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'Break up big tech's monopoly': Smaller rivals join growing chorus (reuters.com)
168 points by techslave 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 151 comments



I definitely see the argument for why Big Tech's position in the US is arguably too dominant.

If we look at the picture globally, Big Tech might be necessary for the western world to prevent the proliferation of China's semi-state-backed tech giants outside of China.

Could breaking up big tech in the United States mean ceding position to China's tech giants?


No, it would be enforcing the same requirements on chinese companies as the US enforces on their own. If they don't then fine them just as much, to have access to the US market.

It is not like cheap manufacturing, where the US has to cede ground to China because they simply can't compete. Tech is where the US excels.


This is rapidly changing. On the international stage we're competing with state backed monopolies that don't suffer the same burden of internal US anti-competitive policy. It may damage access to the US market, but the expanding global market is becoming more appetizing anyway. Consider China's Belt and Roads initiative.


I would argue that monopolies have a detrimental effect on innovation, as they kill disruptive new technologies in favor of their established services. Having a strong anti-competitive policy may help us excel over China.


Even given actual monopolies (I strongly disagree with the current claims) for competition it is a push and pull thing whose specifics vary by situation.

Monopolies have better economies of scale as an intrinsic real advantage but tend to be more hidebound and less innovative as they both don't need it in the moment and from a fear or cannibalization. But not always for innovation - they may also have the resources to devote to R&D that smaller players would lack.

The mechanism of the monopoly also has significance for it determines what needs to be done to maintain it. Although having a "better" source like leveraging a prior runaway success is no guarantee that they won't turn to bad ways to preserve it like regulatory capture with no other purpose served.


Xerox PARC had a ton of innovation and world-class R&D, but consumers didn’t benefit from any of it until smaller disruptive startups made good use of it.


Whereby the disruptive startups disrupted the very core of the innovations, namely one integrated environment where every component was 'aware' of the capabilities of others, and you could build and interconnect them in a visual way.

Instead we have house of cards, layered up on top of each other, without regard for the bloat, impedance mismatches, (intentional) incompabilities and cognitive load that brings with it.

Nicely done...


> No, it would be enforcing the same requirements on chinese companies as the US enforces on their own

How are they going to do that?

> If they don't then fine them just as much, to have access to the US market.

That's not the issue, the Chinese tech companies would have more freedom and support for the international market. Access to the US is just one part of that and there are already obstacles to that market. The main point is that the US companies would be hamstringed in a way that China companies would not.


> How are they going to do that?

U.S. jurisdiction extends on its territory and across the U.S. dollar. If a Chinese company wants to sell to no American companies and never use dollars, they're free to ignore American law.

More pointedly, we've gone through this before. With the USSR. Competitive markets develop better than command-driven ones.


That's not enforcing the same requirements on Chinese companies. That's one possible effect, but certainly not enforcing the same requirements.


Chinese tech companies have a vast internal market to grow within (similar to the U.S.), but contrary to the U.S, once they reach a certain size the government actively helps them rather than hinders them. Once they reach this scale they are selling in international markets, and it becomes apparent to Western countries that they should try to fight and at least regain their own domestic market power.

Huawei threatening to become the global standard 5G telecommunications equipment manufacturer is a good example.

China's formula of state capitalism is likely to win in winner-take-all markets. Tearing U.S. giants into pieces would only hurt our competitive position.


This is why many are calling for the US and allies to decouple from China. Why continue to do business and empower a state that is not engaging in fair and free trade practices? For that matter, why is China still part of the WTO if it is not going to be a team player in the game of international trade?


As we saw with Western business folks who were victims of Chinese industrial espionage, they would rather have whatever access they have to Chinese markets than rock the boat.


Interesting question. Maybe, maybe not. If such a move were to foster greater competition, one might think it would help US tech innovation.


If we look at the picture globally, Chinas tech giants have been steadily growing for years despite Big Tech's dominant position.

Could leaving big tech in control domestically mean ceding position to China's tech giants?


This is akin to asking if the U.S. should have adopted Marxist policies to beat the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Why shouldn't American innovation, free enterprise, and the spirit of competition be sufficient to defeat Chinese tech giants? Surely nimble American startups should be able to disrupt their state-sponsored dinosaurs.


"Surely nimble American startups should be able to disrupt their state-sponsored dinosaurs."

I would recommend researching more about the Chinese technology industry. They aren't dinosaurs. Huawei, Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, and Xiaomi are all serious contenders due to Government support and their overall productivity.


I don't doubt they're powerful. Certainly American firms involved in specific areas of research, such as A.I., deserve more government support. But why should Americans abandon our spirit of capitalism and entrepreneurship, of startups? Forming corporate monopolies to defeat Chinese technological might is a betrayal of our nation's values. Is such a Faustian bargain truly worth it?


on one side I completely understand the need for healthy market competition in tech industry. However, you have to realize the amount of innovation and products FAANG companies (and Microsoft) have rolled out -- it is unimaginable how we would be able to function equally efficiently both at personal and commercial level.

