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Trust-Busting as the Unsexy Answer to Google and Facebook (lareviewofbooks.org)
313 points by prostoalex 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 180 comments



Rather than trust busting, why not start with relaxing the federal laws which forbid the development of third-party applications?

The limits on third-party apps are legal, not technical. It is not technically challenging to build an application that collects Facebook credentials and then presents alternative views and features. It could, for example, finally be possible to see a time-ordered view of your friends' posts (Facebook doesn't allow this since it reduces engagement).

The development of such applications would serve as a threat and check on the market dominance of Facebook. A popular third-party application could consider adding its own features that Facebook does not have. It would also reduce Facebook's revenue.

What stops this? In the US, it is primarily the CFAA (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_Fraud_and_Abuse_Act). Once Facebook formally tells a company to stop accessing their servers, they are in violation of federal law if they continue to do so.

It seems premature to pursue trust busting action while we still have federal laws that encourage and cement the dominance of a single provider.


Even if it were legal (which it should be IMO), I can't see anything other than a cat and mouse game happening where the primaries change their authentication patterns on a daily, hourly or minute to minute basis. Consider all the things that facebook does to mess with scrapers right now - every single letter in a div, multiples that are hidden, etc. Its a complete mess.

"Forced open APIs" is an interesting idea in terms of actually bringing value to users - its almost on the level of nationalizing a company though in terms of being anti-business. Why Facebook would front the cost of running a service they can't monetize though is a big question.


Forcing open APIs isn't anti-business. It's pro-competition and pro-startup. The only thing it's anti- is big incumbents, which is the point.


We've gone from social media being a relatively unmonetized public good to a heavily monetized semi-private good. I hope we can find some middle ground eventually - though the "problem" with unmonetized services is they go away because nobody can afford to run them (Wikipedia being a good example of one that is treating the line as a non-profit).

Isn't fixing that the promise of distributed apps?


> every single letter in a div

That's... I... Well. :0


How dare they. They should put every letter in a <span> instead, since letters should be inline. Heathens.


That alone is enough to assure me my conviction to never support them beyond a token account was justified.

...though I may formally delete my account now. That's just... I'm going to be sick. That's Hostile Architecture if I've ever seen it.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_architecture

I'm growing increasingly weary of this type of offensive programming. I've never felt or understood the need to actively make something as hard to consume and process as possible. Again though, it really speaks to Facebook's view of their users: 'Look, but don't touch!'

Then again, I tend to build by the maxim 'it is vain to do with more what can be done with less'.


Easy to get around. Just use "innerText" and it'll generate whatever text is inside. They do have plenty of other tactics, though.


They also will write the divs out of order, put in "fake" letter divs that are hidden or on a different z axis, all sorts of fun stuff.


Do they really do this? I would totally believe it but I don't see it...


Next time you are on facebook, just right click and inspect element or view source code.


I think your focus on the CFAA is somewhat missing the point. The assertion being made is that Facebook and Google (and perhaps one or two others, like Amazon and Twitter, maybe) have become so big and so powerful that they are able to act like the trusts of yore, leveraging their data to stop competitors from having any realistic chance of disruption and even affecting other peripherally-related industries. If we suppose open data access to be a remedy, in whole or in part, then "don't allow companies to use the CFAA to stop third-party data scrapers" is an insufficient proposal.

Suppose the CFAA wasn't applied so indiscriminately, but Facebook still didn't want third-party clients to access their data and there was no requirement for them to do so. So they make sure there's no publicly-available API, at least with any terms of service that let you build a true third-party client. Assuming there is still some legal mechanism to make unauthorized access to computer resources illegal, then tapping into Facebook's private APIs counts. Doing what 3Taps and PadMapper did -- just scraping data -- can be a Terms of Service violation (as can the private API access, presumably) and could conceivably even be charged as a copyright violation. It's asking for trouble. It's also potentially a constant cat-and-mouse game. And, last but not least, there's no guarantee that data scraping will actually get you the data that you need to do a good job of building a new business on top of Facebook's social graph.

What would be better, if you accept the original premise, is not new regulation, per se, but antitrust action specific to these companies forcing them to build open APIs. Simply saying "hey, Facebook can't sue you for data scraping anymore" just won't cut it.


I'm not claiming it's sufficient. Perhaps it's not.

But it seems mistaken to use anti-trust regulations to break up or regulate companies when there are still laws on the books that help facilitate market dominance. Repeal those first and see what happens before doing anything else.

Any legal rule that makes legitimate HTTP requests illegal (i.e. requests whose purpose is not solely to commit harm ala a DDoS) ought to be repealed.


> Rather than trust busting, why not start with relaxing the federal laws which forbid the development of third-party applications?

Cute phrasing, but what this really means is "why not force anyone who develops a product to allow others to capitalize on it?"

> It seems premature to pursue trust busting action while we still have federal laws that encourage and cement the dominance of a single provider.

You mean "allow a product to exist as a unified product". "Provider" is 100% misleading language.


I think you're misunderstanding. I'm not proposing that Facebook be _forced_ to allow third-party access, which would carry the risks you've pointed out. I'm simply proposing the federal government not aid them in their market dominance.

Facebook could still prevent third-party applications from functioning, but it would have to do so by methods inside of the HTTP specification rather than legal ones. For example, it could simply ban users who authenticate via a third-party app.


It seems like the argument is for large-scale IP protection reform. What one could do there is create an actual new class of asset in "data" with different rules so that traditional asset law doesn't apply.


What's the difference? If it's desirable to reserve the right to disallow third-party frontends, why push the burden onto them (and everyone else) enforcing it through technical measures?


Because with technical measures, the cost is allocated to the party who benefits from vendor lock-in, rather than to the public.


>Cute phrasing, but what this really means is "why not force anyone who develops a product to allow others to capitalize on it?"

Or maybe that could be the form of trust-busting: by default, you don't have to give the access to the data, but if you're found to be an abusive monopolist, then you can be forced to.


>Cute phrasing, but what this really means is "why not force anyone who develops a product to allow others to capitalize on it?"

. . . why not though? I don't see how permitting monopoly rents in perpetuity is an economically or socially desirable outcome.


Facebook is a product, not a monopoly.


I said "monopoly rent." It's a term with a specific definition that you would do well to understand.


Pretty much any definition of "monopoly rent" I've found does actually require the existence of a monopoly. Also, there's no reason to talk down to people.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_rent#Monopoly_rent


>I've found does actually require the existence of a monopoly.

Monopoly is defined loosely and based on the idea of market power, not being a sole provider. The Wikipedia article you cite even mentions Microsoft and Intel as examples, and they had less market power over their fields than Facebook does.


Monopoly rent implies (near) monopolies, which Facebook is not.

What's more, this is a conversation around individual users. Facebook's economic rent is paid by their customers, which are advertisers and not the subject of this conversation.


>Monopoly rent implies (near) monopolies, which Facebook is not.

Except it is, because it's able to leverage its market power to dictate terms to the market. If you prefer the term "oligopoly" rent you can do that, but there isn't much point. Their network effect and capacity for lock-in allows them to collect economic rents, which is the point here.

>Facebook's economic rent is paid by their customers, which are advertisers

No. Loss of privacy, surrendering your data and information, and platform constraints are all forms of rent paid to Facebook by consumers.


> It could, for example, finally be possible to see a time-ordered view of your friends' posts (Facebook doesn't allow this since it reduces engagement).

I view this the same way as I view ad-blocking.

Building on top of Facebook only strengthens their monopoly and does nothing to reward their competition.

And given that Facebook can break such "apps" on a whim, via simple and justifiable changes to their UI or APIs, you haven't gained anything, while reinforcing their monopoly.


Facebook allows users to easily export their data as a compressed archive.

Why not have the third party app access exported archives and not Facebook servers?

This way users could at least be made aware of the features they are missing. Ones that might be better for users but not necessarily better for Facebook.

