It's Time To Regulate The Internet... But Thoughtfully

from the easier-said-than-done dept

The internet policy world is headed for change, and the change that’s coming isn’t just a matter of more regulations but, rather, involves an evolution in how we think about communications technologies. The most successful businesses operating at what we have, up until now, called the internet’s “edge” are going to be treated like infrastructure more and more. What’s ahead is not exactly the “break them up” plan of the 2019 Presidential campaign of Senator Warren, but something a bit different. It’s a positive vision of government intervention to generate an evolution in our communications infrastructure to ensure a level playing field for competition; meaningful choices for end users; and responsibility, transparency, and accountability for the companies that provide economically and socially valuable platforms and services.

We’ve seen evolutions in our communications infrastructure a few times before: first, when the telephone network became infrastructure for the internet protocol stack; again when the internet protocol stack became infrastructure for the World Wide Web; and then again when the Web became infrastructure on which key “edge” services like search and social media were built. Now, these edge services themselves are becoming infrastructure. And as a consequence, they will increasingly be regulated.

Throughout its history, the “edge” of the internet sector has - for the most part - always enjoyed a light regulatory yoke, particularly in the United States. Many treated the lack of oversight as a matter of design, or even as necessarily inherent, given the differences between the timetables and processes of technology innovation and legislation. From John Perry Barlow’s infamous “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” to Frank Easterbrook’s “Cyberspace and the Law of the Horse” to Larry Lessig’s “Code is law,” an entire generation of thinkers were inculcated in the belief that the internet was too complex to regulate directly (or too critical, too fragile, or, well, too “something”).

We didn’t need regulatory change to catalyze the prior iterations of the internet’s evolution. The phone network was already regulated as a common carrier service, creating ample opportunity for edge innovation. And the IP stack and the Web were built as fully open standards, structurally designed to prevent the emergence of vertical monopolies and gatekeeping behavior. In contrast, from the get-go, today’s “edge” services have been dominated by private sector companies, a formula that has arguably helped contribute to their steady innovation and growth. At the same time, limited government intervention results in limited opportunity to address the diverse harms facing internet users and competing businesses.

As the cover of the November 17, 2019 New York Times magazine so well illustrated the internet of today is no utopia. I won’t try to summarize the challenges, but I’ll direct anyone interested in unpacking them to my former employer Mozilla’s Internet Health Report as a starting point. We are due for another evolution of the internet, but in contrast to prior iterations, the market isn't set up for change on its own - we need government action to force the issue.

I’m not alone in observing that the internet regulatory tide has turned. Governments are no longer bystanders. We are witnessing an inexorable rise in intervention. This is scary to many people: private companies operating in the sector worried about new costs and changes, academics and think tanks who celebrate the anti-regulatory approach we’ve had thus far, and human rights advocates concerned about future risks to speech and other freedoms. The internet has been an incredible socioeconomic engine, and continuing the benefits it brings requires preserving its fundamental good characteristics.

While new laws are not without risk of harm, further regulatory change today seems both necessary and inevitable. The open question is whether the effect will be, on balance, good or bad. If these imminent changes are done well, the power of government oversight will be harnessed to increase accountability and meaningful transparency, promote openness and interoperability, and center the future on user agency and empowerment to help make markets work to their fullest. If on the other hand these changes are done poorly, we risk, among other undesirable outcomes, reinforcing the status quo of centralized power, barriers to entry and growth, and business models that don’t empower users but instead subject them to ever-worsening garbage.

I’m an optimist; I think we’re on a course to make the internet better through good government intervention. From my perspective, we can already see the framework of the future comprehensive internet regulation that is to come, for better or for worse. Think of it as the Internet Communications Act of 2024, to use a U.S. naming convention; or the General Internet Sector Regulation, following the E.U. style. Advocates for a better internet can either sit on the sidelines as these developments continue, decrying the (legitimate) risks and concerns; or they can get into the mix, put forward some good ideas, and build strategies and coalitions to help shape the outcome so that it best serves the public’s interest.

Where are the key policy fights taking place? Geographically, over the past few years, we’ve seen the center of internet policy shift from Washington D.C. to Brussels, and that’s where we can see the future emerging most clearly today. The GDPR illustrates this shift, as despite its imperfections, it established a new paradigm for data protection that has been echoed in Kenya and California, with more to come.

