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CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google prepare their antitrust defense (techspot.com)
59 points by thg 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments



> Ultimately, the hearing won't reveal any surprising facts about these companies and will likely feature some theatrics, as is often the case with antitrust hearings.

The article says it best at the very end.

Wherever you lie on the spectrum of blaming these tech companies for doing obvious things to continue to drive the bottom line to their investors, the problem here is that this is just a show. And everyone involved knows it.

There are no mechanisms in place for making competent adjustments at this scale, ESPECIALLY in the United States government. If you’ve ever tried to watch any of these, it’s clear the legislatures either aren’t competent enough in the field to challenge these prepared talking points.

There’s more of a chance of legitimate, competent discussion in a forum like Joe Rogans podcast where he gets people like [1] Jack Dorsey and Tim Pool in a room (albeit with the babysitter counsel) to have a back and forth.

I think the key to moving forward as a decision making body of any kind is to merge the two. Clearly, nothing can come of the Joe Rogan show of note, but imagine: what if it could? What if there could be more transparency and accountability for these huge companies and we could objectively examine what they actually do rather than just hear their talking points and move on?

I guess I’ll end my rant here. It’s just very discouraging that, despite the fact that this hearing is occurring, there’s a next to nothing chance that anything useful for the advancement of our country’s liberties will come.

1 https://youtu.be/DZCBRHOg3PQ


> There are no mechanisms in place for making competent adjustments at this scale, ESPECIALLY in the United States government. If you’ve ever tried to watch any of these, it’s clear the legislatures either aren’t competent enough in the field to challenge these prepared talking points.

IMO this is the root cause. If our legislatures can't even login to said website then how could they possibly understand the depth of the power these companies wield? If there is a lack of understanding then there is no way a real solution can be derived from these hearings.


Once you internalize the fact that this is an election year and that these congressional hearings are just meant to generate clips that will be replayed in your local senator's election ad ("Senator X ASKS the HARD questions!!"), it's much easier to watch them and be entertained.


IMHO, I'm glad Microsoft is not part of this. It's not about profits, it's about data monopoly.

Writing a modern OS is almost impossible from scratch, but there's nothing preventing you from hiring enough people and making Windows or Azure.

But the problem with Facebook and Google is that they started by scraping stuff for free and without limitations, but if you try to do the same thing with them they bite you with Terms of service, paid data graphs and API quotas. How do you build a index of businesses/venues and people? No matter how many people you hire you cannot achieve the same snowball / network effect.

Instead of breaking them up, make them release open data.


Uh hello, Microsoft has a ton of telemetry setup in Windows. Microsoft’s greatest achievement is their data collection and how no one cares.


Facebook did not “scrape stuff for free”. People willingly gave FB their information.


People gave Facebook my stuff for free.

RMS explains this much more eloquently than I do. He doesn't have a Facebook account, but he's all over Facebook, without any control, desire, or influence.

Many people set up Facebook accounts to have some control over this. Without an account, I can have nasty things about me on Facebook. To have controls over that, I need to agree to a contract with Facebook which gives away other stuff.


When I joined Facebook a few years ago (so many years after Facebook was launched), I was quite stunned to see the friend suggestions quite neatly sorted from people I knew a lot to people I barely knew.

Their shadow profile on me was very solid, it seems.


I've seen his explanation, but I don't follow the concept of data ownership being expressed. I can be in my friends' conversations, my company's management discussions, even the newspaper without consenting to it - why is Facebook different?


Because it’s for-profit?


The newspaper is also for profit and while commerical speech may have more restrictions (truth in advertising) they aren't barred from those areas. Not a fan of Facebook but the objection appears to be pure novelty bias because it hasn't been as normalized as the old ways.


How was Facemash (Hot or Not) developed (pics of Harvard girls never used the site)? How did they get website traffic data from their like button without visitors using Facebook? Also, how is my grandma part of their database because all her grandchildren have her in their phone contacts?


