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U.S. states file updated antitrust complaint against Google (reuters.com)
415 points by mancerayder 65 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 248 comments

As more data comes out about Google, Apple, Amazon, one simple underlying thing becomes clear: a single company cannot be trusted to operate a marketplace while also being a participant.

Apple's App Store insider knowledge lets them discover popular apps, then boot them off the platform when they decide to compete. Amazon sees what products are successful and profitable, then makes knock-offs which they promote over the originals. And now, reading into this, Google is manipulating their ad markets using inside knowledge.

It's all very profitable.

If we cannot trust large companies to not abuse this kind of power, then they should be prevented by law from playing both sides. This may result in the breakup of some very large companies, akin to the 1934 Air Mail Act that broke up Boeing.

Just think about all the development and financial data and ideas that google has a direct untraceable back door into through running gmail, android phones, and chrome browser alone...

I have resorted to using an old school notepad for my development ideas pretty much. A software company I used to work for got shuttered just 3 months after a big software company paid the startup a visit to observe operations back in 98, I've always been wary of corporate espionage since.

It always completely astounded me how countless professional businesses are casually and mindlessly handing over their most private internal communication and metrics to Google on a platter. And aren't Google's privacy policies and ToS's stating that all collected information can be used to "improve their own services" or something along those lines? Does that include 'extract business advantage' from your data? I don't know and IANAL, but I'd prefer some separation from such an ad-tech giant with my corporate intelligence.

(Not a Google engineer)

Google's engineers are notoriously loose-lipped (which is a good thing!!!). There's no way they would be able to keep a secret like this. Anytime a customer's private data gets accessed, you either a) need approval by someone or b) "break the glass", which is only reserved for oncall fires. Either way, it gets audited.

The only way I would believe something like this is if an executive/higher up requests data access, gets it, and the person auditing looks the other way.

So Google has all the "checks&balances" in place, and corporate managed to turn them into a flawless and perfect system?

And the source for that claim is not even a Google engineer, but apparently somebody who heard how Google engineers are "notoriously loose-lipped".

From which loose-lipped Google engineer did you get that information about "needing approval", "breaking glass" and "audits"?

> The only way I would believe something like this is if an executive/higher up requests data access, gets it, and the person auditing looks the other way.

It's much easier to believe once you remember how Google actually makes its money [0].

In that context it not only becomes believable, but it actually fits perfectly into their MO [1].

[0] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/03/google-says-it-doesnt-...

[1] https://www.theregister.com/2016/03/09/google_ventures_yield...

[I work at Google]

Your first link explains how Google doesn't actually give your data to anyone else. Your second link is about a company that Google Ventures invested in. The equivalent would be that some company claims a YC-backed startup stole some of their IP, and that somehow YC is at fault, which is silly. Google isn't even a party to the lawsuit (further, it's not clear that the company who sued even won and to an extent it looks like they might be a patent troll).

> From which loose-lipped Google engineer did you get that information about "needing approval", "breaking glass" and "audits"?

A bunch of it is public: https://cloud.google.com/access-transparency. Access Transparency provides the access logs to the customer, and Access Approvals allows a cloud customer to prevent Google from accessing their data without approval from the company. But yes, you could also go searching HN for discussion of these topics and probably find quite a lot from people.

> Your first link explains how Google doesn't actually give your data to anyone else.

Nobody said Google "gives data away", the article explains how Google monetizes the data.

> Access Approvals allows a cloud customer to prevent Google from accessing their data without approval from the company

All Access Approval does is prevent individual Google employees from accessing the data, which is not the same as "Google as a whole". It also seems to have a long list of Google services were it does not apply as no AT logs are created or other exceptions apply.

And while that might be nice, it's neither special, nor does it change the nature of Google's business, it's just virtue signaling and building plausible deniability along the lines of "We really do care about privacy! At least in as so far as we don't want to get regulated!"

You know, just like claiming how Google "doesn't give data away", when in reality it very much sells all the useful insights, said data gives, to the highest bidder.

How does Google respond to secret FISA orders which by law cannot be audited or known by anyone but the direct receiver and one pre-screened attorney?

Most businesses on Google Workspace don’t see the US government as an adversary. If they do, they encrypt things or don’t use Workspace.

That's not my point. My point is by law Google must have secret and extremely challenging to audit processes for accessing user data, which can be abused for corporate espionage.

This. If US government on your things to worry about list, you host in Russia Cloud or China Cloud. Or roll your own data center in some non US allied country.

The whole point of the thread is that a shady executive could use the same backdoor processes to get whatever he wants in an untraceable fashion, the same way that our trustworthy and noble government does

The last case of ad bidding proves that while not everyone at Google knows whats going on, they are abusing the data they are sitting on.

Which case is that?

You can perform these analyses with 'anonymized' data to both observe the broad trends across a huge dataset, and still claim you haven't invaded privacy.

With the scale of surveillance data available to Google, this is how they have their cake and eat it too.

Once you know that note-taking apps (e.g.) are a hugely growing space, it's easy to use publicly available data to find the startups making a splash. Not once did Google's data tell them Startup X is an acquihire target. And yet, here they are at Startup X's door.

Sure, but that sounds much better than Google peaking into Startup X's emails and determining how much runway they have left, how management feels about their ability to succeed, etc.

That's assuming that there isn't another back channel to access that data.

And even if they don't access file or email content, metadata like access data like Play Store performance, Google searches for competing products, and Google Analytics data, might seem like fair game.

I'm not sure that's true. For example the video about serving 5 petabytes of data took 11 years to come out: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29082014

"It's to fight terrorism, don't tell anyone"

Who says Google doesn't have some secret group with security clearance, and only top management knows of its existence?

You missspelled Baidu and CCP there.

Google employs a huge number of engineers. It can assemble a very tight lipped group of people if it wants to.

Infosec teams that are competent tend to push back on that.

If there's no infosec and it's just infra and developers and CTO's signing contracts with vendors, even Google, you have an issue.

That's not what the comment you're replying to is talking about. They may not be trusted to control a marketplace, doesn't mean we have to entertain silly conspiracy theories about them reading your google docs! As another comment says below, there is no way that can be happening because google engineers would not keep it secret! Regarding your paper notepad, I keep paper by my laptop also, it's a nice medium. But seriously, to think it's protecting you against IP espionage is (a) tinfoil hat territory and (b) almost certainly a massive overestimation of your IP. You don't want to go through life miscalibrated in this regard; apart from anything else it will confuse those for whom you are a role model.

You forgot Chromebooks, that everyone around here is so eager to advocate, basically running their business on Google's infrastructure.

I would advocate Chromebooks and Chromeboxes only because once I remove the bootloader protection, flash the coreboot firmware and install whichever OS I want, from my point of view they're wonderful little machines. But from normal users perspective, once they discover that the hardware is locked to prevent the install of anything but ChromeOS, they are garbage, and probably it is what they become once the user has enough of the Google ecosystem then ditch them well before their physical obsolescence. Locking down hardware to prevent installation of other operating systems should become illegal.

Do you recommend any guides for removing the bootloader protection?

To my knowledge, this one is the best detailed and covers most devices.


>You forgot Chromebooks, that everyone around here is so eager to advocate

Got a source for that?

Does this only go for internet companies? Or do you think it applies to Walmart selling its own Equate brand of everything or Costco selling its own Kirkland brand of everything?

There are a few differences.

The big tech companies have a much higher market share. For phone app makers, the App Store is the only point of access to the majority of affluent Americans; Google controls access to the rest of the 1st world population (sideloading is possible on Android but 99.9% of normies won't use your app if it's not on the store). Amazon does have competitors and you can also run your own e-shop, but they are the gatekeepers for a large portion of the online sales market - getting kicked off of Amazon is going to hurt bad for any online retailer. Of course getting kicked out of Walmart is also bad, but there are lots of competitors that lots of people use (grocery stores which have regional chains as well as smaller local chains, Target, Costco, Amazon, etc.).

Which leads into the second point - Apple has a long history of integrating cool features/apps into their OS and then kicking out the original creator from the app store. This destroys the creator / original company and basically transfers the idea's profits to Apple. Retail stores and Amazon do make knockoffs, but generally the original product is still sold alongside it. In many cases the branded product is superior to the generic product and many people will pay extra for it; in many other cases the brand also supplies the generic label product so that's beneficial for both parties.

> The big tech companies have a much higher market share. For phone app makers, the App Store is the only point of access to the majority of affluent Americans; Google controls access to the rest of the 1st world population (sideloading is possible on Android but 99.9% of normies won't use your app if it's not on the store).

