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As Tech Goliaths Face a Reckoning, Small Businesses Say They Finally Feel Heard (nytimes.com)
122 points by pseudolus 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments



When people here read these articles, is the platforms-vs-publishers relationship top of mind for you?

I don't really know what headspace I should be in when I open these articles. I generally want to understand the underlying motivations of the publishers. How are y'all feeling?

Let's not limit it to antitrust issues since it's usually been about privacy, free speech, the rest


Meanwhile, traditional news media is currently lobbying congress to make news organizations and online publishers exempt from anti-trust law in order to secure a better negotiating position with tech companies. [0]

I don't trust them to report on tech companies objectively one bit. And why should I? They have a vested interest in presenting negative coverage.

[0]: https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/09/media/house-of-representative...


That actually seems reasonable. Anti-trust laws were intended to protect consumers, not enable abuse by even bigger monopolies. An exception for colluding in negotiations with monopolies might be a good idea, and not only for media companies.

Similar to the exception that already exists for unions.


After the GFC, besieged bankers had a similar sentiment about the press. How to frame it in your mind is that you're now the bankers.

Read all the threads on HN about the Boeing 737 MAX, many from the same publications writing about Big Tech like the NYT, you never see any commentary about the publications and their motives like you do in the Big Tech threads.

The Occam razor's explanation for the difference is that the reaction to critical coverage when it's about your industry will be different in a predictable way.


The Occams razor is that Facebook and Google threaten The New York Times business model where bad banking and faulty jets do not. Big media is way too involved in these stories to report them objectively.


That's certainly not true for the NYT. The NYT's stock has done very well in recent years and it's solely because their digital subscription business has taken off. It's one of the few publications that doesn't really depend on Facebook and Google for revenue.


They do threaten it though. They could elevate competitors voices or choose to filter the NYT from results of weigh them lower. I'm sure social media and search both drive a huge amount of NYT traffic. The only time I ever read it is when it's linked here.


Facebook already made that change a long time ago to emphasize sharing of photos, status updates, etc over news.

NYT, WaPo, WSJ have all done fine while other publications that were founded on the premise of social traffic have gone out of business.

They're destination sites and brands in and of themselves, they don't rely on third party referral traffic.


This is incorrect. I assure you they get a large porition of their traffic from referrals and Google search results (and Google News). They were literally just complaining about this yesterday:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/09/business/media/google-new...


> is the platforms-vs-publishers relationship top of mind for you?

More that the press does narratives, which are often the creation of, or strongly influenced by, long-term PR campaigns.

My very fuzzy understanding is, atleast after the Microsoft-Google nonaggression pact some years ago, the largest interest pushing the anti-BigTech narrative has been Hollywood, wishing to regulate the lawless internet and reduce tech industry influence.

One thing that's puzzled me, and I'd appreciate any insight, is how Microsoft got dropped from the Big Tech set.


Microsoft simply isn't a big player for the consumer/luser segment anymore when it comes to the services that tend to come up in these conversation (e-mail, social, ads, etc). For these services they're more B2B. They're not a data company like Google or Facebook.

Interesting, though, how their compliance with censoring and filtering etc in China for years barely register compared to the outrage Google gets for even preparing for it.

And thinking about it, Microsoft IS big in social with acquisitions like LinkedIn, Skype and GitHub. But no one's getting concerned or outraged on those accounts. After being the nemesis for so long, I think they have learned to play this game very well this time around.


I have wondered the same thing - Netflix is an obvious outlier among the Big 5, and Microsoft an equally obvious omission. Apparently the "FAANG" idea is a Wall Street thing, a grouping based on financial rather than technical impact.


"BRICS" was a Goldman Sachs invented acronym, coined in 2002, and was frequently used by policymakers and press for at least a decade, despite nobody ever seeing common threads between the economic structures and populations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.


Same. I guess it is because Microsoft is a relatively smaller company established in rural Washington and focusing its efforts on FOSS. Nothing to be worried about there.


I'm not American (maybe better so?) but this piece sounds a lot like the author is anti-google.