And because of C.A. FB can probably claim they need to close the graph so that sort of thing doesn't happen again

But yeah, drives me nuts. Innovation happens due to the initial openness... then everyone closes down and takes their ball and goes home


Totally open data is likely a non-starter, but they could be forced to interoperate with other suppliers of comparable services under an open standard. There's no inherent reason why Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. couldn't all be Fediverse instances, with shared feeds at least for publicly-broadcasted activities (as opposed to the private data that CA was collecting).


That means your friend list includes my data. I don’t want my data shared between other companies.


One of windows' competitors is free, theyll never have an os monopoly


Windows 10 telemetry?


What about it? This is about anti-trust and I don't think Microsoft has a monopoly on telemetry...


I just see it as part of the data monopoly. A near impossible aspect of the OS you cannot turn off that robs you of privacy.


These companies did "release open data". It's called Cambridge Analytica. Look it up.


So case closed.


Seeing that chart of the 5 largest companies in 2010 vs 2020 blew my mind a bit.

The idea that Facebook is bigger than Exxon was back in 2010 (even with the rate of inflation), when electric cars were still a wet dream, crazy. Even more, the amount of "usefulness" as well. I'm not arguing that we should keep oil as a fuel source, but you have to admit, right now, if a big player (like Exxon) in the field just vanished, it would have a painful impact. At least fuel supply would be a bit crazy for a while until the competitors can ramp up to meet demand depending on reserve supplies being used. If Facebook just suddenly disappeared... meh. I mean, second and third order consequences... meh. Small business ads would need a new place, but that's not crazy bad. More inconvenience. Advertising companies would need a new supplier, but no really likes them anyways. Well, a lot of job openings, that's a problem. But I'm thinking beyond that, because no matter what the industry, a large player just folding suddenly causes a significant job shortage. That's a common denominator. But a hampering access to fuel supply vs. a social media wall for the general publish... one is more important than the other. At the very least, the other Faang companies have... useful significance?

Edit: I'm aware of the limits to market cap. There's no perfect way of figuring out the size of a company. My point, there's a large level of monetary value in these companies and a difference in how they are significant in daily livelihood for the everyday person. It's just interesting how large Facebook is by a metric but how incredibly useless it is compared to another company using the same metric. It's the same how theres an interesting difference between the market cap of Tesla and Ford. Tesla is larger but they make a fraction of the amount of sellable goods. It's one thing to know this, but to see significant numbers, that makes it more interesting.


> My point, there's a large level of monetary value in these companies and a difference in how they are significant in daily livelihood for the everyday person. It's just interesting how large Facebook is by a metric but how incredibly useless it is compared to another company using the same metric. It's the same how theres an interesting difference between the market cap of Tesla and Ford. Tesla is larger but they make a fraction of the amount of sellable goods.

They are significant in people’s daily lives. Their future expected profits are enormous because they can do the work of so many with so few, hence their super high profit per employee.

Software lets you infinitely scale, so it’s almost impossible to compete with the market leader. Email, calendars, smartphones, online retail, video streaming, etc have reduced demand for the labor for the vast majority of people, which has certainly impacted their livelihood.

Camera companies, tv companies, advertisers, travel agents, secretaries, movie rental, retail, map makers, education, journalism and news, book publishing, and I could keep going on about businesses that have been negatively impacted because they can’t possibly compete with a FAANG.

Software can also obviate people much quicker than in decades past, where people might have had time to retrain as new technology was deployed.


Market cap is a weird metric to measure company size or influence.

For example, by revenue, it's Walmart with 500B, Amazon at 280B, Exxon 264B, Apple 260B, CVS 256B, ... Alphabet 161B at 11th, Microsoft at 21st with 125B, ...

By employees it's Walmart at 2.2M, Amazon at 800K, ...., Microsoft in 21st place with 144K, ....

By profits, it's Berkshire Hathaway at 81B (massive growth), Apple at 55B (shrinking), MS 39B, Chase 36B, Alphabet 34B, BoA, Intel, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, .... FB 11th at 18B, .... Amazon 22nd at 11B....

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

https://fortune.com/fortune500/2020/search/?f500_profits=des...