On personal level for example, I use gmail/google search/rely on google to tell me weather and search news and do FX rate conversion, do some unit conversions, etc. I used to own android based phone and it made life simple to have gmail compatible app and the likes.

Similarly, I can use amazon for shopping, trying out / learning AWS and even get kindle to read ebooks should I desire. heck, amazon provides entire infrastructure to efficiently deliver my parcels --- better than my Government's mailing program.

- Similarly majority of Business world runs mainly on backs of Microsoft (when it comes to corporate tooling and computer OS).

- Even take example of Apple -- their products are worldclass and its integration with its own suite of products makes life so much simpler -- iPhone, iWatch, their storage offerings, etc.

Now imagine having to utilize products between dozens of companies instead of these giants who you don't know would be able to survive in long run. And those blaming these tech giants for lack of collaboration for a market standard -- sure, that is correct but remember it was much worse to integrate products and services among different vendors back in 1980s and 1990s when you had dozens of medium and large companies.


That’s what people said about AT&T before we broke it up in 1982 - that it would hurt innovation. This was the company that had Bell Labs after all.

Instead, we had an absolute revolution in communication technology since - from fax lines, to modems, to cell connections, to the commercial internet.

It turns out that innovation happens more often when there is a lot of competition in the market. And the market figures out how to build standards for interop - you don’t need all of the products from the same company to get them to work together.


Your claim about innovation thriving when there is competition may be true, but your examples run counter to that. Commercial fax machines, modems, TCP/IP, Arpanet,and cell phones all predate the AT&T breakup.


Did we really have an absolute revolution in communication? I'm not so sure there is evidence to back that statement up. Or at least none to suggest that innovation happened because if the breakup


>realize the amount of innovation and products FAANG companies (and Microsoft) have rolled out

This is common misconception.

Look at the list of acquisitions made by FAANG companies. For some reason their internal innovation dries up very fast and they buy innovation.

FAANG companies innovate with checkbook and grow using network effect.


When a FAANG company makes an acquisition, what's the effect on consumers? Would they be better off if acquisitions did not happen?


Quite often there is an "acquishutdown"; the company is bought for the team not the product, or the product fails to integrate, or is neglected. So if you were happy with the product, you're worse off after an acquisition.

Yahoo was particularly bad for this (Flickr, Delicious).


The answer to this will vary hugely on a case-by-case basis. I don't want to speculate on what the sign of the net effect is.

So without trying to answer the question one way or the other, I just want to share this link which came to mind: https://ourincrediblejourney.tumblr.com/


> what's the effect on consumers?

Consumer-welfare standard is not the only concern of antitrust regulation.


Everyone functioned more efficiently before the Internet or Windows for that matter.

Travel agents could find flights in DOS applications much faster than nowadays.

Life has turned into a gigantic useless digital bureaucracy.


Now anyone can find fights, and fairly quickly.


> but remember it was much worse to integrate products and services among different vendors back in 1980s and 1990s when you had dozens of medium and large companies.

Precisely because of the lack of standards. A monopoly is a standard of sorts, but it does not foster progress.

Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google all owe their existence to the open web. Apple's iPhone wouldn't be nearly as successful if they couldn't attach to nearly any modern cell phone network. Even Microsoft owes success to the commodification of the PC.

All of the success we attribute to capitalism is due to competitive free markets. Like democracy itself, it should not be taken for granted. We could lose it and we'll be much the worse off if we do.


But how can we account for the innovation that didn't happen because they were crushed by companies that could offer a similar service for free?


Has a break up ever worked historically? The US telecom industry is not a great example of competition.

I'd much prefer laws preventing user lock in and lowing the burden of starting a competitor to these companies.


You might be too young to remember, but phone calls used to cost money. So I think you could say the break up was in fact a success.


Landlines are still expensive. You can easily shop around with cell service though, thanks to public management of the spectrum.


They cost money after the breakup. In fact "free" long distance is a fairly new thing.


Hmm. Well it is more of a matter of not continuing to pursue and enforce anti-trust after the break-up of Ma Bell. It needs be a program not a one time affair.


This piece starts with Tile and Apple but that isn't going to go anywhere in terms of antitrust. Tile's grievance is just the standard multi-decade grievance of a startup that gets sherlocked by Apple and incorporated into the OS. Unless they have patents that Apple is infringing, there's really no case for them to make.

Google on the other hand is a straightforward antitrust case. I think Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp could potentially also be undone. Amazon seems to have been trying to expand the market definition to all of retail or ecommerce, at least in their PR, but an antitrust case against them would likely define the market more narrowly to particular verticals (like book sales).


Really I am sick of the endless hit pieces with definitions so bad that the authors belong in the Hague from dinosaur companies who don't realize the reason they fell isn't because of some bogeyman but because the problem can be found in the mirror - they are the architects of their own downfall.

Translate the subtitle "Smaller rivals join growing chorus ahead of Congress hearing" sensationalist hit piece into reality and you get captain fucking obvious "Rivals: Please hamper our competitors - to grandstanders interested in maintaining lobbyist money shakedown".