For example, organising and searching through past data could be made much more efficient, reducing the time users need to spend on the Facebook website/app.


> Facebook allows users to easily export their data as a compressed archive.

> Why not have the third party app access exported archives and not Facebook servers?

For the most part, those archives only contain data that the user has personally uploaded. They contain little to no data about their friends or their friends activity. A third party app that only works with a user's archive will not be able to function as an adequate Facebook alternative.


I was thinking that users would share relevant portions of these archives with their friends, etc. directly, without a middleman.

They have already shared the content of the archive via Facebook.

Nor was I thinking of a "Facebook alternative" (neither was the parent comment). What I was thinking is that one could demonstrate certain features in an app that one does not find one Facebook.

Users would then become familiar with features that are possible but that they are not getting on Facebook.


Or, why not build open source alternatives that are as good as Facebook?

Back in the day AOL was the Facebook. The first browsers were ehh, but the idea of owning your own domain really appealed to people and the Web killed AOL which is no longer around as the world’s centralized social network.

That’s what we are doing at https://qbix.com . Watch the video there. We are inspired by Wordpress which powers 30% of all websites - we just wanted to build a true alternative to Facebook, not just a blogging platform.

Example app: https://davosapp.com

PS: I see a few steady downvotes every time I suggest that we need an open source alternative to Facebook and link to meaningful efforts in that direction. I would definitely prefer to hear what is wrong with what I said, rather than silently downvoting.


> PS: I see a few steady downvotes every time I suggest that we need an open source alternative to Facebook and link to meaningful efforts in that direction. I would definitely prefer to hear what is wrong with what I said, rather than silently downvoting.

I don't think you were downvoted because you suggested an open source alternative to Facebook, but rather because the bulk of your comment was a plug for your own project.

You'd probably get a better reception if you made your point, and ended your comment with a very short plug along the lines of "PS: I'm working on one at https://qbix.com."


How would you deal with the risk of Cambridge Analytica style entities using all the third party app ability?


A third party app can access FB servers directly and scrape content as needed. No law prevents this. You'd just be using a custom user agent.


I agree with this - in the recent discussion on Slate Star Codex about Thiel's views, the point was made that outsize success and profits are generally a sign of lack of competition.

To me, after a reasonable period for them to capitalise on their innovation/higher quality execution, any company making huge profits in an area with few competitors should be subject to a range of measures designed to reduce barriers to entry to make it easier for new competitors to emerge.

Some natural ones would include rules about standards, providing apis, user portability, etc.


Indeed, we wouldn’t want to incentivise people to produce wealth and improve people’s lives. That way inequality lies.


No actually. We do want to incentivise that behaviour, which is why I suggested a grace period for extracting the outsized profits.

What we dont want to incentivise is regulatory capture, entrenched power, rent seeking behaviour.


As talked about in this article, I think the main catalyst to increased anti-trust scrunity will be a mind shift away from the "consumer welfare" view of anti-trust.

For the most part, big tech companies provide amazing service. I can't think of another industry that has a product as good as the tech companies of today have. Yes there may be some fakes on Amazon, and DDG in some use cases may be better than Google, but for the majority of consumers these companies provide excellent service.

We really need more scrunity when it comes to acquisitions, the fact that Google was able to acquire YouTube and Facebook was able to acquire Instagram shows a real lack of foresight on regulators. Perhaps this is because when you're busting up Standard Oil you have more tangible view of what the monopoly looks like: the oil company owns the fields, the railroads, the refineries, the whole damn stack. When it comes to tech everything is a data play, Google (a search engine) and YouTube (a video site) look like distinct industry, but at the end of the day the main resource being competed for is attention and data.


I was just watching an interview between Scott Galloway and Richard Kramer discussing if the big 4 will be broken up. An insight I hadn't heard before was that anti-trust in the US is based on consumer harm, and since consumers get services from these companies for free, by this measure there can't be consumer harm. However, if you consider the advertisers (who are actually funding everything) are the consumers, they are being significantly harmed by the lack of competition. An advertiser has essentially no choice, if they wish to reach consumers online they have to deal with the big 4 on their terms. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD7LyAJWkZ0


That is by far the easier avenue. You can try to come up with some sort of amorphous definition of harm to the consumer w.r.t. excessive tracking and stuff, but you come up against the problem that the government is actually pretty cool with all that stuff. It'll be wrapped up in a prettier bow for public consumption, but that's the fundamental problem.

If you don't look at the public face of the companies and look at their balance sheets and income statements instead, you get a very different view of things, and they certainly look monopolistic and/or monopsonistic in some key areas. (Monopsony is the buy-side equivalent of a monopoly, where a market has only one buyer.) Advertising is a pretty significant one. An example of monopsony is that right now, while there's a crapton of places you can host your own video streams, only YouTube is an effective mechanism for monetizing them, which is why they can get away with all their shenanigans.

Once you look at it from the balance sheet perspective of these companies, and potentially from a monopsony perspective, there's a lot of avenues for a highly-active government attack against these companies, even if they never claim "the general public" is a direct victim.


From the video you linked, it seems like the primary argument from the start against breaking them up is:

* We can't because they made their services so they can't be broken

and

* They're smarter than the regulators so its no use trying.

I feel like both of those are cop-outs, and to be unchallenged makes me wonder if the two talking have a vested interest in keeping the bigs together (one as a marketing professor and the other being an equity researcher... it seems like they're not ones to push too hard against the status quo).

Point 1 seems silly - if the whole business is structured in such a way to be anti-trust proof, doesn't that mean the management is so worried about a real possibility of being broken up that they've been working to shield it? "Well they've centralized their revenue generation so there's no way to take it apart"? It seems incredibly possible to do so.

Point 2 is tactical - and that can change at any time. With the generational shift starting to happen in politics, the argument that representatives and senators don't understand the business or their products will cease to be true. I'm sure there's plenty of people in the justice department that understand it well enough as well.


Perhaps we need to update our laws to reflect that data has value. Certainly these companies understand how much value it has, so consumers are paying, but because it's more of a barter than actual cash transaction, we treat consumers as if they are getting something for free.


I think it works both ways... the advertisers are harmed by lack of competition (though is it really different than only 3 TV networks), and the users are harmed by mismanaged marketing, leaking personal information and as an attack vector.


Part of the complication is that it would be easy to argue that breaking up these companies built on large network effects will harm consumers (users mainly, but a case can be made for advertisers) because the consumers benefits from the size and robustness of that network.

Half the network is worth less than half of the original network.


I don't think it's logical to say that just because consumers don't directly pay they aren't harmed. What if increased competition would make it such that there would be a way better search engine than today's Google? It's certainly harder to prove harm than monopolistic price fixing though.


In response to your argument, the U.S. courts would provably respond like the judge in My Cousin Vinny: "That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection. Overruled."

Silly as it is, that's just not how antitrust law works in the U.S.


The problem with this is a lot of acquisitions that become massive look like toys originally. At the time of acquisition, Instagram was a joke, people (including myself) thought FB overpaid. There are some great comments in this NYT article (https://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/facebook-buys-instag...) and the original Hackernews post (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3817840).

You can see this playing out now in comments about autonomous vehicles, AR/VR and blockchain. No regulators would have blocked Facebook's Oculus acquisition because virtual reality was basically a non-existent market at the time. If in 10 years we're all wearing Facebook owned AR devices someone else will make the same claim "they have too much power we should have never let them make hardware", but there is an equal chance that we're not and no one cares.

You could advocate that big tech should not make acquisitions, and also attempt to regulate internal R&D and product development, but I think then you're making the case that these companies need to be maintenance mode zombie utilities that can't adapt. Its easy to block an acquisition that has immediate anti-trust issues, and hard to block an acquisition that might have issues after 5-10 years of company funded R&D...


Also, would Instagram have become the force that it is without FB's marketing, site reliability, i18n and anti-spam muscle? Just the flawless logins where a newly installed Instagram app recognizes that you're already logged in to Facebook boosted adoption likely.