This isn’t just a story about Europe, or about privacy, though. Competition reform is racing forward with major investigations and reports around the world; the United Kingdom has done perhaps the most work here, with its eye-opening Final Report of July 2020 (all 437 pages and 27 appendices of it!). Many countries are undertaking antitrust investigations of specific companies or reevaluating the modern day fitness of their competition legal frameworks.

Meanwhile social media companies and, more broadly, internet companies as intermediaries for user communications online, have come under fire all around the world, with Pakistan and India making some of the most aggressive moves so far. The European Union is advancing its own comprehensive regulatory vision for online content through the Digital Services Act, just as the United States is reevaluating its historical intermediary liability safe harbor, Section 230.

In the United States, we’re seeing a moment that bears many similarities to the late 1960s in the buildup to the Clean Air Act of 1970. That law had powerful bipartisan support, and commensurate industry opposition. Just as with those early climate political wars, advocates for reform are facing the weaponization of uncertainty as a tactic to resist government intervention, with the abuse of data and science and metrics to advocate for an outcome of inaction. As with climate change, inaction to address the harms presented by the internet ecosystem today is itself is a policy choice, and it’s the wrong one for the future health of the internet. I believe change will come though, and as with the Clean Air Act, eventually we'll look back and appreciate the sea change we made by intervening at a critical moment. (Sorry, that pun was mostly inadvertent - and, in fact, a bit unfortunate given the current state of play of climate politics and the climate crisis… but that’s a piece for another author, another day.)

Considering that the Clean Air Act established the Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps in the U.S. we need what Harold Feld and his colleagues at Public Knowledge have been calling for in the Digital Platform Act, establishing something akin to an Internet Protection Agency. Or perhaps, as I’ve supported in the past, we need a revamped Federal Trade Commission with greater authority, building on that agency’s success at integrating technologists into its consumer protection work. Increasingly, I’m inclined towards the idea that what we need is an expanded Federal Communications Commission, given that agency’s relatively broad authority (no matter how circumscribed by the current leadership) and the nature of this evolution as advancing what feels like modern day communications infrastructure. The United Kingdom has decided to go in this direction for content regulation, for example, appointing OFCOM to manage future “duty of care” obligations for online platforms. The technologies and businesses are very different between the traditional telecom sector and the internet ecosystem, though, and substantial evolution of the regulatory model would be necessary.

Regardless of where you situate the future policy making and enforcement function within the U.S. government, we’re still at the normative development stage on these policy issues. And frankly, the internet policy world needs some new ideas for what comes next. So, over the next few posts in this series, I’m going to share a few fresh thoughts that I’ve been mulling over. Stay tuned!

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Filed Under: internet policy, internet regulations, tech policy


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 12:12pm

    The big danger for Internet regulation is that the driving force is old school publishers, and they want to reduce or eliminate the self publishing capabilities of the Internet. At the same time, the politicians want to wrest back control over political discussion, which is what is driving the attacks on section 230, while the security services want to abolish or backdoor all encryption.

    If fosta/sesta is anything to go on, regulation will be used to backdoor government control over content by simply increasing the things that sites can be held liable for within user generated content.

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    • icon
      Valis (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:42pm

      Copyright reform

      We need to take away the power of US corporations to censor the internet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:56pm

        Re: Copyright reform

        They don't, they moderate their own services only. The proof, parler and gab exist, along with the pirate bay, Sci-Hub etc.

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        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 3:18pm

          Re: Re: Copyright reform

          Given the header I believe that what they meant as censorship was copyright claims used to take down content that isn't actually violations, which actually would likely fall under the category of censorship as it's backed by very real legal consequences.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 3:30pm

            Re: Re: Re: Copyright reform

            Blame the Government and the DMCA for that problem, and not the corporations who are obeying the law.

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            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:55pm

              Just because you can, doesn't mean you must

              No, I think I'll do both. Trademark may have a 'use it or lose it' clause but nothing forces companies to clamp down on each and every use of copyright material no matter what, and/or make use of wildly inaccurate methods of finding infringement no matter how many false positives result from it.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 2:50am

                Re: Just because you can, doesn't mean you must

                Except if companies don't take a hard line against copyright infringment and use all requests are valid by default then they put themselves at risk of serious liability.