To use real figures, Apple has 60% of the mobile operating system market in the US[1], and Google has 40%. Apple's App Store has 100% more revenue than Google's Play Store[2], and the two are responsible for over 99% of all mobile app sales in the US. Both Google and Apple dominate the mobile app payment market in the US, as well, since they both ban all other forms of app payments on their app stores.

[1] https://www.pcmag.com/news/ios-more-popular-in-japan-and-us-...

[2] https://www.businessofapps.com/data/app-revenues/

It would be interesting to see the revenue split between App Store and Play Store in the US. Since iOS skews towards more affluent users, and more affluent users are way more likely to spend, it wouldn't be surprising if App store gets 90%+ of the US market in terms of revenue - finally dispelling the "it's not a monopoly" argument

If 92.47% of all stores in the USA were only Walmart then yes, there would be a national interest in determining how grocery store competition had been destroyed/denied and we would want to fix it.

In such a situation you would see a degradation of store product quality vs price. It might not be so clear with internet search because Google’s ascendence was coincident with innovation that it has hoovered up. But once you see competition restored, with things like the return of a Search API, or of more transparent ranking metrics, or of customizable ranking algorithms then you will begin to see what you are missing.

Where are you getting 92.47%? Amazon's share of online shopping is well under that, no?

I’m guessing that number is in reference to googles dominance of the search market?

I’m assuming they are less than that with regards to the advertisement market (I’m not super familiar with the space, but as I understand Facebook is a huge player there as well).

What market though? There is no search market. It is a service given away for free. There is no such thing as a monopoly on something that does not cost anything.

Companies like Google and Facebook have pretty much cornered the market of the attention economy.

The vast majority of web users have their eyes and attention directly guided by one of these [0]. If they decide you do not exist, then you will effectively cease existing for billions of people on the web because they do not know a web outside of Google/YouTube or the Facebook ecosystem.

[0] https://staltz.com/the-web-began-dying-in-2014-heres-how.htm...

> There is no such thing as a monopoly on something that does not cost anything.

This is the wrong way to think about it. How much would _Google_ be willing to pay to maintain that position? Well, Mozilla's primary source of revenue, is afaik, from having Google as the default search engine, so at least that much, for whatever percent of the browser market-share.

You're kidding, right? the first damn near full page of google search is nothing but ads which they make a killing off of.

If search wasn't profitable then ads in search and SEO wouldn't exist.

yes, in a scenario where wal-mart or costco is acting as marketplace rather than seller (i.e. their online stores).

when you see brand-name products on a shelf at wal-mart beside their own-brand, it's because wal-mart has purchased that product and is re-selling it. wal-mart has taken the risk of buying the stock in the first place. brands still have a chance to succeed.

when a brand acts as a marketplace, they aren't taking on the risk. they're selling shelf space, not buying things to put on the shelves. when they participate in the marketplace as well as operating it, they are competing with their own customers. that's the behaviour that's essentially a recipe to destroy competition.

> when you see brand-name products on a shelf at wal-mart beside their own-brand, it's because wal-mart has purchased that product and is re-selling it.

Goods on the shelf at stores in general are a mix of items on consignment, the vendor provided the goods and the vendor will be paid only if or when the goods sell; goods that were purchased on net-30 or net-N terms where the goods are delivered but not paid for until 30 (or N) days later; and also some goods that were purchased and paid for before delivery to the store (or store warehouse). Of course, even when the goods aren't on consignment, larger stores often negotiate favorable terms for unsold goods; typically the vendor must refund the store as well as pay for return shipping or disposal. A large amount of risk still falls to the vendor.

Anyway, store brands are fine, IMHO, but there's two things Amazon does that weird me out: a) in some categories they apparently have several store brands and it's not always clear it's an amazon brand, whereas Costco uses a single brand and most other stores use just a couple; b) there have been reports that Amazon will request supplier information from merchants of products that are selling well, and then Amazon goes to those suppliers and negotiates bulk purchases; it seems to me, that's making your merchants do all the work to discover items of interest and where to get them made and then Amazon swoops in and takes over.

The effects of costco and walmart's behavior is largely contained within their own retail space. Amazon.com has no such constraint.

I think my answer is yesno. It isn't about the action of making and selling the competing products, but about how the internet and FAANG scale changes the customer-business dynamics. Consider that when you browse wares in a physical store like Costco or Walmart, the selection is constrained to what can fit within a building, thus the absolute worthless garbage junk and knockoffs will be culled to make space for less return-prone items ( At Costco, I don't see 5 pages or aisles of identical products listed under different brands that are mechanically indistinguishable from 'kirkland signature' products). Costco also seems to care about counterfeits and whether or not something they sold was found to be bad (this has happened to me, a food item at costco was found to be the source of a few food poisoning cases and was traced back to a single item at costco, and costo went around calling everyone who had that batch on their purchase history to let them know). I've wound up with counterfeit pieces of junk off Amazon that I'm not going to go through the effort of refunding/returning/complaining about, so it's all slippage that AMZN gets away with. Returns and replacements are so fast at brick and mortar stores 5 miles away from home!

As others have pointed out there are differences between the big internet companies and the physical chain stores however I think for the purposes of drafting a law, unless it applies only to internet commerce, it might be reasonable to write it as applying to any store above a certain size as well (I guess we want Ma to be able to sell her homemade preserves at Ma and Pa's country store)

In your analogy you name two large brick-and-mortar retailers. Allow me to posit my own analogy: If Amazon is the Walmart of the web then who is the Costco? Who is the Target? There isn't any.

Retailers stick their neck out to put an item on the shelf because space is limited. The product is made. It's on the shelf. If it doesn't sell then someone loses money. If Equate brand sucks I can choose an alternative. If everything on the shelf sucks I can go to another store.

Costco, Target and Walmart all have their own online presence. Your entire argument makes no sense.

They were obviously just using an analogy with real names to say Amazon does not have a similar-size competitor or three.

Walmart is a similar sized competitor, though. Depending on how you break it down, eBay is as well. The analogy makes no sense. Walmart is a competitor, Aliexpress, Flipkart, etc.

What percentage of online revenue does Walmart make? How much does Amazon make?

7% vs 40%. Definitely a huge difference, but the majority of commerce in the USA is non-Amazon. If you do worldwide it's way worse.

in no way is it a "monopoly." If you look at growth rates Amazon is slowing and others are gaining

not to mention the comparison is foolish to begin with as Amazon doesn't have physical locations. a better comparison is total amount of sales, in which Amazon isn't even the plurality.

You're moving the goalposts. I only meant to highlight that Amazon has no real equal online and that is it. I'm not talking about physical stores and I'm not saying they're a monopoly.

No, I’m not. I already showed you that Amazon isn’t the majority in the USA. Prior to Covid, when everything was shut down, Amazon was only like 20ish percent.

There is urgence in banning Walmart from selling home brands next to competitors, because it has hampered the discussion on the GAFA monopolies every time it was asked! For its own sake, this is causing harm to the customer…

Do you have an argument against that?

the difference is in the measure of fair competition; anyone can compete, it simply can't be unfair; these tech companies are competing unfairly and to the extent it's not only obvious to participants, it's obvious to government. One doesn't typically build a case without supporting evidence as would help generally in situations like this.

Trader Joe's pulls the same thing with the house brand. House Brand, undercoat, whatevers. If you want Capitalism to work, then everything need to be a market. For markets to be efficient we need protocols and interfaces. For this to work we need to disambiguate to the root, the post office should probably deliver milk and potatoes.

Can you explain how Costco is relevant here when they make most of their money off membership fees and not sales?

Would you say the same about Amazon promoting its own brand, if Amazon made more money off Prime than sales?

I'd say in the case of Amazon, store brands are missing the point. They can let sellers take all the risk of determining what the market will support, while profiting whether the seller is successful or not. If successful, Amazon can reach its own deal with the manufacturer and compete with the very same branded product, possibly at a lower price, without having to pay into the marketplace, and with the capability of manipulating the search results.

As someone who's been involved in developing financial exchanges this concept is bizarre. There is regulation and participant agreements that would prevent NYSE for example from running its own market making firm and abusing it's position as exchange to benefit over other participants for profit, if it did this others would leave and the exchange would eventually die.

Not only is adtech virtually unregulated compared to financial exchanges, it's also immensely more fragmented, and ad networks like Google AdSense are tremendously sticky once they've been exclusively integrated on the long tail of millions of publisher sites. See https://lumapartners.com/content/lumascapes/display-ad-tech-... for all the parties involved. There's a lot less transparency for all parties involved (see the work of , and arguably some version of an SEC for adtech is long overdue. If ad exchanges were operated with the transparency of broker-dealers, initiatives like https://checkmyads.org/ wouldn't need to exist.