Oracle is unpopular, so let's add the noodle shop to compensate. You won't like EU fines, so we say that USA should fine before. Epic photo of the noodles guy. Very nice photo of Yelp people, who wouldn't like to work there?

To be honest, I believe that Google and friends are very dangerous right now. But with all HN limitations, any discussions here is light years deeper than this fluff.


I think about the lack of accountability inherent in large corporations. Tech is foregrounded in our lives right now, but it plays out in more quiet industries too.



Exactly! People get down right indignant if you suggest that the negative reporting on tech is a conflict of interest for old media institutions like the NYT, but turns out these institutions are just as corrupt as you would expect


What planet is this from where Tech Goliaths face any kind of "reckoning"? What they are facing is a man-child who feels as though they don't fawn over him enough, who is making noise to injure share prices to compel them to do what he wants, while simultaneously making clear that -should he be sated- he will make his 'concerns' over monopolistic business practices swiftly evaporate.

Neither party here is guided by principles about monopolistic business practices.

Regulating monopolistic business practices is incredibly difficult to achieve in even a stable regulatory climate by genuinely interested lawmakers and regulators. In a White House environment driven primarily through personal animus, this shares vastly more in common with a shake-down than with small-business emancipation.


While I agree with you re trump’s motivations, it’s also true that the leading democrats are making similar statements about regulating/breaking up big tech (for better reasons). It seems that, in this time of hyper partisan polarization, one of the few things the two major parties agree on is a hatred of big tech. That’s a bad place for big tech to be in. While agree big tech, especially Facebook, are no angels, it’s tragic that big tech is catching so much flack while the big banks and hedge funds, whose crimes are far, far worse, seem to be forgotten.


> The shop’s Google listing is how most customers find his restaurant, yet, he said, he has no control over how his business is represented. There is no way for him to get rid of the ad next to the Google listing.

So he wants the free traffic but not to pay for it in any way?

Ah, the "i want my cake and to eat it too" argument. A classic


>There is no way for him to get rid of the ad next to the Google listing. >So he wants the free traffic but not to pay for it in any way?

If people are specifically looking for his business he doesn’t want the competitors business to be able to buy an ad that pops up before the user searching for his business.

That has nothing to do with wanting free traffic for nothing. This guy has likely already built a website that is optimized for google search, likely uses paid gmail/google apps, probably registered all his info in google maps...that’s a lot of free data entry for google so their product is better and some of those business services are paid.

So now that you use their paid services and probably paid for web development/SEO up to Google’s lastest standards, your business comes up #1 on google searches...and they sell an ad before your result.

There is no great real world example, but imagine you have a brick and mortar and sign a commercial lease in a shopping center, then the landlord rents signage in front of your sign to a competitor. Of course he’d always be happy to rent you the 2nd signage if you beat your competitors bid.


There’s actually a pretty good real world metaphor when you realize that Google is a telecommunications company.

Imagine if when people called your restaurant to make a reservation the phone company had someone else answer the phone first and suggest you try a different restaurant.

No metaphor is perfect but that’s pretty reasonable. Conceptually Google is some kind of an amalgamation of a common carrier and natural regulated monopoly at this point and should be treated as such.


A similar issue with a phone company lead to the first creation of an automatic telephone exchange[1]:

>Strowger, an undertaker, was motivated to invent an automatic telephone exchange after having difficulties with the local telephone operators, one of whom was the wife of a competitor. He was said to be convinced that she, as one of the manual telephone exchange operators, was sending calls "to the undertaker" to her husband.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strowger_switch


Ever been so pissed at a dude's wife, you invented a major telecom technology that took over the world and lead to better stuff?


Like the Yellow Pages, where your phone listing is immediately adjacent to listings for all your competitors.


I'd argue this use of Google is more like the White Pages, where you look up by name alphabetically.

Yellow Pages would be more like googling "<cuisine> Restaurant in <town>", in which case displaying with all your competitors is much more reasonable.


I think a better real-world example would be paying a third-party for a billboard near a competitor's location.

