Is Amazon getting too big?

Earlier this year, the Yale Law Journal had published a 24,000-word “note” by Lina Khan titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” The article laid out with remarkable clarity and sophistication why American antitrust law has evolved to the point that it is no longer equipped to deal with tech giants such as Amazon, which has made itself as essential to commerce in the 21st century as the railroads, telephone systems and computer hardware makers had been in the 20th.

It’s not just Amazon, however, that animates concerns about competition and market power, and Khan is not the only one who is worrying. The same issues lie behind the European Union’s recent $2.7 billion fine against Google for favoring its own services in the search results it presents to its users. They are also at the heart of the long-running battle in the telecom industry over net neutrality, and the ability of cable companies and Internet service providers to give favorable treatment to their own content. They are implicated in complaints that Facebook has aided the rise of “fake news” while draining readers and revenue from legitimate news media. They even emerge in debates over the corrupting role of corporate money in politics, the decline in entrepreneurship, the slowdown in corporate investment and the rise of income inequality.

LinkedIn, a champion of privacy rights? Don’t buy it

LinkedIn may very well succeed in its effort to stop a San Francisco (CA) startup from using the data of its members. But the Sunnyvale (CA) company, now a division of Microsoft, has certainly lost the moral high ground. In fact, the job-hunting and networking site is guilty of blatant hypocrisy. HiQ Labs makes software that analyzes data from public LinkedIn profiles to help employers determine which workers are likely to leave or stay. But at a hearing at U.S. District Court in San Francisco, lawyers representing LinkedIn argued that HiQ was causing significant harm to its business because members expected LinkedIn to protect their privacy. LinkedIn’s most valuable currency is “trust with customers,” said Donald Verrilli, a partner with Munger, Tolles & Olson law firm in Washington. That sounds very noble. But the very idea of a social media giant serving as the champion of privacy rights seems suspect. When a service tells you it’s free, that means it’s making money another way. And more likely than not, you’re the product.

Every day, we rely on digital infrastructure built by volunteers. What happens when it fails?

The infrastructure we rely on every day to make sure our digital clocks are in sync or to protect our credit card information when we shop online is often maintained by a single volunteer. This means that often, just one person makes sure that the essential software code that powers so many of the products and services we use every day runs smoothly.

This is because the same free software code is used for the critical components in many different kinds of software: No one person “owns” it. This enables innovation, because everyone can build off what has come before, and makes it possible for more technology to be created at a lower cost, because no one needs to start from scratch. But this free, public code—which we refer to as open source software—needs regular upkeep and maintenance, just as physical infrastructure does, and because it doesn’t belong to any one person or party, it is no one person’s job to maintain it. Without maintenance, we see the digital equivalent of a crumbling road or a collapsing bridge. Some people call this phenomenon a “tragedy of the commons.”

The White House isn’t at war with leaks. It’s at war with basic transparency.

[Commentary] President Donald Trump and his loyalists potentially find the release of nearly any information about what they’re doing to be offensive, no matter how mundane. Often this is couched in the use of the word “leaks.” There are real leaks in the White House, and information has been provided to the news media that is unusually sensitive in nature. There are also more anodyne leaks of the palace-intrigue variety. And then there are things that are called leaks but which aren’t. President Trump and his core allies want you to know only what President Trump wants you to know. Everything else is leaks or “fake news.” Or, somehow, both.

White House press secretary almost bails on briefing over her failure to discuss White House policy

The good news: Cameras were allowed to record July 26’s White House briefing. The bad news: They didn’t have a whole lot to record.

The crew of White House correspondents had a number of questions about the new White House policy on the service of transgender Americans in the military — a policy that President Donald Trump announced on twitter. Of course, any policy change announced via three tweets invites questions, owing to the fact that 420 characters leave only so much room for details. But the back and forth at the briefing did not go well. The questions were about a proactive White House policy announced directly by the President of the United States. Accordingly, the White House press secretary should be brimming with facts and perspectives and talking points. Or at least an answer as to what happens to current transgender service members. That she sounded like a besieged PR type speaks to a matter of continuity in the Trump White House: Though a new communications director — Anthony Scaramucci — took over recently, Trump’s spokespeople appear to be no better briefed on the issues of the day than they’ve been over the past six months.

The dearth of information coming from the podium will prompt cries — again — that the briefings are useless. Not true. They show that White House officials are as clueless about the outside world as they are about what’s going on inside the building.

Repealing Net Neutrality is Easy. Replacing it Will Be Hard

The Federal Communications Commission is well on its way towards repealing its existing network neutrality rules, which ban internet service providers from blocking legal content, slowing down specific connections, or charging tolls for so-called "fast lanes" on the internet. But the "replace" half will fall to Congress. And that's going to be much harder.