The Basecamp complaint is nonsensical even in the framework of nonsense of Trademarks. If I announce that I am selling Yamaha Jetskis and have the actual product (not a counterfeit) their job is to shut the hell up.


> definitions so bad that the authors belong in the Hague

As someone from nearby The Hague, um, what does this mean?


It was an oblique reference to the trials for travesties and torture. Calling offering and promoting store brands monopolistic abuse for instance.

Not an implication that the trials are illegitimate or anything like that.


"The Hague" is used as shorthand for the ICJ.


This has to be done by the ground up by offering better alternatives rather than trying to tear down these tech companies.

Also don't use their services. It is pretty easy to remove most of Google from your life. I don't think Google search is even that much better than the alternatives anymore (I am using Duck Duck Go and they are about the same these days tbh).


Competition is not the answer to monopoly, since it the monopoly status which is preventing competition in the first place. This is why antitrust laws exist.


GP claims there is healthy competition, eg ddg. Therefore I guess by your claim that monopoly blocks competition, there's no monopoly, unless you want to claim DDG actually sucks, which would be an unpopular stance to stake here on hn.


The claim could perhaps be rephrased as stating there is no (substantial) competition. For instance, Sailfish OS is technically a competitor to iOS/Android, but it is by no means one with any considerable market share.


Yes it is. Internet Explorer had something like 95%+ share on all browsing traffic and then someone brought out a better alternatives (Firefox and at the time Chrome). Internet Explorer is no longer dominate. It is now dead.


Using Microsoft as an example to argue that monopolies aren't bad shows you are either very young or were not paying too much attention in the 90s. The reason Chrome even exists today is because the US & EU governments forced Microsoft to support other software and companies better.


I do remember exactly what happened back then and what you state couldn't be further from the truth.

> The reason Chrome even exists today is because the US & EU governments forced Microsoft to support other software and companies better.

Chrome came well after Firefox (2008 versus 2002). Many people were fed up with IE due to poor security and performance and were evangelising Firefox online.

> Mozilla has produced its own browser, called Firefox, that is enjoying a surge in popularity as increasing numbers of people and organisations tire of the security problems that plague Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3680942.stm

You could always install your own browser on Windows. There was nothing ever stopping you from downloading another browser and running it on Windows (in fact Opera at the time IIRC was doing well in Germany). Firefox was simply better than IE and people started using it.


> There was nothing ever stopping you from downloading another browser and running it on Windows

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17967243

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21621329

Many more stories if you look for "Microsoft Chrome" on HN.


This was completely irrelevant to the time frame.

People started changing browser 5 years earlier because Firefox was better than IE (in terms of security). People changed from Firefox to Chrome because performance in Firefox 3.6 was horrendous (browser tended to lock up) and Google Chrome was again better at the time.


With recent actions like that, you don't believe that Microsoft engaged in similar anticompetitive practices back in the early '00s, let alone in the late '90s?


We know they were. But it is irrelevant. Firefox was a better product than Internet Explorer and it clawed market share away from IE mainly because techies at the time were telling everyone to use Firefox instead of IE.

The fact that Microsoft was engaging in Anti-competitive practices actually proves my point. That despite all their meddling they started losing the browser war because Firefox was a better product at the time.


Can anything on the internet really be a monopoly? Can abc.com stop you from visiting xyz.com instead?


If the Democrats win the election this year, I think Google and Facebook both stand serious chances of looking at antitrust cases.

Google is in the most dire situation. They own search, own the browser and phone walled gardens that bring you there, own all the ads, knee-kick ad blocking attempts, have started taking over content (AMP), have a surveillance panopticon, control standards and neuter challenges to them (HTML5 is less semantic than XHTML), have surveillance devices in the home, embrace-extend-extinguish entire product spaces, kill products people rely on, don't offer support ...

Google has its hands in too many pies, actively hurts other industries, and they're creepy af.

Facebook might have less of a case against it, but they routinely flaunt Democratic lawmakers, shape public opinion in bad ways, and buy out the competition. Not a strong case, but I think it would be argued from a social good perspective.

Apple and Microsoft seem safe. I have no idea about Amazon, since they have competition in all their markets.


This is making the assumption that the Democratic party doesn't have a vested interest in these Silicon Valley giants. Democrats running for office might be slinging virtue, but I have my doubts that the party itself is particularly interested in breaking up institutions that are politically aligned with them. Having a Democrat president didn't stop the expansion of the surveillance apparatus or the monopolization of tech and communication.


I don't want to sound too blackpill, but anymore I really feel like political-party-based virtue claims - from both sides - are, by and large, expressions of virtue theatre that are designed to garner support.

Some people in politics really do care; but at least in the US, it's hard not to look at the state of things and come to the conclusion that the system lends itself to corruption that goes so deep that nobody with any real influence has a vested interest in "virtues" outside of using them to curry favor with the general public.

Again, I apologize for how jaded this sounds... but it's really hard to feel any other way.