The notion of: "it's a little bit like X, a little bit like Y - but it's neither X nor Y, therefore we it's a wild-west anarchy without any rules or regulations" - this is such a glaring loophole in our legal system that it must be intentional. Derivatives bubble, ad-tech, gig-work, crypto-mania, AirBnB, and many other socially-parasitic enterprises exist solely because our legal code is missing "try-catch-finally" clauses

They didn't have any trouble during the drug war when new variations were made because they weren't illegal -- the government made all variants illegal and continued on. That's what they do when they care. When they don't care they pretend there's nothing they can do.


> ...any chemical "substantially similar" to a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II to be treated as if it were listed in Schedule I

It is intentional - the legal system defaults to absolute freedom in absense of laws. Besides have you seen how goddamn inept just rulemaking is when done based upon the old standards which have nothing to do with the advantages and limitations of the new medium?

Look at attempts to prelegislate things which do not really exist yet and you get utter embarrassments of law at best and at worst hamstring your nation by laws which assume that a TI graphing calculator has the potential to go rogue and start deliberately killing people.

Small and medium vendors can't abandon Amazon. And with enough of them you create the largest marketplace on the planet.

imagine your Netflix and have to pay Apple massive % to be on their devices... then comes Apple with its own service and they can charge less because they don't charge them self's the % giving them very anti competitive advantage.

interesting point. I wonder if an incremental regulation can be passed whereas if the marketplace decides to become a participant/competitor, those in which it competes against no longer have to pay the marketplace fees to "even the playing field" at least from a financial standpoint.

doesn't even have to be regulation. these companies can do it in good faith but alas, life's not fair.

No, it would be a competitive thing. In chess capturing your opponents pieces to weaken them is a valid strategy you will see in any tournament. Capturing Netflix's marketshare by offering a cheaper alternative is competitive. Putting your enemy in disadvantaged positions is just part of the game.

I don't understand how your analogy is even remotely relevant. In chess, both sides can make the exact same moves. Neither side can change the rules. Neither side can impose any extra costs on the other side in an asymmetric way. It's a classic example of a level playing field, and it's the exact opposite of the asymmetric roles that Apple and Netflix play on the iOS platform.

The only way in which your analogy could possibly apply is if you're saying Netflix is free to create its own mobile OS ecosystem where they can impose asymmetric rules and taxes on Apple TV. But it's neither possible nor desirable for every app maker to create their own OS and perhaps even their own hardware.

The definition of "competitive" you seem to be using here is not useful.

>The only way in which your analogy could possibly apply is if you're saying Netflix is free to create its own mobile OS ecosystem where they can impose asymmetric rules and taxes on Apple TV

That is an option for Netflix. If they made their own platform they could offer a more competitive price.

Apple was created in 1996. Netflix was made in 1997. Maybe a good strategy of having a dominant streaming platform in 202x would have been to launch a mobile platform. Netflix had the same chance as Apple to take that path, but they didn't. Apple can now capitalize on good moves that it made in the past. In chess you can't just recognize that you are in a bad position and then ask a tournament organizer if you can be reset into an equal position again. Either you continue playing that bad position, or you resign.

>But it's neither possible nor desirable for every app maker to create their own OS and perhaps even their own hardware.

If you have no choice but to charge more than your competitors and you can't justify the extra cost with extra features or whatever and people stop using your service and you go bankrupt then you have lost the game.

>The definition of "competitive" you seem to be using here is not useful.

It seems useful to me. It's the basis of what makes this game interesting.

>That is an option for Netflix. If they made their own platform they could offer a more competitive price.

It may be an option for Netflix. It may be an option for Facebook. But it's not an option for 99.999% of app makers and it would be bad for consumers. Very bad. Imagine you had to buy one device per service you're using. I don't want to buy a Netflix device to watch Netflix movies. This is just bonkers.

>It seems useful to me. It's the basis of what makes this game interesting.

No. It's more than just useless. It is a great demonstration of how every ideology becomes insanity if you take it to its extremes.

>But it's not an option for 99.999% of app makers and it would be bad for consumers.

Then you will just have to live with being disadvantaged to a platform's creator when competing on their platform. They have the home field advantage.

>No. It's more than just useless. It is a great demonstration of how every ideology becomes insanity if you take it to its extremes.

You are the one making it extreme. If you think the strategic decision of developing your own mobile ecosystem is silly then there is always the option to not do it.

There is no rule in this game that it has to be profitable to release stuff on the app store. Apple could just decide one day that third party apps are a security and privacy problem and then remove them all leaving only Apple apps.

Ah so now you have changed your position from "it's competitive" to "it's not competitive but it doesn't matter".

But you're wrong about me just having to live with being disadvantaged. Apple is built on top of a platform as well. It's called society. And society makes some rules that govern what advantages platform operators like Apple can enjoy as a benefit of having created a successful platform and what advantages are unfair and/or damaging for consumers. So we'll see about who has to live with what.

>Ah so now you have changed your position from "it's competitive" to "it's not competitive but it doesn't matter".

I never did that. Take for example the capture the flag game made. Some parts of maps are stronger for one team than the other. That doesn't mean the game is not competitive it just means that it is something you need to take in mind. What I described is a spot on the map where Apple has an advantage.

>But you're wrong about me just having to live with being disadvantaged. Apple is built on top of a platform as well. It's called society.

Sure, but it's with existing base ideas like freedom of association Apple can just not work with Netflix at all.

This ignores the network effects for users and integration costs for developers. Once a competitor gains monopoly/monopsony/oligopoly position with those factors introducing a new challenger becomes nearly impossible at any cost. Ask Microsoft.

Anyway, Apple began in 1976, not 1996. And by '96 they had both an established hardware brand and decades more expertise than when Netflix launched.

Apple was founded in 1976, which is a full twenty years before Netflix.

> Amazon sees what products are successful and profitable, then makes knock-offs which they promote over the originals. And now, reading into this, Google is manipulating their ad markets using inside knowledge.

This is nothing new, as brick and mortar retailers have store brands for popular products as well.

While I'm glad that the move to the internet lets us reevaluate some of the social relations, I have a reeeeaaaaal hard time finding any way that this sort of thing harms consumers.

This is a tired argument.

Amazon doesn’t work like a supermarket: a closer analogy would be a shopping mall also providing cash registers to the stores. Amazon doesn’t buy from the producers nor act as a distributor on most transactions. The risk is all externalized, and they face minimal penalty (no loss of shell space, no stocking risk) by having their product alongside the original one.

It's a difficult argument, but perhaps one on quality could be made (IANAL and maybe talking out my ASS). By having Amazon promote their lesser-quality-but-supposed-same-product the consumer is being hurt. I argue this as I have spent too much on Amazon Basics. One specific case, USB cables, I had to go buy am alternate brand of the same product soon thereafter.

The Amazon brands I see as the ONE product they should (in theory) never allow co-mingling on and thus the safe one to buy for a known quality.

Agreed that this will happen, but I also think this is exactly the same thing that's expected of store brands: cheaper, but could be of lower quality.

Maybe it was never right that those stores were also doing that.

There's also a matter of the level of dominance that the platform has. Something like half of e-commerce takes place on Amazon; most online ads are via Google; and Apple literally invented the name "App Store".

As for consumer harm, when the market is manipulated to remove competition, we are all harmed. Not today, not directly, but every day after that.

I think the solution is two fold: 1) strong anti-monopoly law, and 2) holding brick and mortar retailers to the same standard that we apply to online retailers.

I think that you'll find that most grocery retailers have nearly as large a monopoly inside their geographic area as Amazon does in the retail space.

"This is nothing new, as brick and mortar retailers have store brands for popular products as well".

The analogy seems spurious to me. Do brick and mortar retailers charge other brands for being a market-place ? Don't they actually buy products of other brands ?

Yes, this is the crucial difference

Brick and mortar stores are dealers, Amazon is a broker. Dealers have inventories - they purchase items from the suppliers and resell them - if they misjudge demand, they're left off with useless goods. Brokers simply facilitate a transaction between two parties - there's no risk involved. The fact that brokers get to charge a higher mark-up than dealers is just bizarre

> Dealers have inventories - they purchase items from the suppliers and resell them - if they misjudge demand, they're left off with useless goods.

Everything is negotiable. If a retailer has more power than a supplier, then the retailer can demand a guaranteed sale clause in the contract, requiring the supplier to take back unsold goods and refund them.



