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U.S. House's antitrust report hints at break-up of big tech firms: lawmaker (reuters.com)
391 points by cblconfederate 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 482 comments



I was at MS in the late 90s, left in 2000. It should have been broken up then. But to break up or be broken up is the wrong phrasing. It connotes a kind of destruction, to make something less than it was, but this is not the case at all.

Any value that something this large has, is in its ability to exhaust resources from the ecosystem, control the market, the workers and the ability to resist changing its behavior when better things come along. Companies exist in a system that should serve everyone and when an imbalance occurs the whole system morphs around them. They are no longer players but dictators, willingly or not. Their sheer size forces rules of the game in ways even they do not control.

Breaking up large companies isn't even about them. It is about us and the world we want to live in. Remember the wage fixing scandal between Pixar, Google, Apple and bunch of other companies in the bay? [1] They ultimately controlled where those people worked (and their horrible commutes), who they were friends with, what schools their kids went to and who they married. All because the execs at these companies wanted to maintain total control of the workforce and suppress wages. That is too much power for a company to have or wield. And these large companies due to their size alone are doing this on an unconscious level. On a conscious level they can do much worse.

Microsoft stagnated for what 10-15 years? But it isn't just MS that is stagnating, it is all the people in those markets. There were a bunch of us WITHIN the company that wanted the divisions repotted so each could grow on its own. If value is being lost when an organization that large is distributed to a smaller number of units, then the value is selfish, it only serves the org and not the system it operates in.

What is the end state if we let this continue? 20 large corporations in America and a field of small feeder gig economy vendors? We will all be serfs (NPCs) in a feudal corporate cosplay.

[1] https://www.theregister.com/2012/01/20/doj_emails_anti_poach...


This is a good point, there is more to antitrust laws than just economics, they were put in place to protect our democratic republic. Senator John Sherman is quoted: "If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life." The Sherman Antitrust Act is the foundation of modern antitrust law.


Let's add "communicate" to that. It's crazy how much of the world's communication is controlled by a few guys in Silicon Valley and their arbitrary ToS.


But you have such a large number of choices for communication: Meet, Hangouts, Allo, Messages, Duo, Skype, Lync, Skype for Business, and Teams.


Those are all controlled by three companies, at most: Google (Meet, Hangouts, Allo, Duo), Microsoft (Lync, Skype, Skype for Business, Teams), and whatever company controls "Messages".


Yeah and all of them will ban if you say the wrong thing


Lync is "Skype for Business" now, afaik.

And I think communication is one of the more open stacks. WebEx? Zoom? Slack? WeChat?


I think this gets to the heart of the difference between republicanism and liberalism (the ideologies, not the political parties).


>Any value that something this large has, is in its ability to exhaust resources from the ecosystem, control the market, the workers and the ability to resist changing its behavior when better things come along. Companies exist in a system that should serve everyone and when an imbalance occurs the whole system morphs around them. They are no longer players but dictators, willingly or not. Their sheer size forces rules of the game in ways even they do not control.

This isn't really the whole story. Large firms don't just exist because of power, but also because to manage an increasingly complex environment (scientifically, economically etc) large institutions are required to hold the necessary knowledge to function effectively. The concentration towards larger firms is thus not just a power grab, but a necessary condition for modern production.

This was Schumpeter's basic insight. Monopolistic competition is more dynamic than the free, small-firm dominated market. Size gives companies the ability to earn surplus profit which is turned into long-term innovation rather than short-term fighting for market share.

The central dynamic around data collection in the information economy even amplifies that trend. Smaller firms are not going to reap benefits on the same scale as large firms can, and the primary economic case for break ups, which is that large firms are unproductive due to being unable to deal with complexity, has been turned on its head. Information now functions as a way to make centralisation more efficient, not less.


One of the fundamental tensions I see in economics is this:

Cooperation enables greater efficiency. You don't burn resources in efforts that exist just to harm your competitor. You get all of the economies of scale of sharing information, expertise, and technology.

But competition incentivizes greater efficiency. A monoculture can stagnate because there is less risk from failure, less urgency to grow and improve.

I think the point of maximum efficiency is somewhere in the middle where there's enough scale that you don't have the economic equivalent of millions of subsistance farmers each using hand tools to hoe their own patch, but where there are enough independent players to create some urgency and make regulatory capture harder.

The hard part is that there is no stable equilibrium near that regionn of efficiency. Businesses naturally consolidate and form cabals and capture regulation, so you have to constantly push against that.


"Cooperation enables greater efficiency. You don't burn resources in efforts that exist just to harm your competitor. You get all of the economies of scale of sharing information, expertise, and technology."

Exactly if you consume or spoil all the resources you get Tragedy of the commons [1] "The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action."

Market players can self regulate and cooperate for the sake of common interest if not then it becomes zero sum game.

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


I pretty much completely agree with this comment. I would add: the sweet spot is different in different industries (and may different in the same industry at different points in history), and economic policy would do well to recognise that rather than advocating for a blanket policy for everything.


_ Monopolistic competition is more dynamic than the free, small-firm dominated market. Size gives companies the ability to earn surplus profit which is turned into long-term innovation rather than short-term fighting for market share._

Ah yes, this good ol’ myth. To debunk it, look around you at all the major players in tech who are hoarding cash like there is no tomorrow while doing incremental improvements to products rather than building something interesting.

The larger a company becomes, the more bloated and bureaucratic it becomes. Once they’re big enough, innovation is close to impossible, and the self-preservation instinct kicks in. Again, you can see that in almost all BigTech players today.


Are we living in the same world?

> To debunk it, look around you at all the major players in tech who are hoarding cash like there is no tomorrow while doing incremental improvements to products rather than building something interesting.

Putting billions of dollars into VR/AR? Facebook acquired Oculus for >2 billion, and the project had mixed success, and Facebook is still investing more but into AR instead. Microsoft has had two versions of their AR product that are bulky and expensive, and with few users. But the 2nd generation of hardware much improved over the 1st. Apple is rumored to be developing AR glasses as well.

How about self driving cars? Google is the only company with actual driverless cars on the roads. Many startups made big promises but so far have nothing publicly available. Other large companies like Ford had previously announced their intent to develop autonomous cars, but backed out, saying the challenge is too hard. This shows that a truly large company is needed to develop autonomous cars, because billions of dollars are required for a project that carries high risk.

> Once they’re big enough, innovation is close to impossible, and the self-preservation instinct kicks in. Again, you can see that in almost all BigTech players today.

What about Amazon? Nothing could be further from the truth. They keep expanding into entirely new markets. In AWS, IoT, multiple retail stores, online video, healthcare, and probably other industries I'm forgetting.

And what about Google Stadia and Xbox game streaming? Or Facebook Libra? Or all of Google's NLP research? Project Loon? Fuchsia? Go? These are fundamentally new r&d projects.

> Your phone manufacturer doesn’t care about invention as much as they care about you buying the next, slightly better model.

Gestures broadly at 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE, and 5G Phase 1. Constantly improving display technology like OLED and transparent displays and improved cameras.


The things you are describing are not even close to being the revenue drivers or “reasons for existence” for the companies you listed. As someone who worked at FB, there is nowhere CLOSE to the amount of funding that Oculus gets compared to other parts of the company. I would venture to say the same about MS - Hololens is nothing more than an experiment, that is not the funnel in which Microsoft is pouring its revenue from other parts of the business. I am not arguing that companies don’t innovate. I am, however, arguing that companies, once reached a certain size, are less and less incentivized to do so.


> I am, however, arguing that companies, once reached a certain size, are less and less incentivized to do so.

Well, I am not sure I agree with that. Large companies can afford to take the risks. For medium-sized companies the same effort is much higher chance of going out of business. e.g. If a smaller company like Sonos announced development of an AR product I think that would be really surprising.


Sorry, where are you getting these views from? Every tech company I've worked at, or have talked to people who work at them, become incredibly risk averse to innovation as they grow.

The only time they makes serious investments in innovation is when they buyout smaller companies that pose a risk to their business, or who have innovated and proven that their innovation might actually be useful. And the reason for those investments is more to protect their business rather than to foster innovation itself.


Clayton Christensen covered that in Innovators Dilemma. Large companies, on average, are very risk-averse.


Magic Leap comes to mind.


Magic Leap is a startup, I mean established mid-sized companies. The ones that are making money and steadily growing. For them taking a big risk can end the company. A startup is already expecting that they'll go out of business, and funding a startup is a big risk in general.


What I can see, literally, by looking around is that my phone is made by Huawei, my TV by Samsung, my medicine is made by a large pharmaceutical company, the train I take to work and the rail network are built by a state owned company, the web framework I used yesterday is made by a colossal tech giant, so is the text editor I use (granted that one may vary), and the cloud infrastructure my software runs on. So are the cars on the sideways looking out of the window. All big firms.

Large firms are quite literally who built all the complicated stuff at huge scale that pretty much everyone relies on all the time. I actually have to search around before I find something that was made by a small business.

And that's not because of some conspiracy, it's because they happen to make the best stuff cheap, which is a consequence of their scale. It's not a myth, you can literally confirm that by I suppose checking who makes the stuff you voluntarily buy each day.


A few large firms competing with each other is very different from a monopoly. Some of the things you mentioned have reasonable competition (phones, TVs, cars) and some are deeply steeped in anti-competitive practices (medicine, public transit).

Your argument was used to make Boeing into a monopoly and look how that turned out. It's easy to cherry-pick examples for either side, but I'd say take a step back and look at the trends and which way the evidence favors. At the end of the day it all comes down to incentives - and what incentive does a monopoly have to compete?


> few large firms competing with each other is very different from a monopoly.

very true but that's what we've been talking about in the comment chain, there's no actual global monopoly or one static entity, hence the explicit reference to Schumpeter's 'monopolistic competition'.

There is still competition between large firms, but the dynamism is temporal, few firms for years or decades seize outsized marketshare to dominate and innovate sectors before being replaced by other substantial firms, rather than a sort of bazaar economy of small firms competing at the same time. It's myspace being superceded by facebook maybe being eaten by tiktok that's going to drive technological innovation in social media, not mastodon instances.

Of course it's easy to cherry-pick, but you don't need to cherry pick. You can look at the economic development in mature economies vs developing economies. This tendency towards consolidation and innovation occurs in every single one. That's why South Korea and Japan have more large firms and are more productive than most of their Asian peers, it's why China with its economic model has outgrown India, where the same process is occuring now (see Jio).


None of those things were “invented” or truly brought to the edge of technological abilities by the companies you described. They piggyback off of existing invention, and pretty much are interested in keeping things as-is.

Your phone manufacturer doesn’t care about invention as much as they care about you buying the next, slightly better model.

Your TV manufacturer is interested in recouping the losses they have on selling you a cheap device by pushing as much advertising as possible.

The pharma company is interested in gouging as much money as they can through holding patents - they don’t develop medicine out of the goodness of their hearts.

