord
Dropbox
....and more

https://www.businessinsider.com/major-us-tech-companies-blocked-from-operating-in-china-2019-5

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Lame Congress, lame hearings.

Next time the four principals all show up to testify live and in-person, right?

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Amazon and Facebook will definitely be broken up. Not by the DOJ. By the Owners themselves. Because that's the the only way they become trillionaires.

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The pains of a changing world!
Suddenly - as Trump has shown us, to not necessarily our betterment - the ability to get non-curated messages direct to individuals in massive numbers is a world-changer.
We really don't yet fully know what this means nor how to deal with it.

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