The major brick and mortar stores are not solely dealers, they often have various deals where they sell items on consignment and do not pay for inventory until after they're sold, require payment for "shelf space", etc. That's transparent from a customer perspective, but from a supplier viewpoint they're often quite close to brokers in practice.

The consignment model and paying for shelf space are the exception in retail though, not the rule.

They tend to exist only where there is a huge asymmetry in power between retailer (usually large chains) and suppliers.

Isn't most of retail done by large chains with a huge asymmetry in power?

Depends on (1) what country/region you live in and (2) what brand you're talking about. For example: Yes, Safeway may be huge, but so is Procter and Gamble. Is there an asymmetry there? I'm not sure.

Anyways, large chains don't deal exclusively in consignment either.

Some super markets carry your favorite brand of frozen chicken nuggets, others do not. Makes me think there are agreements between producers and retailers and that those agreements are all about money.

I bet there are clauses in those agreements that state that the retailer should "make my brand of ketchup the first brand that customers see" and that they cater to that clause "for a small fee".

In the UK, the big supermarket Tesco were criticised heavily for how they charged their suppliers for various things: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/mar/30/tesco-reduc...

Surprisingly no (or at least not always). Think for example of the displays of idk, stacks of holiday branded coke near the entrance of Walmart. Coca cola pays Walmart for that space and a coke employee likely puts the product there.

Joe's corner store and Walmart work differently, only one negotiates brand deals.

Anybody can figure out what Apps are popular, or are well liked by their users. Any 3rd party could operate the Apple App Store, and Apple (or anybody else in the world) would still know what apps were popular on it, and Apple would still be able to implement them as features/apps for their own operating systems. To resolve the conflict you’re describing, an operating system vendor would have to be prohibited from distributing software.

Yes but. It's your country, you let them do these things. You set up your country to let them do these things. So no real reason to complain.

For real, do we have any more influence in this ?

Looking at what’s happening now, Apple and Google are not under scrutiny because of our collective petitioning or votes, it’s solely because of competitors with deep enough pockets to duck it in court.

As a proof of that, there’s no one to fight Facebook so not much effectively changes on that front, despite all the outcry and editorials thrown at them.

Complaining is how problems get fixed. If we took your advice we’d still be living in a country where voting was restricted to white male land owners and most of us would be dreaming about rate reductions at the company store.

That's not logical. Our country isn't a monolith. Lots of us are fighting for change so stop acting like 330 million people are all the same would be a great start. Complaints are one point of contention. Currently most people don't care much about their privacy if they find out it will slightly inconvenience them to try out an alternative. Until they get burned or FAANG does something particularly aggregious they just don't care much.

>>a single company cannot be trusted to operate a marketplace while also being a participant.

Like the government?

The government is not a company, and does not have an overall goal of maximizing profit. That's what makes it different.

If the government is not meeting the demands of the people, we elect a different one (in theory).

we love these large companies. less people to trust, plus free-ish services

I can open a lemonade stand, I just can't sell my own lemonade, is that corrrect?

Now that's one hell of a straw man. Do you also plan on controlling this stand, allowing others to sell on your stand while watching every single transaction (and maybe the recipe so that the analogy is complete?) and while also having the power to remove them from your stand?

Because if you are only talking about opening a stand and selling your lemonade, then you don't have the same foothold as Apple, Google or Amazon.

> same foothold

Yes, this is the problem. Participating in the market they create is not. If that were true every grocery store that has a bakery, deli, or meat counter is a problem.

They are too big. Monopolistic forces are the problem.

Another example: FDA is funded by pharma companies.

No wonder people think businesses run governments when they use bad metrics of control like that. The earth itself controls oil companies and is therefore responsible for global warming by that logic!

What apps does Apple sell in the App Store that used to be sold by third parties, but were then banned?

F.lux. The examples are countless.

Well, not sold in this case, but given away for free to increase the moat, then banned.

Look at how the Notes app has evolved… There are apps for scanning documents, for example which are now superseded.

The Music app which now has a streaming service…

Spotify is still in the App Store, and iTunes/Apple Music existed long before Spotify.

Spotify launched in 2006. Apple Music: 2015.

iTunes is not a subscription service like Spotify.

The underlying assumption is that this behavior is bad.

Why is it bad? Especially bad enough to be regulated by a new law?

For one thing it's bad because of information asymmetry between the market owner and other participants. The market owner knows all the information but each other participant only knows a fraction of the information. If the information was all completely public it would be less bad probably. This is why in financial markets "dark pools" (private alternative execution venues) ended up getting new regulation from the SEC to prevent abuse https://www.cfainstitute.org/en/advocacy/issues/dark-pools#s...

Antitrust law doesn't come into effect just because something is bad in the abstract sense though, it comes into effect when there is harm to the consumer as a result (that's my understanding anyway). The harm here is due to the market distortion primarily (I would think).

It hinders fair competition, which hurts consumers. It misallocates dollars to these gatekeepers.

The current chair of the FTC has an interesting paper on this question (written before she became chair).


Are you kidding? You don't think this kind of behavior disincentivizes innovation?

And it's not exactly new. Common carrier regulations have been a thing forever.

It is a conflict of interest that allows them to gain a disproportionate amount of control over the market. It causes direct harm to competitors, through both the access to confidential sales data and access to the market. It also causes harm to consumers (at least in cases of locked down platforms like iOS) since they no longer have access to competitor's products. In short, it is no longer a free market.

Because this kind of behaviour results in monopolies which stifle innovation and invariably harm people.

> The lawsuit also highlights Google's use of a secret program dubbed "Project Bernanke" in 2013 that used bidding data to give its own ad-buying an advantage. For example, in a 2015 iteration of the program, Google allegedly dropped the second-highest bids from publishers' auctions, accumulated money into a pool and then spent that money to inflate only the bids belonging advertisers who used the company's Google Ads. They otherwise would have likely lost the auctions, the states alleged.

Can someone rephrase this and possibly explain like I'm five? I'm not following the mechanics...

This article explains it somewhat [1]. Still not much more detail, but more nuance than the Reuters piece.

I guess the claim was that they manipulated where bids were placed based on who had the highest bid. So that if a non Google advertiser was going to win the auction, they removed the second highest bid if it was a Google advertiser s.t. the price paid for the slot dropped (second price auction). So in effect, they maintained a higher payout for pubs when Google programmatic bidders won by dropping the second price floor on non Google-programmatic winners. Thus making more money AND converting people towards programmatic.

I believe their counter argument is that the data they had actually just made programmatic better from the start by predicting these outcomes, no fraud needed

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/googles-secret-project-bernanke...

I think you may have missed the mark on "explain like I'm five".

Who wouldn't.

This is a second price auction that we speak of. Every ad company is polled to send no more than two bids. Naturally those would be the two highest bids from thousands that they handle. So let's say that Google first and second bids are G1 and G2, Facebook F1, and F2, some other company C1 and C2 and so on. So if those bids are sorted in descending order it may look like, for example,

  A1 > B1 > A2 > C1 > B2 > C2 > ...
In this example, the ad belonging to A1 gets served, the price is the value of bid B1.

That's why it is called "second price" auction. If it was a first price auction, the A1 advertiser would pay A1 bid price, and could save some money by bidding slightly lower, but still more than B1. Neither of these companies know up-front what the other bid will be, but with a second price auction there is no need for it, the A1 advertiser pays the amount of B1 bid.

Same goes for bids G1 and G2, they don't know what other bids will be. It could end up like this:

  G1 > G2 > C1 > ...
From time to time Google overhauls their AI. Let's say for simplicity that the two highest bids from Google are the same ads, the new bid for G1 is G'1 and the new bid for G2 is G'2. Though it could change who wins the auction, for instance if it ends up like this

  G'2 > G'1 > C1 > ...
or C1 > G'1 > G'2 > ...

Or it could change only what the price is, for example if it ends up like this, the price will lower from G2 to C1

  G'1 > C1 > G'2 > ...
Or if there is some minimum bid value Z required by publisher and it it would be G'1 > C1 > Z > G'2, it would be only G'1 that is passed to the auction. "Google allegedly dropped the second-highest bids from publishers' auctions".

The "inflate only the bids belonging advertisers who used the company's Google Ads" is a mixture of G'1 > G'2 > G2 > ... and G'1 > C1 > G1 > ... and that sort of stuff

There is no accumulating money in a pool, keeping it to spending later on something; there is a need for balancing the two effects above, so that the overhaul won't go overboard either way.

The case of C1 > G'1 > G1 > ... is missing from the Reuters snippet. If it is in the lawsuit, it would end up as "secretly forcing the advertisers who used competing ad network to pay more", I guess

I was going to ask the same thing. Also using some info from the WSJ comment below.

