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Justice Department to Open Broad, New Antitrust Review of Big Tech Companies (wsj.com)
327 points by mudil on July 23, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 311 comments



I just finished the Eric Weinstein/Peter Thiel podcast, and came away mostly agreeing with their assessment that we’ve really stagnated when it has come to progressing scientifically.

I definitely feel like there’s this illusion of tech innovation coming from these big companies that suck up all the tech talent, but at end of day the best and brightest are working on optimizing ad clicks (FB, Goog) or getting people to buy crap (Amazon) or working on incremental hardware improvements (Apple).

If anything, I would hope any outcome against big tech would level the playing field when it comes to attracting talent, and create an environment where working on true “moonshot” tech was not so risky.


Historically, scientific progress has extremely rarely been made by companies. Most of the time, it's the result of academic research. Most researchers typically have neither time nor inclination to build a company/a product based on their own research, and having great research is no guarantee that the company/product will succeed. So the way research results become visible is typically through publications and teaching.

When companies hire graduates who have learnt from researchers, some of these graduates end up in position to "innovate", quite a few years after the actual research has been done.

For instance, I'm going to talk about the field that I know best: programming languages (to keep it simple, I'm not talking of VMs or compilers, just the languages). Pretty much everything you see in Java, C#, Python or Go dates back to the 70s (with broader testing and quality of life improvements, of course), Swift gets a few improvements imported from the 80s, but not that many. The only industrial languages that seem to have real innovations are F#, Rust and Scala, which are three cases in which the actual researchers managed to convince (or found) a company to support the language.

Anyway, it's really, really hard to measure scientific progress, and if you look at companies to try and gauge it, you're looking at stuff that is typically quite old.


Apple hired people who did academic work on LLVM and static analysis, and this turned into real compilers that people use every day (as well as Swift, which enabled SwiftUI.) There are many other examples at other companies.

I would also note: in spite of "novelty" requirements for publication, we tend to see many of the same ideas recycled over and over. Which makes sense, because they tend to be good and useful ideas that may be fundamental to the discipline.


I didn't want to talk about compilers, because examples are different, and despite the fact that I work on compilers at the moment, I don't have as much in-depth knowledge as on programming languages. In particular, while I'm sure that there are a number of novel things in LLVM, I have no clue which ones. In Swift, though? I see quality of life improvements, but nothing remotely scientifically novel in terms.

Agreed about ideas being recycled over and over in academia.

Regardless, I believe that my point holds: it's very hard to judge "scientific progress" by looking at industry, because most of the time, you're looking at stuff that was discovered decades earlier.


Aside from the transistor, negative feedback, Unix, troff, radio astronomy, the charge coupled device, cryptography, information theory, what did Bell Labs ever do for us?


Its hard to argue Bell Labs was much of a purely private company, AT&T was bound by law to invest a certain amount of money in hard scientific research, in return for its monopoly position in telecom.

So at the very least, bell labs was the direct result of regulation, and pretty arguably just an alternate form of taxation (AT&T was also legally bared from commercializing Bell Lab's research outside of telecom)


Good point!

1. I will admit that there are exceptions :)

2. Clearly, I should have written "industry" instead of "companies".

Barring any error in my memory Bell Labs was a pure research lab at the time, wasn't it, i.e. not an industry research branch, right?


Is that a Life Of Brian reference? :D


Lasers.


The issue is that academic research doesn't always translate into a product that can be useful. There are many things that can be done at small scale that look awesome, but once you try to apply it at a larger scale or trying to account for all the corner cases, it starts to fall apart. While this may not be as true for tech, it tends to happen a lot in the physical sciences.

A big recent tech-focused one that started in academia and is now in the hands of large companies is self driving cars. It looks like it may work, but then every started hitting those 1% cases and realized they can't actually ship a fully self driving car (and driver-assist features can lead to worse issues as people think they can trust the tech more than they should).


I'm not sure how that's an issue. If you privatize profit from the innovation of others, it's only fair you privatize at least some risk as well.


The only potential maybe issue is that may limit private investment - but that wasn't how it was intended to be funded anyway.


It has been asserted that the best innovations come from baser instincts - the ability to go to war. Radar came from defense research. I hate this.


Also during war patents are shared between all companies in one country or ignored all together. I think this is an under appreciated fact of why wartime creates all sorts of innovation.


That's a very interesting point! I wonder if allowing free use of information could result in the same benefits during peacetime.


Well that's how we got emacs so who knows.


Woah, I never thought about that. Do you know where I might be able to read more about copyrights / patent enforcement (or lack thereof) during wartime?


Here is one article discussing the US government pressuring aircraft engine manufacturers to cross license all their patents[1].

[1]https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4103/ch2.htm


That’s an interesting theory.


As did lots of awesome materials. The material science advancements that happened with WW2 and the space race (fueled by the cold war) are pretty amazing. Nylon among many others came out of those drives.

Edit: someone corrected me about nylon. It was invented between 1927 and 1938 my Dupont. But it was still a commercial Enterprise doing the r&d for it.

Looks like synthetic rubber and synthetic oil two major ones to come out of world war II https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/inventions...


nylon did not. you’re probably thinking of teflon, which also did not, but is at least a common misconception, unlike nylon, which is widely known to have first been used for women’s ‘nylons’ in the 30s.


My pet theory is that the best innovations come from contexts where loss of human life is acceptable - war being one such case.

The flip side of greater consumer safety is that there's less room to get things wrong, which in turn means it's harder to meaningfully innovate.

If my theory is correct, I expect the next paradigm shift will come from a country with less consumer/worker/civil protection. China (and to a lesser extent, India) are on my watch-list.

When I say this, people sometimes pigeonhole me as an anti-regulation nutcase, but that's not me. I don't know how I feel about this. There's a real Kantian dilemma, here.


The best innovations come without profit-driven motives. The thing about defense research is that it's more popular with the public than, let's call it, nerd research.

It's having money without trying to optimize solely on future money.


It's probably just as easy to say that funding comes from the war economy rather than research. However, I am also not entirely surprised that it's the high levels of funding combined with the adversarial nature of war that pushes the envelope of things getting bigger, smaller, faster, higher, etc.

However, while we do see this trickle back into civilian life, I imagine that if funding were directed towards solving civil needs instead (housing, food, water, environmental contamination, energy, community centers, schools, etc) we'd see very different things produced, and often more well suited for peaceful purposes.


What about the fact that some of the most prosperous times for average people come after epidemics and such which result in massive population declines?


I would say certain types of problem domains will be more likely to find solutions in academia vs companies.

For example, it's going to be pretty hard to get much innovation from academia in the area of operating planet scale networks/datacenters simply because they don't have access to such environments and the money to support it nor the day to day challenges of actually running something like this.

That said, much of innovation happening in companies is likely part of the secret sauce that makes the company successful so we're not going to see much of it make it out at the time the innovation takes place but over time companies and people working for them do open up about their solutions.


Haskell is definitely another language that comes to mind when discussing research and innovation


Definitely. And definitely not industrial :)


I have had similar thoughts about big tech companies, but lately I have started to realize the progress they have brought.

To name a few: - Google, FB, Amazon basically wrote the book on distributed systems (Read Designing Data Intensive Applications), both from a research perspective and a very well architected, open source solution

- Google, FB have profoundly impacted front end development with cutting edge Javascript runtimes and open source front end frameworks

- Amazon, Google, Microsoft have basically invented/popularized a way to do computing(Cloud), server management that has enabled tiny tech companies to become giants by outsourcing IT infrastructure

- Apple/Google have created devices, OSs, and software that is nearly impossible to live without these days, additionally creating platforms for millions of developers to make a living on(App Store)

- Amazon has set the bar pretty high for automation in operations and made 2 day shipping a thing we expect from everyone

There are many other things I can’t think of right now, but long story short most of the companies you listed do have crappy parts of their business, but have also made incredible platforms that 3rd parties can leverage to make a ton of money.

I caveat all of this by saying that there are some practices that I don’t agree with at all of those firms, but by and large they have gotten so big because they are platforms.


There's a lot going on, but if you go back a few decades the list is more like: radio, television, cars, airplanes, skyscrapers, subways, refrigeration, plastic, aluminum, etc. This is a strange time period, in that technologically things seem to be moving too fast and stalled out at the same time.


> - Google, FB, Amazon basically wrote the book on distributed systems (Read Designing Data Intensive Applications), both from a research perspective and a very well architected, open source solution

Most of the science behind these things is actually older. They industrialized it, removed the kinks, built upon actual experience, all of which is extremely precious, but I don't think it's as groundbreaking as people believe.

> - Google, FB have profoundly impacted front end development with cutting edge Javascript runtimes and open source front end frameworks

If you're talking about JITs, that's gradual improvements on prior work on JITs (started during the 60s, ignored by industry until Sun picked it during the 90s... for an academic project). Again, very useful, but not necessarily groundbreaking.

> - Amazon, Google, Microsoft have basically invented/popularized a way to do computing(Cloud), server management that has enabled tiny tech companies to become giants by outsourcing IT infrastructure

Again, industrialization on prior academic work (e.g. virtualization, distributed component-based architectures, etc.)

> - Apple/Google have created devices, OSs, and software that is nearly impossible to live without these days, additionally creating platforms for millions of developers to make a living on(App Store)

> - Amazon has set the bar pretty high for automation in operations and made 2 day shipping a thing we expect from everyone

Mmmmh... I was talking of "scientific progress", you seem to be talking of something different :)

If you recall, my point was that it's very hard to measure "scientific progress" by looking at industry, because industrialization typically happens decades after the actual discoveries/inventions. I think your point is that "industrial progress" may be good, which I'm not debating :)


That are all nice product developments and industry standards, but nothing scientifically relevant. Some actual scientific research from Google is being done in autonomous vehicles, medical imaging, sensors and diagnostics automation, various areas of optimisation and of course information retrieval.