If you look at the press reports from around that era, Instagram's domination was far less assured - Color got tons of funding, PicPlz raised $5 mil, the press favored Hipstamatic, and every day a few new apps with their own twist on photo sharing would launch.


Acquisition by Google is the only reason YouTube exists. If they had to pay for their networking they could not have survived (Google owns its own fiber and doesn't pay anyone for transit). If you are taking a consumer benefit angle I don't see how you conclude that Google should have been prevented from buying YouTube.


That sounds plausible at first, but is inaccurate on multiple levels.

By early 2006, YouTube had substantial peering in place. It's easy to prove: they talked about their programs at NANOG (https://www.nanog.org/meetings/nanog37/presentations/bill.no...). Without those, they would have folded already. They were acquired by Google only at the end of the year.

Google doesn't own all of its fiber. Also, some ISPs have made public claims of being paid by Google for transit traffic. Google, but also ISPs, saves a lot of money through peering or the Google Global Cache. This is also why YT had peering in 2006: remember that traffic moves across multiple ISPs and it wasn't just YT's costs that were going to go up with their exponential growth.

Last but not least, consider that Netflix doesn't own fiber – or at least haven't announced any – and they haven't been sunk by network costs, thanks to peering and edge caching.

[I used to work at Google and knew at the time quite a bit about YT's infrastructure. The above is all public information.]


YouTube had some peering but not enough. It was a massive cash incinerator.


> It was a massive cash incinerator.

I mean, this is not unheard of in Silicon Valley.

Be it YouTube or some other company, truth is online user-generated video was bound to be huge given the growth in bandwidth capacity and improvement in smartphone cameras.

The fact that specifically YouTube is what it is right now might be because it operates under the Google umbrella. Had the acquisition not happened, I'm sure we'd have at least a couple online video unicorns feeding off the huge demand for video and supply of people wanting to share.


> Acquisition by Google is the only reason YouTube exists. If they had to pay for their networking they could not have survived (Google owns its own fiber and doesn't pay anyone for transit).

By this logic Netflix shouldn’t exist because it doesn’t use Google’s network assets. I’m pretty sure YouTube’s advertising revenue should cover its cost of building out CDN and transport infrastructure.


> Acquisition by Google is the only reason YouTube exists. If they had to pay for their networking they could not have survived (Google owns its own fiber and doesn't pay anyone for transit).

Even if that's true (which I doubt), Google is not the only company that owns fiber.

> If you are taking a consumer benefit angle I don't see how you conclude that Google should have been prevented from buying YouTube.

The GP was talking about a "shift away" from the "'consumer welfare' view of anti-trust," because that view permits acquisitions like that of YouTube by Google.


> Even if that's true (which I doubt), Google is not the only company that owns fiber.

Would you rather have Verizon owning YouTube?

Every single telco has tried to launch their own YT. They launched, and every single one of them failed.

The reason they keep failing is that they are telcos, their core capabilities do not play well with an open, network agnostic, consumer-driven video service. They'll prioritize their own content and their own network (look at Verizon and "Oath").

If you "deleted" YouTube, and both Amazon, Google, Verizon, AT&T launched video services, which ones do you think would succeed? Definitely Google's, maybe Amazon's, definitely not Verizon's or AT&T's.

Google happens to be a "third-party content access monetizing" company that owns infrastructure, not an infrastructure company trying to be a "third-party content access monetizing" company.


>> Acquisition by Google is the only reason YouTube exists.

>Even if that's true (which I doubt)

Literally one hour ago Alphabet CFO went thru some advanced mental gymnastics to avoid straight answers about youtube profitability:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19080868

- No youtube breakout of revenues, Again not a bullish sign for that division, stil nothing on youtube on the call.

- EDIT on the earnings call they did talk briefly about Youtube, no real new numbers though, just their assurance that youtube is crushing it

- Porat is doing gymnastics to talk about youtube but not actually say anything about youtube. Are youtbue numbers really that bad????

So, it seems that OP is mostly correct in his assumption. Normally CFO of public companies are not shy talking about their successful bets.


Any legal theory under which it would have been better for Level3 to buy YouTube than it has been for Google to buy it is, IMHO, worth no further consideration.


Someone one else would've bought YouTube. Or Vimeo would have become the #1 video site, and then maybe Microsoft or Amazon would have bought it. Still better than Google alone owning most of the biggest traffic sites.


> Someone one else would've bought YouTube

Google is probably the only non-telco who owns significant infrastructure. So other than Google, the only other option for YouTube would have been a telco.

Are you sure you'd want a telco owning YouTube? Can you imagine how awful it would be?

Vimeo is owned by IAC, who then owned AskJeeves, TripAdvisor, HotWire, LendingTree and today owns Tinder, OkCupid, Match.com, The Daily Beast, etc.

You sure you'd want the top video website owned by IAC?


>Google is probably the only non-telco who owns significant infrastructure. So other than Google, the only other option for YouTube would have been a telco

What about Amazon or Microsoft?


They both have a lot of datacenters and private fiber between them but neither has anything like the ISP peering network that Google owns. Not even close.


They don't own. They's recently (in the past 5 years) started taking part in building, but they don't own anything compared to Google and the major telcos.


Any of the above options would be better than the current reality, where Google is basically controlling video on the internet. They're long past their days of innocence.


Yeah, I'm sure you'd love Comcast owning YouTube.


I can't imagine how in practice we could construct a regulatory regime which would prevent large tech companies from acquiring small start-ups which represent only a potential competitive threat with little current market share. How would one even define a "market" in legally defensible way? Would Instagram have been counted as being in a market of just consumer instant messaging mobile apps? All instant messaging services? All social media? All communication tools in general?


> I can't imagine how in practice we could construct a regulatory regime which would prevent large tech companies from acquiring small start-ups which represent only a potential competitive threat with little current market share.

How about: once you hit a certain market share, you're no longer allowed to acquire businesses that compete with you in some feature category? There could be some processes where a court adjudicates what the feature categories are in each case and whether or not they're the same.

There's already some concept about how to do this, since it's not uncommon for a company to be forced to divest a division or two during a merger.


That doesn't actually solve anything, it just shifts the problem definition. How do you expect legislators, bureaucrats, and judges to define something as amorphous and constantly changing as a "feature category"? I can't see how that would ever comply with the Constitutional vagueness doctrine.


> Standard Oil you have more tangible view of what the monopoly looks like: the oil company owns the fields, the railroads, the refineries, the whole damn stack.

Standard oil is a great example but your describing vertical integration.

Lets take an amazing example of vertical integration that you might experience often but take zero note of. YKK zippers: from the metal smelting for the finished product to the machines they are made ON YKK owns all of it! https://ykknorthamerica.com/the-ykk-difference/vertical-inte...

Do other people make zippers? Sure! But use of YKK is costly and a statement of quality on the product around it. Google at this moment isn't any different. If you cut yourself off from google your cutting off lots of secondary companies that use their services (No maps, no uber, no Lyft as an example).

Google looks a hell of a lot more like YKK today than standard oil.


It's also particularly hard to break up attack company because of the value of their digital real estate. You can break Google up into as many companies as you want, but whichever one owns google.com has been basically unaffected.

It's unclear how you'd break them up in such a way as to meaningfully increase competition in a search market where consumers reflexively turn to Google.


I don't agree with this at all. If you break up youtube from google, I think people will treat those very separately - they serve very different purposes. Same with facebook and instagram.


People already treat them very separately, I'd be surprised if most of the public (not HN) even knows that Google owns YT.


I assume the GP meant "the people in charge of..."


YouTube is probably like 8% of Google's revenue, not to mention that even if it became a separate company it'd probably just serve Google's ads. And it's the only domain other than the main one that matters enough to separate.


Carving up a company is never easy. I'd say, clone out the search engine entirely, and as to the question of who owns google.com, the answer may well be "none of the above"; it could just turn into a page that offers you a randomly-sorted list of the baby Googles.