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                • icon
                  Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 4:19am

                  Re: Re: Just because you can, doesn't mean you must

                  ...which leads directly back to the catch-22 loop of the DMCA, because that's where that weird reversal of burden of proof comes from.

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                • icon
                  That One Guy (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 9:42am

                  Re: Re: Just because you can, doesn't mean you must

                  Except that's not true at all, as again unlike trademark copyright has no 'use it or lose it' clause, a company can overlook one use and still come down on another.

                  Were companies required to crack down and any and all uses of their copyrights then there would be a lot less being created out there, and a simple check of a fanfic/pic site will tell you that that's simply not the case.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 6:13pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Copyright reform

              the corporations who are obeying the law

              Name one?

              The DMCA and its abuses would not have been a thing if not for the corporations using it as a proxy to fuck over what people can do with their CDs and computers.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 2:54am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Copyright reform

                True, but those corporation are not major Internet players, and the solution is not more regulation of the Internet.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 5:53am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Copyright reform

                  but those corporation are not major Internet players

                  And yet Sony was able to fund their own campaign to convince Jim Hood to screw over Google somehow in 2015, for which they received absolutely no punishment. Only a decade ago, they used rootkit technology in their CDs to interfere with the computers of legitimate buyers.

                  If you don't think such corporations will continue to try and fuck up the Internet for everyone else through paying the legal system to put in regulation, I've got a bridge to sell you.

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      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:09pm

        Re: Copyright reform

        How does one "take away" what doesn't exist?

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        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:21pm

          Re: Re: Copyright reform

          May I suggest the MPAA and the RIAA and every political organization and others that sends a DMCA notice (even when they don't own the supposedly infringing content or have any actually 'infringing' claim) to stuff they don't like are guilty of this. It exists, and to a large part due to poorly written, and egregious, copyright laws, though there may be other examples for different laws. Take Trump's ridiculous and unconstitutional series of Executive Orders that target social media because they didn't idolize him, which aren't actually law, and since Trump fails to separate himself from his businesses are from corporate entities.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 12:22pm

    Volume does not equal validity

    While there are valid concerns regarding online platforms and services far too often the 'concerns' I see range from selfish concerns on the part of governments about how those platforms have the utter audacity to not just give them all the data they have and/or use encryption so the government can't just get the info itself, individuals and groups upset that platforms have rules and keep kicking the assholes off, or entrenched companies/industries that are angry that someone came along and succeeded where they failed and so want to add in regulations crippling their new competition.

    If I believed that those calling for regulations were doing so honestly and in the best interests of the public that would be one thing, but as it stands more often than not it seems the motivations are purely selfish and self-serving, with nary a care for the wider impact that their demands would have if implemented.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 12:25pm

    Surely it needs to be shown that the government can effectively govern the infrastructure before it begins redefining the infrastructure to include everyone's living room and garage?

    Issues like net neutrality, reasonable price accounting and honest price reporting for simple consumer internet services, reliable maps of areas served by cable or cell-tower, addressing the digital divide--are all (1) much easier than regulating free speech; (2) inarguably constitutional, (3) currently within the authority of the government regulators, and ...

    (4) not even addressed, let alone solved.

    Whichever government agency can solve THOSE problems ... may be judged competent to define the problems of the edge.

    But at this point, government regulators are allowing monolithic monopolies to give themselves huge price advantages to their own subsidiaries selling content to their captive audiences; ignoring the false advertising of prices and contract-violating price increases (both increases in hidden fees to be paid as "content fees" to their own subsidiaries, and uncontrollable, exorbitant, economically-unjustifiable costs for downloads in excess of plan); not requiring accurate reporting of areas served or speeds available in those areas; and giving money away for "expanding coverage", then never even checking to see if the specified areas were served, or indeed if that money was even spent on services.

    I'd grade that "F" in law, "F" in accounting, "F" in technology, "F" in social studies.

    Those are the people that you want working on HARD problems? I wouldn't trust them to dig a privy with both hands and a trowel.

    First, walk--then run. Actually, first crawl. Maybe, first roll over and cry for a bottle.

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    • icon
      Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 1:32am

      Re:

      Surely it needs to be shown that the government can effectively govern the infrastructure before it begins redefining the infrastructure to include everyone's living room and garage?