Front end development if anything has regressed with javascript and front end frameworks, about the only way it's improved is in the questionable cross platform story.

The smartphone is obviously a gradual (occasionally not so gradual) improvement on PDA's, app stores existed before them too, although usually belonging to the phone operator or network.

We hear about amazon because they're in the tech industry, I bet if you followed the logistics industry as closely you'd see a lot of improvements. Particularly outside of the US where amazon doesn't have the same footprint.


Science hasn't stagnated yet. As someone with a long career in physics/biology, this attitude only reflects the myopia and ignorance of the people that hold it. We're in the middle of a revolution in our understanding of biological systems and our ability to engineer them. But because that field is so technical and intrinsically slower-paced people discount it in these discussions because they don't know anything about it.

There's much more to science and technology than "tech" companies.


> There's much more to science and technology than "tech" companies.

Specific observation of mine is actually important tech takes decades to make it's presence felt. That's a totally different world than "tech companies" that are mostly fronts for ad dollar scams, casino's for international crooks, and laundromats for central bank money.

Lets talk solar panels, first developed in the 1950's. Variable Frequency drives first developed in the 1980's. Lithium Ion batteries developed in the late 1970's. All this stuff is decades old and still working it's way through the day to day infrastructure.

I feel like there are a bunch of biological and agricultural science stuff is coming, massive changes in the energy sector are coming, but it's painfully slow.


You seem very certain that today's tech companies aren't doing any real research, or if they are it won't have a significant impact. How could you possibly know this? It can't be learned from reading the news.


> All this stuff is decades old and still working it's way through the day to day infrastructure.

That's how science has always worked. It's rare to go from research to consumer goods in less than 10 years. Often it takes more.


Lasers were invented in the early 1960's. And there was a bunch of hype for half a decade. Dozen years later people were referring to lasers as a 'failed' technology.

Transistors invented more or less in 1947. Twenty years later in 1967 my parents bought a BW TV, with tubes.

LED's. First invented in 1927, practical devices 40 years later in the mid 1960's. Widespread use in lighting, not until 40 years after that.


Well, you always have to wait for the patents to expire. Then development can flourish, for a time.


The reproducibility crisis doesn't bother you?


It definitely hasn't stagnated. But maybe it stopped accelerating, contrary to predictions.


This is a reductive generalization, sort of like assuming people at Bell Labs were working on telephone equipment, or people at Xerox PARC were working on copiers. How a company makes its money isn't what determines the biggest impact of its research. In the end, it may be some other research area that they never figure out how to make money on at all.

Google famously has lots of "moonshots" and publishes lots of research and open source code. It's too soon to say what's going to turn out to be a real advance versus an "illusion".


what google calls "moonshots" is a pathetic joke compared to the real thing.

They called 15 million dollars in cancer research investment a "moonshot", as well as the various absurdly low x prizes (vs what they are asking for, and ONLY IF you succeed).


I definitely feel like there’s this illusion of tech innovation coming from these big companies that suck up all the tech talent, but at end of day the best and brightest are working on optimizing ad clicks (FB, Goog) or getting people to buy crap (Amazon) or working on incremental hardware improvements (Apple).

Wasn't just this sort of thing said about the financial world? (That all of the brains were being sucked up by finance, because that's what paid the most for technical and math talent.) I remember talking to coworkers about 15 years ago, quipping that pretty soon, it would all just be enigmatic, undecipherable servers humming in server rooms, exchanging arcane signals, causing money to move around for inscrutable purposes.

Doesn't this fit the way people talking about YouTube and Google talk about "The Algorithm?" It just means that the enigmatic, undecipherable servers humming in server rooms have also begun to take over media and the culture. It's not just money moving around, commanded by machines for inscrutable purposes. It's now also the information, the connections, and the interactions comprising human culture itself.

Supposedly we're not yet at the point of AGI, but somehow we've already built the tools for the not yet existing AI overlords to control all of humanity. (In pAIperclips, this would correspond to "Release the Hypnodrones!")

If anything, I would hope any outcome against big tech would level the playing field when it comes to attracting talent, and create an environment where working on true “moonshot” tech was not so risky.

At this point, maybe we need all of the talent just to try and keep the "Hypnodrones" out of the hands of evil hackers?


I used to think this, but I've come around somewhat. The economy as a basic premise is expected to grow at least 3% a year or bad stuff starts happening. Obviously no kind of exponential growth is sustainable, even at a low rate. The best minds are getting sucked into this at least partly because the work is necessary to keep the economic wheels spinning. If we give up on having an average % of yearly growth, we're committing to living in an economy that's a zero or negative sum game.

So yes, we are stagnating scientifically, but it's not necessarily for no reason. The longer we keep running the economy as is, the more smart people are going to have to be allocated to figuring out how to keep up with the exponential growth our system demands. Unfortunately, no one seems to have cracked steady-state economics, so it looks like we'll be doing this for the foreseeable future...

Additionally, I don't know how we're supposed to keep up with this absurd need for exponential growth without leaning hard on technology (at least if we presume we don't want to wreck the planet more.) I feel like big tech is actually doing something important with regard to growing the economy disproportionately with the physical resources they consume.


> The economy as a basic premise is expected to grow at least 3% a year or bad stuff starts happening.

That isn't really a thing. The 3% growth aligns closely with population growth (including immigration), and that's where it really comes from. If the average company makes widgets and the population grows by 3% then they hire 3% more people and sell 3% more widgets to 3% more customers, and the company is worth 3% more.

The unsustainable thing is really unlimited population growth, but steady state populations don't require some kind of cataclysm. They work a little differently, in particular people have to on average work longer before they retire because there are fewer working people to support them in retirement, but it's hardly mass starvation and nuclear war. And even the drawbacks are offset by things like automation -- not as good as both automation and population growth, but still probably not worse than your grandfather had it.

The real problem is that there is no iron law that says people have to spend their working hours on pie-growing activities like automation and honest medical research instead of pie-stealing activities like adtech and patent trolling, so if we have rules and institutions that make the latter more profitable, that's what we get.


Is it really unthinkable that a fixed population could each year turn a finite set of resources into a set of resources that is 3% more valuable?

If a tree falls in a forest, and someone turns it into some chairs, while planting at least one tree in its place, then that has made the economy more valuable (assuming there are people who want the chairs, and that leaving the fallen tree in place would be less valuable than having newly planted ones).

Zero percent growth means that every time someone creates something valuable out of less valuable materials, there has to be an equivalent amount of value destroyed somewhere. I suppose that entropy takes care of the destruction, to some extent, but it seems arbitrary to try to limit value creation to precisely match that level.


> Is it really unthinkable that a fixed population could each year turn a finite set of resources into a set of resources that is 3% more valuable?

No, of course not. The bulk of that 3% has always been population growth, but economic growth outside of population growth is possible -- it's even beneficial -- it's just not mandatory. There is nothing forcing it to happen, and the bad thing that happens if you don't have it is that you don't have it.

But that's still not great. Humans have had periods of stagnation that have lasted hundreds of years, and nobody really wants to live the lifestyle of the middle ages anymore.

Which is the point. If people spend their time optimizing click through rates and suing each other then humans don't immediately go extinct, but we also don't get any further toward curing cancer or colonizing other planets. And that's bad, directly, on its own, not because of some nebulous impact on economic indicators.


US real gdp growth per capita has been 1.33% for 2010-2016 [0] which is not an insignificant part of 3%.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(real...


It's an even less insignificant part of "3%" given that real GDP growth during that period was less than 3%, in part due to declining birthrates and a population growth rate below historical norms.

But it's also kind of cherry picking numbers because that bracket starts just after the housing crisis and is measuring the recovery. The 2000-2010 bracket was 0.71%, compared to historical numbers around 2% (but also historical real GDP growth of more like 4%).

You also have to discount some amount of real GDP growth for the general category of "banks doing bank stuff" which increases GDP a lot on paper even though it's somewhere between net neutral and actually destructive of underlying value, e.g. credit availability and low interest rates causing higher housing prices and higher total interest paid which both get booked as GDP "growth" even though they don't imply any actual productivity increase and negatively impact quality of life for working people.

The result is that population growth is the majority -- but by no means the entirety -- of "real" real GDP growth. (There is also an interesting effect where population growth has non-linear effects, because more people results in both more minds working on productivity improvements and more people who can benefit from each of those improvements, resulting in a quadratic productivity increase with population.)

But it's concerning that real GDP growth per capita has declined from its historical norms since 2000, even though we now have even more "banks doing bank stuff" than we used to. And it's probably not a coincidence that this has coincided with increasing amounts of regulatory capture and business consolidation.


Zero percent growth means that each person made the same contribution as the previous year, not that there was no value added to the world. We shouldn't conflate income and wealth.


Completely agree with the last paragraph. The economy is tilted way too far towards incentivizing value extraction instead of incentivizing value creation.

Don't know that I agree with some of the previous stuff though. Even if we assume a steady state population, if the economy doesn't grow every year, we're playing a zero or negative sum game literally by definition.

RE your second paragraph, I both agree and disagree. As far as I can see (at least the US system) is predicated on ~4-7% economic growth being the way that people systematically grow relatively small savings into a large nest egg for retirement (not that this appears to be working particularly well, see your comments on pie stealing.) If we assumed a steady state for the population and economy, I don't see how people working for average salaries can set enough aside for retirement (without pushing themselves to a pretty low standard of living) without the benefit of ~4-7% compounding.