It doesn’t sound too blackpill to me at all, in fact I’d take it a step further. I often wonder whether the domination of Google-Amazon-Facebook doesn’t really serve the interests of the “Deep State” making them essentially bulletproof. Why would you want to break apart a domestic company when they serve as an international parasurveillance apparatus? You hear more from the feds about Apple needing to backdoor their phones than the anti-competitive behavior or spying that the rest take part in. Like you said, it’s probably just lip service from (most) of the Democrats.


The fact that your comment here hasn't been downvoted to oblivion suggests to me the only beef most people have with what you've said is that you criticized the Democrats. I find this really surprising given typical HN'er political leanings.

Is this an indication of some sort of tipping point being reached? Have most people regardless of politics come to the same conclusion about the reality of the silicon valley surveillance-fueled power grab?


There's two things I see going on here. Firstly, there's the question of whether it's even possible for someone to be an effective politician without lying. There's also the possibility that America is so disinterested and morally bankrupt that politicians know they can get away with saying one thing and doing another. To make things even worse, the amount of scrutiny politicians are now under for even the most minor of things creates such a filter that only the politicians who are willing to spew PR bullcrap or are bulletproof to bad press will make it. It's a complicated issue because, let's say that political theater is far more effective at winning votes than telling the truth or actually helping the voters; an honest person is stuck in a sort of prisoner's dilemma where their most practical choice is to betray any sort of principles they have.


It's routine to make sure potential candidates who won't fall in line don't get their voice heard with equal footing. I would say the majority of the primary candidates in any election are cookie cutter. Trump and Bernie are rare exceptions I haven't really seen in my lifetime until recently.

"I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating."

-Boss Tweed


I don’t believe these companies are more or less aligned to one party vs another. The louder portions of their workforce may be liberal, but Mark, Satya, and others will wine and dine whoever they can to protect their companies. The only adversarial relationship I know of is Trump and Amazon.


There's a video of Google's first all-hands meeting after the election. It's like a funeral. Even the concept that someone could want Trump elected for a decent reason is utterly ignored. This includes and is led by the most senior of leadership - Sergey, Larry, and Sundar.

“Most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad,” Google cofounder Sergey Brin says as the meeting begins. “I find this election deeply offensive, and I know many of you do too. It’s a stressful time, and it conflicts with many of our values. I think it’s a good time to reflect on that. ... So many people apparently don’t share the values that we have.”

https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/09/12/leaked-video-googl...


That was in November 2016. It's highly likely that sentiment, at least with management, has changed over time- especially since this administration has proven itself to be as solicitous towards big business as prior Republican presidencies. Not to mention, the publicly-signaled sentiment of the visible figurehead leadership can be very different from the true opinions of the corporate board.


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Every individual has their subjective valuation of "decent reasons". Please do not proclaim yourself the sole owner of objective value. It is incredibly naive, and dishonest too. Reasons that do not seem decent to you will be so to others.

There are almost 8 billion of us. You don't speak for everyone. And I say that as a non-american who has no horse in the race.


Re: support.

We let our Android app lapse because their automated tools incorrectly picked up a compliance error. I couldn't figure out a way to escalate that--their support was crazy bad.

That led me to look harder at our revenue. Android was 1/10 of the revenue that iOS brings in, with much lower retention, higher support costs, higher rates of credit card disputes.

So that pretty much sealed the deal for us--there's no reason to invest in the Google ecosystem.


Good call. I don’t know why people like apps so much when browser are just as good. I don’t download an application to order Chipotles, but somehow it’s necessary on a phone.


I wouldn't say Apple is in the safe position, in particular Spotify v. Apple in EU which has a much more aggressive definition of monopoly. And Apple have way less experiences with antitrust cases unlike Amazon and Google... Their only argument seems "we're not a dominant player!", but unlike America, EU has been actively developing new market definitions to regulate tech sectors. And even in America, Apple v. Pepper gets revived...


There's no reason to assume Democrats are more likely to support anti-trust suits vs Republicans. Tech companies and the wealthy individuals that created them tend to provide a great deal of donor support to the party. Whatever the rhetoric may be, Democrats have been fairly supportive of tech up to now.

> Google has its hands in too many pies...

That's one of the reasons anti-trust is such a difficult case to make. Besides search, Google doesn't really have a dominate market share within any of their other offerings (not even Android counts since it's open source and comes in many flavors from phone companies). Their search service is free, so the only party that is effected by their market dominance (in how we've typically defined trusts) are advertisers. Before they can have a strong anti-trust strong case, the government needs to define data as an asset and the disclosure of that data as a cost to the data owner (the Google user).


I think it’s safe to say consumers would benefit from lower prices because companies wouldn’t have to bid so high on ads. We’d also possibly benefit from fewer ads on the main page, diluted ad tracking, more competition in other areas Google competes in (video, maps etc.) Ads subsidises the rest.


More ad competition doesn't mean lower ad fees, since the success of another search platform would depend more on the number of users, not the price of the ad. Suggesting lower ad fees somehow benefits users is a huge stretch.

The success of the other Google offerings is due more to the benefits of network effects, you'd need more than a decrease in Google ad subsidies to be competitive.


