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U.S. Justice Dept Considering Apple Probe: Sources (yahoo.com)
131 points by bemmu 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

I wonder whether the 3 threatened investigations (Google by DoJ, Facebook by FTC, now Apple bu DoJ) are not so subtle signaling by the current administration to fall in line (China trade war, working with Pentagon on AI, etc) "or else".

There's little evidence, but the fact that these 3 major companies are now moved against in roughly the same timeframe while the administration and DoJ have already their hands more than full is suggestive ...

> subtle signaling by the current administration to fall in line

Everyone who's been lobbying for one of these investigations has been lobbying for the other three. A couple key folks at the DoJ started prioritizing tech antitrust, in part due to some other time-consuming matters having recently been sunset. (Previously, it was being pursued as a civil matter though the regulators. Big legal teams have an easier time squashing those compared.)

No need for a political conspiracy. (In any case, these investigations take a long time to get going. None of these efforts were started in even the last months.)

Under another administration (either Democratic or Republican) it might be reasonable to accept this explanation. The problem with this administration is that "assume this decision is being made by career employees acting with no political self-interest" has not proven to be a good betting position.

In fact, Occam’s Razor would suggest that any action taken by this administration should be assumed to be politically motivated, barring evidence to the contrary. Especially since the current administration has always been very vocally hostile to any sort of regulatory or antitrust action.

The house judiciary committee is democrat-controlled, so at the very least it's a bipartisan investigation(s). Both parties have spoken out on antitrust (if only for separate, self-interested purposes).


>The Democratic-led investigation comes as the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are taking their first steps toward a potential probe of their own into Google, according to three people familiar with the matter. Regulators have negotiated to divide oversight of the tech industry between the two agencies in recent weeks, these people said. The two agencies have also reportedly split up oversight of Amazon, Apple and Facebook.

I try very hard to give some grace to the "Trump bad in everything" that I hear so much. However, his moronic tweets aside, I see nothing more than normal politicking, and right-of-center governance. The biggest flaw I see is the inability to admit and correct policy problems, which is absolutely not unique to President Trump.

Privatized child cages for the explicit reason of brutalizing those applying for asylum are normal right of center governance? Calling an investigation which found numerous cases of foreign involvement a coup?

I think you might be suffering from severe change blindness.

Nonsense, everything is normal. Look;

>"I believe that if people stoped[sic] using or subscribing to @ATT, they would be forced to make big changes at @CNN, which is dying in the ratings anyway. It is so unfair with such bad, Fake News! Why wouldn’t they act. When the World watches @CNN, it gets a false picture of USA. Sad!"

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2019


I know, that is why I said that everything is normal.

I am in complete agreement that all of those examples make Donald Trump appear quite normal.

This is because Donald Trump is an ordinary president in a very normal way.

Really? The trade war with China and the upsetting of decades old alliances with other NATO countries and South Korea is normal...?

Keep those blinders up

> Under another administration (either Democratic or Republican) it might be reasonable to accept this explanation

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by a Manhattan Democrat, is also investigating.

I have to say I'm surprised by the anger on this forum in response to these investigations. Yes, a lot of us butter our bread from big tech. And yes, there are other antitrust targets in the country. (There are always other targets.) But for years, comments about the lawlessness and recklessness of these companies have been raised. When I--and others--raised the possibility of a response, through regulators, the courts and the legislature, the possibility was met with derision.

Now that we have progress on the investigations, there is a mixture of (a) allegations of partisanship, (b) whataboutism and (c) a general tone of hostility around the motivations of those pursuing these investigations.

> Yes, a lot of us butter our bread from big tech. And yes, there are other antitrust targets in the country.

I would argue the opposite for people in our industry. If Google, Apple, and/or Amazon have truly been acting in anti-competitive fashion, it's likely they have stifled natural competition, which would probably drive up wages (See the Apple/Google Poaching scandal). It's also likely more of us would be starting small businesses without company run walled gardens preventing us from doing so.

Agreed, but again, the fact that these all happen in the same time frame is weird. I guess each of the investigations will tie up a lot of resources, but all 4 at the same time seem pretty taxing to an already busy admin.

Also, noone here has been suggesting a conspiracy.

It does seem a bit convenient, but on the other hand if you put a positive spin on it, in the ideal world you would want investigations of the big n tech companies to happen at the same time and not play "favorites" by doing one first and letting the others benefit.