I have a developer's salary, so I could probably put away a couple million cash before my retirement even without the benefit of compound interest paid by economic growth. That's not the norm, or even the average though. Participating in society/the economy has to be an attractive enough proposition to incentivize people to do it, or bad social problems start popping up. In a steady state system, I don't see how we can make an offer more attractive than "Enjoy your subsistence lifestyle up to retirement, so you can have barely enough to have a subsistence level lifestyle in retirement."


> Even if we assume a steady state population, if the economy doesn't grow every year, we're playing a zero or negative sum game literally by definition.

It's really two independent games that just happen to have the same prize for winning. The people stealing the pie are the bums regardless of whether any other people are growing it.

And zero sum games aren't always the end of the world. If everybody is fine in year zero and then nothing changes, everybody is still fine. Not as good as things getting better, but stable. The problem is if things are getting worse -- increasing levels of consolidation over time. But you can have that even in the presence of growth. It's an independent problem.

> If we assumed a steady state for the population and economy, I don't see how people working for average salaries can set enough aside for retirement (without pushing themselves to a pretty low standard of living) without the benefit of ~4-7% compounding.

Interest rates and ROI are related to GDP growth, but they're not the same thing. Time value of money is a thing even in the absence of economic growth.

Suppose every year Farmer Joe has to borrow money to buy seeds and pay workers to plant, grow and harvest the crops. Then after harvest he sells the crops and uses the money to pay back the loan. Every year it's the same, every year he starts and ends the year with the same amount of money, there is no economic growth, but the lender is still earning interest on the loan every year.

Meanwhile the lender is your 401K, so it makes money over time which you then spend down in your retirement and die with the same amount of money in real terms as your parents did, and so on indefinitely.

And the interest rate has to do with supply and demand for currency, for which economic growth is a factor (affecting demand), but not the only one. The other obvious big one is that the Fed sets interest rates (supply) by fiat, as well as other things like bank reserve ratios.


I agree that in a vacuum, zero sum games aren't necessarily a bad thing. However, in our hypothetical economy, the actors obviously aren't at parity for their level of skill at playing the game. In a zero-sum economy, consolidation is inevitable. At least in the presence of growth, the avoidance of consolidation is a possibility.

> Suppose every year Farmer Joe has to borrow money to buy seeds and pay workers to plant, grow and harvest the crops. Then after harvest he sells the crops and uses the money to pay back the loan. Every year it's the same, every year he starts and ends the year with the same amount of money, there is no economic growth, but the lender is still earning interest on the loan every year.

> Meanwhile the lender is your 401K, so it makes money over time which you then spend down in your retirement and die with the same amount of money in real terms as your parents did, and so on indefinitely.

I feel like you're making the assumption that the agents in this system don't make an attempt to consolidate (and obviously if and when they do, they will have varying levels of skill at doing so.)


I listened to that podcast as well and have listened to Thiel/Weinstein talk about tech and science stagnation in past podcasts. If you listen to Thiel, he'd say that going into any engineering field in the 80's-2000's was a bad idea EXCEPT for computer science.

I'm more worried about ambitious and smart people putting their talents in investment banking and management consulting. Tech has been a great place to go for smart and scientific based people in part (at least) because it has been unregulated.

I'm not saying I'm against regulating big tech. But if anything, we need more people in the sciences and the sciences to be a good career choice over banking/consulting rather than to make computer science a somewhat less attractive career goal through more regulation (potentially leading to lower salaries).


The problem is, whenever something bad happens, people look to regulation, but they never look at the existing regulation to see how it might have led to this. They always want to add something new rather than fix what's already there.

One of the strongest defenses against monopolies is adversarial interoperability, because it blunts vertical integration. It allows a new competitor to replace one piece of the supply chain and still use the rest of it, even if it's operated by the same conglomerate competing with them for that one piece. Because then you can have five companies replace the five pieces one at a time and end up with competition on all fronts, without them having to find each other and coordinate ahead of time before any of them can act.

But we now have multiple laws conspiring to prevent that in tech. CFAA, DMCA 1201, EULAs, patent thickets, etc. We get monopolies because we passed laws that thwart competition. So how about we do something about those laws rather than adding new ones, when the incumbents are likely to have more influence in drafting the new ones than the average user or startup founder?


>ambitious and smart people putting their talents in investment banking and management consulting

Honestly, I think that is a big factor (along with a reaction to perceived political biases) in why people think tech companies need to be broken up, beyond any real or imagined monopolistic practices. Silicon Valley really shook up the business world at an accelerating rate over the past 2-3 decades, and it's threatening to people accustomed to the status quo, especially those who invested decades of their lives into a career in [finance, management consulting, high-powered law/politics] because they thought it was the best way forward.


That, or we've already seen where this road leads: our best and brightest talent being used to make rich people richer. Nobody with a high-paying job in finance is losing that job.


Personally I suspect another aspect are ugly aspects of (high school) social order and anti-intellectualism. If the people they look down on start succeeding they get really mad.

Virtually nobody complains about bankers and businessmen taking their jobs with outsourcing and wasn't taken seriously. Automation and AI creating more productivity instead of just moving jobs? The "nerds" doing it? "SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING!" hysterical reactions and rage. If tech becomes involved in an industry suddenly it is the great satan like Tesla, or any of the artificial meat companies and spoken of as not a part of the industry in spite of larger and smaller existing players and even foreign businesses receiving more respect.

The mythical long lasting tech-bro insited as everywhere from countless hit pieces which hold homeowners blameless for rising rents along with other business jobs but engineers and programmers solely are clearly the great evil responsible for high rents.

It harkens back to deep feudalistic stupid where the peasants and aristocracy distrusted the merchant and miller for making money from working smart and being "anomalys" to the social order. Money not made through serfs or conquest? Clearly deeply unnatural and wrong. Just look at Belphegor - literal demonization of discovery and ingenious inventions. Judging by actions and impacts alone he should be an angel.


Regulation can be freeing, especially anti-trust when it prevents incumbents from getting so large they take over. Things like privacy regulations are somewhat stifling, but over time they can become a lot more easily abstracted. There's no reason all the tooling around data pipelines we have right now can't take into account GDPR out of the box and with a simple API.


>There's no reason all the tooling around data pipelines we have right now can't take into account GDPR out of the box and with a simple API.

Actually, I can think of lots of reasons. It's certainly possible but it won't ever be simple and well-generalized.


Some of the best and most impactful AI research comes from Google DeepMind or Facebook AI research. Those ad clicks are subsidizing a whole lot of scientific advancements.


You're not wrong, but that argument can kind of be used to justify almost anything.

"Yeah, what we're doing to make a ton of money right now is skeevy and not adding any actual value the world, maybe even creating negative value, but we promise we're going to spend all of that money on research to advance humanity."

Google and Facebook actually did end up doing that, to good effect, but 1) was it worth it? (maybe, especially if we get benevolent superintelligent AGI directly out of it and Google / FB actually agree to not monopolize or abuse it), but 2) how many times should we accept that excuse from companies? If in the next 10 years, a hot up-and-coming new startup begins to grow rapidly and looks like it'll end up in the FAANG tier, should we also trust them when they say their questionable tactics are worth it because they're gonna spend that money on cool science stuff?


What's the alternative? Increase government R&D spend to the same levels as FAANG companies? But will they have enough infrastructure to support that? For example, Tensorflow runs on Google's global datacenter infrastructure - this is the only way these latest monster transformer models can be trained, using thousands of GPUs or TPUs.


The alternative would be to create a tech or hard science company which doesn't choose advertising as their core business model. Many large and successful tech companies already do this, and are contributing a lot to ML research and other fields. It's just that Google, Facebook/Instagram, and Twitter, some of the largest companies in the space, are inextricably tied to that model.

Apple and Netflix don't share the same problem, and that gives them a lot more freedom in other areas, too (but perhaps resulting in them having less total user acquisition potential than Google or Facebook; but of course it's needed less, since every customer is directly giving them money). Uber also doesn't share that problem, and they've contributed quite a bit to the community, though of course they have other problems.

The main problem isn't tech companies or monopolies, IMO; it's the tech companies that survive only by cannibalizing both non-paying users and non-paying non-users who happen to visit just about any website on the Internet (because odds are any given website is using Google Analytics or has some sort of Facebook or Twitter integration). It creates bad incentives.

Of course, there are also separate debates to be had over general issues of monopolization and working conditions (like Amazon fulfillment workers not being able to take bathroom breaks without risking accumulating points which may result in them getting fired), and control over different media platforms (like Google owning the only real video platform in the world and Twitter owning the only real microblogging / "town square" platform, and issues that may come from how they regulate users and content). The advertising stuff is just the cherry on top.

I do think trying to regulate or break them up over the content policing stuff would be a huge mistake, though. Staunch conservatives say they want them to relax their standards and stop being biased against conservatives; staunch liberals say they helped the spread of disinformation, racism, and fascism and should have tighter standards. I think if either side has their way, to any degree, it will be a disaster.


The alternative would be to create a tech or hard science company which doesn't choose advertising as their core business model...It's just that Google, Facebook/Instagram, and Twitter, some of the largest companies in the space, are inextricably tied to that model.

The main problem isn't tech companies or monopolies, IMO; it's the tech companies that survive only by cannibalizing both non-paying users and non-paying non-users who happen to visit just about any website on the Internet (because odds are any given website is using Google Analytics or has some sort of Facebook or Twitter integration). It creates bad incentives.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if the Internet had true micropayments? Culture would no longer dance to the whims of advertisers and executives at huge companies. There would be a more direct connection between creatives and consumers. Then again, we've tried instantly collated online mob rule in the form of social media karma. The nearest equivalents, in the form Patreon supported Instagram models and YouTube stars like PewDiePie and Jake Paul, on the face of it, don't seem to point us in the the best direction.