Nobody's rights are violated by that. There's no conflict of business interests. That's just competition. I think it's the same with running ads against searches for a competitor; Google does not take payment for search placement nor provide unrelated benefits to paid users of its services.


The difference is now one is heavily investing their business in the billboard business to ultimately be placed behind the billboard.

>There's no conflict of business interests.

This is big time a conflict, look no further than the antitrust investigations. Google is known to use their market position (data) to launch businesses in high dollar keyword industries and have their product rise to the top organically and upbid keyword on market incumbents forcing them to pay up or lose position to google products.

To say google doesn’t pay for search placement is a play with words, they take payment for ads that take the shape and form of results and appear above organic results (I’ll call it true #1), organic search results are not paid for...with the exception google sets the rules, and their is heavy buyin/investment from the company’s to obtain #1 organic placement, not to mention the seo rules generally reward and promote use of other google services/buyin.


There's no conflict of business interests. That's just competition. I think it's the same with running ads against searches for a competitor; Google does not take payment for search placement nor provide unrelated benefits to paid users of its services.

This is (now) wrong. Google search-rank ads show up in the search results with only minor indicia that they are ads. This is very different from what Google used to do--keep ads and search results separate with clear visual indications of what content was ads.


Is that actually true? I just searched for [flowers] and [car insurance], two notoriously commercial queries, and the ads were all labeled with "Ad" in a green box, with organic results below the fold.

While you might take issue with all the above-the-fold space being taken up by advertisements and local results, I don't think you can get much clearer than having each advertisement say "Ad". That's a lot more distinction than you get with say TV or print ads.


I totally disagree with the statement "I don't think you can get much clearer than having each advertisement say "Ad"." If you want much clearer, just look at Google circa around 15 years ago, where ads had a much greater visual distinction with a blue background color, or in the right gutter.

And, of course, Google knows this. The past 10-15 years has seen a sea change where ads look more and more like natural search results, and as they've taken up more and more real estate. It used to be you could compete with having good SEO positioning, but now SEO positioning is almost irrelevant for any commercial terms (except for how it affects your AdWords bidding positioning), as basically everything above the fold is just ads now.


The design pushing organic search results down does seem like a conflict of interest between showing the user the best possible search results and showing the user advertisements.

On a 1200px tall desktop screen with adblocking turned off, I see four ads that look like search results with a small "Ad" marker next to them, then a map. One map search result is visible on the first screen. When I scroll, there are three map search results, then three organic web search results. These are followed by four suggested queries, three more organic web search results, then four news stories before I get to the rest of the results.

I'm not sure I'd call this evil, but Google used to be explicitly anti-evil and this is very much not that.


Lol I just tried, literally every single clickable result (well ok 98% the bottom map listing that is only partially showing) is paid. The right side bar boxes are hard to tell they are an ad, and I would bet $1000 that 90% (or more) of users wont even know the top results with green ad notation is not an organic result. search screenshot: https://imgur.com/Qhw2tgY


Interesting. Brave blocks the RHS ads.


I wasn't aware of that (I always use adblockers). I don't like that at all, and after reading it I'm now expecting Google products to try to trick me into doing things that are profitable for Google, which Google knows were not my intent.


And? Yellow Pages did the same thing. Every ad was next to dozens of competitors.


In no way did the yellow pages create a dynamic bidding war with competitors for ads next to your listing when people went to find your number.


What is the lease in this example? I don't think "optimizing your website for SEO" or "using other Google products" is anywhere close to the kind of specific relationship a lease implies.


You may have missed this:

>There is no great real world example, but imagine...

Well for each one of Google’s services there are legal agreements between them and the business.

Landlords and google may not be exact but in both instances businesses are dependent, and business don’t just pay google/landlords, business improve and bring value to both google/property. In the case of property a restaurant may do a $1M buildout and the landlord will benefit later if he can release to another restaurant who can reuse the buildout. Or maybe your Walmart and an anchor store bringing customer making the rest of the locations more valuable for the landlord. Google benefits through better products: search results, maps, business info (hours, phone, etc...). The signage seems apt, as a business if I invest in the google ecosystem and make their products better it’s at the very least bizarre they would benefit by selling ads for my business name to my competitors. Basically it’s saying as business succeed on google, google is going to make more money advertising your value to competitors.