- WSJ: "Texas alleges that Google used its access to data from publishers’ ad servers—where more than 90% of large publishers use Google to sell their digital ad space—to guide advertisers toward the price they would have to bid to secure an ad placement."

- This is bid optimization & bid shading no? Both helping buyers place a high enough winning bid. And then also offering bid shading probable. With a second price auction the winning bid clear price is 2nd price + .01 or whatever. All DSPs offer this and use the open market data?

- Next WSJ graph seems like the crux of the insider trading is not really accurate? If all major bidding platforms (dsp's) offer this feature. e.g. it doesn't " unfairly compete against rival ad-buying tools and pay publishers less on its winning bids for ad inventory." ?

- "Google allegedly dropped the second-highest bids"

- So publishers still got paid the highest bid?

- Or maybe see above about bid shading. Maybe this could lower the clearing amount paid to the publisher? E.g. $10, $7, $5 bids. Drop $7, winning price is now $5.01 ?

- "accumulated money into a pool and then spent that money to inflate only the bids belonging advertisers who used the company's Google Ads"

- I don't understand this. The WSJ article also doesn't mention what money is pooled.

I don't fully understand the mechanics either, but one point of clarification that might help.

> - "Google allegedly dropped the second-highest bids" >> - So publishers still got paid the highest bid?

During the relevant period and until end of 2021, Google is running a second price auction. The highest bid wins and then pays the second highest bid.

Yeah that's what I wrote in the later part the $10,7,5 example I thought might be the case.

If that's the flat out only thing literally happening, I can't think of a reasonable reason that would be in the best interest of the publishers paying google to sell supply side.

it's all jumbled when you control all sides of the auction and infrastructure which is the real problem IMHO.

Maybe I can see a scenario where bid shading is conflated here a bit or at least complicates the scenario.

For instance 'drop' the 2nd bid maybe means placing a lower bid instead of 'deleting' one.

all DSPs have a good sense of what will win the auction and offer bid shading to buyers.

Just trying to think through that line of thought. For instance I buy political ads. Google knows that video inventory X usually sells for $30 CPM, but my settings have $50 CPM max bids because during the election it's hard to get scale sometimes. my DSP would bid shade lower to say $30.01 on that individual impression, and if I happen to be the 2nd price maybe that is 'drop' they are refering too?

IDK i don't think traditional news media reporting here will ever give enough information / they understand enough

fair enough, reverse engineering media reporting on legal documents can be tricky

You need to realize just one more thing: to ensure that there is no peeking into bids of other networks, the actual code of the auction could be executed on a remote server. But only a naive implementation would ask every ad network client to send all their ad bids to the server; on the other hand having ad networks send only the highest bid would not be enough for a second-price auction...

oh i haven't thought of that. maybe that is what they could mean by 'drop the second price.'

adx ssp sends 1 bid of $10, even though their next highest internally is $9 mopub ssp or whoever sends 2 bids of $5 and $7

So if nytimes.com is doing a header bid on their own (or even through google's ad serving product - again imho the biggest problem) they don't see the $9 and the clearing price becomes $7.01

I guess it would be a question of contracts. This is beyond what I do so I have no idea what the standard number of bids each SSP sends to a header bidding auction, obviously don't want to send google scale 1 billion lol...

This summary by Jason Kint is pretty digestible: https://twitter.com/jason_kint/status/1451621332983103492

Ok. So basically if i'm reading that correctly? :

- google is basically offering bid shading on both sides of the transaction. (RPO on pub side according to this tweet) - Both dynamically increasing floor to buy NyTimes.com based on the current likely bid - And for buyers increasing/decreasing bid to pay the best 2nd price auction clearing price

which imho is the main problem that should be legislated; you can't own all sides of a transaction AND the pipes. instead of trying to convince a jury of some complicated insider trading monopoly confusing mess.

A good introduction to that topic is About Enhanced CPC: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/2464964

"ECPC works by automatically adjusting your manual bids for clicks that seem more or less likely to lead to a sale or conversion on your website"

Of course, it is based on historical data

But you end up having a quite complicated code calculating the auction bid.

I doubt that you could code it easily based on a cursory reading of the About Enhanced CPC page.

Even more futile is guessing what specific details of that code function that project Bernanke optimized, if your only source is the lawsuit doc and newspapers relating it

See paras. 148-154


There may be more details in the 3rd amended complaint that was just filed. Has anyone found a copy online.

It would be surprising if anyone could ELI5 the mechanics of Project Bernanke in a HN thread. If they could, the state AGs would probably like to hear from them. :)

It's hard not to think this would be outright fraud rather than an antitrust issue to be honest. It will be interesting to see how this claim holds up.

Have you watched The Billion Dollar Code?

Google does not want documents produced to the DOJ to be shared with the state AGs.


Judge Castel reminded them that they must produce those documents to the state AGs.


Perhaps this team can benefit from the discovery conducted by the DOJ.

  > Google does not want documents produced to the DOJ to be shared with the state AGs.
Are the documents produced to the DOJ public? Can attorneys general not use any public information?

Can document discovery really be this sweeping? Or is this some sort of request where the plaintiff can review potential documents before those documents are submitted into discovery and argued on?

Still waiting for investigators to look into Chrome.

In 2009 we were finally getting rid of IE and the web browser market was a healthy ecosystem with lots and lots of innovation happening.

Today we are soon back on a browser monoculture with the owner of the most popular product being a company that has enormous interest in killing certain parts of the ecosystem and also has a long history of killing of their own products.

How did it happen? In my opinion: massive abuse of power in two other markets (search and ads) to push their way into browsers as well. (Well, I'm feeling I might have been too generous above: I could add 2 more - video and office tools - by pointing how they selectively make Google Docs and YouTube perform worse in Firefox, being so brazen about it that just changing the headers so that Firefox identifies itself as Chrome makes the problems go away.)

Safari/WebKit on iOS is a far worse offender. Part of the reason you can't escape the app store tax is because WebKit intentionally gimps webapps.

Even Microsoft wasn't this dirty with IE, you could always install other browsers.

I hear this a lot.

I'll listen

- when Safari has anyone near the marketshare across all mobile devices as Chrome has on desktop and mobile.

- Apple has spent billions on promoting it

- has intentionally gimped several top ten web properties for other browsers

until then this is a problem for iOS users, including me, not an internet problem.

I get it, Safari is annoying, but lets not compare Apple fleecing their own users (including me) with Google trying to finish off what Microsoft failed to: to kill the open web.

There is one good aspect of safari. Because of fear of loosing ios customer many website still works and doesn't shouts at you "This website only works on chrome".

And Microsoft is worst company than apple in browser till today. Their product Skype doesn't even work on Firefox. And in macos you can easily switch firefox but in win11 good luck.

I mean, this won’t work in court since being forced to use WebKit isn’t unique - it’s just a technical requirement to developing on iOS. Just as you’re forced to use specific Apple APIs to access sensor data or draw stuff to the screen, you’re forced to use a specific APIs to run JavaScript code.

> it’s just a technical requirement to developing on iOS

It's not a technical requirement. It's purely policy. Nothing but policy stops others from compiling their own runtimes for iOS.

Sensors are different, you need to access the hardware. Browsers are just general purpose software.

Good luck trying to win a monopoly argument on an OS without a majority marketshare.

Yeah, reminds me when Google purposefully blocked Firefox from accessing Inbox. Changing the user-agent revealed that they did that for no other purpose than "performance wasn't what we wanted" while the application worked fine as it was, proved by just changing the user-agent. They also let people use other applications that are slow in Firefox, like Google Photos, but somehow Inbox was different.

Gist: https://gist.github.com/VictorB/1d0f4ee6dc5ec0d6646e

HN comments at the time: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8606879

Thanks! I've added it to my collection.

I called authorities again earlier this week and they promised to get back to me if they need more evidence.

If you believe Google blocked Firefox for competitive reasons, how would you explain

- The Google engineer's explanation (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8495498) - do you think he was just plain lying?

- The Firefox performance bug he mentioned (https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1087963). Do you think Google engineers went out of their way to search for new performance bugs in Firefox, then figure out how to introduce those bugs in Inbox's code?

- If Google wanted to use Inbox support to hurt competitors, why would they invest engineering resources in making an Inbox app for iOS? Considering that Android vs iOS competition has much more impact on Google's business than Chrome vs Firefox competition (e.g. see how much Google pays to be the default iOS search provider).

I believe that once you've decided to be able to justify something, you can come up with loads of reason that justifies that course of action.

Simple product (almost everyone wants more or less the same things and/or things are hard to compare, like security) and zero cost of switching is how it happened. It is expected that it would produce this distribution.