Whether or not they violate existing statute, they all seem to be abusing their power in various ways. (Google and Facebook with personal information, ad handling, and interoperability, Apple with walled garden and no-competition apps, et al.)

Agreed that in general, there is a danger of playing "favorites" by doing one first and letting the others benefit. Hasn't stopped DoJ etc in the past though.

Also, I'm not saying it's a bad development for consumers if the investigations and legal actions actually come to pass (not sure how much is "considered" vs "definitely planned" vs "initiated and staffed").

This seems right. I know people in the venture and tech community that have been receiving inquiries for close to a year on whether big tech is too big. Of course, the venture community has a biased "expert opinion" given its in their best interest to weaken incumbents and open up lanes for new startups versus conveying what is the best course for the consumer.

"I've been taking companies to Washington where they've complained about Google for a long time and there were politicians blocking it once, but the blockers aren't there anymore," Reback said. "I don't know if it's the Trump administration that triggered it exactly but it could have been what broke the dam." - Gary Reback, http://www.carrferrell.com/attorneys/gary-reback

"The last time that technology companies faced this kind of scrutiny was Google's antitrust investigation, or the now twenty-one year old lawsuit brought by the Justice Department and multiple states against Microsoft.

But times have changed since Google had its hearing before a much friendlier audience of regulators under President Barack Obama.

These days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are both making the case that big technology companies hold too much power in American political and economic life.

Issues around personal privacy, economic consolidation, misinformation and free speech are on the minds of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers." - Techcrunch

If no investigation has been announced and no case has been filed, is there a document hold?

If not, these "threats" may be signalling these companies to find and destroy incriminating evidence, and giving them the time to do it.

> "the 3 threatened investigations (Google by DoJ, Facebook by FTC, now Apple bu DoJ)"

Maybe four, Amazon too: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/06/02/amazon-...

Well, AWS has been pretty egregious in their behavior toward the open source community.

if by current administration you are implying trump and republican party then I have to remind you that its actually the house democrats who announced it,

I think you are confusing the executive branch (Justice Dept, etc.) with the legislative branch (e.g., House Judiciary.)

This article is about the former, though the latter has also announced investigations.

If the two parties could take a breath and not automatically reject ideas from each other they might find that there is some common ground here.

Could you list some instances where the Democrats have automatically rejected ideas from the Republicans? And then perhaps contrast that with the corresponding list from the other side?

From my viewpoint in UKOGBANI, the Democrats just plain don't do this whilst the Republicans (and particularly McConnell) wilfully delight in blocking -anything- they can.

totally ignoring the fact the EU has been on them already. In general it isn't the Administration you need to fear you need to fear Congress using it as leverage to restrict speech, who can speak and what they can say, and finally laws on how law enforcement will have rights to obtain secure communications in support of it.

don't get caught up in the fake news, foreign influence of elections, and other malarkey. This is just cover to prevent any political speech outside of what the two political parties approve of getting any outlet. Remember that politicians have near unlimited means to get their message out and loathe the idea they cannot control others from not doing the same.

> don't get caught up in the fake news, foreign influence of elections, and other malarkey

I wonder why most mentions of "fake news" I hear are from people reading fake news.

If you honestly don't believe in foreign influence of elections you need to reassess your world model and belief structure. It's not just (myriad) US intelligence agencies confirming it, but other countries. If your conspiracy hinges on that much coordination, you should probably apply Occam's razor.

Whether this issue is the driving force in these probes or not is still debatable, of course.

As far as I can tell, this administration's only tactic is to announce an imminent attack on some country or company, then announce a meeting with them, then prematurely announce a "deal" followed with flattery through Trump's twitter feed.

The attacked entity denies there was any deal at first, then just shuts up, and the attack drops out of the news cycle.

It's always confusing with this administration whether some actions fall under one of 1) "Trump wants it" 2) it's a fairly normal shift in focus that probably would have occurred under most R administrations or 3) it's just someone at the given agency doing their job as best as possible.

I mean, there are ample reasons to have a good hard look at some of these companies, but with all the blatant corruption and stupidity from Trump and company, it makes you wonder.

I hope that this is a sign of increased scrutiny overall, that will lead to the ISP/media conglomerates too. Comcast is extremely exploitive of it's regulatory capture of my local government and has a far more detrimental direct effect on my life than Google does, because I am able to block Google and use alternatives. Though perhaps the investigation around Google is mostly about their customers and not their users, I.e. ad purchasers.