      This! And it doesn't seem likely, does it? Observation suggests that, far from working together for a common good, government today is about divisiveness, extreme partisanship, jumping at populist issues without reference to the reality behind them, and ideally one-upping your opponents. Facts and expert advice (unless the "expert" advice is backed with a ton of money) seem to rarely make the top 10, and if different sides agree on an issue, it's most often because it's such a hot-button topic they can't disagree, which tend to make the worst laws of all.

      Just as with those early climate political wars, advocates for reform are facing the weaponization of uncertainty as a tactic to resist government intervention, with the abuse of data and science and metrics to advocate for an outcome of inaction.

      And now this has become almost an art-form. Disinformation, confusion, distortion and outright lying has not only become the norm in politics, it's by-and-large accepted as the norm. The latest US and UK elections are prime examples. Or, if you want something more relevant to society-altering issue-based politics, just take a look at the clusterf..k that was both sides of the Brexit campaign. My hopes for thoughtful internet regulation are not high.

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    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 6:28am

      Re:

      "Whichever government agency can solve THOSE problems ... may be judged competent to define the problems of the edge."

      Very well put. The problem about the US internet especially is that it's grown into a brawling free-for-all courtesy of a number of actors - none of whom have proven trustworthy enough to allow them oversight over a pail and a bucket in a sandbox.

      "Those are the people that you want working on HARD problems? I wouldn't trust them to dig a privy with both hands and a trowel."

      And this appears to be the rule rather than the exception. Infrastructure, anything internet-related, financials, law enforcement, legislation in general, social services...I see no sector in the US which hasn't been completely screwed over by the tug-of-war between a group of entitled children and a group of unhung crooks. Neither of which realizes there are consequences to what they do or worse, don't give a rats ass about it.

      "First, walk--then run. Actually, first crawl. Maybe, first roll over and cry for a bottle."

      ...or just realize that the current system is set up primarily to propel into power those who are greatly incentivized to not learn.

      History books tell this sad story repetitively and it always ends in torches and pitchforks. Followed by a People's Commission, an Assembly of Founding Fathers or a Politburo setting up the new glorious bastion of hope and liberty to replace the recently toppled corrupt regime.

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  • icon
    Graham Smith (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 12:50pm

    Regulation by regulatory agency really isn't a good model for individual speech. https://www.cyberleagle.com/2020/02/an-online-harms-compendium.html

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 1:07pm

    Oh, if you're looking for extremely common, economically harmful, and extraordinarily-annoying problems that are extremely simple (baby steps), you might consider (1) phone frauds: you know, like the ones you get EVERY DAY, for charitable donations (to organizations registered as political lobbyists), extended auto warranties, IRS/SSA fake fraud reports--just to mention the ones I got this week!

    Solve that. Then look at the Nigerian email scams (hint: some of them are from foreigners now!).

    Then come back and the public will have a new list of biggest annoyances.

    Valid annoyances, that is: "I'm not allowed to use <private website of choice> to annoy everyone I want to annoy" is not even CLOSE to a valid complaint.

    Honestly, this isn't. This isn't beginning to address real problems. This is asking for political power, to be used by the politically powerful, to suppress possible competitors to the big economic powers. This is distracting total regulatory failure to even ATTEMPT to polish the log in its own eye, by pointing to irregular hyalocytes in someone else's eye. This is attacking Google for collecting information on their own, on ATT's behalf, because ATT is angry that Google should have bought it from ATT. (Widely-known fact: Google users have a choice about giving up information. ATT customers don't.) Show that you can regulate ATT, then ask people about Google. (Widely-known fact: Google supplanted previous search engines by giving people what they want.) Google can be supplanted, by the next site that does a better job. (Bing, eh? a BETTER job, I said.) (Widely-known fact: Facebook supplanted MySpace and AOL; someone else can still supplant Facebook. How long has it been since someone supplanted a phone company? Or a cable/internet company?)

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 1:27pm

    You cannot regulate the internet. It will be corrupt, it will be unbalanced, it will side unfavorably to one side and not the other, it will be unfair and it will never be enough.

    Let it be the Wild West, and if you don't like certain parts of it then don't go there.

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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 1:57pm

    Writing regulations for just the Internet just because of the impactfulness of that venue is disingenuous. If it isn't illegal elsewhere it shouldn't be illegal on the Net. Then some things that are illegal elsewhere shouldn't impact the Net (driving laws, for example).

    Clarifying existing law for the Internet is a different thing, such as § 230 where the primary clarification is about who is, or isn't a publisher and placing liability where it belongs, the actual speaker.