A huge irony is that the public wants free stuff, and historically has railed against micropayments. However, while they complain, it would seem that microtransactions are going strong, though they are arguably exploitative.


I'm not sure how good of an idea micropayments are. If every single website and app you ever used required micropayments, using the Internet would just be annoying. You would be incentivized to use as few services as possible, for one.

They work for certain kinds of things, but I don't think we'll see the day where people are regularly sending money for the right to open a blog or create an email account.

I don't really know what the answer is for large scale apps with non-paying users. Hopefully other forms of monetization become more popular.


It wouldn't connect people across the borders anymore and would create firewalls across countries just based on money. Ironically even places like HN wouldn't work, sure for wealthy Americans, but not for poor Indian or Ukrainian hackers just about about to develop their interest in tech.


Exactly. Ads suck, but paywalls around every single thing on the Internet would suck more. Plus you can usually block ads, but not paywalls. Even if you couldn't ever block ads, they'd still be preferable to the universal paywall scenario.

But some kinds of companies should definitely look more into accepting donations and offering premium options in exchange for ad-free viewing plus extra features. I'm paying for YouTube Premium to avoid seeing ads (and they have like one premium show that's pretty good), and I think that's a pretty good deal.


What do you mean? " (like Amazon fulfillment workers not being able to take bathroom breaks without risking accumulating points which may result in them getting fired)." that isn't true and it's very misleading for you to post. I am a full time Amazon employee and I use the restroom as many times as I want in a day without being questioned and what are these points you're speaking of about accumulating points? You don't get fired from things that simple, you get fired from write ups, misconduct behavior etc.


Governments and government research institutes already are building supercomputers for research in domains like physics or biology. Given the increasing relevance of AI, it's only a matter of time that they also build supercomputers that have AI accelerators.


Government spend can't create a Google. Google depends on huge compensation packages to pampered engineers who get sushi for lunch and Segways for entertainment. A government facility of this nature would be political suicide.


Historically, a lot of successful public research was funded by either defense or intelligence agencies. It's hard to escape from "doing skeevy things"


That's true, but they already started out skeevy. Everyone already knows that stuff is gonna be skeevy. There's no other way for militaries or intelligence agencies to work. It pretty much has to be that way.

But some new tech startup certainly doesn't have to be skeevy to make money or to be in a position to contribute to research.


> That's true, but they already started out skeevy.

That's not true. A lot of times, the projects will start before funding.

> But some new tech startup certainly doesn't have to be skeevy to make money or to be in a position to contribute to research.

That is true, but you're also missing the reality of startups. Just survival alone is hard. Stubbornly sticking to idealism doesn't help that cause, which is why people take money from both China and Saudi Arabia.


It wasn't "basic" research though, as the basic research in AI happened a few decades ago. Google is industrializing Hinton's work, but hinton created most of it in toronto.

That said, industry can definitely do basic research work (e.g. Pharma does). But what google is doing is acquiring any company that might be a real threat to them.


Are you suggesting Google doesn't have real academic style research groups?

Surely you jest.

Didn't they even crossover into biology on one paper? They're a profit minded entity yes, but no way is it all shaving nanoseconds off of click throughs.


Sure they have, and they even do basic research. But they didn't make "the most impactful" basic research in ANNs.


The broader theory of Peter Thiel is that most of these advancements have been done in the rather unregulated ‘world of bits’, while areas related to physics, chemistry etc. have seen less advancement.

Playing Go against an AI opponent while in a 1970s, crumbling, subway system would make for a good analogy.


Google acquired DeepMind...


Sure, but Google also acquired Android, Apple acquired Siri, and Microsoft purchased DOS. They were still developed for years under their new companies. At some point, it does become their own project.


To be fair, DeepMind is still fairly isolated from Google.


I imagine you could make a convincing counterargument that Big Tech has done plenty of great things for developers at large. We could look to the historical example of Bell Labs under the ownership of AT&T, which brought us the C programming language. Today we could look to examples like Google's Material Design, the Go and Dart programming languages, or Facebook's stewardship of React.

You can take the cynical view that people at Google are just trying to get people to click on things, which, true, is their primary business model. But you can equally say that employees of Google (who work on Search) are trying to provide a good search experience to everyone around the world for free.

Tangentially, for Amazon, they deliver some of the best customer experience I've seen. I can start a Live Chat session at 3 AM (with a human) when I have a problem. It's not just getting people to buy crap.


while AWS delivers some of the worst.


> create an environment where working on true “moonshot” tech was not so risky.

this obsession with moonshot ideas is just as damaging as these big companies turning customers into statistics and sucking up talent and feigning innovation. long-term technological development simply does not occur in the united states. EVERYTHING is under accelerated schedules and thus entirely short-term. i do not know of a single entity other than possibly universities, although even they are suspect, in the united states that focuses on long-term research and development goals. there are many long-term investigations that are waiting to be undertaken that are not moonshot ideas. the united states has a real danger of falling behind due to this hyper-focus on short-term results.


But if you look at the things that were considered "science fiction" back in the day, like video phones, or augmented reality glasses... stuff like Facebook's Portal or Apple's ARKit or Microsoft's HoloLens really do fit the bill. The basic science is done in academia but there's no academic team that would create something as idiot-proof as Facetime.


I always feel like widespread high bandwidth cellular networks and ubiquitous smart phones are underappreciated in those sorts of discussions. We just achieved ubiquitous global high-resolution-video level mobile communication. I think this is very likely to go down in history as being on the order of the printing press in terms of technological breakthrough. We're still incorporating the fallout from this into our society. But apparently we're already stagnant!


> I definitely feel like there’s this illusion of tech innovation coming from these big companies that suck up all the tech talent, but at end of day the best and brightest are working on optimizing ad clicks (FB, Goog) or getting people to buy crap (Amazon) or working on incremental hardware improvements (Apple).

That seems ignorant and simplistic (or maybe just using a definition of "innovation" that is less generic than I have in mind). The vast majority of employees at those companies do NOT work on the main money generating product, it's such a small number compared to the rest that it's a running joke inside companies "hey you guys make the money, we burn it".

I feel that there has been made a lot of progress in many areas coming from people working for those companies. Not saying that maybe more progress could have been made if those people worked for smaller companies or for academia but I completely disagree that big tech hiring lots of smart people just automatically means they're all spending time doing some "useless" (to your mind) thing.

Some of the very few things I'm aware of:

- large improvements to distributed systems

- large software building/testing frameworks

- maintenance, scheduling, utilization of large datacenter hardware and networks

- all sorts of specific features being pushed in open source projects (like the Linux kernel) to support these companies' usecases

There's a running theme in most of those things of course, it's all to do with operating large datacenters and that makes sense (and I'd argue that without having had bigtech it would be much less likely to have the business support/money to work on such problems).


Peter Norvig had a point several years ago regarding the power of data. For instance, he mentioned some of the data Google collected could measure the effects of relativity. So in some ways, having the data makes it easier to “discover” something versus one genius toiling away in a room. This seemed to be where the lowest hanging fruit has been, particularly at grasping human or social behavior. Due to the need for data and tooling initially, research and discoveries shifted from academy to corporations. In some ways though, FOSS packages and the cloud are bringing research back into academia. In some ways you could make the argument that the government with the Manhattan project, NSA, etc. has driven technology more than academia for the last 70 years. I think you also could make the argument or an interesting research project could be investigating whether there historically has been cyclicality to theory and then practice, ie french enlightenment movement vs. US founding fathers.


The only corporations targeted are those that are not contributing to the current ruling party more than the opposition. Which is why only a tiny number of monopolies are being targeted.

So at best there will only be competition only in those areas dominated by the sliver of companies that happen to offend the current White-house. And new entrants to the field can expect the same treatment. Of course, the companies targeted for breakup may just play ball and change their campaign contribution strategy.


I'm not sure Apple has ever been known for "moonshots" but they have been great at introducing best-of-breed versions (iPod, iPhone, iPad...) of existing tech products (MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, etc..) and then improving them every year. This is a good thing!

Now if they could just start improving the MacBook Pro again...


> create an environment where working on true “moonshot” tech was not so risky.

I think its not the risk that prevents moonshots, but the consolidation in the industry and the moats that are built around the bigs.

The network effect in social media and tech platforms works both to provide more value to users but also to stifle innovation - Amazon's customer is no longer the customer, its the merchant selling on their platform. Google and Facebook's customer is ad buyers. Think about how many new useful features could be built using the networks that are not ad-friendly. I find that Facebook and Twitter to be more like the preventer of socialization, rather than the enabler. They prefer you engage with products, videos and ads than each other, and when engaging with each other not in meaningful ways. The biggest roadblock to innovation that makes an improvement to people's every day lives is that if its not on one of the platforms or ecosystems that already exist it matters little


It is risky. Why work at a unproven startup doing something really hard for $150k and equity of questionable value when you can work at a FANG for $350k/year doing less work?


For founders I don't think the calculus has changed much. You do it because you believe in it and have the stomach or resources to take the risk. For workers it has changed a bit from 10 years ago. I just call this making hay while the sun shines - I don't think the massive salaries at FAANG will last forever.


If you are a founder who takes on investments, the only thing “you believe in” is an exit strategy. Don’t drink the kool aid. Most founders are not trying to feed starving children.


Whatever your purpose, you believe in it, whether thats this is a business plan that will make me a bunch of money, or it'll make an impact, you still gotta believe.


