Who owns, controls, or influences media outlets.
[Commentary] Rhetorically, the tech companies gesture toward individuality — to the empowerment of the “user” — but their worldview rolls over it. Even the ubiquitous invocation of users is telling, a passive, bureaucratic description of us. The big tech companies (the Europeans have lumped them together as GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) are shredding the principles that protect individuality. Their devices and sites have collapsed privacy; they disrespect the value of authorship, with their hostility toward intellectual property.
In the realm of economics, they justify monopoly by suggesting that competition merely distracts from the important problems like erasing language barriers and building artificial brains. Over time, the long merger of man and machine has worked out pretty well for man. But we’re drifting into a new era, when that merger threatens the individual. We’re drifting toward monopoly, conformism, their machines. Perhaps it’s time we steer our course.
[Franklin Foer is the author of "World Without Mind"]
Apparently, federal law-enforcement authorities in New York are investigating whether Uber Technologies Inc. used software to interfere illegally with its competitors, adding to legal pressures facing the embattled ride-hailing company and its new chief executive.
The investigation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office and the Manhattan US attorney’s office, is focused on a defunct Uber program, known internally as “Hell,” that could track drivers working for rival service Lyft Inc., apparently. “Hell” worked like this: Uber created fake Lyft customer accounts, tricking Lyft’s system into believing prospective customers were seeking rides in various locations around a city. That allowed Uber to see which Lyft drivers were nearby and what prices they were offering for various routes, similar to how such information appears when an authentic Lyft app is opened on a user’s smartphone. The program was also used to glean data on drivers who worked for both companies, and whom Uber could target with cash incentives to get them to leave Lyft, said these people, who added that the program was discontinued in 2016.
A new study in the American Economic Review, with an intriguing and persuasive methodology, finds that Fox News could influence how Americans vote, perhaps even tipping elections. Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimate that watching Fox News directly causes a substantial rightward shift in viewers’ attitudes, which translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates. They estimate that if Fox News hadn't existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. For context, that would've made John Kerry the 2004 popular vote winner, and turned Barack Obama's 2008 victory into a landslide where he got 60 percent of the two-party vote. "There is a non-trivial amount of uncertainty" about those estimates, Yurukoglu cautions. "I personally don't think it's totally implausible, but it is higher than I would have guessed prior to the research." And even if the effect were half as large as estimated, that’d still mean that Fox News is having a very real, sizable effect on elections.
[Commentary] The three of us investigated several of the most promising efforts to “re-decentralize” the web, to better understand their potential to shake up the dominance of Facebook, Google, and Twitter. The projects we examined are pursuing deeply exciting new ideas. However, we doubt that decentralized systems alone will address the threats to free expression caused by today’s mega-platforms, for several key reasons. First, these tools will face challenges acquiring users and gaining the attention of developers. These platforms also pose new security threats. Social media platforms are curators, not just publishers. Finally, platforms benefit from economies of scale — it’s cheaper to acquire resources like storage and bandwidth in bulk. And with network effects, which make larger platforms more useful, you have a recipe for consolidation.
[Chelsea Barabas is a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab. Neha Narula directs the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.]
Three Companies Agree to Settle FTC Charges They Falsely Claimed Participation in EU-US Privacy Shield Framework
Three US companies have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers about their participation in the European Union-United States Privacy Shield framework, which allows companies to transfer consumer data from EU member states to the United States in compliance with EU law.
In separate complaints, the FTC alleges that human resources software company Decusoft, LLC, printing services company Tru Communication, Inc. (doing business as TCPrinting.net), and Md7, LLC, which manages real estate leases for wireless companies, violated the FTC Act by falsely claiming that they were certified to participate in the EU-US Privacy Shield. The FTC also alleged that Decusoft falsely claimed participation in the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield framework. Despite these claims, all three companies failed to complete the certification process for the Privacy Shield, according to the FTC complaints. The actions against the three companies are the first cases the FTC has brought to enforce the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework, which was put in place in 2016 to replace the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. The FTC brought 39 enforcement actions against companies under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. Like the Safe Harbor, the Privacy Shield is aimed at providing companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring consumer data between the EU and the United States. These cases join the four enforcement actions the FTC has brought related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system.
The House Communications Subcommittee drilled into the Federal Communications Commission's post-incentive auction repack plan in a hearing that touched on everything from hurricanes and tornados to tall towers, timelines and even the Sinclair/Tribune merger, which actually drew a fair share of time and attention. Most of the ground covered was not new, but there were some key takeaways, which were that both keeping broadcasters on air and serving viewers and freeing up spectrum for deploying and advancing broadband service are important, that how much money and time that will take remain points of debate, and that Congress will likely have to step in, at least on the financial end. Some legislators emphasized the need to hold broadcasters harmless, while others countered that they should not be allowed to do any foot-dragging, noting that wireless carriers had bid $20 billion for the spectrum.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-WV) said that he expects Twitter to brief the panel soon on any Russian activity on its social-media platform during the campaign. “The American people deserve to know both the content and the source of information that is trying to be used to affect their votes,” Sen Warner said. Warner said he had been in touch with Twitter and expected company representatives to answer the committee’s questions.
Facebook is facing a new push to reveal how its vast power is being used after it disclosed that roughly $100,000 worth of political ads were purchased on its platform by fake accounts and pages connected to a Russian troll operation. Open government advocates and researchers who study political ads say that Facebook’s massive reach and lack of transparency about ads on its platform represent a risk to the democratic process. Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency, said highly targeted online ads can be “weaponized against liberal democracies” because they do not meet the same levels of disclosure and visibility as traditional radio, TV, and print ads.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-WV) said, "An American can still figure out what content is being used on TV advertising. ... But in social media there's no such requirement. There may be a reform process here. I actually think the social media companies would not oppose, because I think Americans, particularly when it comes to elections, ought to be able to know if there is foreign-sponsored content coming into their electoral process."
Antitrust regulation and economic concentration are suddenly everywhere in progressive thinking about economic policy. At least five different ideas are floating around that often get mushed together under the same broad heading. These are both conceptually distinct notions with different economic implications and, critically, different paths to implementation:
- We should be stricter with existing doctrine
- We should be more skeptical of vertical mergers
- We should emphasize harms beyond consumers
- We should re-emphasize broader worries about concentration
- We should take a harder line on “predatory pricing”
The upshot of all of this is that lurking behind a broad Democratic Party consensus that the government needs to beef up its antitrust efforts, there’s plenty of room for disagreement and it’s not clear that all the relevant parties have really considered the full implications of some of the things they have said.
Jonathan Soros, the co-chair of New America told staffers that neither Google nor its executive chairman Eric Schmidt—both donors to the think tank—played a role in the recent ouster from the foundation of an antitrust scholar who had been critical of Google. “Neither Google nor Eric Schmidt attempted to interfere” with criticism of Google by the researcher, Soros wrote. “They did not threaten funding, and they did not call for any changes” to research into monopoly power.
New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter met with the foundation’s staff and said that there was a pattern of behavioral issues with Barry Lynn, the former-director of Open Markets, but said she could not discuss personnel issues. Slaughter promised to set up a committee to review and establish standards for interaction between donors and New America leadership. A New America spokesperson and, "New America separated from Barry Lynn because he repeatedly demonstrated that he couldn't work with his colleagues in a respectful, honest, and cooperative way."