Business being what it is, even if you simply fork Google, both new halfs are immediately going to seek out some way to differentiate themselves, so I think it's less silly than it sounds.


What you are proposing is silly. The government is going to destroy a trillion dollar brand with no compensation to shareholders. Steal what's likely the most valuable piece of real estate in the world and turn it into a link farm. And somehow split a search engine with thousands of employees, who knows how many physical assets, etc. into separate companies that somehow continue operating?

This just doesn't make sense. No American politician would even purpose that for (rightful) fear of their career.


> I think the main catalyst to increased anti-trust scrunity will be a mind shift away from the "consumer welfare" view of anti-trust.

I don't think it even requires that. If we're paying for these services with our information and attention, more sophisticated tracking and increased data collection are a form of price increase. The anti-trust argument only requires that put a price tag on the data collected or inferred by Google/Facebook and it becomes obvious that "prices" have been going up for years because of monopoly power.


You can keep consumer welfare as the highest goal, as long as you consider that long-term consumer welfare includes a robustly competing marketplace with low barriers to entry, and nearly always requires periodice regulation in the long-term public interest.


> I can't think of another industry that has a product as good as the tech companies of today have.

The first step towards saner attitude towards tech is stopping with this glorification of tech.

With the exception of Google or say wikipedia, who have made knowledge accessible in unprecedented manner, modern technology companies (the name is imprecise, because it is really just digital technology) have not as much impact as we think they have.

I can think of a lot of technology products that are much older that have much more impact. The car for example, or something as trivial as the soap, or penicillin and vaccines or the conveyor belt.

If we measure the impact of technology by its influence on economic growth and productivity, human welfare and health, then most 'tech companies' don't make it high up the list. It's not clear that social media actually enhances welfare or productivity. Slack, one of the most valuable companies in recent years, is a reskinned IRC that eats more RAM. I'd say if hard benchmarks are any indication, we're de-innovating.

Sure, there's the argument hat AI is around the corner and soon we'll see an explosion in wealth and pull out of our sluggish growth, but I'll believe it when I see it. Up until then I think the first step is to bring the tech hype down to sane levels.


> Slack, one of the most valuable companies in recent years, is a reskinned IRC that eats more RAM.

in a certain sense you're not wrong, but this is almost infamous-Dropbox-comment level of missing the point. IRC is a great technology and is pretty useful if you only need to communicate with other tech nerds. it's not a very inviting technology to lay users and businesses though. on the client end, the default config exposes your IP address (at least, this was the case when I last used mIRC). on the server side, you need at least one person who actually understands how IRC works to configure it and keep your communications secure. for a fee, slack takes care of all this for you. it's also a lot easier to share stuff that isn't text over slack.


This circles back to the original point of the article about consumer welfare as a top priority when it comes to anti-trust.

Yes, Slack no doubt provides some value by easing access to some technology for people who previously could not access it, but if this comes at the cost of deep innovation and hard performance, it will compound long term issues.

This seems to be a general theme of the web. User acquisition and comfort is placed above all else, while performance and structural innovation are neglected.

If aerospace engineers would build planes the way we build webapps the planes would double in size and fuel consumption every five years. If those engineers were employed by a web startup we would tell them not to worry as long as the user numbers grow and the seats are comfortable.

when it comes to anti-trust, and evaluating technology in general, we need to be a lot more critical of consumer welfare as a meaningful measure. Yes. 'dropbox guy' was wrong when the metric is collected startup money and user convenience. Will he have been wrong in 30 years when we evaluate what the web is and what it could have been if it was built with more rigor?


> The first step towards saner attitude towards tech is stopping with this glorification of tech.

I'm all for it. But how can we achieve this? I think the main problem here is the mysticism over tech. There are probably two major fronts: complexity and secrecy. We should bring them down. How can we do it? Well, for one thing, we can demand more openness and thorough understanding of everyday tech we use, while educating the public that these things will bite us eventually. I don't know how we can achieve this at a legislative level, but the law is mere reflection of our attitude toward things. First we have to say that these things (both over complexity and secrecy) are not cool because they hinder reasoning. It's an idea that I think worth spreading.


I'm not measuring by impact but by service, whether or not Amazon.com is impactful for the history of the world is not the question here.

The question is under a jurisprudence of "consumer welfare", how can you go after a company that can ship you anything you want in 2-4 days?


"when AT&T was broken up in 1984, a torrent of new products came on the market, everything from the first answering machines to early ISPs."

Since the RBOCs were local monopolies, it wasn't the breakup which resulted in the opening of the network.

They didn't have competition until 1996, when the local loop was unbundled, allowing CLECs to appear. The tradeoff was that if they could demonstrate local competition, they were allowed to enter the long distance market.

It was FCC regulation which allowed interconnection of non-approved devices [1]. "In the 1960s and 1970s, the FCC gradually relaxed regulation of telephone terminal equipment (e.g., telephone handsets, private branch exchanges), known as customer premises equipment (CPE)."

[1] https://www.nap.edu/read/10235/chapter/11#298

[2] http://bpastudio.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/471/hout/telecomHistor...

[3] https://www.mackinac.org/6033


I think the post you're responding to is thinking of the unleashing of non-Bell-owned equipment on AT&T lines. This was prohibited by AT&T until the FCC forced them to drop this provision. Commonly known as the Carterphone decision, this happened in 1968. Fax machines, modems, answering machines and other devices were mostly only possible after this change.


Correct, that is what they are referring to. However, they are directly linking it to the 1984 breakup, which was not what allowed it. Thanks for the name of the decision [1], I had a hard time finding a reference. :)

So, yes, it's an argument for regulation, but not for breaking up a monopoly. :)

There are many good reasons to break up monopolies, but their thesis is that the 1984 breakup led to the development of ISPs because people were all of a sudden allowed to plug random things into the network.

[1] Carterfone Decision: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carterfone#Landmark_regulatory...


case by case, maybe one is not directly linked to the other.

however in the mindset of ATT and telco management, all these things are linked. It's like when Microsoft supported Apple or soft pedalled some of it's legal case against linux in the late 90s and early 2000s - it wasn't directly linked to the government suing them for bundling a web browser circa late 90s, but in the management of Microsoft, they had to gauge their decisions against whether the government might object to their behavior, essentially whether their "brand" with the government regulators would be damaged if they, say, systematically obliterated linux the way they did Dr Dos in the late 80s/early 90s.


At&T was also a monopoly created by the government. It was in no way spontaneous.


They had competition for long distance service from MCI and the like after the 1984 breakup.


Yes, but that's not the paragraph in the article. If they had talked about cost reduction and competition in long-distance, then sure.

However, that wouldn't support their thesis. Their thesis is that looking at consumer cost reductions is the _wrong_ way to look at monopolies.


Good article. I hope that trust-busting becomes popular again.

The article did not mention technological intervention in this situation. I believe we will eventually move past the technopolies and decentralized technologies will play a large part.

In my opinion the power and scope of some companies overlaps with or even effectively supercedes government in some ways. To me these are demonstrations of the obsolescence of current government structures.

The all-encompassing networks provided by these monopolies are extremely useful and I believe the main reason we tolerate them. They provide a platform.

Decentralized technologies are becoming increasingly capable and popular. The only realistic alternatives to the giant monopoly companies are platforms built on decentralized technologies. I also suspect that for government to be able to keep up or be effective it also needs to be decentralized and possibly integrated in some way into the decentralized systems or metasystems.


The moat that each tech company owns is its network. Rather than trust-busting these companies up into their different businesses, I think it would promote more competition to impose network interoperability requirements once the network is entrenched for too long.

A useful example is craigslist: a company with virtually no innovation for decades that still dominates the classified listings space. Other companies that try to offer a better experience face the hurdle of creating their own network or attempting to scrape craigslist’s items (and then being kicked off by their lawyers). What regulation would allow meaningful competition? A policy that requires craigslist to provide an API to competing firms for reading and writing at a reasonable price, and a requirement that changes to the network not favor craigslist vs. other firms.