I would argue that revenue is a weird metric to measure company size too.

Doubly so when comparing companies like Exxon and Facebook, which have very different operating costs.


Revenue tells you roughly how much value you are creating for other actors in the economy.


It does that in a one-sided way though. Do car dealers create value for car makers, or the other way around? The way revenue is measured seems to imply that retailers are the ones who create value for manufacturers, but not vice versa.

In that sense, revenue is more of a measure of “how long and costly is your supply chain, and how close are you to the customer facing side of it?”


>Do car dealers create value for car makers

Both - read about consumer and producer surplus in econ.

> The way revenue is measured seems to imply ....

Revenue estimates how much buyers were willing to pay for the product, but each buyer retains their surplus, so revenue undercounts the value to the buyers. But it's a decent representation of value added.


Platforms facilitate interactions between producers that create value which others consume. Thereby comparing revenue of a platform against a traditional business model doesn't make sense because the cost and profit drivers are inverted.


>that create value which others consume.

and

> Thereby comparing revenue of a platform against a traditional business model doesn't make sense

When two entities trade, by far they do it because they both benefit. There is no difference between platforms and other businesses. Each provides value to customers, and the sum of the benefits each gains each trade (often called consumer and producer surplus in economics) is the net gain to the pair.

Revenue is a very good measure of how valued these trades are to customers. In fact, almost all customers would pay more for the benefit (up to but not exceeding their consumer surplus).


> almost all customers would pay more for the benefit.

This is where you are wrong, how many paying customers does Google have VS users?

Platforms that are value aggregators decoupled value production from internal capacity.


Not necessarily. Take a wholesale distributor. Buy a product for $99 and sell for $100. Your revenue will be massive, but the value you create is low.

I’d say earnings are a better, but still not great measure of value added.


>but the value you create is low.

Apparently they add at least $1 in value to every transaction, otherwise buyers would not use that service, and simply buy the $99 product.

In fact, they probably add more than $1 in value since they were selected.

If they have massive revenue, as you posited, then they added massive value to buyers in total, exceeding their profits.

Read about consumer and producer surplus.


I did a google image search for 'facebook revenue', 'google revenue', 'apple revenue' etc. I saw the same thing for each: exponential growth, sustained for years. Google in particular surprised me because I "feel like" they've always been the same amount of huge: $29B revenue in 2010, $160B revenue in 2019.

Exponential, many-year growth is enough to explain those market caps.


It’s market cap rather than revenue or employees.

Exxon’s raw material (oil) was expensive, had high price volatility, didn’t scale, and required (relatively) more people. This capped gross margins, and made growth expensive.

Facebook’s raw material (bits/electricity) is much cheaper and has Moore’s law at their back. It scales well, as does their (relatively) lower headcount. They get valued much higher relative to revenue or employees.

This makes the market cap a weaker proxy for usefulness.


It is more complicated than it seems. Many businesses depend so much on Facebook Advertising that they would have to shut down. I remember an article on the front page on HN talking about some businesses being idle when Facebook was down.

Personally it would definitely improve my life if Facebook went down and people around me stopped scrolling their Instagram.


Has there been evidence given why these 4 and not Microsoft are at these hearings? I understand each case is subtly different but it seems conspicuous in it's absence. In terms of Big Tech companies potentially violating anti-trust feels odd to include companies 1,3,4,5 but not 2? (Not actually sure what the current comparative values are)


Presumably Microsoft, having been convicted once already, is not going to be given such benefit of the doubt as to be invited to a hearing; instead, folks may well decide to bring suit against them without bothering to drag them before Congress as a pretext.

Moreover, Microsoft doesn't have a flagship product which they're using to abuse their monopoly position. The other four do: Apple has its app store, Google has its search+ads vertical and its app store, Amazon has its delivery service, and Facebook has its social+ads vertical.


And only if you redefine “monopoly” as “only one company gets to sell its own products”. Why not drag the console makers in too?


Neither console game developers nor console game players are complaining. I think it's really that simple.