What about this administration suggests they're really into antitrust enforcement on its merits?

Only reason the GOP is interested in regulating tech is because they believe tech platforms should be forced to carry their political message without restrictions.

Forgive my naivete, but based on what I've seen elsewhere I think this administration is so incompetent that they can't get the levers of government to do much of anything, unless it's unilateral actions like tariffs. So I'm not sure that much of the choice to pursue this even comes from temporary political appointees.

Some of the Democratic candidates (e.g. Warren) also support similar measures, so it's not required that this is purely a political play.

Charter/Comcast have pretty paltry profit margins compared to Google (especially if you look at the non-NBC parts of Comcast). If they've managed to snag a monopoly through anti-competitive behaviors they're doing a bad job profiting off of it.

Cable franchises are legal monopolies. What could go wrong?

Interesting Elizabeth Warren's campaign just bought up some big billboard in SF stating this as one of her major campaign promises.

Is this a popular sentiment in SF? I haven’t seen any of it in Massachusetts where she is from but I would think it would be more popular here.

They are a very visible industry so they get used as scapegoat as the city fails to provide basic services to its population.

I don't see how any anti-trust laws based on having monopoly-level market control could possibly be applied to Apple.

Apple simply does not have a monopoly in any market, from either a narrow "by the book" perspective or in a broader functional perspective.

Unless the DoJ Apple is unfairly monopolizing the market for Apple's products and services...

Just because someone can go buy an Android doesn't mean it's not a monopoly. Having only two options for mobile phone operating systems, both with locked-in, walled gardens that take a cut from developers isn't competition, it's a rigged system.

Yes it does mean it’s not a monopoly! That’s the literal definition.

You could describe it as a duopoly but I think it’s pretty clear that Apple and Google are fierce competitors. And Apple has minority market share by far.

Neither company has anywhere near a well protected position in the market. The mobile computing market has not seen companies establish long running monopolies.

Two of the top competitors in the sector, BlackBerry and Nokia, are long gone, shells of their former selves.

The problem you complain about is due to structural elements in the market, specifically that network effects are inevitable in the market for operating systems.

The purpose of anti-trust laws is to protect people against predatory markets practices, not to interfere with market function because it doesn’t support a product.

FWIW, there are other mobile OS options available. You just don’t want to use them because they have not reached a market share significant enough to support the kind of rock app ecosystem we expect.

I can see Amazon and Google. What is the complaint against Apple and Facebook?

The control over what iOS developers can do has been the source of a lot of contention recently. Facebook is Big Bad as we all know, but I agree that they’re not as much a monopoly.

Duopoly isn't much better than a monopoly. Especially when the other half does basically the same anti-competitive behaviors.

Really, of all of these, Apple is seemingly the most blatant in their anti-competitive behaviors. Google and Facebook at least offer choice even if that choice is a somewhat of an illusion. Apple just flat out forbids competing with it in distributing iOS apps and vigorously guards its cut of subscription revenue.

I mean, things like https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/3/18651344/wwdc-2019-apple-f...

are definitely gonna run Apple into trouble.

This is basically the definition of what is known as "tying".

See, https://www.theantitrustattorney.com/antitrust-laws-prohibit... for a fairly good description.

(This was the claim against MS - tying OS and browser).

Apple has far more insidious control over the iEcosystem then Microsoft did during its brush with the 1999 anti-trust courts. This is bad for developers, and may be bad for users.

Facebook owns ~95% of the 'social media' market in the US. (And is proving surprisingly capable at buying its way out of irrelevancy.) This may be bad for advertisers, for users, or for competitors.

Except Apple isn’t a monopoly on mobile devices.

How can you be said to have a monopoly on your own platform when that platform itself is a small % of the market?

The argument is ridiculous on its merits unless you are willing to ignore years of established case law (which is the basis of our Jurisprudence)

So when are the telecoms going to be looked at?

I think the only surprise here is that Amazon hasn't been named yet, but maybe they are setting the table here, so that that one doesn't look politically motivated. :)

In the past few days or so there have been articles about potential antitrust stuff against Apple, Facebook, and Google. What is going on here?

Facebook article, three hours ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20084703

Google article, three days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20066288

Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty excited to see these companies get smacked around because I think all are too powerful, too influential, but with these three in a row in such quick succession I have to wonder if the motivation is political.

Edit: Here is a similar article for Amazon (one day ago), that slipped through the cracks: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20074593

What happened is the FTC and DOJ brokered and agreement on jurisdiction, finally.