You don't need new regulation; you just need to get rid of existing regulation.

It is currently illegal to build third-party applications once the first party tells you to stop.

Craigslist actually was involved in the court case that cemented this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craigslist_Inc._v._3Taps_Inc.


> It is currently illegal to build third-party applications once the first party tells you to stop.

No, it is illegal to access the data of a third-party with your own app if that third-party doesn't allow you to do so.


We could go back to the world where the AIM vs. MSN Messenger Chat Wars were legal (https://nplusonemag.com/issue-19/essays/chat-wars/). But reverse engineering APIs required an adversary with deep pockets, so I don’t think that is sufficient. We need an explicit regulation that a company’s monopoly over its network doesn’t last forever, just as patents are not forever.


You're spreading a lot of disinformation in this thread around the CFAA.


What you're proposing would institute CL as a de facto utility in perpetuity with an API that innovated at the rate of the old Ma Bell. It may be true that craigslist dominates "classified ads" in a lot of markets, but there has been a constant chipping away at their marketshare by marketplaces unbundling various aspects of the service and doing it better. It's hard to believe, but prior to AirBnB & VRBO people used to actually go to the craigslist page for the city they were visiting and laboriously respond to classified ads. We're all better off that these companies were forced to innovate enough to gain marketshare, rather than just applying for read/write access on a glorified 1990s-era bulletin-board.

This graphic is out of date, and even just a cursory look at it reveals dozens of firms that are missing, but we should maybe be thankful that craigslist has decided to focus on a low-cost, low-revenue model for so long:

https://medium.com/@Mohsin585/unbundling-craigslist-eb592ff2...


> What you're proposing would institute CL as a de facto utility in perpetuity with an API that innovated at the rate of the old Ma Bell.

I don’t think so. For one thing, requiring established networks to be interoperable can enable other companies to create their own enhancements with additional features (e.g. 3Taps, PadMapper, MSN Messenger), so the original network is not the only game in town and is incentivized to innovate faster. For another thing, requiring open protocols does not mean the process needs to be slow; there are slow standards consortiums (e.g. W3C), and there are reasonably fast ones (e.g. WHATWG). I’m not even sure that a consortium would be required; perhaps a company can satisfy its interoperability requirement simply by documenting its API and authorizing competitors to use that API.


This example highlights the whole problem with the line of thinking in this article. Absolutely nobody thinks Craigslist needs to be broken up through anti-trust regulation. But several capable startups have failed to adaquately challenge Craigslist. Where do you draw the line between hampering competition and just meeting the consumer needs better than anyone else? The primary arguments against the tech giants hampering competition are literally speculation (with the possible exception of Amazon). You could have made the same arguments against Yahoo’s dominance in their heyday. When the paradigm of advertising supported services changes, Google and Facebook will become immediately vulnerable.


Surprised that HN has this sort of myopia in tech history. Are things really different this time? Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, Bell, IBM, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner. Cries for antitrust action are often a bellwether for organic disruption. A lot of the discussion here is about how to "organically" break the trust via regulatory changes such as repealing CFAA, more scrutiny around acquisitions, etc.

It's not possible to understand the first order effects (let alone second and above) of regulation. Doing so without using the mighty/crude hammer of antitrust would presume that one knew how to organically disrupt these companies. "Oh! If only other people were to prevent Google from making all of these acquisitions we would have more competition in search!" "If only small companies could build 'third-party apps' legally!" Once you substitute out the ever-wise HN commenter with a member of our legislature does the absurdity of these statements become clear. Can we at least have the humility to say that we don't know how to disrupt these companies? There is already a massive profit incentive in the form of the net profits to be competed for. The answer to the question "How do you beat Google?" is for the market to answer.

Before trying to come up with a regulatory solution, it's worth stepping back and realizing that if you knew exactly how to beat Google, you'd hopefully try and do it.


I work for Google, opinions are my own.

Have there been any studies or anything on how having or breaking up large companies affects a country's competitiveness on a global scale? I feel like an extremely large company may be more competitive but this may come at the expense of other companies in the same or other industries.

FWIW I personally agree with using antitrust to break up companies that don't harm consumers despite currently benefiting from the system.


I am not sure if fear of China is an adequate justification to allow rampant misconduct of a corporation here. Consider that we could just the same argue that having a minimum wage that's (still woefully inadequate, but higher than China) also significantly harms the competitiveness of our country's competitiveness in many industries on the global stage.

It would probably be better to deal with issues of other country's power via trade agreements and political pressure.


One complement/substitute for this approach is mandating open standards. If Facebook had to be part of the Fediverse or something like that. The standards could be managed by a third-party, something like the Federal Reserve for APIs. This way they can move to accommodate fast-moving changes and competition from companies in other countries.


Would trust-busting do any good? The main reason no practical alternatives to Facebook exist is the network effect. The main reason that competitors to Google don't do well is that people will just use the search engine that returns the most relevant results (unless your internet connection is censored). The only practical solution is regulating ethical behavior of these incomprehensibly powerful corporations.


The main reason no practical alternatives to Facebook exist is the network effect.

Doesn't it creep you out that one company has a monopoly on the social graph? When we busted up Ma Bell, we basically put into place standards for interoperation. What if we had a law mandating social graph companies open themselves up for interoperation once they reach some critical threshold of size? Basically, the idea is that once you're massive enough in social media, you don't get to hold onto your lead purely through the network effect. Staying at the top, just because you're at the top doesn't really promote the general welfare of society or motivate people to make better products.

The main reason that competitors to Google don't do well is that people will just use the search engine that returns the most relevant results (unless your internet connection is censored).

At home, I use Duck Duck Go. It gives good enough results but comes with a better reputation with regards to privacy.


> What if we had a law mandating social graph companies open themselves up for interoperation once they reach some critical threshold of size?

If we open up Facebook's data to other companies, what makes you think those companies are willing and capable of securing the data and respecting user privacy?

Facebook having all of that data is bad enough. Requiring Facebook to share it with other companies would not make that data more secure -- but it could definitely make it less secure.


For one, where sharing of data is concerned, none of this is about forcing Facebook to give your data to some random third party that asks for it. It is about you as a user being able to demand from Facebook that they make your data (or some selection of it) accessible to some third party of your choice.

But also, and maybe more importantly, interoperation does not really necessarily require any sharing of data. Think the telephone network: All telephone network operators world wide do interoperate, which is why it doesn't matter where you are a customer, you still can call any other telephone on the planet. But that doesn't mean that those telcos somehow share data of their customers, apart from the particular calls that happen between customers of two different telcos.

Also, one way in which Facebook could be forced to share data would be for migration to a different service: If you think Facebook is abusing your data, you could move to a different provider, and Facebook would have to allow them to pull your data over and then delete it on their side--and all that without you losing contact with people who stay on Facebook thanks to enforced interoperability.


But also, and maybe more importantly, interoperation does not really necessarily require any sharing of data.

DRM actually has a potential for societal good. We should make companies like Facebook subject to DRM around our data. DRM is subject to the same asymmetry as privacy. Privacy for individuals is a societal good, in contrast to governments and big public companies, which should be as transparent as possible. Likewise, DRM used by big companies and organizations against individuals is bad for individuals and societies. However, DRM used on behalf of individuals to protect them from big companies would be a societal good.


Well, except it doesn't, because it necessarily either doesn't work or it is centrally controlled.

What does help is simply encryption and decentralized services, no need for DRM.


Well, except it doesn't, because it necessarily either doesn't work or it is centrally controlled.

Putting in another hoop for abusive corporations to jump through does have a function. There would be additional opportunities for whistleblowers to spot it happening, opening up the company to legal and regulatory action. Also, it wouldn't necessarily have to be centrally controlled. 3rd party companies could be hired to do the administration.

What does help is simply encryption and decentralized services, no need for DRM.

DRM could well be implemented as encryption and decentralized services.