You get the point.


> None of those things were “invented” or truly brought to the edge of technological abilities by the companies you described.

Actually, the large conglomerates do have R&D labs working on semiconductors, chemistry, manufacturing, and so on, so that they can come up with improvements to sell.

The reason why semiconductors get smaller, TVs get brighter colors, larger panels have acceptable manufacturing yields, is exactly because of this R&D.


And that is why the only innovation large corporations create is through acquisitions of smaller companies, which still have a creative spirit. Then they just consume the specifically desired parts of the acquisition and discard the rest.


And then the consumer/acquired parts become completely derailed/destroyed/super-monetized. This is conjecture, but awfully common.


> Large firms don't just exist because of power, but also because to manage an increasingly complex environment (scientifically, economically etc) large institutions are required to hold the necessary knowledge to function effectively.

Large firms don't exist because of power, but because with their power they can use resources to do things other firms can't?

Sounds like they exist because of power. And it sounds like unnecessary complexity is something they would evolve to create, not diminish, because it's a great moat for them to hide behind.

Is that what we're hoping to accomplish? Create a few hypercorporations with tens of thousands of people working bullshit jobs because they've shaped industries in such a way so as to force that bullshit to be the cost of entry?

No thanks.


To be frank that approach is historically best described as "nationally suicidal". Deciding to ignore advances because it would "unfairly centralize in somethinf other than us" tends to lead to no longer existing and either a subordinate replacing the leader in a coup and moderated because the other see that insisting on charging massed rifle instead of adopting them is a losing strategy or sticking to it and letting reality assert its brutal toll. Knowledge is power can be literal and it not being something you personally can understand is not the same as "nonsense" or "doesn't work". The benefits of capital investment are real and clear and "banning it" won't make things better, just the opposite really.


I think Barron92 is drawing a distinction between "lust for power" vs "effective use of power".


>The central dynamic around data collection in the information economy even amplifies that trend. Smaller firms are not going to reap benefits on the same scale as large firms can

I think data collection and company size is a very interesting topic. It's very hard to effectively anonymize data. It's been shown numerous times that just a little bit of extra information can undo that.

A large company, such as Google, can use the data they collect themselves. They are capable extracting value from this data through other products and ideas. A small company is much less likely able to capture the value from the data they have. So they sell it. They will anonymize it and do everything that is the standard at the time, but in the long term that data probably won't stay anonymous.

Would you rather have a megacorp use your data themselves or for your data to be bought and sold by different (smaller) companies that may or may not use your data? Which one would lead to less abuse of the data?


My intuition hates this but intellectually I’m forced to accept it. I’ve handed a huge portion of my private life to Google in the form of my browser, my phone, my search engine, my email, and a handful of other services. I arrived at that for the reasons you lay out - better all my privacy eggs in one basket where I know what they intend to do with it than to spread them around to several smaller orgs who may have more incentive to use it in ways I wouldn’t approve of.


> Size gives companies the ability to earn surplus profit which is turned into long-term innovation rather than short-term fighting for market share.

Except when companies don't, and instead use that surplus profit for:

- lobbying the Government for laws favorable to the company - funding laws and groups that favor breaking up the power of workers (e.g. no increase in minimun wages, anti-labor union laws) - investing that surplus into buying back the shares of the company, enriching its investors

There have been some investments in pure research and product R&D, definitely. But expecting companies to invest the majority of gains from centralization into research isn't what we've observed over the past few decades.


> This was Schumpeter's basic insight. Monopolistic competition is more dynamic than the free, small-firm dominated market. Size gives companies the ability to earn surplus profit which is turned into long-term innovation rather than short-term fighting for market share.

what was schumpeter's evidence for this?


> They ultimately controlled where those people worked

[citation needed]. I was a "victim" of that scandal, but if I ever decided to change employers I knew where the door was and I knew my résumé would get me considered at the other players. The agreement was mostly to keep their phone bank of recruiters from polling me continuously and the managers like four levels above me from playing pachinko with the pay and benefits packages (to the detriment of the folks at my level).

Regardless, the agreement was illegal and existing law broke it up without breaking up any of the companies. I don't see how the existence of that scandal supports the hypothesis that larger corporate breakups are either needed or beneficial.

Microsoft of today is an OS company, browser company, videogame development company, and cloud computing company, and they seem to be doing pretty well overall at it; happy users, good products, decent inter-operation.


> The agreement was mostly to keep their phone bank of recruiters from polling me continuously and the managers like four levels above me from playing pachinko with the pay and benefits packages

Do CS majors not understand marginal thinking? High-level people in business certainly do.

Yes, each of those things might not sound that bad - who cares if the recruiters don't poll me if I "know the door." The problem is that phone polling does have a real impact on people switching jobs and it does depress wages if businesses agree to not do it.


Not really in an ecosystem where there's some hundred startup opportunities in addition to the big established players. The mathematics on that are far more complicated than "big company doesn't pay more ----> everyone's wages are lower."

Besides, I have a hard time worrying about if my wages were lower than they "should" be when they're already more money than I'd see in any other field. Apple, Google, Pixar, et. al. employees are extremely well-compensated.


> Besides, I have a hard time worrying about if my wages were lower than they "should" be when they're already more money than I'd see in any other field.

Ah. So yes, CS majors don't understand marginal thinking.


Or they're not as monetariliy greedy. There's multiple forms of value.


So you've retreated from "actually there was no harm" to "maybe CS majors don't care if they are paid substantially less than they could be due to collusion in the labor market."

I'm not going to continue responding.


It really depends on how you define "harm" and who is harmed. Classifying "not paid as much as some theoretical model claims a person should be paid" as "harm" without examining the theoretical model in detail is naive.

For example, let's assume we care about improving people's lives. It's probably a short walk to assume that more independent software companies (both big players and smaller startups) satisfy that goal better than only a few players, or one player.

A collusion-free labor market encourages players at the top to spend on labor until they bleed. Eventually, if nothing checks that cycle, they bleed out competing for a small pool of top talent, with the winner being the one with the deepest pockets who can afford to bleed longest. Then, the winner gobbles up the talent and resources of the bankrupting companies, and there are fewer players in the market (and the remaining players get to dictate labor prices on the grounds of being the only players).

Ironically, a soft salary cap can benefit the ecosystem in the long-term; employees aren't paid as much as they could be, hypothetically, short-term, but there's more job security because a price spiral is unlikely to disrupt their employer. And there's a more diverse set of independent companies in operation, likely leading to a more diverse set of software solutions and more improvement in people's lives than if salary spirals meant that only big players could afford to play.

It's one scenario among many possible, but it's interesting to observe how maybe not paying software engineers much as they could be in a completely laissez-faire market creates long-term benefits for the engineers, their employers, and consumers.


> salary spirals meant that only big players could afford to play.

The collision was between big players, who were already outbidding smaller players except Facebook with had absolutely massive funding. Smaller players weren't helped by this. (Pixar was smallish but in context it's best seen as part of Apple/Jobs)

> laissez-faire market

Calling anti-collision regulation "laissez-faire market" is strange.


It's undoubtedly true that these companies' actions suppress wages at the margin. The first order effect is some level of harm to the impacted employees.

I can understand the argument you put forward about second order effects but I don't agree with it, underpriced labor will lead to overconsumption compared to what is optimal.

I'd also like to note that the soft cap is the outcome of laissez-faire policy, it's regulations and law that is attempting to remove it.


Are you assuming all of these companies are going after the same top talent? There are plenty of average and above average talent who they can hire and not "bleed". You don't need to hire a team of Ken Thompsons to build a CRUD service.

If companies would stick to hiring the developers they can afford given the needs of whatever project they are hiring for, there would be no (or less drastic) upward spiral of labor cost.


In the case of Apple / Google / Pixar / etc., yes. They are definitely trying to grab every Ken Thompson they can. For Google in particular, I believe it is part of their hiring goals.


This talks to a society wide problem, basic logical thinking tools (thinking at the margin, elementary statistics, etc) aren't taught in school and most of the population are ignorant of them.

They're not the most difficult concepts to grasp but high school students are busy memorizing facts instead, and these thinking tools are only taught in very specific university courses that not everyone will take.


There's an interesting book on how learning these tools changes one's political philosophy.

https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Rational-Voter-Democracies-Polic...


> I have a hard time worrying about if my wages were lower than they "should" be when they're already more money than I'd see in any other field.

Never get complacent. Always demand more. Give it away if you don't need it, but get what you're worth.


That's one philosophy but not one I subscribe to. I target win-win.


You won’t be hired and you won’t work for a company in the first place if it wasn’t a win-win agreement between the employer and employee.

What working for lower wages than you’re worth contributes to is a win-lose situation between employers in your field and employees in your field where the employees lose.

It will become a problem for you not now, but in the future when you are looking for a different job or when you want a raise (even if you’re satisfied now with your salary, inflation can catch up with you quickly, for example).


Win-win is a fine philosophy when negotiating person-to-person. Not so much when it's person-to-organization.


How do you feel about profiting sharing?


It doesn't seem like a bad idea.


> depress wages

Which is not even close to OP's extreme claims.


I think OP was just listing out the consequences of switching jobs.

They also engaged in agreements to not counteroffer in competition with each other above their initial offer so that employees couldn't negotiate between offers.


Google’s minister of misinformation Laszlo Bock explained it at TGIF as

1) Google did nothing wrong because 2) Outbound recruiting has no effect 3) So execs just spent a ton of time working out a complicated arrangement to prevent outbound recruiting

It amazed me that Google would brag about hiring “the smartest people” then feed them directly contradictory information and expect them to buy it, which shockingly many did. For all the typical criticism of Trump supporters being a misinformed cult coming from Googlers, I saw a ton of similarities in the logical brain turns off when dear leaders explain things.


> just spent a ton of time working out a complicated arrangement

A few emails and phone calls isn't a complicated arrangement.

Anyway, just because the defendant said something doesn't mean the plaintiffs believed it.


There is a lot to unpack here, but I think it needs to be addressed since your comment is getting so much exposure.

>> They ultimately controlled where those people worked

This is entire point of the anti-solicitation agreement. I don't need to cite anything.

Read the transcripts from Jobs and tell me again how it was to protect you from recruiters. How did you get sufficient protection after they lost the suit?

The point is showing the behavior of large companies that wield too much power and control large portions of the market, either from the customer's standpoint or the employees. They stopped their behavior only after being sued by the employees, who gained very little, the lawyers won and the GAFS ultimately profited from this endeavor.

Microsoft today is immaterial to the MS that should have been replanted in the 90s. Does not follow.

BTW it is hard to respond when your post is continually ninja-edited.


> Microsoft today is immaterial to the MS that should have been replanted in the 90s. Does not follow.

Microsoft of today follows from the MS that wasn't replaced in the '90s. Of course it's material.


Follows it in time only. MS today is not because of the stagnated Microsoft, but in spite of it. Nadella saved MS.

