Brian Fung Profile picture
15 Sep, 24 tweets, 4 min read
Sen. Lee opens today’s Google antitrust hearing by raising anticonservative bias, but argues antitrust is not the right tool for it.

“Just as I reject demands to use antitrust for social justice, I also emphatically reject using antitrust to solve other non-antitrust concerns."
Who’s he trying to send a message to, I wonder…?
And after all that, Lee’s first question out the gate is about… anticonservative bias, arguing that Google’s “censorship of its own platform” isn’t an antitrust violation but still evidence of “market power.”
And now Lee is trying to draw a connection to Section 230 by suggesting it’s hypocritical for Google to deplatform The Federalist over racist comment sections when it wants to claim liability protections for the content its own users post on Google properties.
Google’s witness says their advertising terms are clear, and that the company worked with The Federalist on options, but that ultimately the site can choose to go elsewhere for advertising alternatives.
Sen. Hawley is trying to force Google to admit that it is somehow requiring sites like The Federalist to engage in content moderation as a condition of showing ads.
Google says its ads policies are clear and that it’s not requiring The Federalist to do anything, just to make a choice about how to monetize its site.
Despite saying this hearing is not meant to create a “political spectacle,” Lee and other GOP senators seem determined to do just that — while trying to frame their political bias complaints as an outgrowth of Google’s “market power.”
I’m no lawyer but as someone who covers antitrust this seems like an ambitious connection to try to draw.

The antitrust world has barely begun to think of *privacy* as a dimension of competition, nevermind a two-step claim about how political bias is a function of market power.
A discussion about the revenue that publishers receive from Google. Google’s defense is that it gives publishers as much of a share as its rivals do.

“We’re market competitive with the other tools that are out there.”
This is a similar argument Apple’s made (via commissioned research) on app store revenue shares.

But “everyone else does it this way” is a weird defense when, like, in Apple’s case, they were the first movers and everyone followed suit. It’s not like A & G are helpless here.
Sen. Cruz presses Google to identify who it thinks is its chief competitors. Google replies with Facebook and Amazon — which is true! — but these companies *also* have antitrust problems of their own.
And we’re back at political bias claims.

“We’ve designed our policies so that political bias is not part of the equation,” Google’s Harrison says.

He added earlier that Google’s removed content and gotten complaints from The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight and Democracy Now.
Finally getting more into the weeds here — Hawley is making the case that Google’s control of YouTube and other services generates massive demand for ads, which then basically forces advertisers to come to Google’s ad platform to access those eyeballs.
“This looks like monopoly on monopoly in a classic case of tying,” Hawley argues.
Sen. Klobuchar asks Google about the Fitbit deal. Google’s Harrison says the acquisition is “not about data.”

“I am committing today that we will never mix that data with our ads data in a way that will show ads towards users of these things,” Harrison says.
Of course, Google famously promised that it would never merge Google data with DoubleClick data, and then it did anyway. Blackburn hammers Google on that point.
David Dinielli of the Omidyar Network argues that Google’s citation of Facebook and Amazon as competitors is like "a company that holds a monopoly on billboards defending itself by saying advertisers can buy magazine inserts instead. It’s simply not a defense."
Sen. Klobuchar delivering an epic rant against the US’s track record of lax antitrust enforcement right now, getting wonky and referencing specific cases and even Bork (!).

“Relying on the courts right now… you can't say that this [Google] is going to be taken care of."
Adam Heimlich, the CEO of Chalice Custom Algorithms, says Google’s claim that it’s lowered ad prices is misleading.

"The biggest reason prices go down is because mobile advertising is cheaper, and mobile advertising has become a much, much bigger share."
(It’s worth noting too that Google has had a major role in making mobile advertising a thing, thanks to Android. Which seems both like a credit to Google on its claims about ad prices as well as a detriment in light of the allegations about tying.)
Lol Klobuchar complains that the media aren't covering this hearing and that they’re more interested in something “that happened on CNBC this morning.”

Hi senator, I’m here…
Lee gets on the media bashing train, too, positing that one reason publishers are complaining about falling revenues is because of their political bias.

Hmm, yes, all those partisan local newspapers everyone hated that got gobbled up by private equity… it’s their own fault!
And they’ve wrapped. Overall some really good substance once we got the theatrics out of the way.

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More from @b_fung

24 Aug
Epic and Apple are arguing for and against a temporary restraining order before Judge Gonzalez Rogers.

“I can tell you right now I am inclined to not grant relief with respect to the games, but I am inclined to grant relief with respect to the Unreal Engine,” she says.
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27 May
NEW: The White House did not consult the FCC on a forthcoming executive order pertaining to social media companies, according to a person briefed on the matter.

This suggests the draft order has not gone through the normal interagency review process.
The person briefed added that based on the lack of interagency review, it seems the draft EO was hastily conceived.
Worth remembering that with prior WH attempts to draft an executive order targeting social media companies, the FCC and FTC (which are led by Republican chairmen) privately pushed back on being deputized to police political speech on social platforms:…
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31 Mar
Amazon has fired the warehouse worker who organized a walkout yesterday to protest the level of coronavirus protections at the company’s Staten Island facility:…
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Now NYAG Letitia James is getting involved, calling for an NLRB investigation and promising to consider “all legal options."
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7 Feb
All morning I’ve been hearing from people who are either senior government officials, telecom analysts or former DOJ, and they’re all baffled by Bill Barr’s speech yesterday on 5G.
As a refresher, yesterday Barr publicly criticized a plan promoted by Larry Kudlow, advocated for the federal takeover of foreign companies and injected DOJ into policy matters routinely handled by technical agencies like FCC and NTIA.…
One official at a federal agency told me they were surprised and caught off-guard by Barr's remarks. Craig Moffett, an industry analyst, told me it was "bizarre" and left him "speechless":
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Update: Both Buttigieg’s campaign and the Texas Democratic Party acknowledge they hired Shadow, but only for the company’s text messaging voter contact service:…

FEC records also show that Shadow has been used by Biden, Gillibrand and Wisconsin Dems.
I visited Shadow Inc.’s address listed in the Iowa Dems’ disclosure filings. It led to a WeWork in this trendy Washington alley (steps from Maydan and La Colombe). But a receptionist told me Shadow moved out last month to an unknown destination. ???…
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30 Oct 19
This is just as big: The ban on political advertising also covers issue ads:
.@jack pushes back on a Facebook talking point here about incumbency. He also implicitly notes that being able to "pay for reach" favors incumbency in another way, which is that rich incumbents can pay more for additional "speech"
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