    As pointed out above, eliminating barriers to Internet access (fixing the infrastructure and removing monopolies at the access points) is the first priority, and no new laws need to be enacted to achieve that. Eliminating some (state level barriers to competition) would be appropriate. Enforcing others (such as anti-trust to break up those monopolies) and bringing the FCC back into line with what the people they are supposed to serve want, rather than the corporations they do would also help.

    Politicians, however, need to be seen 'doing something' even if there is nothing to be done, and in their own inimitable way tend to do wrong things, or self serving things, or things that make their graft buddies happier (rather than their constituents). So expect a whole lot of useless, harmful, and very likely unconstitutional proposals to come our way.

    The one thing, a new thing (or maybe not so new), that I think would be truly beneficial would be to redesign the basic protocols for the Internet, this time with security in mind. Yes I know that it won't work over existing systems, but just as the Internet existed in parallel with the World Wide Web, this new, secure, system could run in parallel with the existing systems as it became more integrated. I might be crazy (probably am) but I think the majority of the changes would take place at the server level, rather than the endpoints, though browsers might need an update. Of course the encryption that would get integrated into such a system would drive some authoritarians up the wall, especially if those encryption algorithms were easily updated, upgraded, open sourced, and without backdoors.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:03pm

    I disagree. The internet works just fine. The fact that there are people you don't like saying things you don't like is not a feature of the internet, it's a feature of humanity. That feature is not going to go away with any amount of government intervention, because governments are made of people, too. All they can do is (try to) force their opinions of what they don't like on others.

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  • identicon
    Glenn, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:03pm

    You could stop calling it "The Internet" ...like it's a thing, separate unto itself--some nebulous being unto itself.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:21pm

    It was a shaky start, but you lost me entirely with the repeated "edge" crap. Beyond that, i've tried to separate what you are predicting and what you are promoting to give a fair-ish reading.

    Edge providers are edge providers, full stop. They are not the last-mile service providers, they are not the backbone. They are services that sit on the edge of the net, just like we users do. They are not bloody infrastructure and not utilities, no matter how many times morons repeat these claims.

    Hey, there are things that could and should change, but you have a completely bad frame for it. You need to ignore the whole "internet" thing and start dealing with the Sherman Act across the board, on all the industries.

    Sure. Get thoughtful then.

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    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:38pm

      Re:

      Hey, there are things that could and should change, but you have a completely bad frame for it. You need to ignore the whole "internet" thing and start dealing with the Sherman Act across the board, on all the industries.

      Techdirt hates antitrust unless it's antitrust that breaks up the big telecoms. Companies like Amazon, According to TD, Facebook, Google, and more are allowed to get larger all the time with no limits. They'll criticize then, for sure pointing out when the companies are acting in their own interests or maliciously, but when someone calls for a Big Tech breakup and puts forth their reasons, Techdirt rushes to move the goalposts. TD asks "Oh, but what pieces would you break them up into?" as if the lines of demarcation aren't already clear (Facebook|Instagram|WhatsApp|Oculus|Facebook Ads, split up every company under Alphabet, Amazon|AWS|Prime Video & Music|Twitch) and they also love falling back on the outdated consumer welfare/harm doctrine.

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      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:52pm

        How would you break those parts of Facebook/Google/Amazon up, such that the parts become wholly independent companies again, without destroying their chances for survival post-breakup (because God help us if a post-Google YouTube crashes and burns) or creating an opportunity for a company other than Facebook, Google, or Amazon (e.g., Microsoft) to buy up some of those newly independent companies and put this whole situation right back where it started?

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:55pm

          Re:

          The whole buy-up thing: No. This is what should never be happening in the first place.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 3:11pm

          Re:

          How would you break those parts of Facebook/Google/Amazon up, such that the parts become wholly independent companies again, without destroying their chances for survival post-breakup (because God help us if a post-Google YouTube crashes and burns)

          Tech companies love touting how they have the most brilliant minds in the world. If they can't use that magical innovation that they prattle on about nonstop to figure out how to survive without the massive subsidizations that Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Amazon Web Services do for the companies right now, then that's their own fucking fault, both for setting their companies up like that and not being able to innovate hard enough to stay afloat.

          or creating an opportunity for a company other than Facebook, Google, or Amazon (e.g., Microsoft) to buy up some of those newly independent companies and put this whole situation right back where it started?