It might have one in online advertising? Are there any players aside from Amazon that aren’t Google in the online, automated advertising world?


Also a difficult case to make. They're dominant because users have chosen to be a part of their network, and advertisers want to reach those users. It's difficult to argue they engaged in anti-competitive behavior by making a highly useful/effective product people choose to use. Up to this point, network effects can't be cited as anti-competitive. Looking at the times when Google did use their platform to bully other companies, it still wasn't in a business they dominate (Yelp comes to mind). It's difficult to argue an algorithm producing search results is inherently anti-competitive.


I'm not very involved in the browser/web standards space, so I just started to realize the stranglehold Google has there. It's terrifying! I was quite involved in the 90's and reminds me of Microsoft with IE, but no one seems to care this time.

I've been wondering the last couple days how people can best support Mozilla, aside from simply switching to Firefox. And how to best share the message with others who aren't technical or normally wouldn't care, like my friends and family. I'm willing to put up with some conveniences from not using Chrome, but that might be enough for them to not care.


IIRC the Microsoft antitrust issues came from the fact that IE was the default browser and people didn't know they could switch. Chrome needs to be actively installed first before it can be used, so that whole issue is gone.


IE had way more market share than Google-controlled browsers; MS let the web stagnate and trapped users in their worst of breed browser. I don't really see that many similarities. Google is currently in a leading position because they're most dependent on the web to succeed (MS and Apple never cared much about it), and thus have poured the most resources into it. But I don't see a lot of cases of that dominant position harming the end user.


The DOJ has already begun anti trust investigations into the tech cos. If you think this is something one political party is for and the other against you may be in a filter bubble.


Honest question here -- if a monopoly is broken up legally, what prevents the two new organizations from collaborating in a way such that the combination is still monopolizing the market?

It seems to me that a purely organizational split would be nothing more than something on a piece of paper. The two corporations could still rent buildings next to each other, have lunch meetings together, gift each other money, and continue as before.


In the past, the companies formed from a broken up monopoly are competitors. The company isn't broken up just along business lines.


Interesting, but couldn't they choose to collaborate? It would seem to me that collaboration would be the path of least resistance, in which case they could largely maintain all their existing infrastructure and just effectively swap half their employee badges for ones with new logos.

Even if they were forced to use a different physical building, they could form a corporate alliance and share customer loyalty.

What makes them choose to compete, when given the choice?


Yeah, I don't think people have thought that far.

Seems easy enough for the broken up Instagram and whatsapp to instantly declare insolvency and close up shop while conveniently getting jobs for the newly formed Facebook photos app that would also be conveniently released at the same time.


I'd be more concerned about Amazon. For awhile I would literally search for "Google Home" on Amazon and I'd get Alexa devices.

Microsoft seems safest of all, almost as if they see the coming investigations and regulations.


Ironic, since their monopoly on the enterprise desktop is the oldest and most deeply entrenched. 20 years on and it's still commonplace for documents to be distributed as Word or PowerPoint files that will only display properly in MS Office. And there's the enormous ecology of Windows-only programs. I guess if your monopoly is around long enough people take it for granted.


Every time I search for a product lately I have to work to find a non-Amazon result.

At some point soon I will (re-)learn the search bar syntax just so I can cull the damn Amazon results.


And today is that day.

cats -site:example.com works on both DuckDuckGo and Google, except... Google Shopping doesn't give a shit about -site when there are sponsored links to be shown.

Search for, say, Anker, on google and -site:amazon.com removes amazon, -site:bestbuy.com removes Best Buy (nothing against Best Buy, it's just the first result I saw not including Amazon, so the easiest to check).

Flip over to Shopping and it's wall-to-wall Amazon.

So I have a new skill, but at the cost of knowing I'm screwed instead of not knowing. Fuck.


> Microsoft seems safest of all, almost as if they see the coming investigations and regulations.

Heh - it's almost as if hindsight is 20/20.


Apple's iPhone and App Store are far more of a walled garden. The whole Tile debacle the article opens with as well as the Spotify one and many other instances of them crippling competitors are ripe for antithrust too.

Similarly, I think what Amazon does with their Basic brand as well as them blocking Google products and other competitors off their stores could very well be a target. Them using financial tricks to pay some of the lowest taxes also won't help them with democrats.


Google and Facebook are some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington. I think you'll find that very little will change with respect to this.


> If the Democrats win the election this year, I think Google and Facebook both stand serious chances of looking at antitrust cases.

I think there is a serious chance, no matter who wins the election. The tech companies have pulled off the difficult feat of allying both parties against them. Democrats, in addition to their historical opposition to big business, blame them for the spread of misinformation that allowed Trump to get elected, and Republicans blame them for censoring Republican opinion. The fact that these companies have very outspoken employees who publicly oppose conservatives (see Kay James) does not help.

In the past, big business could rely on Republicans to shield them. However, for the most part, big tech entered the culture wars opposing Republicans, and I think a lot of Republicans will happily support their breakup.