Yes it’s expected for you the founder to believe - but if you aren’t the founder, understand that you are just a pawn no matter what they say.


But you do need to believe that you can make an exit.. that is a big IF. Vast majority don’t.


yeah say what you want about Thiel, but he has had 20/20 vision in seeing where the trends are going. I also agree with Weinstein's assessment that silicon valley is hiring engineers that are not there to do business. It certainly feels like every redesign of the major apps is becoming needlessly inefficient and uninspired.


Do you have a link to the podcast?



I think it depends on what your definition of "We" is. As a species, the scientific progress humans have experienced in the last century is unparalleled. But the United States is falling behind because we are not doing enough socially to promote careers in STEM and health.


STEM and heathcare training are hugely overemphasized, hence the poverty wages claimed by many such fields.

It's the delusion that market mechanisms can create sustainable socially beneficial (vs. unsustainable and. socially parasitic) business models within these domain that's the problem..


If Peter Thiel is so concerned about scientific progress, maybe he shouldn't spend so much time and money supporting a regime that's openly hostile to science. Just a thought.


He'd likely argue that, despite the prior regimes' professed love of Science!, the same trends were present before. I.e. the podcast's content wouldn't have changed at all in 2016 vs 2019.

Short-term control of the executive branch in the American system is fairly disconnected from the multi-decade incentives that move the directions of scientific research.


We've been hearing this "both sides are equally bad" argument from Republican apologists for years, but by now there's a mountain of evidence that it's simply not true. Republican efforts to gut and silence science within the government have done profound damage.


This maybe a surprise to some people but just because you support a group or a person that doesn't mean you agree with or condone everything they do.


what about machine learning?


Perhaps Peter Thiel should allow his engineers to work on something other than “yet another spying tool” or financial transactions apps.

This is like Bezos saying he’s getting into space because the planet is going to hell.

“Look at these problems I helped create. Everyone better let me guide us elsewhere.”

Thiel won’t openly admit it’s self aggrandizing leaders like him that distract people with babysitting his wealth, instead of allowing them to chase their own novel ideas.


Really it is worse than Bezos. While there are legitimate things to blame on him a delivery centered infastructure is more environmentally responsible than a retail one - moving N pounds of stuff is cheaper than N + the weight of a human and their separate vehicle. Even if we make optimistic assumptions of public transit use there is less stuff moved around.


doesn't he run thiel fellowships for that?


I spend a couple hours a week practicing guitar, and dozens of hours doing computer work.

I don’t consider myself a guitarist.

“Freedom to get stuff done.”, it says on the Fellowship site. For the few young folks that qualify.

The raw numbers tell the story better than a stat: some folks, not most folks. Most folks gotta shovel the money onto the pile so bits and pieces can trickle down at the rate he approves.

This isn’t limited to Peter Thiel. It’s the same old: kowtow to aristocrats.


Thiel is an immigrant whose dad was a Chemical engineer. Aristocrat he is not..


That’s a heart warming story.

He’s a first generation aristocrat who has gone on at length about the right of the powerful to dictate the outputs of the less powerful.

He believes he’s truly unique and above the rest of us, without seemingly considering none of us will lie down and die if an early end should be his fate (I hope it isn’t, of course).

Such a smart guy, I suspect he’d agree there’s no causal link between his existence and the rest of us. He leans on convenient emotional frameworks society has carried along for years.

Oh of course he does a bit of philanthropy to point at. How gracious of him to hand pick those who should have their minds to themselves!

He thinks Elizabeth Warren is dangerous. Says nothing about the doofus in Chief, but the contender with relatively little power. Be afraid of change! It might prove I’m wrong!

The common features of an aristocrat: money and indifference of those without money.

Or at least that’s my take given his writings. Maybe have a peak and see.


You only become first generation aristocrat once there is at least couple more generations. You might like him or not, but he got what he got and not inherited it or gained it from a name.


That’s not what the definition of the word aristocrat is? It has nothing to do with HOW the wealth was acquired. Just that one is a member of the privileged class.

The origin of the word too has nothing to do with how the money is acquired. Just means “member of the elite class”.

It seems you’re attached to a romanticized/nostalgic spin on the term. Not concerned with the actual definition.

Pedantry fail.


Aristocrat is a bad word.

Oligarch is more appropriate.


Plutocrat serms more appropriate.

Aristocracy is rule by the Best


Thiel's IMHO bizarre politics aside, I really agree with him on this particular subject.

I have believed for quite some time that we entered a kind of minor dark age around the early-mid 1970s. Virtually everything we're doing now from spacecraft to AI to the Internet was invented before 1970. For some reason around that time we largely stopped making major advancements. There are a few exceptions (CRISPR/CAS9, graphene, Li-Ion batteries) but nothing since then compares to the insane rate of progress experienced in the 50s and 60s. We went from horse drawn carts to moon rockets and supersonic aircraft in 50 years with a great deal of the progress happening between 1940 and 1970. That's 30 years of a rate of innovation orders of magnitude beyond anything in human history.

I am not certain of the cause. It's tempting to blame proximate things like the rise of neoliberalism, de-funding of basic research, or bureaucratization of science, but I wonder if the cause wasn't something deeper. It really seems to me that everything went off the rails around 1973. Take this graph for example:

https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/thp_201...

Right around 1973 is when the decline of the US middle class really started. The effect just didn't become really acute until after the 2008 super-recession.

Here's a few of the ideas I've brainstormed:

* Did the collapse of Bretton Woods (a.k.a. the Nixon Shock) break something about the fundamental incentive structure of the economy?

* Was the generation that grew up on television less able to think innovatively? Did they start taking power around the early-mid 70s?

* Did we get scared? Was the rate of progress during those years so fast that it caused some kind of deep subconscious "future shock" backlash that manifested in things like the luddite wing of the green movement or the rise of fundamentalist religion?

* Energy got much more expensive after the oil shocks of the 70s and after US production of the really cheap easy oil peaked. Maybe rising energy costs cut margin from the economy?

I'm open to suggestions. I really think "what happened in 1973?" is a historical mystery.


That graph only goes back to 1947. If it went back to 1847 (I know, data isn't available) I suspect that we'd see the immediate post-WW II decades as unusual rather than a natural baseline.

Why was the economy so great for median American workers between 1945 and the mid 1970s?

One factor was that the USA was the world's largest manufacturer and running an export surplus. It was relatively easy to run an export surplus and offer good working conditions to the rank-and-file because there was limited competition (self-imposed isolation from the world market economy by Communist states, various market economies still recovering from the war).

Some of the economically glorious post war Golden Age was also built on environmental debt. Businesses faced less regulation on environmental, health, and safety issues and correspondingly spent less on pollution control, worker protection, and compliance documentation. Just don't drink the water or be "unlucky" on the shop floor. Building a $10 million chemical plant in 1965 counts toward that year's economic growth even if it's going to become a $100 million Superfund site by 1985.

Another factor was that there was a huge prolonged bounty from basic and applied research that came out of the physics revolutions from before the war. Nuclear fission, quantum mechanics, and relativity were all known by the 1930s. By 1970 most of the low hanging application fruit had been plucked. There's still plenty of basic research to do, and we still find new applications over time, but we haven't had another physics revolution like QM that just pops out one delightful surprise after another.


So I see two possible explanations:

1) Moore law started at the seventies and its about to end within few years. It might be that we got too lazy?

2) The economy become much more market driven/competitive. I.e. management went from technical to financial. Hence when the goal of innovating is financial , it is much more short term.

The reason for optimism today are :

1) Moore law is ending, hence we should see many new hardware architectures and the software to follow.

2) Open source - companies can start innovating without the need to build basic staff.


Your first is really fascinating. I've seldom heard anyone talk about potential negatives from Moore's Law. It seems like you're suggesting that the rapid improvement of computer tech over the time since 1970 sucked all the air out of the room. All the brains, capital, and hype went there.

I'm not convinced it's enough but it is pretty interesting.


As a general rule, innovation in software always follow hardware. E.g. deep learning.

With Moore law, it was always the case that general purpose CPU will always catch up to special purpose one (e.g. This killed sun and SGI), so it was hurting innovation.


> With Moore law, it was always the case that general purpose CPU will always catch up to special purpose one (e.g. This killed sun and SGI),

And it also killed the Lisp Machines before that.


Google could fire 80% of their workforce. They are warehousing people to prevent them from innovating in other parts of the economy.


There are several places where I feel proper regulatory oversight would improve the situation, however they can all be reduced to a single phrase.

Proprietary platforms that don't inter-operate are problematic.

Email is OK because like phone service providers anyone is free to run their own, and choose to use the services of a competitor while still inter-operating on a shared communications structure; much like actual postal delivery.

IRC is OK as a protocol (from the fair and inter-operable test), but was never designed to scale up to operate at this level.

Proprietary platforms, like Facebook, Discord, etc flavor of the week which have strong market dominance but which are closed are actively problems. That's an area where monopoly is clearly being used to keep out competitors and restrict innovation.

In Google's defense in this area they did try XMPP, and (as I recall) that experiment ended up as a failure since other platforms intentionally implemented a very poor baseline minimal interoperablity in ways that made communicating between platforms a very 'red headed step child' experience. That's why I believe whatever does come next has got to check all the boxes AND make them requirements of inter-operating, not 'extensions'.


Hmm...as I remember it xmpp federation with Google worked just fine for us until Google turned it off.


The problem with XMPP is that it set Google's IM products back by a decade in terms of features. Google IMs still blow chunks.