You are committing fallacies of conflating cause and effect and surviorship bias.


You claim MS "should have been replanted" in the '90s, but that claim makes the assumption that the end-result would be better than what we have now, does it not?

I don't think that's a safe assumption.


> decent inter-operation

We don't want interoperation only between Microsoft products, but between all products. Customer lock-in is an anticompetitive act. That's a big deal, and breaking up companies would be very advantageous to the consumer in that regard.


Would it? Because in general, when I look at the software ecosystem (in the open-source community and the closed-source cross-company community), I see a minefield of impedance mismatches and a programmer's lifetime of writing shim code.

The one-company ecosystems are incentivized to make their software work with its siblings. I've never seen any such strong incentive in other environments. I'd expect open-source to succeed at it, except instead it's a compatibility nightmare because people are interested in their own apps and not in making them talk to each other.


A textbook example is interop in email vs interop in instant messengers. Email was standardized, while instant messengers are left to the whims of individual companies. Normal interop isn't a hard problem, unless there's complicating circumstances (but then you have bigger problems), it's just that companies are incentivized to restrict it for their benefit.


do you know Fred Huxham? What you say about "mostly recruiters" is literally false


I'm afraid I don't. All attempts to learn more are telling me about track & field, which is not what I assume you're referring to.


> They ultimately controlled where those people worked (and their horrible commutes), who they were friends with, what schools their kids went to and who they married. All because the execs at these companies wanted to maintain total control of the workforce and suppress wages.

This is ridiculous. It was a non-recruitment pact that led to lower pay (for already wealthy people, just not as wealthy ad that execs), not wage-fixing nor non-hiring nor control over where people live or went to school or who they marry.

And the insulation that the wealthiest 1% of people are entitled to send their child to a better school than their non-tech-star neighbors is horrific. It exposes a worldview that extreme inequality is only bad if you aren't on top

> NPCs

What does this even mean? Being poorly paid and not having healthcare is bad, but being an "NPC" has nothing to do with it. How is being employed as a driver/cook/whatever more of a "PC"?


I think by NPC the parent meant a total lack of agency/mobility, perhaps comparable to feudal serfdom. Sure, you have a means of sustaining yourself, but if any job you can take or business you can create all involve a kickback to a monopolistic tech company, then your existence tends to serve their interests more than yours.


How would you have broken up MS? The Office programs are better together, Windows might be split of from the rest, but then what about IE? You can't sell a browser anymore, so either that dies (which would be bad back then because it was the most advanced browser) or it gets bundled with something else and the problem continues.


I'd keep all the software together - Windows, Office, CRM, etc.

Spinning out Bing/Microsoft Ads and Azure as separate companies feels kind of obvious, and could be interesting. I'm sure Azure could easily stand on it's own (might even be beneficial?!), but I wonder about the financial dependencies between Ads and Windows?


They get this big by buying up that many successful startups. I don't know about microsoft because it was for my time but Amazon bought Kiva Systems and now it is called Amazon Robotics. This ensures Amazon is the only company able to extract value from Kiva's robotics. Their robots drive the inventory around in fulfillment centers where order get picked on a rate of 300 per hour. Because they had a double frog leap on the competition Kivy would probably have IPOed by now.

All of the technology companies have a specialized VC arm which rake up extraordinary talent before they become a competitor. Whatsapp was build with 12 engineers when they hit 1 billion users. FANG have a talent kartel.


> Any value that something this large has, is in its ability to exhaust resources from the ecosystem, control the market, the workers and the ability to resist changing its behavior when better things come along.

It is no news that big-co can induce great harm, but let us not get swallowed into conspiratorial thinking. Large companies first and foremost benefit from economies of scale, not any dictatorial dynamics they might pursue.

This is important, because when we decide to draw a line based on size (easy) and not on demonstrated harmful behavior (difficult), we have to answer the question "how big exactly we should allow corporations get then?". The answer to this question will determine if we as a society can enjoy certain things or not, because some goods' and services' existence requires that economies of scale.

> Breaking up large companies isn't even about them. It is about us and the world we want to live in. Remember the wage fixing scandal between Pixar, Google, Apple and bunch of other companies in the bay?

How is multiple companies colluding related to the question of a single company being broken up? Again, what they did was wrong, but let's not smuggle unnecessary emotional rhetoric into a rational argument.

> That is too much power for a company to have or wield.

Power concentrates whether we like it or not. Who should wield that power? Nation states? Religions? Or do we mandate a constant break up? You might break up your nation's companies but that doesn't prevent another country's corporations dominating the world market including yours, unless you pull a NK.

Yes corporate power concentration can/does cause great harm, but I haven't heard a suggestion that can actually work in the real world. How about strengthening the opponent process of government and other democratic processes to undertake the difficult task of disincentivizing demonstrated harmful behavior? Developing mechanisms more sophisticated than "just break it up"? American big-co's are not the only big-co's in the world, maybe compare notes with how other nations handling these?


Being able to significantly alter public perception and influence the political process is one of the most important advantages of scale.


Yes, and maybe our political and public perception apparatus doesn’t scale well to the long tail of public interest topics and a singular strong entity with clear goals is simply taking advantage of that mismatch.


> Large companies first and foremost benefit from economies of scale, not any dictatorial dynamics they might pursue.

Economies of scale are dictatorial dynamics. Economy of scale means you're putting unbalanced pricing pressure on suppliers.


> Economies of scale are dictatorial dynamics. Economy of scale means you're putting unbalanced pricing pressure on suppliers.

I think you are confusing economies of scale with monopolistic/monopsonistic dynamics.


Nope. Not confused at all.


But economies of scale are independent of the supplying market - having one skilled industrial engineer (who may be the owner) set up a fully automated line to make screws would be an economy of scale as the automated would sustain a lower price per item vs a manned line or masses of tinkers machining every screw by hand.

Said situation also says nothing about your suppliers as a bunch of small steel producers vs one massive steel monopoly themselves.

The economic power wielded is a maximia of the difference per item in efficency essentially - as any attempt to leverage it would result in the old less efficient way being cheaper and negate the competive edge.

To call the hypothetical sole industrial engineer "dictatorial" is quite the strange definition.


Automation and production efficiency isn't what people mean by "economies of scale", though, especially in relation to antitrust. When large companies make gains from "economies of scale" it's almost always because they've attacked margins, usually by wielding enough power they can convince suppliers to make less money, sometimes by replacing other parts of the vertical market by doing things in house.

If you think about the tech giants, they're not making gains by automating more production. They're buying up fiber, building their own chips, creating their own shipping companies, etc. They are big enough to alter most markets in ways that are favorable to them.


Break them up! The recent jump in engineers pay the past few years can be attributed to stopping this conduct by the large players:

>Remember the wage fixing scandal between Pixar, Google, Apple and bunch of other companies in the bay?

In addition when it comes to monopolies I always think of the Snapchat situation where a healthy, dynamic company comes up with a creative feature(stories) only to have the monopoly that is facebook completely rip it off and copy it in their own products thereby depressing snapchat's stock price and siphoning off its users. The fact that pinterest, twitter, and snapchat are not $100B+ companies and thriving is almost wholly due to facebook and its illegal monopolistic practices.


Even with the price fixing scandal, TC is still much higher at the big corps than at small companies, isn’t it? Seems like the monopolistic largesse outweighs the competition factor, at least for tech work.

The economics are different in other ways too: a big company hires someone who’s good at CS fundamentals and gives them time to learn whatever stack, while a small one needs someone with experience in exactly the right version of a framework. A big company can hire people for long term R&D while a small one needs features right now.

It may be best for the economy that the spoils of monopoly be redistributed, but we are partly the beneficiaries of them.


My thoughts on this:

- Microsoft stagnated or reversed computer software in many ways during the 80's and 90's. How long did we go without multitasking? (on the other hand, it was solely responsible for the commoditization of hardware which gave us countless benefits)

- being an employee in a company with robust competition is the best. (also for customers) Working in a company that is either too dominant or weak is an easy way to a job that lacks meaning.


Microsoft stagnated only because of leadership executing on a weak vision. Microsoft was at war with open source under a mantra of make the world Microsoft and their market didn’t care. It’s like Microsoft was executing from the same playbook as Apple before Apple discovered media licensing even though Microsoft was 20x larger. Outdated vision. By embracing the opposite approach they turned things around.


> We will all be serfs (NPCs) in a feudal corporate cosplay.

Perfect.


Great statement, excellent articulation.

" isn't even about them. It is about us and the world we want to live in. "

... we have to recognize that 'we don't own this stuff'.

Yes - I do support anti-trust and possibly 'breaking up companies' but we have to be very, very careful at how we intercede into private groups affairs.

The agents doing the 'breaking up' might just believe that they have incredible ability to 'oversee markets' and leverage the power for what they believe to be the 'greater good'.

The power of 'free markets' is often overstated but we should remind ourselves that there is a lot of value there, more importantly it's not obvious. In the short run, it's easy for someone to delude themselves in to the view that 'one's responsibility to the ostensible greater good as governor' combined with 'the grand view of markets' should legitimately empower towards control and market manipulation. After all - a bunch of 'really smart analysts' should be able to maximize social utility through some kind of restructuring of whatever exists at any given time in the markets.

It's a vey slippery slope and a hard thing to 'get right' - so any gains to be made here are going to be really correlated with how thoughtful and intelligent government will be on this one. Even with the greatest intentions it could be a mess.

Whoever doing this needs to be really, really smart about it.


Sure, markets are hard to beat with central control... But if the market is sufficiently consolidated, it's got a lot more in common with central control than what we would call a free market.

Markets work because people can use purchasing power to solve their problems. When you have only one (or two basically identical) players in a market, there's no ability to use purchasing power to signal that one approach or another is better for your needs. Part of the point is that the best system might involve many approaches for different kinds of end user. What we currently have in many situations is people's problems are being ignored because they don't have any real alternatives.

Simultaneously, Facebook (for example) is ultimately incentivized to solve the problems of their paying users (ad firms and political advertisers) over their non-paying users (humans). They've aggressively bought the competition which ensures that remains the reality.

Political regulation of markets exists to ensure that the interests of the polis are ultimately served by businesses, precisely because markets have MANY failure modes that prioritize other interests to the detriment of overall societal health.


Exactly this. Markets are incredibly powerful, but it's a double-edged sword.

They also have failure cases and it is important to be aware and guard against those cases.


> private groups affairs.

No such thing. They are relying on societal assurances that contracts they enter will be enforced, that property they hold will be protected, etc. Society is free to regulate those "private group affairs" since they are externalizing the costs onto society.

> there is a lot of value there, more importantly it's not obvious

Sure, but generally in the cases where politicians mistakenly intervene in markets with distortionary effects, economists are pretty united that the intervention will be a bad idea (see: rent control).

On anti-trust, economists recognize monopolies as a pretty clear market failure and it seems to be the tech employees who are deploying the "free market" arguments in defense of Google, FB, et al.