          You ratchet up scrutiny on mergers as well as set stipulations on the breakups that the companies or their names, IP, etc. can't be re-acquired for a set number of years.

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          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:59pm

            Re: Re:

            For someone who seems to be claiming to be quite familiar with TD I'd have thought that you'd know by now that 'nerd harder' as an argument is not just bad but it's regularly mocked for being so on TD.

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              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 5:31pm

              Re: Re: Re:

              Y'all mock "Nerd Harder" around these parts but simultaneously TD says that the solution to the issues with Big Tech is to trust small plucky startups to Innovate™ super hard to unseat incumbent multi-billion corporations that have established kill-zones around certain ideas. The hypocrisy is astounding. If the companies that result from the split-up can't hack it on their own, then that's just the Free Market™ telling them that they didn't Innovate™ hard enough. Why do you hate the Free Market™ picking winners and losers?

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              • icon
                Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 5:51pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re:

                The 'Free Market' still picks the winners and losers. Size does not matter. Your 'kill zones' are a fabrication, which may or may not impact, the up and comers. A Facepuke like site that has more transparency, a better consumer attitude, and a different revenue stream could kill it. Can you say whether or not that is true, that it will not happen? No. Neither can I. But at some point, when Facepuke pisses enough of their 'constituents' off with their ham fisted policies, they could be looking for alternatives. And will. It won't happen fast, but given time.

                Your argument will be what revenue stream? Who knows? Tell me that in 1998 this revenue stream was considered the end all beat all future. You can't do that either, as in 1998 I don't think they had any inkling of what is happening now. If they had that inkling a bit further back, the Internet, and the World Wide Web would be a much different, and safer, place. With much hope, it will be in the future, though we might need another name for the 'safe' Net.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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                  identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 6:49pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Your 'kill zones' are a fabrication, which may or may not impact, the up and comers.

                  Oh gosh, I'm such a fool! I guess Cory Doctorow & The Economist just made up their articles and in-depth analyses right out of the blue with nothing to back them up!

                  But at some point, when Facepuke pisses enough of their 'constituents' off with their ham fisted policies, they could be looking for alternatives. And will. It won't happen fast, but given time.

                  So how much time are you willing to give? A few more years? Another decade? As I mentioned farther down, Facebook is basically turning a blind eye to election misinformation; but y'all keep saying "Just you wait, any day now, someone's gonna come along and unseat ol' Zuckerberg!" like y'all think that that renders all the harms and consequences of Facebook's current actions moot. Go ask the Rohingya how they'd feel about waiting around until Facebook gets a competitor that "has more transparency, a better consumer attitude, and a different revenue stream". I'm sure that they'd be delighted to be asked to wait an indefinite amount of time for Facebook to be dethroned.

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                  • icon
                    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 7:04pm

                    y'all keep saying "Just you wait, any day now, someone's gonna come along and unseat ol' Zuckerberg!" like y'all think that that renders all the harms and consequences of Facebook's current actions moot

                    The Plaintiff's failure to cite the substance of their claims, as is required for those claims to be taken seriously, compels dismissal.

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                  • icon
                    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 7:11pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    If fools wish to think of Facepuke as a definitive speaker of truth, when Facepuke probably does little actual speaking, but a bunch of dolt users of Facepuke make inept, uniformed, partisan, and sometimes inane statements that get believed over more reasoned and salient speakers, how is that Facepuke's fault? That some people believe what they read or see there over other things has the same basis as people who believe in the new religion that was thought up by some people last week. It is not up to us to tell them which religion they should believe in. Just as it is not up to us to tell Facepuke how to be. Bad speech is fought with more speech. Trying to get peoples focus off of Facepuke and to better forums for speech is an issue. But like the religion questions, do you really think you can convert Catholics to Shinto easily?

                    Time isn't the issue. These same questions will still be there the next presidential cycle. They might be better, they might be worse, but they will still exist. And when Google, Facepuke, and Amazon are all history, guess what, we will have the same questions about their replacements.

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                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 2:59am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Facebook is basically turning a blind eye to election misinformation;

                    Moderation is very difficult, and when it involves politics very dangerous. So do you really want to give Facebook greater control over human conversations, especially when the politicians are pulling the levers. Hint Trump does not like his misinformation being fact checked.