I've started on Firefox before it was Firefox (2003?), then switched to Chrome when Firefox became slow, then switched back to Firefox when something annoyed me about Chrome (I don't even recall what), then switched to Firefox when I wanted more customization (how do I still live without custom tab colors? sigh), then switched to Chrome again because Firefox started to clamp down on extensions/customization and also it was kinda slow again. As far as I can tell, Firefox is currently in really bad shape... but I would switch instantly if I thought it was better.

Google makes the best browser (IMO/so far/for an average user). There only compelling reason for an average user to use a different browser is lack of information.

"Project Bernanke" ie, a licence to print money.

I bet they're perhaps regretting their witty code name right now.

For the unfamiliar: in his role as Chair of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke became somewhat infamous for his endorsement of "quantitative easing" as a response to the 2008 financial crisis. This was (oversimplified) a mildly fancy way of flooding banks with newly-printed money to offset the impact of falling asset prices. Bernanke became known in some circles as "Helicopter Ben" in reference to an earlier speech in which he (in turn) approvingly referenced Milton Friedman's thought experiment of a "helicopter drop" of cash to the general public as a method for boosting liquidity in the economy [1].

(I feel compelled to point out that as far as I can tell, there doesn't seem to be a solid consensus that quantitative easing was objectively poor policy under the circumstances; a lot of this discourse apparently fell somewhere in the gray area between good-natured ribbing, vacuous memeing, economics school schisms, and mockery of the ostensible hypocrisy of "fiscally conservative" Republicans).

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

It's worth noting that the main beneficiaries of QE are the fixed-income desks at commercial banks, unlike the actual helicopter money proposal, which would benefit the people most hurt by recessions, holders of debt outside the financial system.

It says a lot about the quality of public discourse on finance that the debate around QE has mostly been around whether it is inflationary, and not who benefits from this rather peculiar way of dealing with the failure of traditional monetary policy at the zero lower bound.

That they would even use that name indicates they hold themselves superior and beyond reproach. That bubble seems about to burst now.

Supposing substantial antitrust actions are taken against Big Tech, would that have any effect on rank-and-file salaries in software? Big Tech kinda sets the bar regarding salaries, no? When MSFT was hit with antitrust action did it have any effect like this? Or is it an apples/orange comparison?

I've been in tech since 1997, spent some time at MS (back in NT4,Win2k). The only wage pullback I've seen was dot-com implosion. It lasted maybe two years of slightly reduced pay.

The last time Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar, Lucasfilm and eBay got hit with antitrust action, engineer compensation soared and has been on the rise since.

Ultimately, prices are not determined by costs, and that applies to the labor market, as well.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_L...

Price of labor is a function of supply/demand. Developers still in very short supply vs demand. But profitability sets a ceiling on how much you can afford to pay.

It seems to me that if antitrust action were taken that really eats into FAANG profits, that industry pay would decline. Not overnight of course, but gradually in real terms. May still rise in nominal terms.

Startups/companies have been forced to raise wages over time to compete with FAANG.

Unless of course deadweight loss from monopoly power n FAANG is causing the industry as a whole to be less productive and competitive. In that situation antitrust against FAANG could actually cause wages to rise.

> Unless of course deadweight loss from monopoly power n FAANG is causing the industry as a whole to be less productive and competitive.

It's this. Apple and Google control the entire mobile software market. They tax it excessively, to the point that they get a 15% to 30% cut of almost every mobile app transaction, and have for decades. If a business can't afford to give up 15% to 30% of their total revenue, forever, then they're effectively prevented from bringing their mobile apps to market. Apple and Google also effectively decide what apps are distributed to the vast majority of Americans, as their app stores are responsible for 99% of all mobile app downloads[1].

It's insane that a duopoly has been allowed to heavily tax and stifle innovation over entire markets in the mobile space for more than a decade now. The entire mobile app, operating systems and payments markets are dominated by two companies, and they're doing everything in their power to remain dominant, at the expense of consumers and healthy, efficient markets.

[1] https://www.businessofapps.com/data/app-revenues/

Industry would be more competitive if FAANG were regulated appropriately IMO.

But a lot of comp in tech is benchmarked against FAANG. Specifically if you are a startup trying to hire top 80th-90th percentile people. If their pay fell, I'm pretty confident the top end of industry pay would as well, despite more competition/productivity. Median pay likely unaffected.

Even when you consider the low marginal cost to produce SaaS and similar, the same is true of any competitor. So you'd expect a highly competitive cloud (e.g.) landscape to be low margin despite low cost to provide.

Looking specifically at Azure, AWS, Google Cloud... They become somewhat of a local monopoly over their customers due to costs of switching. The higher barrier/cost to switching to a competitor, the greater pricing power the company has. Even considering that the first choice has a lot of competition.

Anyway, long story short, I think regulation that enables low cost of switching is inevitable in the longer run. As this provides the most competitive landscape, this highest net benefit to society. Would need to be crafted intelligently though.

Higher wages. More market competition.

My lead has been working for 30 years as a dev and has told me his salary has been pretty consistent throughout so I don't believe that's the case. The coastal cities project absurd salaries but when I look at indeed across all of the US, 60-120k is pretty standard depending on entry to senior. If they got knocked down a peg, I highly doubt a lot of people working for google or microsoft would be vying for the lame boring "conservative" work environments in the midwest or south.

> antitrust complaint against Alphabet's Google

There’s gonna be high-fives and cigars for all of the lawyers and lobbyists who have successfully executed on the strategy to spin off the ultra-high-revenue-generating but secretly-ultra-toxic asset into a standalone entity before the heat got turned on. J&J is trying to do this with the whole talc thing but it’s probably too late.

I am totally, totally impressed by Google’s government and legal people. They’ve gotten the company out of almost every mess unscathed, and even done something to erase its most senior executives’ rumored associations with Jeffrey Epstein. It’s truly remarkable. In my ultimate fantasy, they’d be working for the greater good, rather than against it, but alas.

The spinoff isn’t as significant as you might think - all the restructure did was aid in financial reporting and further separate things like Verily from the Ad business.

Can’t they pull a J&J-type bankruptcy if things got really expensive for Google? I mean, obviously none of us expect this, but it’s still only possible when everything is in its own container.

They took down ‘Don’t be Evil’ in 2018?

I find it sad that all this is coming from state AGs and not from the DOJ and FTC. It just shows how corrupt our federal institutions are due to regulatory capture [1].

I still remember how Google escaped antitrust enforcement during the Obama presidency. There was a "revolving door" for Google execs and White House officials who would fill positions at both places [2].

When FTC prepared a massive report of Google's antitrust violations [3], the enforcement was quashed as a result of White House lobbying by Google's lobbyists (most of whom worked for the government a year or two prior.) [4]

Lots of emails were released under FOIA showing how (former) Google execs who were at the White House told the FTC not to bring on the lawsuit. [5] [6]

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

[2] https://theintercept.com/2016/04/22/googles-remarkably-close...

[3] https://graphics.wsj.com/google-ftc-report/

[4] https://archive.md/74r5F

[5] https://www.theregister.com/2016/08/18/google_had_obamas_ear...

[6] https://www.wsj.com/articles/google-makes-most-of-close-ties...

The DOJ has a lawsuit against Google in the works, it's even mentioned in the article. [[I'm hesitant to provide a citation as I'm not sure of the latest source]]

Also aside from corruption and capture, there are external forces.

States really have little leverage, they want competition but could really just wind up completely unserviced as a corporation says bye bye to their irrelevant market.

The feds dont go heavy handed as they have the capability to and massive leverage, but actually debilitating a company could be giving the market to the other remaining companies which from their perspective is worse because they created the monopoly.

> States really have little leverage, they want competition but could really just wind up completely unserviced as a corporation says bye bye to their irrelevant market.

The state of Texas has a GDP similar to that of Canada, the state of New York to that of Russia, the state of California to that of France. Are these irrelevant markets? Even Vermont, all the way at the bottom, is beating out El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, etc.

Also note that multiple states are joining together in the same suit.

Even if a corporation was willing to abandon an entire state over this, then all the people in that state would need something else, and that something else would become big enough for third parties to have to care about it and thereby become a viable competitor everywhere. Which might just be the best thing that could happen.

When a service has a little asterisk that singles out some states they dont operate, its not necessarily because of a specific law, it can be in response to specific regulatory action against that service that they opted not to deal with

So? Do nothing and let the current monopoly get stronger?

I think it is a safe bet that there will always be new monopolies developing. There are always new markets, and benefits often don't scale linearly with growth.