When have the Democrats been anti-big business? Genuinely curious, was the last time Microsoft in the 90s? They've been pretty closely aligned with corporate America as far back as I can remember.


https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/14/facebook-zuckerberg...

There's no allying against them, they've been sweet talking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.


They’re playing the corruption game with politicians, but the rank and file of both sides hate them. That’s a much riskier situation than a big company wants to be in.

The amazing part is that both sides hate them for their own political reasons, not because of any common ground.


I wasn't aware anti-trust extended to cover "creepy" behavior and "not offering support [for free services]".

Literally every Google product has a competitor and the cost of switching is very low unless you're talking about their hardware, which is hardly successful much less dominant.


> Literally every Google product has a competitor and the cost of switching is very low unless you're talking about their hardware, which is hardly successful much less dominant.

Windows and Internet Explorer always had competition. The cost of switching to Netscape and later Firefox was extremely low. That did not stop people from referring to Windows and IE as monopolies in the past. With Windows, some still call it a monopoly today.


I would also add buying companies and creating services only to shut them down. With the exception of search and gmail I gave up using services owned by google but their monopoly position ruled out alternatives. They not just expanded into a monopoly, they are also working to keep it in place by means other than competing in the product space.


Apple and amazon and facebook are all vulnerable. I'm not sure about microsoft, they are working harder to be independent. Apple controls the installation of apps on their platform, you can't easily go around it. They arbitrarily prevent competition as in browsers. Many many companies get no benefit from being in the app store and don't want to pay apple 30% of their revenues (think disney, amazon, netflix). Apple doesn't have a way to unlock their phones and go around these limitations. If they did then you could argue they aren't blocking competition. Apple (and all these companies) all do some things I see as positives too.


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Tech companies: let's become so intrinsic to the economy that attempts to disrupt our worldwide influence are perceived as more evil than the risks we are creating.


D0D and friends will protect M until the end.


Can you clarify please?




>Google has its hands in too many pies, actively hurts other industries, and they're creepy af.

The most disgusting part is they are unfairly using their search and ads (i.e. data) to set up subsidiaries to compete with their own ad customers and bid up the price of ads to their own customers.

Say you are an airline or airfare aggregator. Google knows the market size (search), they have a good idea of your marketing budget and online ROI. Once they see you have a thriving business/product/industry they create their own competitor. Organically Google's competitor will float to the top of Search, if they don't outright make a "native" interactive tool that appears above ads and organic search results. As if thats not shady enough, they start buying their own ads (money is just going from their left hand to their right hand) which now the cost of ads for you has increased because you are competing with a Google company that is getting them for free. Now your options are spend more on ads for a smaller slice of the market or just packup an go home leaving Google as the industry leader (which based on history they really didn't even want in the first place as they are likely to deprecate their product, leaving the market with no product/service provider).


And yet that is exactly what you want in a lot of cases. Companies like DeepMind and Open AI do not run on thoughts and prayers; without subsidy from other areas, industry-upending research and development would have a hard time showing up and gaining traction. Google Search, regardless how bad it may have been for consumer welfare in the search space, has been a net boon. Do you think any other private company could have afforded something like Street View?


Perhaps a company that's already involved in logistics, that could augment their transport fleet to have scanning vehicles? So Amazon, FedEx/UPS/DHL, the U.S. Postal Service?


Amazon did not have a proper door-to-door delivery service until very, very recently. And even now it is limited to a few locations. The rest are hardly tech companies, Google Maps and Street View are as much about UI and implementation as the actual photography. Most of the other companies named would probably only sell raw data to law enforcement and finance, your average consumer would not be able to have access.


The same exact thing is happening with businesses on Amazon.


Basecamp is so full of shit here, they just don't want to have to pay for traffic and it's nothing to do with monopoly (if there were three major search engines, they'd all be selling the Basecamp keyword, because users don't care).


Imagine having to pay 70k plus a month so people searching for your company name do not get redirected to a competitor using your company name to advertise their business.

also lets be real there's really one 1 search engine.


Personally I don't have an ethical problem with search being pay to play. Regardless, I'm pretty sure having competition in the search space wouldn't solve the problem (because as I said, users don't care) - what basecamp really wants here is regulation / a stronger interpretation of trademark law.


It's on Google's users to decide whether or not the re-positioning of results puts Google behind Bing and others. If Apple uses Bing or DuckDuckGo instead of Google, what difference of quality would people see?


*70k per year


A key point for me in regarding big tech monopoly parts is that some of the biggest companies, when viewed from a potential market cap perspective, are possibly worth less than the sum of it's parts.

Facebook has a market-cap of ~630B. Individually you could easily see how an independent Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp would be worth more. AWS is probably the most valuable company in the world but is tucked away with the P&L of the various other parts of Amazon.


Breaking them up is great but you are going to end up back in a similar situation if you can't build large platforms/marketplaces like those companies provided.

I think the way to do that without having a conflict of interest is to leverage decentralized technologies to create large public platforms/marketplaces that companies can plug into.