" Society is free to regulate those "private group affairs" since they are externalizing the costs onto society."

Private property, freedom of association is a very real thing.

It's a very serious thing to take private people's stuff from them.

So we have to be careful.


There's no state of nature where people are engaging in private transactions with legally enforced contracts, creating corporations with limited liability up to the size of the investment, etc. Those are all constructs of society.

Your idea that there are these transactions and property 'outside of society' that we have to protect from interference from society does not seem coherent to me, when the existence of a society that does grant private property rights is what allows a Google to exist in the first place.


This is totally upside down.

What is 'coherent' is a civil society that is consistent with the application of it's constitution.

Of course 'private property' is a construct - but that construct is fundamental, Constitutional. It's like voting.

If you take away people's property, your making some very deep transgression of the societal compact, and it's wrong.

There are cases where we need to make change - like lowering or increasing the voting age, we have to be careful with that.


It's also a very serious thing to use the resources of society to protect people's private accumulations.

If people get to use the force of law to keep their stuff from being stolen, they do have an obligation to pony up for the shared costs of that law enforcement.


Thank you for painting such a memorable picture. Too often we retreat to abstract intellectual arguments about what's right or how the world works. We have to remember that these decisions are about our wellbeing, as industry workers, consumers and the ecosystem as a whole.


Very insightful comment. I also focus on the element of the world we want to live in, and whether the status quo or where we are heading is really it.


> What is the end state if we let this continue? 20 large corporations in America and a field of small feeder gig economy vendors? We will all be serfs (NPCs) in a feudal corporate cosplay.

The reality is that this is what we're moving to, break-up or not. The ownership of these publicly traded companies remains the same disparate set of high-capitalization funds.


very true

People don't seem to realize that sooner or later EVERYONE will be under attack from this sort of '10 large companies that own everything' model

They seem to think - Oh my job is safe, so what do I care if taxi drivers/waiters/delivery people/warehouse workers have a tough life

sooner or later you will be a target, and then you will wish you had not ignored when everyone else was being taken out

because there will be no one left to save your job


Definitely there is a problem with people not realizing the oligopoly problem.

That said, I'm not as confident that changing public perception will actually have any impact on what the law does. There is pretty compelling evidence that in cases where public opinion and the opinion of large capital holders diverge w.r.t. a law, there is no relationship between the public opinion and what law is actually passed. [0]

[0]: https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/fi...


Very well put. The game is about concentrating wealth into as few hands as possible. If we allow it to continue in that direction, it will keep getting worse and accelerate. If we allow the economic elite to have their way and we turn a blind eye to their manipulations, it will be a signal for them to dial up the manipulations even more.

If you are not sufficiently connected to the financial and political elite, you will eventually lose everything. It will happen in your lifetime. Nobody will be left to protect you against gross injustice. Worse than that; nobody will care.

We all have to take a stand and make a small effort at least.

Already, highly intelligent people are beginning to fall through the cracks of the system by the millions.


Thats why i m already hoarding Brawndo stocks.


Good idea. After Monsanto (excuse me, Bayer) falls and there are no more plants, we'll still need electrolytes. Definitely a long-term growth stock.


South Korea?


This is a great take.

> What is the end state if we let this continue?

One of the pillars of capitalism is the idea of "creative destruction" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_fall). That is, when a moderately-sized company falls apart, it's actually a long-term positive for the economy as a whole. It's decomposed, sold off, and its former pieces are repurposed for the good of all.

One purpose of antitrust law is to keep the cycle of whale falls going. If antitrust law is unenforced, the whales never fall, which has a negative impact on the fragility of our economy: if and when these megacorps become anemic, they threaten to take down the whole economy/whale-decomposition process with them.


That would raise a ton of questions. Most of the deals Facebook did to buy WhatsApp, Instagram and others where approved by the US government. But if those approvals can be reversed, why bother requiring them to begin with?

Google only develop Android and Chrome to fuel their ad business, those two product can’t turn a profit on their own, as proven by Mozilla. Would the lawmakers force a creation of companies who are doomed to fail?

Lawmakers should have been more careful about which mergers and purchases they approved. Many of the issues we face with big tech is because lawmakers are to inept at seeing the long term consequences of the deals they themselfs approved.


> Google only develop Android and Chrome to fuel their ad business, those two product can’t turn a profit on their own

The Google Play store has multiple billions of dollars of revenue. Revenue which comes from consumer spending, not ads.

An article from SensorTower (https://sensortower.com/blog/app-revenue-and-downloads-1h-20...) says that in the first half of 2020, people spent $17.3 billion through Google Play.

Assuming Google gets a 30% cut of all of that, it would be $5.2 billion of revenue for half a year, so annualized that'd be over $10 billion/year. Perhaps Google doesn't get a 30% cut of absolutely every transaction (different rules could apply to books, music, TV, and movies), but it gives you a ballpark number.

The Play store and the Android OS aren't the same thing, of course, but creating Android obviously helped put Google in the position to get that Play revenue. And if it were to stop developing Android, that would probably hurt Play revenue.


Do they spend more than $5B on android though? I don't know, though I wouldn’t be especially surprised.

Edit: I made a typo and left out “wouldn’t” which reverses the sense of my comment.


If they do, then it’s uncompetitive and it deserves to be broken up. We may not be in a mobile OS duopoly if Google wasn’t allowed to dump infinite amounts of money into a loss leading product.


In that case every device should allow users to trivially change their OS, or hardware manufacturers who make operating systems could be accused of the same thing. Many companies make products that don't make money but help promote and sell their products that do. My point is that os/app store metrics are too narrow rather than approval, because I am far from in love with the business model of any of the companies targeted by this report. Although I think the right move would be more consumer-friendly regulation rather than break ups.


Google dumps money into Firefox too. They can argue there is no special treatment for Android, and they could justify it after a breakup by the Android company serving “major ads” for Google.


>so annualized that'd be over $10 billion/year

Funny that is the amount Google paid Apple for being the default search engine.


> Most of the deals Facebook did to buy WhatsApp, Instagram and others where approved by the US government.

Facebook promised at the time that Instagram and WhatsApp would operate independently, which probably played a part in the govt. decision.

That promise has been broken. Seems fair that the approval might be reconsidered in light of this.


they also promised to not share data between services

which is also broken


Lawmakers should have been more careful about which mergers and purchases they approved.

The Lawmakers in question are not involved in the actual approval process. They create the rules, but sadly don't do the full rule making[1] nor do they administer the rules. So, this is their check on what the executive branch has done.

1) its amazing how many laws are passed with the actual rules determined by departments in the executive branch. That's why it is so important to look at the announcements in the federal register.


8-9 years ago there was a small movement to popularize Federal Register highlights on reddit. I hope it works someday. If there were a Federal Register fact of the day TikTokker, I would follow them


>Most of the deals Facebook did to buy WhatsApp, Instagram and others where approved by the US government. But if those approvals can be reversed, why bother requiring them to begin with?

Most of those deals had pre-conditions and promises by Facebook. Facebook has ignored most of the obligations with basically a "what are you going to do about it" attitude.

For instance:

>The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a letter to the two companies on Thursday, said WhatsApp must adhere to its current privacy practices after the merger, including a promise not to use WhatsApp users’ personal data for targeted ads.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-whatsapp/faceboo...

So they directly ignore that requirement and try to claim "well it's in the T&C!" which they KNOW users don't read. And even if they did, end-users accepting a T&C doesn't give you some magical power to ignore a government mandate.

https://techcrunch.com/2016/08/25/whatsapp-to-share-user-dat...


I don't think this argument is entirely justified. There is a "sandpile" effect as more acquisitions come about, plus the merging of profiles in the context of social media platforms. The net effect is definitely more than the sum of the parts, so the monopoly effect is much more than the sum of the individual parts' market shares.

Moreover, pointing out to earlier oversights cannot be a justification for an absence of oversight now.


> Moreover, pointing out to earlier oversights cannot be a justification for an absence of oversight now.

Got confused trying to parse this, then realized you are probably using the word “oversight” in two diametrically different ways in this sentence.


"Oversight" is its own antonym! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-antonym


Conditional approvals are only valid as long as the conditions are held. It's the same as using open source software: You are bound by the license and if you break the license you loose the permission to use the software and maybe even have to pay a fine to the copyright holders.

Facebook willfully broke the conditions set for the merger, so now its time to reverse said mergers and if this means Facebook has to bleed then that's the price they pay for breaking the rules.


Can... Can we go do the same to Comcast? They fail to fulfill merger promises time and again.


> Google only develop Android and Chrome to fuel their ad business

Maybe, maybe not. Loss leaders are definitely a thing. Nothing forces them to be "doomed to fail" however.

> those two product can’t turn a profit on their own, as proven by Mozilla

Proven? Mozilla failed, sure. That does not mean its a foregone conclusion.


Actually your comment brings an idea into my head. What if loss leaders could be a great probe into whether or not the behavior is anti-competitive. I know loss leaders exist, but how do they exist in a positive aspect? They seem to purely exist in order to siphon off capital from one business arm in order to extinguish competition in the loss-leader's sector. It seems to be it gets at the crux if this issue.


The act of using loss leaders to destruct a market, beyond growing a business, is called “dumping”. It’s a very old tactic, some regulations do exist against it...


Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

At least until you realize most bars utilize the same mechanism. It needs to be more of a combination of a high degree of departure from one's primary industrial/service vertical as well to really work as a canary though.


Loss leaders are fine when they’re the same business. Like McDonalds offering a loss leading burger or drink; or even a cinema offering a slightly loss leading ticket to make up on concessions.


To add to it not being a forgone conclusion:

One anti-trust argument is that Mozilla couldn't succeed against Chrome due to Google's use of a monopoly position in Android and search results.

The beta version of Firefox was released in 2002, the same year that the final ruling came down on the Microsoft anti-trust case. The first release of Firefox was 2004, and it quickly beat out IE, and was the market leader until Chrome overtook it. It is hard to say what would happen if Chrome were not the default browser on Android, and Chrome ranking above Firefox in search results and Google Play.


Chrome was also advertised relentlessly, for years. For something which isn't being sold as a product, Google certainly spend a lot of time and money promoting it. And that was certainly not out of altruism. They wanted the control and influence, and let's face it, they have got it. Unfortunately, I don't think antitrust covers strong-arming web "standards" and related influences.


> Lawmakers should have been more careful about which mergers and purchases they approved. Many of the issues we face with big tech is because lawmakers are to inept at seeing the long term consequences of the deals they themselfs approved.

A) The pool of lawmakers is in constant flux.

B) Most lawmakers are bribed by the very companies that they seek to regulate.

C) Companies lie all the time in their filings, and the moment they have the flimsiest of justifications, turn around and do the exact thing they promised not to

D) People who make a bad decisions in the past should be encouraged to fix it.