It's a complicated, error-prone business, trying to disrupt monopolies effectively in such a way that is actually beneficial to the community. If you think about it, the cost/benefit analysis is based largely on economic predictions which are never that accurate.

Shouldn't the DOJ not be concerned with the economic impact? Isn't their objective Justice not Economic Prosperity?

In the US, they are concerned with economic impact, they do a whole in-depth economic cost/benefit analysis as part of determining if it's worth breaking up a monopolist. Whatever 'justice' means in this scenario seems highly subjective. If a monopolist was providing by far the best/cheapest goods and services, more people might prefer that scenario to an alternative competitive market with less benefit on average.

It's arguably unjust for the government to handicap specific people, but also unjust for others not to feel like they all have a fair shot to capture the market. Any time people, not fate, are in charge of handicapping some people will think they are getting the shaft.

That sounds rational, but it's not. There's nobody, public or private sector, nobody at all that can make a real economic assessment of the value of a service line Facebook or Google. Those who claim otherwise are stupid, lying, or selling something. Markets and economics are unpredictable systems that have nothing to do with models of rational actors behaving in their own self interest. They're fundamentally extensions of chaotic biological systems and inherently resistant to oracles as a matter of mathematical reality.

What would be rational is if we actually endeavored as a society to make sure everyone is accountable to the same rules to the same degree. By using this magical thinking / cost benefit analysis, we're simply incentivizing victory for the best storytelling middleman.

I think the difficulties/uncertainties you mention here are a large factor in the feds reluctance to break up monopolies. I have no personal opinion on these methods without taking a much deeper dive into the details. It does seem like the big breakup of Ma Bell worked out well, though.

The statement "everyone is accountable to the same rules to the same degree" could be either pro- or anti- federal action.

> I think it is a safe bet that there will always be new monopolies developing. There are always new markets, and benefits often don't scale linearly with growth.

Find a monopoly and you'll probably find a regulation propping it up.

For many of these tech companies it's DMCA 1201 and other things that prohibit adversarial interoperability.

If you have a law that lets you boot competitors out of adjacent markets once you have dominance in one of them, you take over the other one too. Then nobody can compete with you unless they can replace you in both markets, meanwhile you enter a third.

The first thing we need is to get rid of such laws.

This tech stuff isn't a natural monopoly.

The defining characteristic of a natural monopoly is that customer is paying a large amount per unit to cover costs that stay the same no matter the amount of usage. The per-unit cost for most of this tech stuff is approximately zero, and the ones that aren't zero (e.g. semiconductor manufacturing) have significant unit production costs and are not a natural monopoly either.

It's also questionable whether even "natural monopolies" would be monopolies absent regulation. It's more efficient to have a single power grid, but if there was no law granting a statutory monopoly to a single provider and the existing provider became abusive, somebody would build a parallel power grid. Because having two would cost twice as much as having one, but that's still less than paying five times as much to an unrestrained monopolist. So the result of unregulated "natural monopoly" still isn't a monopoly, it's just competition which is unusually inefficient.

I would argue it basically is because the high fixed costs are from paying the developers to write and maintain good competitive software and the marginal cost of each new user is basically free.

That exactly matches wiki: "A natural monopoly has a high fixed cost for a product that does not depend on output, but its marginal cost of producing one more good is roughly constant, and small."

The traditional definition wasn't really contemplating software, because the important thing that makes it a natural monopoly is that building a second one would cause the user to have to pay a lot more. If you have one power grid, it costs a billion dollars to operate, so the average user has to pay $1B/N where N is the number of users on the grid. If you have two power grids, now the average user has to pay $2B/N, which is twice as much, and most importantly, is a large difference.

With software, there are so many users that the difference between $X/N and $2X/N is still ~zero. You can have two providers, or ten, and you're in no danger of them being unable to recover their development costs even at low prices. The cost of paying a number that rounds to zero twice is well worth the benefits of competition.

In other words, the barriers to entry are low (absent some artificial constraint). It isn't that the fixed costs are high, they're only "high" relative to the essentially non-existent unit cost. That's totally different. It means that if you want to enter the market for email clients or messaging apps or phone games, that can be done by an individual or a small business. A small business can't build their own power grid.

They just try to make their stance clear that they want competition to be more organic than whatever they are reacting to. Monopolies arent prohibited, anti-competitive practices are sanctionable.

During Obama it didn't seem like the problem it is today.

I'm not saying it wasen't a problem, but America thought these FANG companies were solving our problems.

I never liked Google Executives going to the White House, but I don't think it was because Obama sold out. Tech was very new. Google honestly wanted to help.

It seemed like every young guy wanted to be Zuck. Hell even Zuck thought he could run for president one day.

It was all so inspiring. Now it's just ugly.

You lived in a bubble, nobody wanted to be Zuck in my circles and he was mocked ruthlessly for how out of touch and selfish he was. His comment about becoming president was seen to reinforce that. Facebook was also widely seen as rapidly becoming the place for drama and vapid political commentary. This was ... college during 2008, so not exactly last year.

Yes, no one I knew wanted to be zuck.

But I'm surprised you could find much drama or political commentary through all the app spam of the late 00's in Facebook.

Same here, so many of us have been eagerly waiting for this bs to unfurl for a very long time now.

>During Obama it didn't seem like the problem it is today.

The career antitrust officials at FTC thought Google should be prosecuted, but the political appointees (of both parties) that control the agency shut down their investigation.

>The investigators, who handed the document to the five FTC commissioners who would decide whether to launch an antitrust suit, found in 2012 that the search company's "conduct has resulted -- and will result -- in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets."


Meanwhile, the EU proceeded with their own antitrust investigation into many of the same issues and Google was found to be guilty.

I was there in DC with Google from 2006-2012, and I think that's a fair view. We got asked if we could help, and wanted to help, so we tried where we could. Of course now everyone just wants to paint everything with malicious and negative intent so I'm sure someone will in response, but it really was just a bunch of smart techies trying to help.

(Can't speak generally to zuck, but at least from what I saw people didn't really view Facebook and zuck the same way)

> During Obama it didn't seem like the problem it is today.

> I'm not saying it wasen't a problem, but America thought these FANG companies were solving our problems.

You are unintentionally projecting what you believed to be the truth, thinking that others also believed the same as you. I can assure you that not all of America thought those FANG companies were solving our problems.

I didn't find it in the article, but what is the complaints goal? To break up google from its advertising business?

No. It likely won’t break up Google. It really would have little effect on the consumers, in my opinion. This is about protecting the interests of large advertisers and publishers.


Would be nice if a case number were included. I can't find it anywhere in any of the original articles reporting on the Texas-led lawsuit, unfortunately.

If it's antitrust then some sort of breakup would be the ends.

I don't think there is one unified goal but a series of suggested changes.

For example, in the linked article (https://www.reuters.com/technology/dozens-us-states-sue-goog...),

"The states want the consumers to get their money back. They also called for civil penalties and a court-imposed monitor to ensure Google eases the process for consumers, app developers and smartphone makers to use or promote alternatives to the Play Store and the official payment system for 20 years. In addition, the states seek to stop Google's payments to Samsung and developers."

That's a very different case. The HN article is about the Ad-rigging system abuse, not the consumer choice app store lawsuit.

> accuses Google of using monopolistic and coercive tactics with advertisers in its efforts to dominate and drive out competition in online advertising.

What incentive is there for states to sue over monopolies? Is it simply to advocate for their constituencies?

Upholding the law? Having a functioning market and economy perhaps? It's the government's job to regulate the market.

Abusing your (near) monopoly position to drive out competition is illegal.

> Abusing your (near) monopoly position to drive out competition is illegal.

Yes, but it happens so often with so little attention paid that stories like this more often make me think a politician is looking for election funding rather than trying to enforce the law.

Is that looking a gift horse in the mouth?

Not really, when any investigations or actions are likely to be indefinitely delayed as soon as a lobbyist writes check. If they actually do something other than slap-on-the-wrist fines that don't even do damage, you won't hear me complaining, but I don't have high expectations. The EU seems to be far more interested in reigning in big tech, but they don't seem to be any more succesful, and their most substantive efforts have had lackluster results (I mean, really, is anyone's privacy improved by having more javascript popups added to every single page? Does it even lower the potential for tracking and abuse, let alone reduce the actual commission of such acts?).

Is it possible the EU is being careful because the major tech companies that it would want to punish are all American? People over here could see those actions as the EU trying to take down American companies so that companies in EU countries can take an overwhelmingly dominant position. I would imagine that perception could lead to restrictions and tariffs just like we've applied to China.

> I mean, really, is anyone's privacy improved by having more javascript popups added to every single page?