The rest of these articles are just guessing about what it means.


It's certainly the case that they don't broker agreements for no reason.

But they've also probably been talking to each other about it for 4+ years.

In the background they've almost certainly had lighter investigations/considerations roughly "forever".

So i'd take all of this with a huge grain of salt until there is something more.

It will be obvious what is going on one way or the other when they start issuing subpoenas, to either potential witnesses, or to these companies themselves.

Before that, the other sign would be huge staffing up of the temps and experts necessary for document review, etc.

I wonder why this is downvoted. The timing is really curious.

The Amazon/WaPo article notes the timing as well and hints that it might not be totally partisan.

> "Antitrust also has become an early flash point among Democrats vying for the White House ahead of the 2020 election. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently threatened major investigations of Amazon, Apple and Facebook. This week, she offered early support in response to news that the Justice Department could bring such an investigation against Google."

Maybe this is a case of numerous parties having a diverse set of motivations that all line up? Democrats who blame these companies for Trump's election (makes the least sense in the specific case of Apple or Amazon...), and Republicans who say these companies are censoring them (makes the least sense in the specific case of Apple or Amazon...) Maybe these companies are just running out of friends in Washington.

I'd have an easier time believing this if all those cases were definite investigations or actions taken. However, from my reading, the admin is publicly announcing that some action might be taken, DoJ is "considering actions" etc, i.e. nothing super tangible yet. I might well be wrong.

To me, this feels more like a not so subtle threat than a concerted, thoroughly considered plan that has finally come to fruition.

> Amazon/WaPo

Amazon doesn’t own the Washington Post.

I wasn't suggesting otherwise. I was referring to the WaPo article about Amazon: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/06/02/amazon-...

Seems like this takes the wind out of her presidential campaign. So maybe partisan after all.

That would be a calculation if were a front runner but she isn’t (at least not at the moment).

If the companies in question remain intact until 2020 (which seems certain) then she could still campaign on the premise of "Trump's administration has failed to go after these companies hard enough." So I don't agree that it defuses her presidential appeal. However you still may be right that it will dilute her campaign.

If the App Store is forced open, say goodbye to privacy and security on iOS.

> If the App Store is forced open, say goodbye to privacy and security on iOS

There are shades of grey between "Apple takes 30%, gets to reject apps for any or no reason, and gets to auto-install Apple Music in competition with Spotify" and flipping the App Store to the Android model.

Apple has never rejected an app for no reason.

If apple was constrained from shipping apps that have competitors, they would effectively be prevented from shipping any apps at all.

> Apple has never rejected an app for no reason.

Sure they have.


> Why did the folks at Tweetie add swear words to their program? Actually, they didn't. But something crude happened to be trending on Twitter at the time the app was submitted for review.

Or Google Voice:


Nope. Not for no reason. By mistake, for sure, and in both cases the mistake was rectified.

You know if you reframe it as moving to a Windows/desktop model instead of moving to an Android model that could be seen as a positive. I like that I can install some obscure weekend GitHub project to do some task for me without having to fight my own OS over it

Sorry I left the Windows model 10 years ago mainly because of downsides any process easily metastasizing into an exploit vector.

Walled gardens have less thugs and shady alleys.

Why? Apple doesn’t vet apps for privacy or security. The API surface is what affects these.

They absolutely do. Every permission you request has to have a valid justification and the user can only be asked when the permission is actually needed. The API allows you to specify every single permission and require them at app launch, it's the human reviewer who makes sure they're being used appropriately.

I say this as someone who has had apps denied by reviews for requesting a permission that was not needed inside of the version of the app I submitted to the store. They absolutely do review and vet apps for privacy and security.

APIs that depend on policy to prevent abuse will now just not be available at all.

As it should be. Apple doesn’t have the ability to verify what you do with the data that gets to your app, so they should not pretend to be able to certify it.

What? Apple, today, has enforced the ability to ensure that a flashlight app isn't vacuuming up your location data.

See: macOS.

I expect Amazon to be next.

I hope so, it's bogus the app store is locked down like it is. I own my iPhone, I should be able to download a gab app.


So are we just resorting to making things up now?

I feel like this is just a gentle reminder to the "masters of the universe" about who really runs the country. They've been getting into politics a little too much lately. If nothing else, this should cool down that ambition. I can only welcome increased scrutiny for trillion-dollar entities that, to a large extent, control the flow of information like never before.

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