It may now be possible to make an okay XMPP experience, but proprietary/custom protocols continue to be simpler to implement, better-performing, and less hassle overall. We need something completely unlike XMPP if we want good federated IM to become a thing; something that isn't a bloated, exotic, "extensible", "well-formed", streaming XML protocol.


While I agree with your characterization of XMPP, it can still function as a gateway into richer platforms. There's no reason to turn off the lights. Chat hasn't changed that much in 40 years.

That said, if Google wants to earn some much-needed goodwill, it could work on a new federated chat protocol. Something binary and concise that handles all of the modern emoji, stickers, outbound call initiation, bots, polls, etc. And if you could use it to build all of {Slack, Messenger, Telegram, IRC, Hangouts} on top of it, that would be amazing. Especially if it were federated and had a reference implementation.

Commoditize your compliments, right? Anyone at Google looking for a project for promotion?


Don't forget iMessage in there. The social pressure to not appear as a green message bubble is intense and helps protect Apple's market share. They promised to open it up a long time ago, but of course that'll never happen voluntarily.


> Proprietary platforms that don't inter-operate are problematic.

The fediverse is coming along very nicely. Gab's joining of the ActivityPub network is a strong demonstration that you don't need to be part of a bubble to participate, and you don't need permission from anyone to join.

I think if Facebook, Google, and Twitter keep up what they've been doing, the fediverse has a pretty good chance of growing into something that can be used to reach sizable audiences.

I've been looking at ways to get my local, provincial, and federal government agencies to join the fediverse as well, as I think that's probably a better way to do public status feeds than relying on some opinionated Californian megacorp. I'm thinking maybe a slick publishing system that also proxies Twitter.

(INB4 “hurr durr spoken like a smelly nazi, flagged!”)


Much like postal delivery where I get a ton of u wanted flyers (spam) and the post office seems to help those make sure they get delivered to me rather than let me opt out entirely.


> In Google's defense in this area they did try XMPP

The Google that would even consider anything like that died when the founders left.


Anyone notice that the Justice Department under an administration who supposedly doesn’t believe in regulation all of the sudden is interested in regulating companies run by the “liberal elite”? Does it not worry anyone that an administration that’s not exactly friendly to the states where these companies are located are now all of the sudden cracking down on only certain big businesses?

Every time I post about the government is rarely the answer I get push back. Be careful what you ask for...


Maybe so, but in this case the consumer will benefit. These large companies have been abusing their monopoly or near monopoly status to push their own politics aggressively. It's no surprise that the other side of the political spectrum would react negatively.

That's why issues like free speech for all are so important. Someday, your enemies might be in charge and if you've been eroding human rights because you're powerful enough to do so, someone more powerful may show up and use the landscape you helped create against you.

The winning move for tech was to not become politicized and just focus on being a neutral platform. Hopefully this threat of regulation will scare some of the overt politics out of our industry and everyone will benefit.


You really think the government run by an administration hostile to tech companies is going to do anything that benefits the consumer? Do you trust any politician to have both the integrity and the knowledge to pass laws that benefit anyone except themselves and their donors?

While tech companies aren’t “becoming politicized” you better believe that the people who don’t share your interest are.


I don't trust the government regardless of who is in charge of it. I also no longer trust our big tech companies as they've demonstrated values I don't share: censorship and unnecessary editorializing mainly. Both of which drive companies to operate in a more centralized manner.

In this case, I see the threat of government intervention to be beneficial as tech will have to adapt to circumvent it or a whole new breed of companies will arise that have immunity baked in. Ideally this would be a focus on decentralization so that the government can't intervene in operations at a technical level.

tldr; our current big tech landscape are overly centralized and behaving badly. The government is not trustworthy but a fight between the two will help healthier tech companies emerge.


The difference is that a government with more power has the right to take my liberty and my property....

You notice that there is no attempt to regulate Walmart which is much bigger than Amazon?


> The difference is that a government with more power has the right to take my liberty and my property....

I agree but that's not what this particular discussion is about.


Censorship of what exactly? You're free to self host your own services. At what point does censorship become a catch-all for muh free speech. These people want to push agendas and then when people don't want to hear it they are like.. muh free speech has been violated. But as soon as you go into a live chat and give a differing opinion then they block you. No one is going after retail stores for kicking people out or banning them when people cause a scene. Why can't tech companies kick people off their platforms that they host and own? If the government wants to start an all inclusive social network that doesn't block people then let them. But when they try to tell companies that they need to be broken up for some misconception that they are censoring conservative posts (although they never post proof but love to spread the fear) then you are just welcoming tech to be controlled by a political ideology which is far more dangerous. I especially don't trust this administration to "do the right thing" and expect most people supporting this are not trying to "do the right thing" either.


> These large companies have been abusing their monopoly or near monopoly status to push their own politics aggressively.

I don't think there is evidence to support this statement, but even if there were, pushing a political agenda is not an anti-trust issue.


> Maybe so, but in this case the consumer will benefit. These large companies have been abusing their monopoly or near monopoly status to push their own politics aggressively. It's no surprise that the other side of the political spectrum would react negatively.

At least we can agree this is all political.


"Overt politics" = "free speech". There is no reason why private companies have to be politically neutral.


When they operate as a platform they should be politically neutral and allow free speech for their users. Companies being overtly political isn't illegal but it is consumer hostile and just a bad idea.


There is no one forcing you to be a consumer of Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon. They aren’t infrastructure companies. If your ideas have enough merit, you should be able to get your ideas out there. For instance, Farrakhan [1] (who was deplatformed) has been getting his message out for decades before there was an internet.

[1] I have no idea about any of his beliefs or why he got deplatformed. I just know he’s been around forever.


> There is no one forcing you to be a consumer of Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon. They aren’t infrastructure companies.

I think that's debatable (which is precisely what the antitrust investigation is looking into).

Regardless, I'm not forced to stand up for them either. I don't agree with how they are operating and I'm glad they're being looked into.


You really don’t think there is any other means to get your word out than to depend on Facebook and Twitter? HN users are always telling musicians that they should make their money from touring and selling CDs. Why couldn’t people get speaking engagements, sell books, create podcasts (no you don’t have to be in the Apple Podcast directory, you can subscribe to a podcast directly from the RSS feed), newsletters, etc.

Yes, I do feel the bar has to be a lot higher - as in burning babies at an alter besides cute kittens -for an infrastructure company like an ISP or a domain register to ban you.


Time to make sure that all those conservative businesses in Indiana can't kick me out of their stores for expressing my free speech and political opinions in their store, otherwise they should be regulated. /sarcasm


What if the creators of a platform decided that it's their prerogative not to host certain political ideas on their platform because they disagree with it? Should they be forced to support speech they disagree with?


If they claim common carrier status, then yes they have to allow all legal speech.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_carrier



Since when did Facebook claim “common carrier status”?


If you want to be cynical, maybe it is just people sticking their hands out. Why aren't these companies "donating" like the National Association of Realtors, Boeing or Comcast?

Here's a list of companies and organizations[1] that actually push their politics aggressively. Maybe a couple of those take advantage of their market position less than the big tech companies.

I do think strengthened anti-trust legislation and actions would benefit the economy, but I don't think these companies are the worst offenders. It is a harmful perverse incentive to punish companies because they are not playing politics enough.

[1] https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=s


What politics?

I’m 100% behind the idea of deplatforming trolls, even if they claim it’s a political message. “Don’t Troll” has been a good rule since Usenet days, and I don’t see why it should be otherwise.


Who gets to decide who's a "troll" and who's not? That's political.


Whoever owns the platform. If enough people don’t like the policies of the platform. They are free to create their own. I have no problem with Facebook and Twitter deciding how their platforms should be used.

I do however think that infrastructure companies like ISPs should be neutral. I don’t even consider hosting companies as infrastructure companies. As long as I have an internet connection, I can host whatever I want to.


Why is it not a matter of justice instead?

Preserving the peace, protecting the rights (of others), protecting property?


The King of France would have claimed all the French revolutionaries were trolls.


They were though...


But the French revolutionaries couldn't just go and create another France, in the way that some of the Nazis on Twitter moved to Gab and or some of the trolls on Reddit moved to Voat.

Turns out that a platform full of Nazis or trolls isn't as popular as one that isn't. But that should surprise no one.


There is no such thing as a canonically neutral platform. Your idea of neutral is someone else's idea of horribly biased and vice versa.

> These large companies have been abusing their monopoly or near monopoly status to push their own politics aggressively.

When Apple refused to comply with the FBI's order to unlock someone's iPhone, were they engaging in unacceptable politicking? Are you arguing that the correct and "neutral" thing to do would have been to hand over everyone's data on request? Are you also opposed to the tech companies that support net neutrality and backdoor-free encryption? Do you actually get angry at ALL politicking, or only when their politics differs from yours?


It's certainly bizarre to watch Republicans argue that we can fix this by giving government bureaucrats more control over private businesses and Democrats argue that we should break them up and then rely on the market to fix it for us.

Of course, it's hard to establish a connection between what this president says and actual policy action on the ground, but this is also a president who has been open about his willingness to order the DOJ around, so who knows.

That's the whole reason why there's been a strong norm around DOJ's Independence. Without that you never really know what their motivations are.


I don't think the President has been at all shy about this take either, especially with Amazon (see: https://www.thestreet.com/world/trump-vs-bezos-a-history-of-...). Recently the President tweeted a video about the Defense Department's 10 billion dollar contract that was during a segment called "swamp watch".

It's really hard to discern which, if any, of the President's actions translate into real policy decisions.


This certainly looks like it's because they didn't bend the knee.


Strange bedfellows, as they say.