There is a lot as a business owner you can do with the google business listings and Bings equivalent.

There is plenty of shady stuff with spammers in say the locksmith area but not heard of problems with single ton restaurants - yelp reviews are a lot more sketchy IMO


Does he have a way to pay for the Google advertising such that he has more control of the content?


Yes. You can buy ads for your own keywords. Some companies do, to deny their competition the option to. Much like you can buy the billboard outside your office to prevent your competitors from putting up a huge sign saying "i_am_proteus is a bad person, don't do business with him, do it with us: evilcorp7!"


This is only sort of true. Keyword bidding is a black box and the highest offer doesn’t always win. There’s all kinds of Google proprietary sauce that happens to determine the winner of the add placement based on factors that determine “ad quality”.


It's fresh of Yelp to complain about anti-competitive behaviour whilst using their well-documented, mafia-like tactics to extort money from small business owners.


This. Has Stoppelman done anything other than rant about his unfair situation for the last 10 years?


(Off-topic: so The New York Times is no longer available in private mode. How do they detect it?)


Newspapers are perfectly happy to complain about big tech's privacy issues, but are completely fine being beneficiaries of it and don't care about the serious implications of removing one's choice to use private browsing mode.


Exactly. Gizmodo, TechCrunch etc continually run stories about tech doing bad things (which is a good thing) but they are happy to be hypocrites and do those same exact bad things they denounce, as if...


They use the Filesystem api.

There is experimental support to stop this detection in chrome now (74 and later). Go to chrome://flags/ and Enable "Filesystem API in Incognito". It should be on by default in an upcoming version.


Good to know (though I have a subscription to the NYT).


maybe they try to write to local storage? local storage isn't available in private mode, at least incognito in chrome.


Would you be kind enough to educate the rest of us on what you mean? Local storage must exist on some level so that the images/text/etc can be stored to be viewed.


He's referring to the one of several APIs like https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/Web_Storage... or those listed on https://www.html5rocks.com/en/features/storage - Allowing the webpage to store some amount of data on your local machine. This storage can be accessed even if you're temporarily offline, so you can have an interactive webpage that downloads some data, and so long as you don't close the page you can update it. When you reconnect (or next load the webpage) your state is stored and can be reconciled with server state.

For obvious reasons, you don't want that API active for private browsing (As persisting it would enable tracking), but by combining browser version detection to determine if a browser supports the API with feature detection to see that it's disabled, you can assume that "Private Browsing" is on.

Better browser API design might include in-memory only support for the API, but I haven't thought that all the way through.


Normal assets like those you list are cached on download. "Local storage" is a bit more like cookies in that the webmaster can store whatever they like there. https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/Web_Storage...


It is if you open it incognito from a SERP.

Re: "how do they detect it?" -- without investigating it, I would suspect browser fingerprinting within a window time slice.


SERP = Search Engine Results Page

For anyone else who didn't know.


This didn't work for me (Brave incognito on a Mac). I have a free subscription through my library, but I do run into the paywall when I search things on my phone in Firefox Focus.

In that case, I just share to Pocket and read there (never a problem, even without an account). I assume they have some sort of deal with Pocket where they share analytics with the publishers in exchange for giving unpaywalled access.


Not sure. Here is a archive.is mirror: http://archive.is/Fhnb3


They don't; The New York Times detects my Safari as being in private mode when it's not.


Open page in Firefox, while page is loading quickly toggle reader(right of address bar) view, before the subscription pop-up shows up. If you miss the short window, refresh page and try again.


Really, what reckoning?

Any antitrust movement has a play out of over ten years.

The current g20 progress towards closing tax loopholes via digital tax is also a ten year process..

The Reckoning has not occured yet...not even close...




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