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              • icon
                That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 8:50pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Y'all mock "Nerd Harder" around these parts but simultaneously TD says that the solution to the issues with Big Tech is to trust small plucky startups to Innovate™ super hard to unseat incumbent multi-billion corporations that have established kill-zones around certain ideas.

                Yeah, gonna need a [Citation Needed] for that one, because while I do remember TD coverage of how often the 'break them up!' crowd tend to have a slogan and little else, along with articles about how there are concerns about what companies do which are weighed against potential risks of even worse caused by sloppy rules and regulations, along with articles about potential changes that could be made in general that could lessen the power of the major platforms('protocol over platforms' being a big one), 'just leave it to the startups' isn't ringing any bells.

                The hypocrisy is astounding. If the companies that result from the split-up can't hack it on their own, then that's just the Free Market™ telling them that they didn't Innovate™ hard enough. Why do you hate the Free Market™ picking winners and losers?

                'Cut off a portion of the company that isn't profitable on it's own and/or that's been structured so that it depends on other parts to survive for so long that changing back would be problematic, and if fails as a result that's on them' is no more the 'free market' at work than divesting a butcher of the part of the business that buys the meat and then acting shocked that they go under shortly thereafter would be, and arguing that if they would only nerd harder they'd make it work is the exact same thing that gets mocked for absurdity on a regular basis.

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              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 6:48am

                Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "...simultaneously TD says that the solution to the issues with Big Tech is to trust small plucky startups to Innovate™ super hard to unseat incumbent multi-billion corporations that have established kill-zones around certain ideas. "

                Would be nice if that righteous argument was applied to those which it actually concerns then.

                Because exactly that was how both Google and Facebook started. By being "small and plucky startups", you nitwit.

                And Google and Facebook could be replaced tomorrow by anyone who has a better idea and can get investors on board. In lieu of coming up with that their would-be competitors instead whine and cry that "Big Tech" is being unfair because, apparently, Google and Facebook aren't as inherently inept as their would-be competitors.

                Google and Facebook both have competition - it's not Google's fault Bing is fucking useless and Yahoo a model T trying to hack it in modern street racing.

                AT&T, Verizon, and other core infrastructure providers are by definition monopolies simply because owning the fiber? That's the "kill-zone" you harp on, right there.

                "The hypocrisy is astounding. "

                Only if we actually give credence to the goalposts you moved and the straw man army you propped up. Otherwise all I see is yet more of "Google is being unfair because they have teh skillz".

                "Why do you hate the Free Market™ picking winners and losers?"

                We don't. You, apparently, feel the need to have government swing in and cripple non-monopolies if they're doing too well. What's next, the five year plan your rhetoric is leading up to?

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          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 6:56am

            Re: Re:

            "If they can't use that magical innovation that they prattle on about nonstop to figure out how to survive without the massive subsidizations that Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Amazon Web Services do for the companies right now, then that's their own fucking fault..."

            So by your argument if I pay a hot dog vendor a fiver I've just "subsidized" him and all he has to do to recoup the loss of his primary income stream is to "nerd harder"?

            Yeah you're right. Those companies would have to use magical innovation to survive, because in the real world if you tell someone they're no longer allowed to take payment for services rendered then that's just an invitation for them to peg their tent in Chruschev's USSR.

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        • identicon
          Pixelation, 3 Sep 2020 @ 7:40pm

          Re:

          Good point. However, it does seem to be part of our system that companies end up too big and need to be broken up. Even though the parts may be bought up to build another "too large" corporation, it is not necessarily a good reason to avoid breaking them up. I'm not sure how you could legislate corporation size. I'm curious what people would suggest to manage the situation without creating unintended consequences.

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          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 11:22pm

            Re: Re:

            "I'm curious what people would suggest to manage the situation without creating unintended consequences."

            This is where they always become mysteriously silent.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 7:46am

            Re: Re:

            The issue is that companies and people will put wealth to use, rather than let it sit in the bank and waste away. That said, blocking acquisitions via debt instruments would solve many problems, as without the profits a company cannot acquire other companies to try and solve its problems.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 2:54pm

        Re: Re:

        Oh, bullshit. But here's the thing: Even if that were true, why would that matter?