Elizabeth Warren has been calling for the same thing. Seems relatively bipartisan.

https://www-m.cnn.com/2019/03/08/politics/elizabeth-warren-a...


While I do believe that Warren really believes in regulation and isn’t doing it out of spite, that doesn’t make it a good idea.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


It’s step 1 in a negotiation process to drive a laissez-faire attitude to anti-progressive communities and content. This step is called ‘obtain leverage’. You can see companies like Amazon preemptively putting filmmakers like DeSouza in your recommended play list.


Not the whole - he’s playing 3D chess while his opponents are playing checkers - argument.


Most of these companies have specifically used the power of their products to advance the political ideals of their executives and owners. It was wrong when General Electric did it, it’s wrong when Google does it. Seems like Google, Facebook and the like just thought they were too powerful to suffer any consequences.


As opposed to every other major company that uses profits from their business to fund lobbyists?


I think that, if you believe the FAANGs are dominant enough to be considered infrastructure, you can make a case that their putative political bias is worse that other company's lobbying. At least lobbying results in the introduction of bills that can be debated in a legislature with public input (via calling your representatives, as well as protests and counter-lobbying from other interest groups). The FAANGs' decisions on how to regulate their platforms are subject to no vote or other public input before enactment.


There is nothing “infrastructure” about any of the FaANGs.


> The Justice Department is opening a broad antitrust review into whether dominant technology firms are unlawfully stifling competition, according to department officials, adding a new Washington threat for companies such as Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc. ’s Google, Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.

> The review is geared toward examining the practices of online platforms that dominate internet search, social media and retail services, the officials said.

Interesting that Microsoft, the only company worth over $1 trillion, isn't mentioned.

The focus is on online platforms and they don't have anything dominating in that field. I wonder if it'll stay isolated to those companies or if Microsoft will get looped into this because they're so large.


One thing Microsoft has going for it - they’ve been through this process in the 90s / early 2000s. Plus, their OS is clearly not a monopoly, their web browser is now based on Chrome, their a distant #2 in the cloud space, their a very distant #2 in search, etc

Literally, I can’t think of one thing Microsoft is top dog in besides OS.


MS Office. They're 100% dominant in word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.


..but they don't leverage their MS Office dominance to harm the market. You can access MS Office with the open HTTP(S) standard. MS Office works on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and in WINE. It follows the OOXML standard which you can open in LibreOffice as well.

Apple -> These $%^&ers don't allow anyone to repair their own devices, they don't allow a different distribution method on iOS/iPodOS devices hence quickly evolve to unfair market advantage.

Amazon -> Undercut anyone at any cost while having the worst review system on our planet.

Facebook -> RIP privacy, just see the recent scandals.

Google -> Probably something involving Android...

Microsoft? Oh I can write a book about my terrible experiences with that company. I hated this company and everything it stood for for about 15+ years or so (at least 1995-2010). Recently though? Not so much.


> Google -> Probably something involving Android...

Hopefully IE^h^h Chrome as well.

> Microsoft? Oh I can write a book about my terrible experiences with that company. I hated this company and everything it stood for for about 15+ years or so (at least 1995-2010). Recently though? Not so much.

Don't count on me for a book, but otherwise I think I agree to a large extent.

I still don't trust them though, and from time to time they tend to remind me not to let my guard down.


Is that still true? I’m guessing Google Docs has a non-trivial marketshare. Probably not bigger than MS but real competition.


The EU discussed forcing Microsoft to open up the Office document formats as part of the antitrust remedies they enforced against Microsoft (in the same way that they forced Microsoft to open up the protocols used for Windows Server to communicate with Windows clients), but ultimately they did not do so.


True , but i can't think of a way in which they used this dominance against others lately. Antitrust action aims to fix competition, and they won't do it if they think it's not broken.


Google Docs is pretty big, too.


> their a distant #2 in the cloud space

I'd challenge that assertion outside the SV world. 2nd place definitely, but distant no so much, at least in the circles I work in.


According to this analysis of Q4 2018, AWS has twice the market share (32.3%) of MS's (16.5):

https://www.canalys.com/newsroom/cloud-market-share-q4-2018-...

I would call that "distant."


This is completely subjective, but I wouldn't consider a 16% difference all that distant, myself. ("Twice" can be misleading; 2% is twice 1%.)


Which is funny, because (as I recall) this was exactly Bill Gates' argument during the antitrust rulings, that tech was fleeting and they could lose their top spot anytime.

Granted, that was over 20 years ago...


...and they (1) altered their behavior because they were in those court proceedings AND (2) lost only to open source competitors (Firefox, Apache, Linux, etc). MS had already declared that IE6 would be the last version of IE, and only revisted that after Firefox brought out tabs and hit a 1.0 version that managed to reach the unthinkable portion of 10% market share.

Had Firefox been coming from a company that could be bought, it wouldn't have remained available to hit that 10%, and MS would have retained their chokehold on everything, possibly until the iPhone became significant (that arose from Apple, which MS literally invested in to be able to argue they still had competition).

MS today is indeed a different beast - but I've never been convinced the antitrust suits were misplaced. The market of competition was _broken_ and consumers suffered. Even if breaking up MS wasn't required to eventually rebalance the market, that doesn't mean all the steps along the way did nothing.


>MS had already declared that IE6 would be the last version of IE

Never heard of this. Do you have a source?


I remember it distinctly from when it occurred...but I'm unable to find any news articles from the time (in my defense, i'm struggling to find any news articles from the time AT ALL - my google-fu grows weaker) - so while I remain personally confident, everyone else should consider this unproven allegations.


But a big reason they lost their top spot was due to the antitrust proceedings.

Thanks to antitrust, they weren't able to force (as much) their garbage IE and Bing. The market was able to confidently invest money in creating other browsers which created better products.


Also, of all those companies, Microsoft is the only one operating a search engine in China.


Microsoft isn't a part of FAANG so they don't get mentioned often


Microsoft enjoys a very close relationship with the DoD.


Based on that this sounds like it may be more related to the politicization of the Justice Dept. under Trump than concern for actual monopolies.

> The review is geared toward examining the practices of online platforms that dominate internet search, social media and retail services, the officials said.

Trump has railed constantly that "conservatives are being censored" on Twitter and Google, which is utter nonsense, so this report in addition to the reports from last year of him wanting to tax Amazon just because Jeff Bezos owns WaPo and they don't print flattering stories of him daily sounds more likely to me the reason for an investigation than anything else.


I'm happy that antitrust is being explored. I do think free markets need to be protected, and the last few decades attitude of "if it's good for consumers it's legal" is short sighted. Something can be good for consumers right now, but stifle competition and be bad for consumers eventually.


> "if it's good for consumers it's legal" is short sighted

It's worse - the attitude has been "if it can theoretically lower prices in the short-term it must be good for consumers" - they've totally ignored all the perils involved in large scale mergers.


They should first take a look at the Telco/Cable companies and the lack of competition and upgrades. Plus they need to look at the laws these companies are writing to prevent municipal Fibre etc. from seeing the light of day too.


The cable companies are a natural monopoly, just like electricity providers et al. It doesn't make sense for two companies to lay two separate sets of cable in the ground.

ISP competition isn't going to happen, at least not in the wired/cable space. They need to be regulated with that reality in mind.


Natural monopolies are supposed to be more regulated than telcos currently are. There's a word for it, it's called a utility


This argument can be extended to any market with barrier-to-entry level high fixed cost and low variable cost. That's basically every large tech platform (search, social, ecommerce, cloud).


I agree with you but the Cable company/ISP is only a natural monopoly as it applies to infrastructure. All the other bundled services on top can still be offered through a competitive marketplace.

Regulate internet infrastructure like any other utility and our problems are solved.


>The cable companies are a natural monopoly, just like electricity providers et al. It doesn't make sense for two companies to lay two separate sets of cable in the ground.

With all due-respect, electricity companies haven't had to lay separate lines in the states since FERC Order Number 888[0,1] in 1996 I think it was and the EPA 2005[2]. The entire premise has been defunct for over a decade now.

From what I understand, if a line falls under the common carrier utility definition, the owner of the line cannot refuse access to other providers and can only charge a non-discriminatory tax/leasing-fee for use of the line.

I think that this is precisely why we see the back and forth about the common carrier definition with the different regimes of the FTC regarding ISPs and cable providers.

The issue - in the case of the cable companies/ISP providers - isn't regulation of the monopoly but the classification of their business and how the law then affects them. If they do not fall under common carrier utility rules, then the monopoly will always remain because even breaking them up - such as in the case of Ma-Bell - still ensure monopolies in those more localised coverage areas.

Back to the electricity providers: If the argument of utility providers having to lay lines had any merit, you'd still see telephone poles with hundreds of lines on them - originating from both operating and now-defunct providers (the worst be from the defunct providers because there's no maintenance on them) but we don't see this in the states (as far as I'm aware) today, yeah?

[0] - https://www.ferc.gov/legal/maj-ord-reg/land-docs/rm95-8-00w....

[1] - https://www.ferc.gov/legal/maj-ord-reg/land-docs/order888.as...

[2] - https://www.ferc.gov/whats-new/comm-meet/042006/M-1.pdf


The degree of saturation on that infrastructure, as well as the quality of its maintenance, are the important things that competition could improve. Allowing resellers on the same ancient, overloaded infra does not make the user experience better.


I disagree, I am a customer of a unique not quite municipal network called Utopia. I pay Utopia a monthly fee for my dedicated fiber connection, and I have about 10 ISPs to choose from offering speeds of up to 10Gb/s. It feels like this model is spreading like wildfire here in Utah. I hope it catches on elsewhere.


Discussions about monopolies aside, why do it this way? What service do the ISPs actually provide?