> A) The pool of lawmakers is in constant flux.

Unfortunately due to the absence of any meaningful term limits, this is not the case. People who make it into Congress and play ball with establishment elites tend to stay there for their entire remaining lifespan.

> C) Companies lie all the time in their filings, and the moment they have the flimsiest of justifications, turn around and do the exact thing they promised not to

Yes, because they get away with it. Perhaps if the incentive structure were different we'd see different results.


97 of 535 Congresspeople are in their first term this session. That's a healthy amount of turnover every few years. The average term in Congress is for people serving after 1950 is 12 years, so two terms.

Yeah, some Congresspeople operate in "safe" districts and never see a challenger, but those are rare (and valuable).

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


12 years is 2 terms for the Senate but for the majority of Congress, it's 6 terms.


> Lawmakers should have been more careful about which mergers and purchases they approved.

What you're saying locks people into thinking that minds can never be changed with new information. That's wrong on so many levels.


I've found that posts related to anti-trust enforcement of big tech on here generally have these sort of sloppily-reasoned comments at the top.

The reality of "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" hits home in pretty much every discussion I have on anti-trust.


>Lawmakers should have been more careful about which mergers and purchases they approved. Many of the issues we face with big tech is because lawmakers are to inept at seeing the long term consequences of the deals they themselfs approved.

Lawmakers (in the US, the House of Representatives and Senate) have no role in approving or disapproving specific transactions.

In case you aren't American and are unaware, unlike many (but not all) nations, sitting legislators (lawmakers) may not serve in both the Legislative and Executive Branches at the same time.

As such, since it's the Executive Branch that executes and enforces the laws passed by the Legislative Branch, lawmakers have no say as to how the law is executed/enforced -- except by changing/repealing/passing laws.

Instead, the Executive Branch, in these cases, the Federal Trade Commission[0], the Department of Justice[1] and perhaps other regulatory agencies (such as the FCC[2], FDA[3], etc.) that have a particular industry under their purview make such decisions.

[0] https://www.ftc.gov/

[1] https://www.justice.gov/

[2] https://www.fcc.gov/

[3] https://www.fda.gov/


We know from the Oracle lawsuit that Android is a multi-billion dollar business. Android may be open source but Google Play Services is not, so that's a few dollars of revenue for every phone sold. In addition, Google Play app store revenue for 2019 was $21.9 billion, and Google takes a 30% cut on most of that.


Android is probably more profitable outside Google than in it. Apple gets something like 7 billion a year just for Google being the default search engine on their devices. Add in stuff like maps, hangout/meet, youtube etc. and that number goes up.


Ah but if Android was a separate company from Google, and Palm and Blackberry were in the field too, with separate app stores and revenue split between them, what would the landscape look like?


Palm and Blackberry failed before Android succeeded.


Which they also want to make illegal.


> But if those approvals can be reversed, why bother requiring them to begin with?

certainly not to provide a guarantee of unknown economic markets in perpetuity.

As much as you would like to hold law makers accountable for not seeing into the future, It’s ridiculous to think law makers approving mergers lead to anti-trust violations.

Big tech companies are culpable because they unfairly use their market position to stifle competition to the detriment of consumers. Anti-trust is not purely about market size and dominance, it’s about the disgustingly gross behavior of the people in those companies with that type of power and influence.


If Chrome could not exist, Google would likely pay Mozilla even more to fund Firefox and get Search traffic (or pay MS for IE or some thing). Sure, it'd still be supported by the ads business, but that doesn't mean it isn't a profitable enterprise.


The FTC and DoJ approve mergers and acquisitions not lawmakers.


> Google only develop Android and Chrome to fuel their ad business, those two product can’t turn a profit on their own, as proven by Mozilla.

Microsoft and Apple have shown that licensing an OS and selling cell phones can both be lucrative. Google's Android business does both of these things; if it were spun out on its own, why would it be doomed to fail?


I don’t think there’s all that much more money to be pulled out of Android, since (a) it’s available under a very permissive license and (b) it’s used all over the world by people who don’t have much more money to spend on their phone. Google already barely has influence over the OEM’s that choose to use it, case in point their recent spat with Samsung over the fact that Samsung keeps patching the kernel in ways that introduce security vulnerabilities. Samsung hasn’t stopped, Google has just started publishing the vulnerabilities to shame Samsung into maybe doing something about it. Is this a scenario where it looks like Google is leaving money on the table? And if this is all the money available from Android that spells bad news for an independent company, since we know from the Google v Oracle filings that Android has made Google something like $10B total over all the years it’s been operating. Android might break even, but I assume it’s operating at a loss so that Google can benefit in a bunch of less direct ways from the fact that it exists.


> [...] we know from the Google v Oracle filings that Android has made Google something like $10B total over all the years it’s been operating.

Over the last year and a half, Google has made over $46b in app revenue ($29.3b 2019 [1] and $17.3b H1 2020 [2]) which at a 30% cut is around $14b. That's just apps on Google Play — not counting other forms of media, Pixel sales, Android licenses (they can always re-license if it's too permissive), etc.

Do you have a source for that $10b figure? I imagine some specific part related to the suit has made much over its lifetime. It seems like Google's Android business as a whole has made much more.

[1] https://sensortower.com/blog/app-revenue-and-downloads-2019

[2] https://sensortower.com/blog/app-revenue-and-downloads-1h-20...


The $10B figure is for Android licensing and hardware sales, and doesn’t include app revenue or the play store, which OEM’s don’t have to include e.g. in China where Google’s services are all banned. If the Play store went with Android to a new spinoff company that would certainly be a more financially viable company, but that’s a much, much more invasive dismantling of Google than separating out Android the OS and hardware platform. Once a proposed division gets deep enough to be partitioning datacenters it becomes less a discussion of spin-off companies and more a discussion of abolishing Google and seeing where the pieces fall.


I think it’s reasonable to assume that in this hypothetical scenario, the app part of Google Play would get split off and follow their Android business.


Mozilla is an interesting case, but I don't think it's representative of the wider ecosystem because it's unique. It's a corporation which isn't selling its products, and it's also a nonprofit which doesn't use its donations to finance its product development. And its main income source is Google advertising money. While I have some fondness for Mozilla, it's on a path to failure in the long term. It's trying to be both a corporation and an open source project and it's failing at both. I don't think the Google funding has been at all healthy for it.

There is a demand for mobile operating systems and web browsers. While it is currently funded through advertising and other means, if this method of funding was ended, the demand would not vanish. The market would adjust to support that demand. After all, we did historically pay for operating systems and applications. Entire corporations' fortunes were made from software sales.

In many ways, I would prefer a return to this model. It's simpler and it's honest. I very much prefer to be a valued paying customer rather than a product, with all of the privacy and other problems which result. It also results in a better product since the companies' incentives are more aligned with the paying end user.

Absolutely agreed about the lawmakers being more careful. Looking back at the Microsoft antitrust trial, that seems small beans compared with what big tech is up to today. And even then, I personally think that a broken up Microsoft would have been better for both the company and the wider world. And I think that applies tenfold to the tech behemoths we have allowed to accrete today.


> Would the lawmakers force a creation of companies who are doomed to fail?

I would think that Gmail, YouTube, and Search would be three profitable companies. But you can never underestimate the government’s stupidity.


>as proven by Mozilla

Because Mozilla hasn't existed as a company for 20 years? The fact that they still exist despite multiple companies massively subsidizing their products for market share means nothing apparently.


90% of mozillas revenue comes from Google paying to be the default search engine. Seems more like a subsidy than a successful business model

Disclosure: I work for GOOG


Paying money for a valuable service is commerce, not subsidy.

Half of Google's revenue is paying people for traffic from AdSense to browser search bars and all in between.

Is my business nonviable just because it's funded by Google ad placements?


In theory you are correct. However, I wonder how much of Google paying is actually 'we better have a competitor to avoid anti-trust' rather than paying for the searchbar.

Mozilla should have gotten a smaller amount last time due to falling behind in marketshare, yet that did not happen.


> Mozilla should have gotten a smaller amount last time due to falling behind in marketshare

That assumes that the amount of money in the market stayed the same. But it didn't: the number of users of the internet grew. So it's possible that the actual benefit to Google of Mozilla's users using their search engine grew.

Disclaimer: used to work for Mozilla, not privy to details of the Google agreements.


There is a pretty big difference between Google directly paying you to exist using money it makes from ads in a different product segment and making money for displaying ads through Google.


Do you know how the payment amount is determined?

I don't, but other such things are often structured as revenue share agreements, in which case it would not be exactly "ads in a different product segment", but rather "a fraction of the ad revenue directly attributable to Firefox". At which point it's really no different from how AdWords or the like work.


Google pays other companies (e.g. Apple) for the same thing: search engine placement. Obviously Apple has a business model outside of that deal, but do you feel that the payment to Apple is also a "subsidy"?


Your point about more care during the merger is very true.

However, just because antitrust regulators think it will be ok doesn't mean they can't change their mind. If it did, then breaking up monopolies would be impossible.

Consistency in the law is critical (current US administration demonstrates this), but the economy is dynamic, and consistent principles ("no monopolies") are completely fine, and may give different results when applied to the same entities at different times.


Android can be profitable. All the ripoffs like OneUI and MIUI have a shitload of ads. So charge them a small amount per device.

Chrome will have default search engine as Google. It is already profitable.


Not sure what you're on about. I have a Xiaomi Mi 9 and generally like MIUI - I see no ads.


They can be device and geo specific. Generally the cheaper the device, the more ads.


> Lawmakers should have been more careful about which mergers and purchases they approved. Many of the issues we face with big tech is because lawmakers are to inept at seeing the long term consequences of the deals they themselfs approved.

It’s hard to see how that would happen after Robert Bork (and SCOTUS) reduced the criteria for antitrust enforcement to ”it causes higher prices for the consumer”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Antitrust_Paradox


>Would the lawmakers force a creation of companies who are doomed to fail?

Strongly disagree. The current market structure with free browsers forces the users to pay for a browser with their private data, having little control over it. If the antitrust laws instead forced the users to pay for the browser directly, they would be in much better control, leading to increased competition and better products.


Not everyone can afford to pay for a browser. Get off your privileged horse and stop imposing your privacy argument on everyone. A mother in the bronx fighting for survival is not going to pay for a browser. The free browser is a godsend.


This is tricky. She is still paying for it because when she buys a box of cereal from the store, X% of the price goes to the ad budget, Y% of which goes to Google, and Z% of that goes to the Chrome developers. She also pays by getting a lower wage, because if most of the people had to pay $1/month for a browser, the salary cutoff point, beyond which people would simply not want to work, would be $1 higher. And then through supply/demand, it would slightly raise the average salaries. And, BTW, she would have one more opportunity to save money by not paying for a browser, and instead reading from a library computer. Or maybe using a cheaper volunteer-maintained Linux-like browser.