> Putting in another hoop for abusive corporations to jump through does have a function. There would be additional opportunities for whistleblowers to spot it happening, opening up the company to legal and regulatory action. Also, it wouldn't necessarily have to be centrally controlled. 3rd party companies could be hired to do the administration.

In which case DRM doesn't do anything, but regulation and whistleblowers do?

> DRM could well be implemented as encryption and decentralized services.

How would that work? You don't have control over your own machine, but everyone else does?!

DRM is the idea that your property has a function that controls what you can do with your property based on instructions from a third party ... who would that "decentralized third party"(?) be? And what would even be the point of that? I am not sure I even understand what kind of construction you have in mind that would qualify as DRM and also be useful for the end user in any way.


How does your idea of interoperation work for the read flow? How do I see my friends posts on your Facebook competitor without their Facebook data being shared with that competitor?


Obviously, you don't. The point is that it's your and their decision to make, not Facebook's or the competitor's.


>It is about you as a user being able to demand from Facebook that they make your data (or some selection of it) accessible to some third party of your choice.

What's the point of making _my_ data accessible? AFAIR under GDPR facebook already can provide you all your data in downloadable form, at least if you are in EU.

If we want to break Facebook network effect, you need much more.

I, being early adopter, move to new service, called Bookface, and now I want to talk with my friends, who are still using FB. So I ask Bookface to connect to FB and suck the latest updates about these 1000 people, because they are my friends. Hmmm...


Well, of course, this would be about real-time access, which is not something covered by GDPR, which would be the basis for interoperability. So, you could move to Bookface, and then your friends would have the option to allow Bookface access to their data on your behalf, in so far as they want to allow you to access it, in just the same way they would allow another user on Facebook to access it.


> What if we had a law mandating social graph companies open themselves up for interoperation once they reach some critical threshold of size?

To me that sounds like legally-mandated proliferation of sensitive user data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is essentially a case of Facebook being too open with their data.


> At home, I use Duck Duck Go. It gives good enough results but comes with a better reputation with regards to privacy.

The fact that you do so, with no additional effort needed, kinda breaks the entire trust/monopoly argument, doesn't it?


Facebook bought Instagram because Instagram was beating them at the social network game. So it is possible to create a new social network and win. BUT the interoperability is key. I think if they just legislated that part of it, it would be a win for consumers.

Maybe we can get the EU to pass some data probability laws and force Facebook and Google to share...


> The main reason no practical alternatives to Facebook exist is the network effect.

You could just split Google in half into Goo and Gle and force them to publish protocols their services use so they can share the network. This could also allow smaller players to join the network.

At the beginning you could bounce people going to google.com at random to goo.com or gle.com until they start prefering one or the other for whatever reason and go there directly.

And who knows ... maybe at some point Gle could attract more users by being more precise and less intrusive with their ads.

Until there is one Google, there is one strategy that can be tried at one time. This harms progress.


>Until there is one Google, there is one strategy that can be tried at one time. This harms progress.

I mean, have you seen the full list of google chat apps? You call it "one strategy that can be tried at one time"?


It's easy to halfassedly try dozens of things and fail at all of them if your existence doesn't depend on it.

If what google monopolist does to try new things was best or even sufficcient then planned economies would thrive.


The main reason for that is because they have been allowed to build a walled garden. Interoperable protocols would allow other companies to innovate on an equal playing field. Indeed if we follow the Bell example, the networked platform could be forced to be separate from those who profit off of it.


Can you name some successful interoperable protocols used by social networks that allow for meaningful innovation and updates? All I can think of is Agora* (which no one uses) and IRC (which hasn't added nontrivial features in a very, very long time).


Whatever protocol (Ostatus?) connects my write.as account with my mastodon account and everyone else seems to be enabling meaningful innovation now.

And between your examples there's also XMPP.


It's ActivityPub, not OStatus!


Whatever protocol Facebook is using internally to interoperate between their thousands of servers, with some additional authentication and authorization layers put in?

I mean, not sure how sensible that would really be, but I think it's worth considering that Facebook is not some PHP script with a small local MySQL database behind it either, but rather a massive distributed system in itself, even if under the administrative control of a single entity.


One would assume that Facebook's internal protocols are constantly upgraded to enable new features and those upgrades would be much slower if industry politics got in the way.


Yes, Matrix <https://matrix.org>.


> The only practical solution is regulating ethical behavior of these incomprehensibly powerful corporations

Unfortunately, regulating ethics tends to lead us to exactly what is starting to happen... Even centrist and center-left commentators and journalists are starting to see some fallout from the gatekeepers of money/donations/subscriptions online. Most of it is far-right targeted, but there's some bleed and it may expand.

I'm not a fan of extremist points of view. I'm more opposed to censorship as I feel it's far more dangerous than letting idiots talk. When a handful of companies serve as the gatekeepers to the world, it's more important that censorship is minimized, even if they are "private" companies.


Given that much of this apparently comes down to the likes of Visa and Mastercard, perhaps these types of companies need breaking up or regulating. Maybe also large enough payment processors like PayPal.


I'm not sure that they realistically can be broken up. I mean, a government based one could be created, but there's the matter of interoperation between countries. I think that keeping them out of ethics/censorship in terms of what they'll process payments for would be where to start. That should include transparency in terms of when government actors ask them to blacklist someone.

They're in a potentially tough position, however they have an unfair level of power. I'm not sure how they could reasonably be broken up.


One could argue that the level of data this network effect allows businesses to collect allows them to create a trust around advertising, which is in some sense true.


Even so, Facebook itself would eventually die out, as people would get bored with "social media", or at least the type of social media that Facebook embodies. How do I know this? Because I'm already seeing the trend for it. The trend might not be huge right now but no big trend is. After all, solar panels have been on a rising trend since the 80's, but its nominal growth only started to be noticeable by 2010 or so.

The problem is that Facebook is allowed to buy out any potential Facebook-replacements, too, and thus be allowed as a company to continue its monopoly almost indefinitely. If Instagram is the "new Facebook" then Facebook shouldn't have been allowed to touch it. And if it already touched it, the government should split them up, as they did AT&T, for the public good. Same with WhatsApp.

My guess is Facebook wants to integrate the three now primarily because it wants to use the excuse that it "can't" neatly separate the platforms anymore and that users will rebel against the government if they attempt that. So if politicians plan to bust Facebook, they should do it soon.


> Would trust-busting do any good? The main reason no practical alternatives to Facebook exist is the network effect. ... The only practical solution is regulating ethical behavior of these incomprehensibly powerful corporations.

While I think regulation definitely needs to be on the table to control the perverse incentives that would affect all Baby Facebook's, I don't think the network effect makes Facebook resistant to trust-busting. If a breakup mandates the successors to:

1) share the core IP (e.g. the Facebook brand and facebook.com, etc),

2) create and participate in an open federated social network protocol to blunt future network effects, and

3) divide Facebook's current userbase in a way that does not follow the contours of the social graph

...then I think the network effects will be muted enough to prevent the current monopoly situation from reoccurring.


4) Require the baby facebooks to coordinate an open standard federated social networking profile that is managed through a non-profit consortium.


if such things are meant to be monopolistic, then the state should manage it.


if such things are meant to be monopolistic

I think there's a very important truth in this sentence!

then the state should manage it

Do states have such a good track record with Internet tech.? I'm thinking of Korea and their mandated shopping encryption ActiveX.

IoT security is another are where lots of bad things are happening and an argument for state management could be made. How about the control of all IoT things, like webcams and smart assistants, go through government infrastructure? That way, they can 1) enforce security practices and 2) actually implement Orwell's total surveillance state from 1984.


The difference is that you can't really manipulate the power grid to favor a political party. You can do that with Google or Facebook.


Which state?


You want the state in charge of managing communications between friends and family members?


In the same way/to the same degree that the state manages the phone lines and the postal system, I suppose.