Wouldn't it make more sense for Utopia to just provide internet, given that they run and are directly charging you for the infrastructure?


That's fake competition. The fiber is still a natural monopoly and needs to be regulated to prevent the owner from imposing evil upon all the "competing" ISPs.


Natural monopolies have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. Software has high fixed costs since you have to pay expensive developers to write the code first, and then low marginal costs to run it on relatively cheap servers. That fits the definition perfectly.

It's just that the market for cloud computing, mobile, search... Are so large they can support multiple companies so they tend to actually be natural oligopolies.


While natural monopolies may often (or even always?) have high fixed costs and low marginal costs, it does not at all follow that any industry with high fixed and low marginal costs lend themselves to natural monopolies. And there's no reason why they need to be oligopolies, either.

That's just a function of many founders' desire to flip their company for personal profit rather than building a sustainable long-term business. And a function of big-company executives wanting to further enrich themselves at the expense of their employees during big-co mergers.


Not sure how much there is for the Justice department to explore on this front. The courts have been relatively consistent in their interpretation of "consumer harm," and that interpretation is decidedly narrow.

I think congress will need to get involved if we are going to relax the requirements on consumer harm for anti-trust cases.


This is only recently. The Antitrust Paradox shifted this thinking after being published in 1978, and now it's considered by many in power to be the bible of antitrust enforcement. There's no reason that can't shift though.


We're IN the phase of big tech being bad for consumers right now.


I feel like my relationship with Amazon is a pretty solid value proposition for me as a consumer of both retail and AWS.

It helps that Amazon is less overtly political than the other tech giants. Obviously their employees lean left, but with a few notable exceptions like refusing to sell Confederate Battle Flags they have been quite good about allowing different views to be expressed by content creators.

I'm starting to have my doubts about Google though. The quality of their search has been noticeably deteriorating, as has the gmail spam filter. The main reason I haven't switched to another service is that I didn't use a custom domain for my address. They are also overtly political with their YouTube demonitizing.


> they have been quite good about allowing different views to be expressed by content creators.

Not really. They've been removing, censoring and burying conservative authors for a while now. If you do some googling, you'll find plenty of articles about it.


Tech companies have failed to buy enough politicians over the years.

That message is clear.

The need to employ the lobbyists who not only put big petroleum in a completely unassailable position, but got the government paying vast amounts of money to that industry.


When the career antitrust officials at the FTC recommend antitrust action against Google back in 2012, it was the political appointees (from both parties) who shut that action down.

>The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday faced renewed questions about its handling of its antitrust investigation into Google, after documents revealed that an internal report had recommended stronger action.

The 2012 report, from the agency’s bureau of competition, said that the agency should sue the Internet search company for anticompetitive practices

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/technology/take-google-to...

I'd say the bribes for both parties had been working as intended.


It wasn't shut down, a deal was settled between the FTC and Google. You can mince words and call it a political conspiracy, but saying it was shut down is misleading when Google changed how it handles mobile patents to appease the FTC:

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2013/01/googl...


According to OpenSecrets [0] the "Communications/Electronics" sector spends significantly more than "Energy/Natural Resources" on lobbying. SV has a big presence in DC.

https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=c&showYe...


Creating a large number of jobs across different regions of the country and being responsible for the strength of the petrodollar are two highly consequential factors that need to be mentioned when explaining why the government is propping up fossil fuels. Our government is plenty corrupt, no need to make it sound worse than it is.


Not to mention that energy independence is a good thing when you remember the oil shocks of the past.


Tech independence is just as critical in the modern world. Look at China’s rush for full-stack independence.


Or perhaps they just bet it all on Hillary.


> Tech companies have failed to buy enough politicians over the years.

I doubt it. Facebook getting away with a mere $5B fine from the FTC is a sign that the big tech companies aren't in much danger IMO


The #1 issue with big tech is that the major players are under-utilizing their talent base. It's never been easier to start a software company (idea, laptop, Stripe Atlas, AWS/Azure/GCP.. GO!), and yet the over-all number of new business in America is declining.

The threat of anti-trust, and perhaps trust busting, will spur competition and innovation. The US owes it to it's future citizens that STEM talent is not underutilized before it's too late, I support efforts to end this stagnation.


For many startups, the only goal is to get acquired by the big players. We know fully well that acquiring competition is a perfectly viable strategy to reduce competition. It's a win-win situation for founders, investors, and the big companies.

The founders and investors get a huge payday, the big companies get useful IP and employees, and are free to bury the product (see google graveyard).

It's sad. When startups release amazing stuff, they put pressure on the whole industry to up their game; consumers get better products, companies are forced to innovate, and good by-products come along.

But in the end, money talks.


I don't feel underutilized. In my area of research I am working on what I know very well. I am getting paid far more than I could hope to make running my own business (if you account for the fact that many businesses fail and very few become unicorns). People say we are just optimizing ad sell, but I work in security and am getting to work on very cool problems in the space. I know what being underutilized feels like and I do not feel that here.


It would be nice if the big high-paying tech companies instituted some kind of profit-sharing or internal VC kind of thing. The worst part of working at these places is when you feel like the work you do is kind of pointless and that you are constrained by what management wants you to work on.

Or they could do part time. I'm sure there are a lot of people making $500k/year who would be perfectly fine working two days per week for $200k/year instead.


It sounds like tech. hasn't bought enough Republicans yet. That's all these investigations are about apparently. Otherwise Sinclair media, for example, should be investigated for having an actual monopoly over US local news TV stations.


I'd guess that Trump has an axe to grind with the 'liberal' tech industry. I'm sure Amazon is in the crosshairs.


I somehow doubt that the review of the major telcos, which are tech companies, will be all that involved.


The big tech companies are a major asset to the economy, driving growth and jobs. Breaking them up is a pretty risky proposition.


Agreed. This is all very short sighted.


I think the economy is resilient enough to bounce back. And the point of antitrust prosecutions is to prevent long-term damage to the economy.


Any other country would dearly love to have even one of the FAANG companies. Big companies are what drive economies, prosperity, employment and tax revenue, not mom-and-pop companies. Small companies are the future, but big companies are the now.

(That doesn't mean I propose government action to prop up big companies. Just that one needs to think twice about breaking them.)


Is there anything keeping this out of the anti-encryption debate?

Is it possible that AG Barr could say, "We will go after you for anti-trust issues _unless_ you agree to weaken your privacy tooling", etc?


Matt Levine (Bloomberg news letter) was good in this today: roughly speaking, if "we" as a society want to regulate Tech companies we can just pass laws to do it - stop relying on handfuls of poachers-turned-gamekeepers to extend their remits and just legislate properly

And if our legislators cannot do it, then that's is we the voters problem.

It's all in our hands.

Now - what is the vision? :-)


Q: Does anyone know if it is typical for antitrust action to last into a new administration once it has started?


In the past it was traditional that the justice department was somewhat separate from the administration - thus it would have been scandalous, in the past, if an administration had come in and cancelled investigations undertaken by an exiting administration - or at least scandalous if there could be any suspicion of corruption being the cause of the cancellation.

So big companies have generally donated to political campaigns and as such they should not, traditionally, have their investigations quashed because this would raise suspicions that there had been a quid pro quo.


They may not have cancelled it but when the 2nd Bush administration came in the Justice department became much more lenient towards Microsoft than it was under the Clinton administration. The ultimate agreement was a sweetheart deal compared to what they were facing under the previous administration. It took the Europeans to impose anything with any kind of teeth.


That was my understanding as well.

Do you know/think/recall if that change a result of the Bush administration having a more lenient stance towards regulation, or was it a result of one administration almost always reacting to the prior one?


The DOJ normally acts with some degree of freedom with new administrations merely refocusing its most visible efforts. A large scale probe would be extremely unlikely to get dropped completely but could be marginalized.


Thanks. For some reason I had the impression there was a large change, but I had no basis for that.


The DOJ is not an independent agency, despite what the media attempts to lead people to believe. The Constitution clearly states that the executive power, which includes law enforcement, is vested in the President. The DOJ has no authority to enforce laws except that of the President.

That said, political considerations do mean that Presidents are hesitant to overtly step in on specific cases and usually prefer to set general objectives. However the President can step in on a specific case if he wishes and that is actually explicitly part of our system. The President can set aside a conviction with a pardon or prevent it from being prosecuted in the first place.


Could it be the big 5 returned too little amount of jobs to USA and are getting a wrath? Or is it just standard SV bashing to please the conservative voters? I suppose (as European) USA is getting heated up for another presidential election.


>The President can… prevent it from being prosecuted in the first place

No.


You are completely incorrect. The President can pardon before a prosecution even begins so long as the pardon is after the act itself[1]. He can also direct his Attorney General or US attorneys to drop a case because he is their boss and they serve at his pleasure.

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


Q: Is antitrust action typical at all?


Good point. I guess I was asking for p(drop action with new admin | antitrust started in last)


Unfortunately for the current administration, it would be cheaper to remove them from office that it would be to comply with their investigation. A future administration may be much friendlier towards tech.

Big tech will likely drag this out as long as they can.


A future administration may be much friendlier towards tech.

Unlikely. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-03/the-next-...


I don't know about the USA but here in The Netherlands things being said during elections certainly aren't set in stone. To name two examples: empty promises get made, and rhetoric gets used. Now I know the latter is true in USA even far more but I am not sure on the former.


Empty promises get made all the time. This isn't one of them. Facebook wouldn't survive a Warren administration, e.g.,—assuming that Margrethe Vestager leaves it intact.


I really do not think Warren is messing around. Now her actually reaching the presidency is far off and certainly not guaranteed.


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