EDIT: And I think I know the reason why. Imagine your kid has a birthday party and invites Alice, Bob and Charlie from school. All is fine. Imagine now that he invites everyone from his grade. Everyone except David. That is bound to piss David off a lot.

Oh and I think game deals are cleared in advance, while app removals happen after you've already done the work.


It's mostly understandable because, historically, video game exclusives were either developed or published by the console manufacturer. Some people might get annoyed that this cool game isn't coming to their platform of choice, but as soon as they saw "published by Sony", they understood.

They've also helped pay for the console with hardware sold at a loss (near-loss nowadays after the PS3 loss mess). So it was seen as a necessary "evil" by most.

The one being seen nowadays as bad -- which answers your "everyone except David" metaphor -- is Epic Games buying "everyone except Steam" exclusivity deals. But that topic is too deep to go into here.


Consoles are also harder to pirate games on which I'm guessing is why rockstar games always releases first on consoles.


I'd say Amazon's "flagship product" is its platform, not so much its delivery. You might call it a platform+delivery-logistics vertical. Regardless, their ownership of the dominant platform for ecommerce does put third-party vendors (and possibly consumers) at a disadvantage.


This is a good point. The major negative impact of Amazon is on labor rights. I had a sobering conversation with a canvasser who came to my door last week; they were gathering signatures for a local bill, but their other job was at the Amazon warehouse, and they suggested that walking in the hot sun and talking to hostile folks in their home was far easier than running up and down the halls of Fulfillment.

It's a common sentiment that Sherman Antitrust was a prerequisite for prosecuting and breaking up trusts a century ago; we needed powerful legislative tools in order to even define and understand the abuses that those corporations brought upon us. Similarly, I have heard many people suggest that we will need new legislation in order to properly describe what Amazon has built in terms of systems which deliberately abuse labor, control shoppers, and grift the public.


What anti-trust practices should Microsoft be questioned on?


They did just have an antitrust complaint in the EU from Slack in the last week...

And there was some hoopla a year ago about the windows licensing terms changing in a way that made migrating Windows workloads from on prem to cloud difficult for the main cloud providers except for Azure.


As pro-am mentioned, non-defeatable Telemetry.


I think it would benefit you to read more about what can be considered an anti-trust issue: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-a...


How does that answer the definition of antitrust?


Double jeopardy, I assume. There was already an antitrust case wrt. Microsoft in 1998–2001, so they won't need to defend those issues all over again.


Would double jeopardy only apply if they were being charged for the same instance of antitrust violations as back then?

You can commit a crime multiple times, you just can't be punished for the same instance twice. Maybe I understand this wrong though.


How many people at a company are typically involved in writing those CEO prepared statements to the House? If anybody has done it before, I'm very curious to learn the process.


I have helped support such statements in an unrelated field. My role was as a SME in specific data arenas. The general process was that our Marketing department would try and coordinate all the best available talking points. Anything we'd put out to the press over the last couple years that they felt would be compelling. Once that particular menu was constructed, they reached out to the relevant SMEs across the business to drop what they were doing and pull together any data possible to reinforce the selected talking points. Our results were handed back up the chain for marketing to integrate and polish. In my case the executive actually speaking to Congress then met with us to dive into the provided data and make sure they were able to speak to it reasonably well if pressed.


In case anyone hasn't read Warren's policy recommendations, it's worth the read to get a sense of possible steps beyond questions on CSPAN:

https://medium.com/@teamwarren/heres-how-we-can-break-up-big...


Google, FB and Amazon I understand and absolutely agree that they're monopolies and need to be regulated.

But why Apple? Android has a very substantial market share and provides a good hedge against Apple iOS, same for the MacOS/Windows market.


The closest thing is calling their app-store practices anti-competitive but it is essentially an industry standard for better or worse regardless of how they choose to curate.

The real answer to why is that it is a grandstanding joker jury and all of their reasons are stupid and dishonest.


I think it is that Apple abuses its control over the App Store market (e.g. Apple Music vs Spotify)


None of these companies have monopolies


Is there a way to watch this online today? cspan wants a tv provider account and I don't have one.



Thanks!




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