Yes, in the same way they had to bust Ma Bell for the same damned reasons we’re seeing again. Let the state be the dumb pipe or at least ensure that the pipes stay dumb. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative.


Rather than private corporations who turn around and exploit private communications between friends and family members for maximum profit? Yes.

The state could abuse its power: companies do abuse their power, because to do otherwise would reduce shareholder profits.


There are technological solutions that could maximize privacy but they are not in use because the private service provider needs to snoop in on your conversations to build a profile of your life. With a public service we could have a system engineered to maximize privacy. Not to mention real transparency and oversight that is no possible with private services.


With a public service we would have a system engineered poorly, like healthcare.gov. The government can't do that kind of thing well.


Then state should do what they did to make healthcare.gov work on the second time through. The roll out sucked but it's perfectly fine now


The state already has extremely heavy involvement in management of the telephone system. There is plenty of precedent for this being generally benevolent authority.


I want the state to specify restrictions on how companies can use the data transmitted in private messages on social networks.


The state already unofficially manages, manipulates, and spies on communication.


more than i want facebook or google to, yes.


If multiple competitors have to achieve interop to provide a similar experience that doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.


>The main reason no practical alternatives to Facebook exist is the network effect.

You could have said the same about AT&T. When they broke it up, they split it into distinct entities. There is no reason we couldn't split it back up into Instagram, WhatsApp, and its other various apps. It also has tons of individual functions and features that are only bundled together because of path dependence. The Marketplace, the news feed, the home page, and the discussion forums/groups are all potentially distinct companies. You could still even have one company in charge of managing identity and authentication and make everything interoperable between the distinct branches.

Setting things up that way would make it look more like a federated platform and would take no small amount of work, both from the private companies and the government (to establish standards). But as things are now nobody has an incentive to design an internet that works like that.


>You could have said the same about AT&T...

No you couldn't have, you could use your telephone to call any other telephone on the planet. Even if AT&T did not own the wires.

THAT is the behavior we have to stop. Breaking up tech companies does nothing to solve that problem.

Silos need to be made illegal if you want to stop the tech companies. (And even if you make silos illegal, good luck keeping your social network from knowing what you are searching for on your search engine. That's another one of the fundamental problems not addressed by break ups. Privacy.)


>No you couldn't have, you could use your telephone to call any other telephone on the planet. Even if AT&T did not own the wires.

What? The telephone exchange (run by Bell) had to actually make the connection for you. If you were not paying them for phone service your calls weren't getting connected. And they owned the entire vertical stack for phone service, from producing the handsets to leasing/selling the phones to owning the wires and operating the exchanges.

There were numerous reasons why it was just not viable to have an alternative business to AT&T. They owned all the infrastructure and it would have been impossible for any upstart to compete because you just can't build rival infrastructure overnight, and nobody wants to have a second-rate phone service.

Breaking it up IS how they solved that problem, for a little while, until technology moved ahead of the regulations and began consolidating again.

>That's another one of the fundamental problems not addressed by break ups. Privacy.

Break ups don't address climate change either. What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Also, if your social network isn't the same business as your search engine, why would they be sharing data with each other? This objection of yours makes no sense.


>What? The telephone exchange (run by Bell) had to actually make the connection for you....

Exactly, and Facebook will not make an open connection for you to another social network. Any connection is strictly limited to protect Facebook's sovereignty over you. It would be like At&T making a connection to Sumatra for you, but only if you confine your discussion to the size of pants you wear. No other information would be allowed to be discussed. If you tried to even say your name, AT&T would automatically mute those parts of the conversation.

You cannot openly connect to another social network and move your data wherever you please. If you switch without moving your data, you cannot openly talk back to your friends who may still be on the old social network. ie - these are SILOS. And that's the behavior we should be targeting. You could go through the AT&T network back in the 70's and talk to someone in Sumatra, or Paris on a completely different national network not provided by AT&T. If you want to openly connect with someone in Sumatra or Paris via social network today, you have to be on the same social network. These networks are not open. What we need are laws obliging them to be open.

Trust busting does not do that, all it does, at best, is give you multiple siloed social networks to choose from. (But it probably wouldn't even do that. It would likely just separate, say, youtube from google. Or separate instagram from facebook. We're still left with silos.)


>Exactly, and Facebook will not make an open connection for you to another social network.

Yes. This is why I said you need to make it a condition of breaking the trust. To open the platform and create general standards for interoperability is part of the point. You're arbitrarily constraining the definition of a breakup to only refer to dividing up administrations, even though almost every instance of actual trust busting involves making all kinds of requirements about the conditions of subdividing operations to help make sure the same problems of consolidation and collusion don't repeat.


That was a good read. Having made a good living from programming since the early 1970s, I would like to give something back, but other than creating content and software with sharing licenses, I am not sure how to proceed.

I used to feel good about donating to EFF, ACLU, and FSF but I have reduced my donations because I don’t feel like they are doing much good. I have read Tim Wu in the past and although he helps us understand the power dynamics of monopolies and controlling platforms, I don’t really get any actionable suggestions from him. Same could be said for this article: a good read, but left me wondering what, if anything, I can do to help.


At the heart of the article, the assertion that the power of these corporations is threatening our government implies that this is a problem -- which in turn implies that government is somehow superior to corporations. Why is this necessarily true?


It doesn't have to imply that government is outright superior to corporations. It would be sufficient to imply that neither should have overwhelming power over the other.


1) Doesn't seem so unsexy to me - though I havent gotten any in a while (actual trust busting that is)

2) If raising the issue, why start with these 2?

   Many bigger and much more entrenched fish in our sea


But the factors that grew this giant remains, meaning this will turn into a whack-the-mole where nothing changes but the name and owner of the company that reeincarnates the by nature centralized public service these companies provide.

I would suggest a partially privat solution. Meaning. The public owns such projects, once the investment was returned. Sort of a lease from the allmende, that always returns -as rewards for the maintenance of investment. And any company can temporary (1 year max) own this infrastructure, once it contributes signifantly to it.


> Tarbell’s 19-part exposé on Rockefeller’s Standard Oil would mark a turning point in setting public sentiment against the trusts.

Seems modern tech monopolies have it much better, with far more control over the information the public sees and can share with each other. Particularly when they start buying up newspapers. Whatever the practicalities of going against them in this way, that's going to cause complications.


Trust-Busting implies that we have to go out of our way to identify and bust monopolies every 10-20 years. That's the wrong fix here. Instead we should focus on finding alternative solutions that reduce the tendency to form these huge corporations or conglomerations. And encourage more companies/competition.


As a self-defined libertarian, I think one of the most critical functions a government is responsible for is anti-trust and Monopoly busting. This is one of the critical issues of our time, but is only a symptom of the corruption of Congress, which is a deep topic in it's own right.

Free markets are like any hierarchy, and if theres no regulation mechanism the powerful will dominate the less powerful. I think history and established economic and game theory is fairly universal on this point.

I'd be interested to hear an argument that these international megacorporations without meaningful competition don't need to be broken up.


There's absolutely nothing stopping competition. Switching from Facebook or Google to a competing service is as simple as typing a URL into the web browser. They maintain their business position by providing an excellent product, not by preventing other people from creating competing products.


Well, that’s not 100% true. Competitors (specifically talking about FB in this case) are often copied outright if they reject an acquisition offer. I see that as stopping competition.


Isn’t that just business competing? If I open a burger stand, and the sandwich shop next door starts selling burgers, they’re competing for the same customers. The government stopping the sandwich shop from selling burgers would be anti-competitive.

I’m assuming you’re referring to Facebook implementing stories? Preventing them from implementing them would be anti-competitive.


This doesn't sound like a liberatarian, at least not in the US. The one with the strongest competitive greed who wins the most money/power is viewed as the end-goal and the most successful under the ideology. Thus, a monopoly is really the end-goal of US libertarianism for they had the highest wealth and are assumed to have the highest drive to have the most wealth. Libertarianism opposes that the will of the people should constrain avarice or rich and powerful. Greed is always good under libertarianism. The philosophy is particular popular for the rich because it is a tool to prevent the will of the people from constraining their power through wealth.