Earlier in July Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), a longtime net neutrality advocate, said that he would only support a net neutrality bill that provided the same level of consumer protection that the FCC's current regulations do. He also dismissed the idea that the Federal Trade Commission could enforce such rules. "This is not their beat, their beat is not communications," Sen Wyden said, echoing similar concerns from activists. Republicans could pass a bill without support from Democrats, but only if they can draft a bill that they all support. But just like replacing Obamacare, that's not as easy as it sounds.

A quick guide to President Trump’s false Twitter claims on July 25

President Donald Trump went on a Twitter rampage July 24 and 25, spewing a number of false and misleading claims — many of which we have fact-checked previously. The President tweeted, "So many stories about me in the @washingtonpost are Fake News. They are as bad as ratings challenged @CNN. Lobbyist for Amazon and taxes?" as well as, "Is Fake News Washington Post being used as a lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep Politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly?"

We will begin with a pair of tweets attacking The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Amazon does not own The Post, but in any case the president’s claims about “no-tax” Amazon are out of date. Amazon used to lobby to keep Internet sales free from state taxes, but no more. As of March, Amazon is collecting sales tax on purchases in every state that has one.

A Review of the Internet Association’s Empirical Study on Network Neutrality and Investment

In a recent paper published by the Internet Association, a trade group representing Internet edge companies, Dr. Christopher Hooton commented on my earlier work on the investment effects of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet regulations. In addition, Dr. Hooton presents his own empirical study of investment effects, concluding that his analysis indicates “no (negative) impact from either the 2010 or 2015 [Net Neutrality] actions.”

Dr. Hooton’s conclusions differ materially from my research, which finds large negative impacts on telecommunications infrastructure investment following the FCC’s regulatory actions in 2010 and 2015. As for Dr. Hooton’s criticism of my work, I demonstrate why they are invalid. Moreover, I will consider Dr. Hooton’s own empirical contribution on the investment effects of Net Neutrality regulation. While Dr. Hooton’s analysis is fatally flawed (as he admits), his work is important in a few respects.

On Trump, transparency and democracy

Over the first six months of this young presidency, President Donald Trump’s approach to the office has been characterized by self-interest, defiance of basic democratic norms, and often incoherent or self-contradictory communications and priorities. In the face of historic lows in public trust in government and an increasingly polarized electorate, we’ve seen a regression to secrecy in both Congress and the White House. The change has not gone unnoticed around the globe, as our nation’s standing to defend democracy and our government’s ability to advocate for anti-corruption efforts has been precipitously eroded.

In this report, we offer a comprehensive but not exhaustive accounting of the Trump administration’s record on open government to date. More than seven months after we first considered what Trump would mean for open government, the questions we sent to the White House were never formally answered. The actions of this administration, however, speak for themselves. Whatever transparency the President of the United States is demonstrating by speaking directly to the public on Twitter is outweighed by his refusal to disclose and divest, undermined by the opacity of their authorship, and weighted down by false claims and misleading assertions. This president publicly accused his predecessor of wiretapping his campaign with no evidence. If that’s transparency, the word itself has been devalued. Our conclusion on the Trump administration’s record on open government at six months is inescapable: this is a secretive administration, allergic to transparency, ethically compromised, and hostile to the essential role that journalism plays in a democracy.

Should America’s Tech Giants Be Broken Up?

[Commentary] Economists see market concentration as the culprit behind some of the US economy’s most persistent ailments—the decline of workers’ share of national income, the rise of inequality, the decrease in business startups, the dearth of job creation, and the fall in research and development spending. Can Big Tech really be behind all that? Economists are starting to provide the evidence.

David Autor, the MIT economics professor who famously showed the pernicious effects of free-trade deals on Midwestern communities, is one. A recent paper he co-wrote argues that prestigious technology brands, using the internet’s global reach, are able to push out rivals and become winner-take-all “superstar” companies. They’re highly profitable, and their lucky employees generally earn higher salaries to boot. They don’t engage in the predatory behavior of yore, such as selling goods below the cost of production to steal market share and cripple competitors. After all, the services that Facebook and Google offer are free (if you don’t consider giving up your personal data and privacy rights to be a cost). However, academics have documented how these companies employ far fewer people than the largest companies of decades past while taking a disproportionate share of national profits. As they grow and occupy a bigger part of the economy, median wages stagnate and labor’s share of gross domestic product declines. Labor’s shrinking share of output is widely implicated in the broader economic growth slowdown.

In 1956 the US forced Bell Labs to license its patents to all comers. The result was a deluge of innovation (semiconductors, solar cells, lasers, cell phones, computer languages, and satellites) commercialized by new companies (Fairchild Semiconductor International, Motorola, Intel, and Texas Instruments) and the formation of Silicon Valley. Why not require the tech superstars to do the same? Who knows what forces that might unleash.