How about app stores implementing "privacy dashboards" where you can see what data an app collects and how it uses it? With the idea that app makers become more careful in what they do because it becomes so obvious. That's a result of the GDPR.

Things take a while when the law is designed for not being used as a ban hammer but to coerce better behavior. The DPAs are mostly working in the background to get actors into compliance. Every time you see a lawsuit over such things, a multi-year process broke down to the point where that's the last recourse.

There seems to be other equally pressing market capture targets to go after - Sinclair broadcasting being one example.

It seems interesting that "Old Media" is coming off unscathed and the ire is all directed at "New Media".

At least in my case I've had an interest in deconglomerating Old Media for a while. When you start finding out how more than half of the work journalists do gets thrown into the can for content/narrative/audience engineering purposes, it's time to reevaluate the incentives of the folks running the presses.

Standard careerism demagoguery (remember Backpage?) and trying to bully for favorable coverage for themselves. The ignorants see "Big Tech" as a traditional media company and are mad they aren't playing ball.

Call me cynical, but I’ve always assumed these and the european efforts are bought by companies that are threatened by Google.

> Apple's App Store insider knowledge lets them discover popular apps, then boot them off the platform when they decide to compete.

Do you have examples, I’m aware of a few examples where Apple built features in that used to be 3rd party apps. But kick them off?

One of these things is not like the others - and making an “everyone is doing it” kind of statement really understates the seriousness of what Google is doing.

Google’s actions here systematically undermine auctions to their direct financial benefit, while delivering sub-optimal results for advertisers. In a way that is not an accident, but deliberately engineered and even given snappy project names that allude to the exact purpose of the deception. A better comparison is how certain banks were found to be reordering transactions to maximise the number of overdraft fees owed.

Apple only have a handful of apps and of those fewer are paid apps (they’re the pro-level tools). To claim that apple uses its knowledge of the store to make app duplications, then boot the original concepts off the store is plainly false.

An example given below by another reader is talking (I believe) about a company called Luna which produces a dongle that allows the mac to share their screen onto an iPad. Apple has always had this feature through the screen sharing service (I did the same, without a dongle, using VLC on a gen 1 iPad, long before Luna had a product - thus the feature is arguably obvious.) Over the years Apple have increased the functionality and ease of use of the screensharing features as their hardware has become more capable of running them - including the latest macos update which expanded these features further. Luna however feels they should have a monopoly on any screensharing functions with their dongle hardware. I’m yet to hear a convincing argument from this developer.

I think the core issue is that the app store is large and invariably any changes Apple make to their own software can be tenuously attributed as copying of some random title on the app store. Common-sense arguments such as: apple don’t charge for the feature, the feature is obvious, or the feature is merely an enhancement of an existing feature, are readily discounted in favour of depictions of an evil mastermind preying on utterly tiny revenue sources.

I'm fairly sure there was a high profile case this spring (was it when Apple announced they'd let you use an iPad as a second screen?)

I'm even more sure there was something going on even more recently with a third party apple watch keyboard for blind or something who got booted because "they abused accessible features" or something that had never been a problem before, and it so happened that Apple had a solution ready on their own launch a few days later.

It is mentioned in the article, but Google lost an appeal in the EU recently, related to ranking of its price search engine. But one wonders whether that's really such a big deal for Google.

An interesting detail instead arises from the other cases. The one case Google apparently WANTS to settle out of court is the case on the use of data!

Now, this should tell the careful reader quite a bit about what Google thinks is really important here.

> The one case Google apparently WANTS to settle out of court is the case on the use of data!

Generally, companies want to settle out of court in order to bring a case to a defined conclusion and limit future liabilities. Along that vein, it's not an accident that this case is now news after the judgement in the EU.

I should have been more clear. Google is settling this case because it matters, and because it does not want to have a public court judgment on the matter of data usage.

Not sure if this was mentioned but does anyone else think it's sleazy that Google tries to poach employees from other companies via Foobar[1]?

[1] https://foobar.withgoogle.com

No - fuck anybody who thinks employers own their employees. We want "poaching" - that is a healthy labor market.

What's that?

Google hijacked my search result with that fine recruiting method at work a few weeks ago. I checked it out with a burner Google account and it seems like it was a recruiting method where they have you solve programming questions on that service[1]. I did a few of the "levels" and they're all just tricky programming questions. However..

Even not signed into an account, which, I don't sign in to any Google services at work in interest of protecting IP, Google was able to track enough via cookies / me being on an si corp network to throw that to me.

[1] Pic I took on my phone: https://i.imgur.com/7X7ybUv.jpeg

Foobar is well-known and sometimes super easy to guess. For a few years before 2019, you could get it by simply searching “python list comprehension”. It’s just a way to find people searching certain stuff and encourage them to work at Google. Having an automated system pre-screening people in this way vastly improves the quality of applicants that come in.


Ok well this ycombinator post you linked confirmed my suspicions that the challenge is targeted based on location/network address.

> "ISTR that only works from the USA."

Nope. I've had foobar from outside the US.

It has nothing to do with you being on a corp network. I've gotten that on my personal computer

Then how do they choose who to flip the switch on for it? Purely fingerprinting of searches completely at random with no direction?

I don't know how it's decided but yeah pretty sure it's just based on searches and randomness. Someone searching for programming terms related to openings and willing to answer the questions is likely to be a good candidate

I'm still skeptical that location/network address doesn't have a "weight" in the equation; but yeah it could be un-related you make a good point.

Google has done that for about a decade.

And.. does doing something questionable for a long time make it good? Shouldn't abusing their dominance in the search engine marketplace to poach employees be a pretty big anti-trust thing?

Breaking down Google is not gonna work.

I guess that the simplest solution is to forbid Google from being in the ad exchange business. Take down AdX and most of the monopolizing effects they have on the ecosystem would be dampened.

Splitting Android and Chrome would be good enough for a start.

Better to split off YouTube so it has to compete with search for ads.

Where’s the link to the amended filing?

It'd be great if states actually focused on real problems like education and medicine instead of going after tech which provides services for free and is generally liked.

No one is blaming tech for debt or financial ruin.

Yep tech companies should continue to cheat and break laws as long as they offer some free stuff to folks. We should kneel and worship them as gods.

You cannot be serious. Where do you think all that money went?

Self driving cars, free email, free docs, sheets etc.

It is a serious point. Protecting advertising companies from each other is a perplexing choice of resource allocation given the alternatives.

Given the choice between free email and Google paying enough tax to improve the entire education system of the US, why do you think people would pick email? Do you believe everyone is stupid?

>why do you think people would pick email

I don't like taxing so I would never advocate for taxing a person or a company.

It's an antritrust suit.

So big tech gave all this stuff away without asking or taking any sort of compensation (i.e. free), and yet they've managed to accumulate levels of influence and wealth previously only beholden to sovereign states.

Coincidentally, around the same time big tech came into being, the nation that birthed, nurtured, and protected them started losing its world dominance to rival sovereignties that took the opposite approach in dealing with these generous givers by monitoring their behaviour, limiting their power and influence over the nation and its citizens, enforcing compliance with national policy (for good or bad), and extracting a fair share of the profits in return for their use of public infrastructure.

They took the money they made in search ads and built a lot of products they give away, yes. The wealth is all from search ads.

The US had a little moment of time where it was the dominant power. It wasn't the dominant power in 1900 and it won't be in 2050. The idea that the decline is because of Google etc defies a much simpler explanation. As soon as China moved off of straight communism they were bound for dominance due to their population and general work ethic. There is no reason that over the long term China should have lower GDP per person than the US. Hence they'll have about 4x the total GDP and be able to spend 4x as much on military due to their 4x population size v US.

"don't go after monopolies which are abusing their dominance to keep everyone else poorer"

Serious zero sum financial thinking there - assuming profiting from a transaction means the other party must be worse off. And implicitly applying the thieves's syllogism too that is "you have it, I want it, therefore you stole it from me".

I was alluding to the antitrust accusations. My comment being placed in the broader context them was perhaps too far-fetched of a hint.

Google's abuse of the market takes money away from small businesses (buyers of ads, sellers of ads, displayers of ads) and consolidates that money back into Google's hands. It has a direct trickle down effect on financial ruin by making it less and less possible to operate a small business. The stealing of this money also raises prices on everything else (google-caused inflation) which harms consumers.

Why not all of the above? The AG is an attorney. Their job is this kind of action, not education or medicine.

The AG should be doing this and the appropriate people should be doing their jobs to improve education and medicine as well.

> provides services for free

It's not free when you are the product being sold.


They found the gap in the armor.

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