The thing is, money is just a token of passing value between people. If Alice is developing the browser and Bob is using it, there will be a mechanism to pass value from Bob to Alice to compensate for it. It can be either straight-forward (putting Bob in control) or centralized (through some social program, or ad revenue or whatever), but there will be one. Otherwise, Alice would spend her day playing ping-pong with friends, or cycling, or whatever people do when they don't have to work.

BTW, I do think that many social problems we are recently facing come from the fact that people are getting more disconnected from consciously producing value. If the abstract mother in Bronx had a clear path to making more money by opening a business and selling something to others, she would take that chance. And she would happily grow as a person and respect others who went the same path, regardless of their skin color. Except how many % of your monthly budget have you spent on owner-operated businesses vs. sector monopolies that treat people like drones and de-facto discourage professional growth to keep people more replaceable? That might also answer the question why the median salary in most areas barely covers rent, while the stock market is record high. Except instead of asking those questions and finding a way for people to contribute value in each others' lives without middlemen, we are turning tribal and trying to blame races, genders and political affiliations for a problem that truly affects us all.


All of this sounds great in theory but a dollar on food vs a dollar on a browser, I know what that mom is spending it on.


In practice it's junk food and brand name sneakers unfortunately.

As someone who was born to poverty beyond what even the poorest Americans have, and made it all the way up, I can see that most of the people's problems come from bad planning and lack of self-discipline. But, of course, the fact the I made it, makes me "privileged" and gives an easy excuse to discard my opinion.


You easily discarded others' woes to some lack of self discipline. Rather than acknowledging how hard even one mistake in that condition could be. Miss out on a loan, oh pay some exorbitant penalty etc. Cycle keeps on going.

Rather than showing empathy you're saying that "it must be their fault they can't make it". Don't pretend to know everyone's story. And if you feel this strongly, why don't you make a paid browser product ? Half the people here won't even pay for it, let alone the world.


You don't need to be on a privileged horse to make both the privacy argument and the welfare argument.

You don't have to argue against them. There's options for public funding of such things. I know that's nowhere near where our political mindset is, but you could require a browser to be paid, but have government programs and subsidies that make the browsing free for most people. Then all the incentives are properly accounted for.


This will take 50 years to pass and countless kids will again be at a disadvantage while searching the Internet.


I think the change is coming because Zuck couldn't make his end of the bargain with Congress.

It's a boilerplate deal. We've seen it with railroads, telecoms, sugar, cigarettes, etc. The industry gets a little too rowdy for the good of the country and other businesses. Congress gets them to testify for a few hours and makes sure that they tell a lie somewhere in that timeframe. Now, Congress has leverage on the industry. In return, the industry gets to write the laws surrounding themselves. They become, effectively, a poly/monopoly. Sure, the big gains are gone, but so are the losses. Your industry, yourself, and all your relatives and descendants will never be poor again. You make a tidy 3% profit for eternity.

Congress gave Zuck that deal. Clean up social media; this Russia/flat-earth/vaccine stuff has got to stop. But Zuck can't do it. The ML/AI approach gets you to 99.9%. But to actually clean up the mess and get all the plebs to take their vitamins again takes 99.999% (or something like this). You need real people monitoring the site, like China's 50-cent army. But those people cost way too much to make FB profitable. It's the same for all the social media sites. They don't have a business if it's a clean one.

It took a while (hey, it's Congress), but the folks on Capital Hill finally got the message that Zuck can't do it. But, look, it just has to be clean. The mess is affecting other businesses now. Those 5G towers are expensive and took a lot of investment, we can't have people just hacksawing them. So we're going to see the congresscritters start to find ways to get the job done. One way, per this article, is to split them up. Take all the Facial-Feature-books (NoseBooks? EarBooks? EyeBooks?) and clean them up or let them fail outright. I'm sure we'll see negotiations with Zuck in the near future.

But the end objective, powered by the hulking slow weight of congressional subpoenas, is the same: no more messes.


This works for FB but how about Google, Apple, and Amazon? FB's messes go beyond market domination as you point out. But for the others, where and when did they cross the line?


> Google only develop Android and Chrome to fuel their ad business, those two product can’t turn a profit on their own

That's a good point. If we took these products to be public infrastructure, like roads, would we consider them being owned by ad companies a good idea? I'm leaning towards maintainence schemes for these public infrastructure projects similar to what we have for physical public infrastructure, like roads, rail, bridges, etc. Them being international would be an interesting challenge of course, but I think it's solvable.


I don’t want my government making a web browser, but I do want it to keep a competitive market for web browsers.


Making and financing open-source isn't the same thing. If you want privately funded browsers, they will be either subscription based or ad-oriented. Neither is good. Healthy competition is also hardly possible because of how bloated Web is. It's so expensive to maintain that we only have ~3-5 well maintained browsers.


> Google only develop Android and Chrome to fuel their ad business, those two product can’t turn a profit on their own

That's doubtful.

> as proven by Mozilla

Mozilla? You mean that one terrible company that only exists due to Google's pity? Or rather, Google's strategic philanthropy so that they can show regulators that they aren't a monopoly because Firefox exists.

The reason we don't see other competitors in the space is because Google's (and Apple's on iOS) monopoly makes it extremely difficult to compete. I could totally see myself paying for a high quality, privacy-focused, cross-platform, ad-blocker-friendly web browser. I wouldn't pay Mozilla, I wouldn't pay Google, and I wouldn't pay Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple. But I would pay a small software company who isn't trying to exploit me at every turn in the pursuit of unsustainable growth (or LARPing in Mozilla's case).

Maybe not everyone would agree with me, but I'm sure a lot of people would. Maybe enough to build a sustainable business. I feel like people are forgetting that a company doesn't need to be a Google-scale behemoth or monopoly in order to be successful and sustainable.


Situations can change, as can our understanding of the situation. What seems benign at one point in time can seem like a bad idea with more information. Revisiting decisions based on new information or a changed situation seems like a hallmark of good governing to me.

Consider Freon. It was legal to use for a long time. With evidence that it's bad for the environment, it's no longer legal for most uses.


Then make very specific company-agnostic behaviors illegal, like with Freon. They didn't say "we ban company X from making any fridges", it was a general ban. If there's a certain behavior that's problematic (still not sure what specifically you would be referring to here), then ban that, not handpicked companies.

This is the TikTok crap all over again. They want to help national security and user privacy, but instead of banning data collection, they target TikTok specifically, because they know other US owned apps do very similar data collection.


> This is the TikTok crap all over again. They want to help national security and user privacy...

Am I the only one who thinks that TikTok was more about geopolitics concerning US/China and much less about user privacy?


As one youtuber put it, if the CCP wanted to cause chaos in the US, one thing they could do is have an "accidental" data breach and disclosure of every TikTok users private communications. Or like FB use the platform to influence what people see in order to cause unrest. So yes? It's a geopolitical thing and not about user privacy.


> [the CCP could] have an "accidental" data breach and disclosure of every TikTok users private communications. [...] So yes? It's a geopolitical thing and not about user privacy.

That sounds like both.


From an individuals point of view yes. But if the US government cared about our privacy they'd do something about FB, Amazon and Google.


Surely the CCP could get better value for $75B rather than burning one of their tech stars to the ground.


A data breach has rarely burned a company to the ground. The other option of using it for direct influence is probably a bigger threat anyway.


If the CCP wanted to cause chaos in the US, they would stop container ships from leaving China bound for North America.


More effectively, they could use tiktok data to blackmail specific people.


I mean it obviously was, that was kinda my point. If they cared about user privacy they would've passed a user privacy bill instead. I should've phrased it "They pretend to care about national security and user privacy..."


Facebook selling your data to advertisers is annoying. TikTok et al vacuuming up data to be stored by the CCP for things like blackmail[0] is horrifying and basically geopolitical chess moving to give them leverage on things like putting Muslims in detention camps [1]. Treating the two as equivalent is somewhere between intentionally ignorant or acting in bad faith.

[0] - https://www.theepochtimes.com/china-has-a-database-on-americ...

[1] - https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/other/china-confirms-death-of...


> Facebook selling your data to advertisers is annoying.

Facebook selling your data to advertisers is also horrifying. American "businesses" accept foreign investments and money all the time. Nothing stops those same countries from buying data from Facebook. The only difference between that and TikTok is that money is exchanged. It's just as horrifying.


Unlike the CCP, Facebook isn't literally harvesting organs [2] or implanting intelligence assets [3]. Facebook shouldn't be reckless with user data, but when it's users start getting black bagged and having their vital organs removed, then we can compare the two.

Mind you, all the major foreign companies are already banned in China so they can't possibly be involved.

[2] - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-forcefully-harvests...

[3] - https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/two-recent-alleged-episodes-...


No they just interfer with local politics via lobbying, i.e. buying politicians, i.e foreign agents.


> Facebook shouldn't be reckless with user data, but when it's users start getting black bagged and having their vital organs removed, then we can compare the two.

TikTok's association with CCP is horrifying, yes.

Facebook's hands aren't clean either.


There’s levels of clean.


Facebook isn't selling your data. They're selling access to you.


I don't see how those two things are really any different. Would it be okay if the CCP bought Facebook's data and used that to blackmail people? What if Facebook itself decided it wanted to blackmail people, is that any better? What if China just uses that information to sell to advertisers, is it okay then?


That's an arbitrary line to draw, and really misses the forest for the trees.

It makes little difference in the end if it's a corporation blackmailing and ruining a person's life or a government. Facebook can share your data with whoever they want to, so the government can probably get it anyway. We have no idea who Facebook shares data with, who inside Facebook can see it, etc. Every company claims they have great security and follow best practices, until it's found out that they don't, so taking their word for it that your data is safe is naive.

In both cases the end user is powerless unless they stop using the service altogether.


Um, Advertizing is not the same as blackmail. Not even close.


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Are you suggesting that putting Muslims in a detention center and harvesting their organs is somehow "a trumped up boogeyman"? [4] [5]

Having a bad API and letting Cambridge Analytica abuse that data was bad, but everyone who had their data abused still has all their vital organs.

Also odd that you blame Facebook but not the Russian intelligence for those actions - Facebook should have done better but they were inherently on the defensive. Maybe we should blame the foreign intelligence intentionally undermining a foreign election and take action to stop other foreign interference such as TikTok?

[4] - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/world/asia/china-muslims-...

[5] - https://www.businessinsider.com/china-harvesting-organs-of-u...


They did not suggest anything re: detention centers.

You are conflating two separate events.

We are talking about the direct effects on US democracy, in which case Facebook has already demonstrated harm.

The fact that Russia was involved is only significant in terms of the resources available to "attack facebook" as it were. Many other countries and even private businesses have comparable resources -- this is the problem. American society is still vulnerable due to the business model of Facebook.