I had a different idea. In some areas law makers and tech companies would need to write and follow so many vague rules it could be better to have a government agency that does the work for them. It wouldn't be perfect but it would create a different kind of problem that can be compared to the one we are having right now.

Moderation for example could "simply" be part of law enforcement. Having corporations design their own rules/laws on top of the legal system is costly and undesirable. A proper legal formula would have punishments that scale with the offense.

Having government manage authentication could rule out banning people across all services without stating a reason.

Accidentally having some back ground music in a youtube video wouldn't have cops rip your mailbox out of the ground or cancel your drivers license. It is that absurd to have google do it.

Some processes need some type of private data, if the data is stored on government servers access could be managed on a case by case basis. Likewise, data transferred between google services would have to be routed though gov servers where the request can be compared with the goals.

Google could provide a set of adverts to be shown next to email but gmail wouldn't provide a source of information to display adds elsewhere.


"Moderation for example could 'simply' be part of law enforcement."

"Having government manage authentication could rule out banning people across all services without stating a reason."

These both sound like Very Bad Ideas that could be implemented in short order by the People's Republic of China, building off the existing social credit system, to predictably anti-democratic results.

Decoupling authentication from Big Tech is a noble goal, but it should also absolutely be decoupled from Big Gov't as well.


> Moderation for example could "simply" be part of law enforcement.

Not in countries with freedom of speech enshrined in the constitution.


Oh LOL, I see now that what I said can be taken to mean the opposite of what I had in mind.

I think we have good laws for what goes and doesn't go in public. Much more relaxed than the big platforms terms of service. You already get arrested if you publish the "right" kind of video. I'm simply suggesting we should strip away whatever social engineering facebook and google have in mind.

The dumb account termination as a punishment for everything is like revoking peoples citizenship by administrative punishment - in a one size fits all approach.

Google's tos literally says they can terminate your account without stating a reason. That is much more dystopian than the Chinese social credit system.


Don't break them up. Just don't allow them to act monopolistically.

Mangalor 38 days ago [flagged]

That's like asking bees not to sting. Corporations seek monopoly. It's just what they do.


You've been posting lots of unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN. Would you please stop?

The idea here is: if you have a substantive point to make, make it thoughtfully; if you don't, please don't comment until you do.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


If the headline at least said "monopolies"...


> Google allows competitors to purchase ads on Basecamp’s trademark, and then blocks consumers from reaching its site, Co-Founder David Heinemeier Hansson told Reuters in an interview.

Emphasis added. What does "blocks" means in this context?


It means they don't like competition and consider themselves entitled to sue anyone who suggests a generic item for their overpriced brandname - on a computer.


Blocks means puts a page of ads first. If I don’t pay to “defend my brand”, my competitors show up first in a search for my trademarked brand name. If I do pay, my registered users will regularly ship money from me to google just by being lazy.


So by "blocking" they mean, "if I don't buy ands and my competitors do, then people will see my competitors' brands before mine". Isn't this fundamental to how advertisement works?


Yes.

If you are worried about your costumers discovering and switching to your competition by way of seeing mentions of it in search for your brand name, then you don’t have a good enough product.


If someone searches for "project management software" and then is shown ads from whoever bought ads for those terms, I think everyone would agree that feels fair. If someone clicks your ad, you are happy to pay because this is a fresh new lead delivered into your lap.

What rankles in the Basecamp example (not saying it rises to the level of antitrust, though) is that the user is specifically searching for Basecamp. Basecamp has already "earned" this lead though their other marketing spend, or word of mouth, or whatever. However, if they don't pay Google, they risk losing this lead to competitors sniping the "Basecamp" term. In a way, Google is selling Basecamp's leads to competitors (contrary to what the user actually wants!) using their "monopoly" in search.


The user wants the best product for their needs. If Basecamp only survives because its users don’t know about alternatives, then it’s not a very good business. This is actual competition: building the best product and letting the customers decide what they prefer. They already know about Basecamp in this scenario so seeing ads for other products will only let them make a more informed choice. The competitors, after all, are betting their advertising budget on the opinion that their product is better. It’s not free.


I don't think "block" applies here. Yes, the ads will out-rank the organic basescamp result but you can still get to the basecamp website via google search.


It means nothing because it’s not true. Basecamp shows up in organic search just like it always has. DHH just has a problem with competition. If a competitor wants to buy ads for a given search, they can do that. Google is not the only one to allow that: see Apple’s App Store and Amazon’s search results.


Apple is the largest security holding in the portfolios of the members of Congress. It is safe from antitrust.


Antitrust law in general needs to come out of it's slumber if the us wants to be a dynamic economy. I recommend the book: the myth of capitalism to anyone who wants to get more angry about this subject.


that's like saying that it is time for a dead patient to take his medicine.


I can't help but think that companies like basecamp or tile, largely brought about this situation to themselves. Neither google nor apple should be platforms to be dependent on. They should be used as startup platforms, get some momentum and then actively seek to build their own outreach to customers independently. Putting all your money in someone else's bag for years and expecting them not to steal some , is borderline delusional. Rent seeking is a spontaneous behavior of big platforms. HN orthodoxy will suggest otherwise, but i think everyone who depends on corporate owned platforms should start pulling away as soon as they have momentum. Citing the lack of alternatives is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if nobody tries to find an alternative pathway , there just won't be one


Google has like 80% of the search market share. How does one not become dependent on that traffic source?