So, Libertarianism blames regulation itself as the cause of monopolies because they look mainly at regulatory capture, which is done through greed-based corruption of government. Libertarian philosophy would view reducing the regulation, and thus any constraint on Facebook's avarice, as the solution to Facebook's monopoly.

So, you shouldn't, as a libertarian, propose trust-busting regulation for Facebook, as this is the opposite of libertarian.


There is plenty left in the libertarian philosophy even if you take away the concept of idly sitting by, watching perverse, runaway growth. For example, ideas like bounding government power and reducing it to a few minimum functions and letting the market handle most things by itself. This does not necessarily imply letting the market go completely unchecked and requiring it to serve every need.

I think that decentralization of power is one of those profoundly libertarian ideas that is not often explicitly recognized as one.After all, a corporation in which power is extremely centralized is hard to differentiate from a government. Furthermore, if there is no one keeping it in any kind of check, what is preventing it from becoming a totalitarian government?

Markets work best when there is at least some level of decentralization. In other words, when you don't let any entity acquire a significant portion of total power.


> Thus, a monopoly is really the end-goal of US libertarianism > Libertarianism opposes that the will of the people should constrain avarice or rich and powerful. Greed is always good under libertarianism. > So, you shouldn't, as a libertarian, propose trust-busting regulation for Facebook, as this is the opposite of libertarian.

I agree that what you described is the opposite of what I described, but I don't think what you described is in any way representative of Libertarianism. Money is thought to be a good motivator because it's inherent and other people's desire will counterbalance and propel everyone forward.

What you're describing sounds more like sound bites from the 1%\99% movement than any political or economic philosophy I've heard or read.


The libertarian argument against government breaking up monopolies is pretty simple, we believe that most monopolies were created by the government in the first place.

Here are some pretty standard arguments:

https://mises.org/wire/many-ways-governments-create-monopoli...

https://mises.org/library/myth-natural-monopoly

I'm curious, is there a particular sect of libertarianism that you identify with? I don't think I've heard any of the mainstream branches make the argument you did, and I would like to see how your line of thinking fits into the larger libertarian cannon.


As a former libertarian, you're speaking for one particular subset of libertarians, not all of them. There are some that believe that in a pure unregulated market, monopolies would simply not arise in most cases, yes. There are others who believe that they will naturally arise, but it's okay, because that just indicates that the market has reached peak efficiency. And there are yet others who believe that the important part about markets is their freedom (as defined by Smith originally, i.e. free competition), and lack of regulation can hamper that.


> The libertarian argument against government breaking up monopolies is pretty simple, we believe that most monopolies were created by the government in the first place. > Here are some pretty standard arguments: >https://mises.org/wire/many-ways-governments-create-monopoli.... >https://mises.org/library/myth-natural-monopoly

These seem like they can be summarized as regulatory capture https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture I definitely agree this exists. However, totally free markets can be dominated by monopolies through different mechanisms. new technology is monopolistic in nature because it often starts from a single/few place(s). Incumbent corporations can amass orders of magnitude of wealth making it functionally impossible to compete. This has become less prolific in the last 2-3 decades, but has been painfully true at every other point in human history when physical resistance (violent or nonviolent) was the only way to affect change.

This, by the way, assumes no purposeful anti-competitive behavior. Current anti-trust law requires houses where I live to be serviced by mutiple ISPs, so me (and almost everyone I've ever met, residence or corporate) have a huge menu of choices from company A, or a 56Kbps line from company B. What a coincidence -.-

> I'm curious, is there a particular sect of libertarianism that you identify with?

Not particularly.

> I don't think I've heard any of the mainstream branches make the argument you did, and I would like to see how your line of thinking fits into the larger libertarian cannon.

I think most Libertarianism has become a refugee camp for people recognizing and fighting government corruption rather than a conscientious political philosophy on it's own.


Will we ever again break up a monopoly?

The attempt instantly becomes a political battle. The moment a politician takes sides, the other party opposes, and the initial politician's party backs him up. Politicians collect lots of money. There is then a highly politicized court case which the company drags out until there is a change of political power. Once political power changes, the government purposely sabotages their own case until the company wins.


Lot of people talking about third-party application development in this thread. It's also worth considering the opposite side of that, data portability. GDPR already requires companies allow users to easily export all their data [1], and if the US did the same it could really help mitigate the network effect social media companies use to hold onto their dominance (i.e. Facebook's properties)

[1] https://gdpr-info.eu/art-20-gdpr/


Competitors to Facebook really need to be aware of the power of this law. In particular, it says:

"The data subject shall have the right to ... transmit those data to another controller without hindrance from the controller to which the personal data have been provided, where ... the processing is carried out by automated means... [, and] shall have the right to have the personal data transmitted directly from one controller to another, where technically feasible."

If the data transfer is automated and direct, then a Facebook user should be able to request that their posts on Facebook be continually synched over to their Mastodon account (for example).

As Facebook is already a member of the Data Transfer Project [1], it would look very bad for them if they only allowed data to be automatically synched one way, especially if most Fediverse implementations supported two way synch.

Of course, once your data is fully synched, you'd never need to actually browse Facebook itself again, and your friends on both Facebook and Mastodon would be able to read your Mastodon posts. (I suppose Facebook would similarly cite "data protection reasons" for why they can't synch your friend's Facebook posts out to you on another site, though).

Anyway, I'm sure an EU anti-trust investigator would enjoy the opportunity to examine claims against a big US social media company like Facebook, especially if it were a small EU social media provider bringing the complaint.

[1] https://datatransferproject.dev/


Capitalism, according to all these men, is about frictionless, seamless engorgement.

The writer is losing the thread a bit here. "Eating" in this context, means to disrupt with a more efficient way of doing things. "Eating people" is replacing manual jobs performed by people with automation and networks. If a job can be "eaten" then that means keeping it is just top-down mandated make-work.

More generally, he argues that we are, in fact, in an all-out return of the Gilded Age — and perhaps only the clothing has changed.

We are, in fact, in yet another variation of a "Gilded Age." [1] Only the clothing and particular cultural artifacts have changed. For years on this site, I've been making an analogy between SV of today and "Mad Men." I think people have misunderstood. In both cases, there's a tribe of people, recently imbued with greater socioeconomic status, mostly from all of the same schools, with the same subculture, dressing the same, consuming the same non-mainstream products, becoming increasingly out of touch with mainstream people and mainstream culture. In both cases, the interests of the subgroup have diverged and come to odds with the interests of society at large. In both cases, many members of the subgroup have come to look down upon the society and mainstream culture they originally came from.

When it comes down to it, groupthink is the underlying motivating factor in all of history's great tragedies and great evils. As an intellectual in 2019, it behooves you to constantly look over your shoulder for its approach. Look across the media landscape for its encroachment. Look the hardest at yourself and those nearest to you.

([1] - yes, I know the one referenced predates the Mad Men milieu. There are many gilded ages.)


>Capitalism, according to all these men, is about frictionless, seamless engorgement.

I could not care less about the opinions of thirty-something techies about political ideologies. At a time when capitalism seems more attacked in the West than at any other time in modern history, I think it is deceitful to talk about capitalism from the point of view of the group of the most unethical business leaders in America. We wouldn't tolerate someone defining socialism from the point of view of dictators.


>We wouldn't tolerate someone defining socialism from the point of view of dictators.

Venezuela, Stalin, Mao, etc all get brought up constantly in discussions about socialism/communism.


>all get brought up constantly

and are quickly met with "that's not real socialism".


So, Google and Facebook suck up lots of personal information and some people don't like that. Splitting them apart wouldn't change their business models.

Arbitrary destruction of their business doesn't do anything to protect consumer privacy.

There's also nothing anti-competitive about either business. Using a different website is as simple as typing a URL into your web browser.




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