The idea that we can just trust other countries/corporations to not engage in the same bad acts as Russia is absurd.


the problem is that unlike chemical compounds, no two companies have exactly identical business models.

banning "specific" behaviors is the exact opposite of what you want, because then companies will rules-lawyer their way around it in the corporate equivalent of "I'm not touching you!"

what you need is strong bans on general patterns of activity such that companies decide it's better not to try and find the exact limit and just stay the hell away from it. The model here is fincen "structuring" - it is illegal to avoid financial controls, and it is illegal to try and find ways to get around the monitoring regimes. If you think you've found a clever way to avoid it, that is itself illegal and they will fuck your shit up.

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

It's not a popular sentiment here on HN where many people's salaries depend on pretending not to understand it, but this is what GDPR gets exactly right. There isn't a prohibition on specific usages of data, there is a blanket ban on using private customer data for any purpose that is not directly related to the provision of serve. People pretend not to understand it because they want to keep doing the things that are prohibited but the regulations are actually quite clear and quite simple. Could the service be provided without the use of the data? If no, use it. If it could, don't use it, and don't collect it. That's the bright-line. If you don't attempt to push the limit, structuring style, then you won't get in trouble.


Does anyone else feel like releasing this report prior this close to the elections is a miscalculation on the part of Democrats?

Like it or not, these tech companies hold a lot of influence via lobbyists as well as their platforms themselves. I’m not saying they will actively try to get a candidate elected who is more friendly to their agendas. However, I don’t see them going out of their way to prevent others from doing it knowing what the future holds should there be an administration change.

I’d also be surprised if moderate voters actually give a crap about anti-trust issues, at least not enough to sway their vote one way or the other. If anything, it could have the opposite effect of turning off voters that see this as government overreach, since many moderates are fiscally conservative.

This post is out of curiosity and to hear the thoughts of others, so hopefully it isn’t taken the wrong way.


Miscalculation? No. It's just drumming up support around a policy they think people broadly support (but actually don't care about). It'll be tough talk for a bit, and then representatives will quickly remember where those campaign contributions come from.


I get in theory why they would do it, under pretty much anytime other than the month before a pretty consequential election. The timing of this is what seems a bit suspicious (in addition to the points I made and you made, re: campaign contributions).

Pelosi - among other politicians - is pretty savvy and I suspect other things are going on behind the scenes. Either that or, in my opinion, this is a pretty boneheaded move.


Maybe they want more campaign dollars for re-election and plan to get it from lobbyists who want to lobby against their legislation? The monopolies have, almost by definition, the deepest pockets.

The steady share prices for these stocks do not indicate that this is concerning to investors.


I'm feeling a pretty strong tech backlash growing, especially with the social dilemma opening a lot of people's eyes. I don't have the polls, but I'm sure the strategists are seeing good numbers for standing up to big tech.


I seriously doubt that your average down-and-out Democrat think tech monopolies are a pressing issue - any more than I think the average hillbilly Republican thinks that reducing taxes on the 1% is a pressing issue ;)


I don't know what their endgame is but it seems they timed the release well strategically. Two hours earlier, Trump tweeted that he was ending stimulus negotiations, which led to a big market selloff into the close. Any selloff of FAAMG attributable to the breakup big tech announcement will be unnoticeable, but may accelerate or extend an overall decline which could pressure some connected fiscal conservatives to call for continuation of stimulus talks, and prompt some leans-right voters to consider market decline. So much of the messaging all around seems bizarre that I've started to assume it's simply 'optimized,' and it registers with some subset of voters, making them more likely to vote. If it all seems disjointed, you're not the audience, you check both boxes of 'will vote' and 'vote decided.'


Biden has former Google/Fb/Apple lobbyists on staff[1], Harris comes from California. I doubt that Biden will take an overly aggressive stance on tech, or at least more aggressive than the Trump campaign would, section 230 reform etc.

[1] https://theintercept.com/2019/05/06/joe-biden-pac-coporate-s...


I think that’s a good point. The timing of this announcement just seems a bit bizarre, given the stakes. This could have easily been announced next month.

One thing that occurred to me is the potential that Democrats could be using the threat of anti trust actions to pressure the tech companies to be more proactive, re: misinformation prior to the elections. Guess we will know if they make any significant policy changes over the next week or two.


> I’d also be surprised if moderate voters actually give a crap about anti-trust issues, at least not enough to sway their vote one way or the other.

It’s not about anti-trust per se, that’s just an excuse. The goal is to hit the big tech where it hurts, and effectively diminish their power for a long time. This is very popular attitude among Trump voters.


To clarify, are you saying Trump supporters want to see big tech broken up? If so, I just can’t see this persuading a Trump supporter to change their vote.


Me neither, I was just clarifying the stance on the topic of people whom HN crowd has very little interaction with or understanding of.


This report is pretty clearly bipartisan if you read it. There’s a growing consensus on these issues.


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So your theory is tech was propping her up and without the constant support she dropped down to levels more inline with her competency?


I think the theory is that if you own Fb & Google, you can put your thumb on the scales of what content people see. There's clear evidence of this happening to certain news sites, although I think for an election candidate I doubt they would dare.


The scientific way to look at that 2 week stretch is to try and find possible confounding factors, such as having Pete Butegieg - who was splitting the centrist vote - drop out and endorse Biden.


"He agreed with some of the report’s recommendations, such as (...) allowing consumers to take control of their data through data portability and interoperability between platforms."

This is the key. If I'm able to talk with my WhatsApp friends from Signal, or migrate my whole Facebook account to another platform, it would make it much harder for the companies to create and keep their monopolies.

If I were a lawmaker, I'd focus my time on how to do this properly.


There is a privacy problem there. If I can export my social graph from Facebook, that isn't just information about me -- if you are my friend, then my graph also contains information about you (specifically, that you are my friend).

If enough of your other friends export their social graphs too, then it wouldn't be too hard to reconstruct yours, even though you never exported it yourself or intended to share that information with other social networks.


Nothing on Facebook is private right now. So, what exactly are you concerned about?

I can see the SPAM argument, but splitting things up across multiple networks makes it harder to reconstruct your social graph. Either way getting access to a single site gives access to your fiends, but now you need to compromise multiple sites to gets your friends of friends list.


this is user-generated content and it should belong to the user, i.e. they should be able to export it in an interchangeable format, like we had RSS a long time ago. But it would also mean the end of lock-in for many companies, so i don't think they 'll allow it


We already have export in interchangeable format, because of the GDPR, but it doesn’t make people move their data because it’s difficult, and often, there isn’t really anywhere to move it to.

What would you import your Facebook data, your Strava tracks, etc. into? Even if there were a product with feature parity, your friends still would be on Facebook, and all your old URLs would die.


Right now that data is not truly equivalent. E.g. twitter/fb have email addresses, and use them to notify friends, but they won't give you your followers' email list. There could be a way to ask your followers to give them for example, or at least a hash of it, so they can be discovered in another network. The issue here is that whatever value is in friend lists /subscribers is locked into these companies, but in reality it's the users who have earned it.


When you go down this rabbit hole enough though you realize how totally inept pretty much every government has been in facilitating standards and supporting infrastructural software throughout the tech sector since its inception.

Projects like BSD, ARPANET, etc were largely public money going into public software that was liberally licensed. Huge swathes of modern tech are built on foundations of public funding. But by and large today there is absolutely no interest or investment at the state actor level into infrastructural software - Linux is built by corporate involvement, html by whatwg, and fundamental technologies like how ubiquitous Blink and V8 are becoming throughout the software stack are corporations acting as authorities on structural software because public actors have totally failed to fill a necessary role in providing these interoperabilities for decades.

The IETF was publicly funded before 93 but became a nonprofit thereafter. There are now dozens of similar foundations relying on largely corporate sponsorship to develop standards - new ones like Matrix, old ones like XMPP, or are just largely dumps of corporate will on our collective experience like PDF.

Activitypub is a W3C standard but the W3C is basically a private club for university departments at this point. Again, it had public funding and involvement in the 90s that atrophied over time.

The consequences of our fragment ecosystems built largely on lock-in for-profit motives have wasted a billion man hours of human labor reinventing the same wheels and have produced a software ecosystem where free software is predated by the most powerful and wealthy companies to ever exist on Earth to produce insane profits never before realized. And its largely a consequence of totally non-existent climates of public infrastructural software development being funded and paid for by tax revenues.

If humanity survives in some form long term future generations will look back at this period and ask "how were these monkeys so stupid as to not collectivize coherent standards and have them deployed ubiquitously to make the benefits of software more available to all and to push the envelope of progress faster?"

Hell the premier way to do complex research or theoretical experiments in software today is with CUDA, a holistically proprietary toy of Nvidia used to sell 5000% marked up workstation graphics cards because public institutions have been totally unable to even recognize that's a problem let alone do anything about it.

Its a problem the west is having in many industries. The cult like idolization of the profit motive as a means to every end means roads crumble, bridges collapse, Internet infrastructure goes undeveloped, transit is nonexistent, housing is a nightmare, and software is in a perpetual wild-west state of eating itself reinventing the same wheels in perpetuity to try to appease gambling addict shareholders.


The problem is which technologies to fund publicly.

The market, while far from ideal, tends to invest into tech that works, and often to the tech that works well. Those who choose and insist on unsound tech risk going bust.

Governmental agencies act differently. Sometimes they seem to have the right structure and the right people at helm, like DARPA used to, and they provide great results. Sometimes this is not the case, and we e.g. end up with B-2, F-35, or Zumwalt.

With all that, I do support the idea that research done on tax money should be free to use for any US company, without patent restrictions and so on, even if not made public domain.


If we survive into a long term future it won’t be because we froze today’s technologies into “standards” and hobbled ourselves to them.


Can someone help me understand what the problem is here? I, like billions of other people, am a heavy Google user: I use gmail, Google search, Google maps, Youtube, etc. I don't pay a cent and the quality of the service is impeccable. Competition is good to benefit the consumer at the cost of the producer. But in this case, I, as the consumer, pay nothing for my services and am happy with the quality of those free services. What is the antitrust trying to achieve? "When you don't pay, the product is you", they say. Ok, fine, so maybe the "true" consumer is the advertisers. Is the antitrust here designed to benefit the advertisers? Who is Congress trying to help here? Are they simply punishing success for the sake of punishing success?


Ultimately trust busting comes down to the impact on the consumer. A monopoly is defined as having market power, exclusionary conduct and business justification (1). In theory, if consumers are happy, nothing happens.

As you state with Google, you're pretty happy with the services they provide. At some point, Google stops trying to compete with better products and simply uses its dominate position to takeover markets. For example, Google Flights. Is Google Flights a better product? Does it save me money or provide more options? I honestly have no clue but the fact that Google can just integrate with the top of search, pushing down the market tested existing companies is bad for consumers. Google can just singularly introduce worse products and instantly gain significant market share by putting them at the top of search. Similarly, they have an infinite adwords budget.

As for punishing success, I wouldn't frame it that way. In general, if the companies split, it will make way more money for the existing equity holders. They get shares in all the new companies and they tend to do well.