Before Google, the local newspaper had like 80% of advertising market share in each city, and many were owned by national conglomerates.


I highly doubt that.

But anyway, I don't see how that's relevant.


Because Google has not changed the structure of the market, only which player sits in that position.


But when you advertised in a newspaper, you didn't have to fear the newspaper suddenly becoming your competitor and then refusing to run your ads.

Well, I suppose that might've happened if you were another publication or something. But it was relatively rare. Also, newspapers weren't the only way people advertised, for instance the yellow pages was a big deal when I was a kid. (and it was the subject of a Ralph Nader article calling it out as a monopoly: https://frankwarner.typepad.com/free_frank_warner/2004/08/fo... )


Google refused to run someone's ads? When I search for "cloud hosting" the first two things I see are ads for IBM and Lenovo. The third hit is an ad for Google.


Right but what about having a product in an app store and then next thing you know Apple or Google has their own product that competes with it.


Your comment is about the ads market. The GGP is about the search market.

Search is something that didn't even exist back then (yellow pages were the nearest thing, but still way different), so there is no way to claim that the structure was kept the same. Nobody could take your store out of its physical location and make it unreachable back then.


The Internet is so full of spam and noise, people have become dependent on gatekeepers to sift through for signal. Nobody really wants to browse the raw web anymore. If you want to make money online, youre going to have to buy access to someones platform, whether that be Google, Apple, Ebay, Amazon, Facebook. Youre either buying shelf space in a marketplace, or youre buying or selling billboard space. (Even if you are a self hosted website, which is becoming more rare as the CMS market consolidates behind newspaper's tech offerings) youre buying ads from Google, Facebook, or Microsoft.) The one I left out is "content production" whether that be journalism or entertainment, but the same thing applies. Youre going to need to convince a newspaper, radio, streaming service, or Disney to publish you.

However, a monopoly, this does not make. The world being pay to play doesnt automatically mean one behemoth is sole gatekeeper. There are plenty of different platforms you can fight for access on, fights you may win and profit from.


How did any of these companies (google amazon apple) grow?

Feeding the search machine only makes google stronger. If businesses stop giving away their content to google for free, it will stop being so important.

The only platforms that can be trusted are the unowned, decentralised ones, email and www


"Feeding the search machine only makes google stronger. If businesses stop giving away their content to google for free, it will stop being so important"

So, let's say you are a business. You can only control what you do, not what all the other businesses in the world do.

Is your strategy to keep your content off Google, in hopes that you will starve the "search machine" and thereby weaken it?

My guess is you won't be a business for long with that strategy.


Almost all of facebook s content is off google

But take basecamp for example. Do they really need google searches for such a specialized business software? There is email and other forms of marketing they can use to reach out directly to prospective users with that 70000.


So they should spam people rather than let people do searches and arrive at their site?

And that is just Basecamp. There are many other businesses whose best strategy is to "play ball" with the dominant companies. But they are at their mercy.

Many people (including myself) feel that this isn't healthy competition nor is socially optimal.

Regardless, my point was that you advocated a strategy that only works if all the small companies are cooperating....in other words, a game theoretically unsound strategy.


Or, you know, antitrust action.

You may have good advice, given the status quo, but why must me accept the status quo.

Also, a more likely thing to happen than "pulling away as soon as they have momentum" is "abandon the project far earlier, because investors didn't want to go there so it never got off the ground at all."


Because antitrust action will just distract from trying to actually beat the status quo, without effect (like we havent seen any effects fron eu’s repeated attempts to steer ppl away from google). In the case of basecamp i dont think they need investors to survive and perhaps they can use the google tax money better elsewhere


>Neither google nor apple should be platforms to be dependent on.

Yeah, just like make phone to rival Google ($1 trillion) and Apple ($1.4 trillion) and you too can sell hardware and software without the fear of getting shut out. It's just that easy.


We're essentially living under techno-feudalist system. I don't see breaking up Big Tech's monopoly as fixing this. There needs to be a fundamental shift away from centralized platforms to decentralized p2p platforms. That's the only real way to rebel against the current system of exploitation.


I disagree. We have no decentralized platforms that work at scale. I think breaking up the big companies and unwinding the mergers of the last 5 years would be a huge help. Everything from IG and WhatsApp to Whole Foods to the Comcast, Disney, ATT, Verizon acquisitions should all go back out.

The other way to make exploitation harder is to pass some regulations that you aren't allowed to collect data on people and sell it without explicit permission. You must opt-in and you can't be penalized for saying no. People complain about Facebook and Google spying on you and forget that the carriers know where every single person is 24/7. They know (mostly) every website that every single person visits and at what times via DNS lookups. This data is scary and they shouldn't be able to collect it let alone sell it.




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