1) https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-a...


You're right that big companies should only be broken up if it would benefit consumers. The point I'd raise is first that you may be unaware of better alternatives because of anticompetitive behaviour by Google and second by Google's very nature they could limit the discoverability of competitors.

(I have no idea whether better competitors exist or whether Google could, let alone does, hide them.)

Antitrust cases are hard to generalize I believe. If an airline lowers prices on a route following the entrance of a (smaller) competitor, it's hard to know whether that is or should be illegal without knowing a whole lot of specifics.


> you may be unaware of better alternatives because of anticompetitive behaviour by Google

google provides all of the best services in each of its major consumer categories unless you value privacy, except when there's a major competitor. there's no hidden gem better than youtube that would scale as well.


>you may be unaware of better alternatives

Better is in the eye of the beholder.


> the quality of the service is impeccable

Well I disagree with that, and perhaps that is the foundation of the problem. When something is easy to use, and free, you will miss the other stuff that is out there, or you might stifle the progress and competition of the other stuff that is out there.

There are much better platforms out there for email, documents, video, and more, but you may not know they exist so you are satisfied by something that is honestly fairly mediocre at this point.

And, how do you find Google's competitors? Are you going to use Google's own service, Google.com, to look for alternatives to Google? Well there's a problem right there.


>There are much better platforms out there...

Your argument is stop liking what I don't like.

>how do you find Google's competitors?

Google search provides pages and pages of alternatives to Google services.


I’d use bing? Or DuckDuckGo? I’d use one of those on Firefox on a Mac.


Those free users are the product. Just because you’re not paying money doesn’t mean there’s not value.

“Are they simply punishing success”

You could have said the same about Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel. The problem is when these companies get to a size and market position that enables extremely anticompetitive behavior like what we’re seeing with app stores and all the purchasing of other successful companies/engineers in the space.


Here are the problems

A) Google pushing its own services over better services owned by others

Example: Yelp was the best reviews service for quite a while

Google was stealing their data and putting Google Reviews first in results

This was an obvious negative for customers as instead of getting more reviews and better reviews at Yelp they were getting lower reviews and lower quality reviews at Google Reviews

B) Google doing secret investments (such as in RetailMeNot) and sending customers to RetailMe Not instead of other discount sites by putting RetailMeNot #1 in every search result

3 to 4 years later REtailMe Not was sold and only then did it become public knowledge that Google Ventures had invested in it

Google was not looking at who had the best deals for each retailer and putting that first. It was putting the company it had a personal stake in, first

*

C) Companies that were growing very fast, such as Vroom and were considered dangerous

Google was inundating search results with negative reviews and negative posts about such companies

This was inaccurate and misleading. That particular company ended up IPO'ing

However many other that were offering customers a great deal/better service got hurt by Google search engine manipulations and were not able to survive

D) Google miscategorizing and manipulating results for potential competitors

This is the law suit and the European fine that Google got

There were companies like Findem that had to close down because Google 'disappeared' them from search, as they were potential competitors

So instead of what is best for customers - multiple search engine options - Google was hiding what it considered dangerous competitors

E) Pushing Chrome and taking market share and building a second monopoly (in browsers)

Microsoft had an anti trust law suit and was almost broken up for pushing IE using Windows

Google is doing EXACTLY the same thing

Google Search Google Docs all google properties are constantly pushing Google Chrome

not based on any criteria other than Google owns Chrome and sets Google Search as default browser on Chrome

Basically, the list is super long

Google is using the defence that users pay nothing

HOWEVER, it is taking user data and monetizing it and another company can share that monetized money with users OR can provide a better service

We don't see it clearly because it is being done in almost every area

*

any promising company that might do well, is attacked or hidden

In China we have lots of new companies come up

However, no such rise in US

US look at companies going IPO. It is almost all Enterprise

Why?

Because Google, Amazon, Facebook are doing a very effective job of stifling innovation and killing off any fast rising company via various illegal means

If not for the Apple App Store we would see even fewer customer side/consumer side startups

Google is using control of Google Search, Android, and Chrome to keep out ANY company that competes in any way with Google (and google does lots of things)

Amazon is using control of marketplace to make sure no 3rd party sellers can become very big

Facebook is using its monopoly in social media and understanding of what is growing fast to buy up anything that it considers dangerous, and limit those that might become dangerous

These are all well documented

Your questions are postured like Big Tech talking points

This claim is downright laughable -> the quality of the service is impeccable

For many Google properties there are much better options

We can see many things such as Google+ closing down

However, other very good upcoming products are never given a fair chance

We should completely remove 'advertiser' angle. That's a false direction

The right direction is

What is best for customers?

Is Google interfering with that?

If so, then it is abuse of their monopoly position

As simple as that

Just because you offer a free service, does not mean you can do anything illegal you want and claim 'customer is not paying anything' so it is not an abuse of monopoly power

Basically what Google is doing, or trying to do

-> Screw over EVERYONE who is on the customer facing side

If you run ANY company that is growing fast and adding lots of customers, then Google wants to stop your growth/kill you

because they consider every fast growing customer/consumer side company a threat

-> Most startups don't realize this fully. The large tech companies are attacking EVERYONE with a divide and conquer strategy

They know that tech is very fluid and things can change very quickly

So they basically have a list of 1,000 to 10,000 consumer-facing companies they consider dangerous (possible rivals)

and they are manipulating search results, hiding organic traffic, and doing other attacks against ALL of these companies

When it becomes too big, or too late, then you see things like the Attacks against Tik Tok


While it's nice that your needs are met, others do exist in this world. It's not terribly difficult to listen to them. Why do you feign ignorance?


US companies can no longer innovative in these areas and Chinese began to take over. TikTok is a prime example, if nothing changes the USA will have to use muscles(like Trump is trying to do) to keep their internet companies relevant or have its citizens use Chinese networks. Both options are bad for the consumer in the long run.

TikTok is only one example but soon others will come. The quality of Gmail and Google Search is not what it used to be, Huawei are aiming for Apple-like integration on their platforms(and on Android, there's no one else doing it) and so on. Google And Facebook are simply printing ad money, I don't even remember what was the last "Wow moment" with them.


I think we give too much credit to an application that plays videos on a phone. Just because its popular and used by millions doesn't make the app and the idea impressive. Vine was excellent and it was killed. You can talk about neat UX/UI ideas in Tiktok, but it's not that groundbreaking. If anything else, its the infrastructure that allows them to scale it is impressive. Both FB and Google are masters at scaling so its a non issue.

Innovation in China will continue, no doubt. But let's put things into perspective. You're comparing a $40b app, that is Tiktok (similar to Airbnb valuation) to completely different monsters - Some trillions in valuation (1.5T Microsoft, 2T Apple, 1T Google, 700B FB).


>I think we give too much credit to an application that plays videos on a phone

And what Youtube or Instagram does? Doing laundry on a phone?

If it was a simple UX tweak situation the USA wouldn't be using it's muscles to force a take over by an US company. Unless of course there are no designers left in SV due to high rents. How much was that to take over TikTok USA operations? 50 billion? I am sure that you can hire designers for that money.

And any argument over a strong current situation reminds me of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eywi0h_Y5_U


Exactly my point - it is the scaling that makes it impressive as I stated. And Google/FB are experts at doing just that. Lol at the video!

I am not defending US Gov. All I am saying is getting traction is extremely valuable and those are the numbers you hear (ARPU, etc) in quarter conference calls. $40 billion dollars is for the users not for the stupid UX/UI.


> the USA wouldn't be using it's muscles to force a take over by an US company

This is almost entirely Trump and his stupidity. Don't think he truly represents the USA, once he is out we will almost certainly have to wash our collective hands of him

And TikTok has yet to prove itself as more than a passing fad. Someone will add a new twist on TikTok's/Vine's formula and the kids will be off to obsessing over something else. They've already done so with Instagram, Snapchat, Vine...


>Don't think he truly represents the USA, once he is out we will almost certainly have to wash our collective hands of him

You can't wash your hands of him, He is democratically elected as a representative of you.

But I agree that TikTok is yet to prove itself. That said, I think it is an example what is about to come if the USA doesn't close off its market(which will lead to others close off their markets to foreigners and the internet will become balkanised) or break up its current Internet companies situation. Sure, FB and Google will continue to earn an enormous amount of ad money in the years to come just like Nokia continued to sell it's phones until it couldn't anymore.


> You can't wash your hands of him, He is democratically elected as a representative of you.

What I mean by that is that his actions do not represent the American public at large. The nature of his victory is highly suspicious and he did not secure a majority vote. I don't know how much you know about our politics but there is a lot of nuance that you are glossing over.

Additionally, his popular support is at an all-time low. Election polls for 2020 show him lagging considerably behind Biden. At this point he is very likely to be one of the few presidents that will not be elected to a second-term; the first in 28 years.

Whatever propaganda you are reading or seeing or hearing about us, you would do well to question it


>He [Trump] is democratically elected...

False. The election of the President and Vice President is fundamentally undemocratic (by design). Only Congress is democratically elected.


Lawmakers did not just wake up one morning and decide to push antitrust forward. I would love to see which companies or people are pushing for, or against, it.

Yelp was singularly active in bringing scrutiny to Google years ago - https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/01/yelps-six-year-grudge-agains... "antitrust law is boring, complicated and political"


It would not surprise me to find out that telco lobbyists had a lot to do with this. It's not shocking that this whole movement to break up FAANG started after the Net Neutrality loss.

Telcos have largely been able to avoid breakups and scrutiny for years because they invest very heavily in lobbying.


>Telcos have largely been able to avoid breakups and scrutiny for years because they invest very heavily in lobbying.

Big Bell has been broken up a couple a dozen times. It keeps getting back together because communication is a natural monopoly.


No, they invest very heavily in cooperation with the NSA. Much better than lobbying.


I think antitrust has been asleep for decades but the shear scope of the damage of these monopolies is forcing congresspeople to finally ignore their special interests. Bear in mind, plenty of people ready to move forward on antitrust now are people literally receiving campaign money from Google. It's just not working anymore: Congresspeople aren't completely stupid (well, except Jim Jordan) and they can see their jobs are under threat due to Big Tech interference in the media and politics.


So what? Considering how big these companies are, it's hard to claim that they can be bullied by lobbyists.


I'm not claiming they are being bullied by lobbyists. I'm claiming that the antitrust arguments have a long history of political motivation, as opposed to broadly beneficial economic motivation.


This is one of my favorite classics of Hacker News: searching for the nefarious companies behind the anti-trust action.

It's interesting because it's clearly an attempt to take populist suspicion of corporations and redirect it towards opposing a policy that would reduce consolidated control in markets.


It would be a wholly incomplete picture to think that such actions are happening organically. Whether antitrust is justified or not, ignoring the behind the scenes maneuvering will do a disservice to the discussion.


Only if the behind the scene is backed with facts.


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