        Yes, i understand the issues with breaking up some things, but frequently "techdirt" (which isn't a monolith) argues about the parts which don't make any sense to break up. Google and Facebook should never have been allowed to buy competitors (no one should), nor to compete with their own customers. But you can't break up a search engine or, say, the original, non-purchased bits of the FB platform itself. They should, however, be subject to adversarial interoperability, and and opening of their protocols, etc., which, if i am not mistaken, are things for which "techdirt" frequently argues.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 3:32pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yes, i understand the issues with breaking up some things, but frequently "techdirt" (which isn't a monolith) argues about the parts which don't make any sense to break up. Google and Facebook should never have been allowed to buy competitors (no one should)

          I may have missed an article or two. I don't think I've ever seen TD give Google or Facebook any sort of scrutiny or criticism for the mergers they enacted, nor have I seen TD say that they'd be fine with those merged corporations being broken up. The only things that TD seems to hammer on about is the "Protocols Not Platforms" approach as the #1 sole tried-and-true way forward from where we are now (some major making the perfect the enemy of the good, IMO), while dragging forward and beating the dead horse that is MySpace in an attempt to show "See?! Big companies can be felled by their competitors!" as if the situation nearly 15 years ago is even comparable to the far more global scale of the players on the field today, alongside a heaping helping of whataboutism regarding telecoms.

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          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 7:27am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "I may have missed an article or two. I don't think I've ever seen TD give Google or Facebook any sort of scrutiny or criticism for the mergers they enacted..."

            Possibly because those mergers have been - online - irrelevant. If all you get for a large wad of cash is a selection of trademarks then you still haven't inconvenienced your competition in any way.

            That's a far cry from, for instance, obtaining all the supply chains capable of carrying "merchandise X" to a given customer base.

            It has to be noted that online it doesn't matter how many domains you usurp because, as Google itself proved once upon a time, your empire can be unseated by two guys in a garage.

            Offline a merger has worse connotations.

            Techdirt has put a few extra miles into scrutinizing Google fuckery of assorted kinds, but Google buying a package of brand names and the right of ownership of a logo isn't exactly Hannibal ad portas".

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      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:08pm

        Re: Re:

        [Asserts facts not in evidence]

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 5:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Can you show me any articles from Techdirt which treated these mergers of tech & social media companies with the same level of scrutiny and criticism as the various telecom mergers that have occurred over these last few years? Are there any articles where Mike or Karl have said they'd be okay with the companies being broken up?

          Mike in particular, both on TD and his Twitter feed, seems to fall back quite a lot on the consumer harm/welfare doctrine when he discusses antitrust WRT Big Tech. This narrow view is convenient for his arguments and puts anybody who argues for breaking the companies up into an impossible position where they have to explain to him what harm is being done to consumers by these megacorps that offer services that are largely free. One would think that Facebook's flagrant lack of care for user privacy and its "Friendly Fraud" would've tripped the consumer-harm alarm bells, but apparently those weren't harmful enough. Amazon using its sheer size and cash pool to eat costs to put the Diapers website out of business harmed consumers by depriving them of options, but apparently Amazon isn't a viable antitrust target in the eyes of Techdirt.

          Google basically fucked over its competitor Microsoft and Windows Phone consumers by refusing to make apps (which many consumers deem critical) for the device, citing a small user base even though YouTube apps for the PS Vita and WiiU, with much smaller user bases at the time, were given the go-ahead. Microsoft asked if they could make the apps themselves, Google said Ok, but then required them to jump through hoops like writing the app entirely in HTML5, which is a burden that no other app was required to do. But apparently that's not enough to cross into antitrust territory.

          Techdirt's antitrust commentary is one-sided and it really shows. I remember going to BoingBoing for Cory Doctorow's commentary on Big Tech and antitrust because his arguments took the real world into account. Cory isn't part of BB anymore, but his articles are all still there. He also uses Twitter regularly and runs circles around Mike (and Techdirt's as a whole) plute-licking antitrust stance.

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          • icon
            Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 5:31pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            There is a huge difference in the concept of anti-trust between platforms and infrastructure. One has a whole lot more control than the other. Guess which one.

            The one that lets one get to the platforms, and their long term prevention for a large part of the US to get true high speed access, often to their co-option of state legislatures) is more of a worry than those platforms. Platforms can come and go. There is nothing holding anyone to Facepuke, except popularity. And that is it. Another platform could come along, present a different face to the world, and take away everything they have achieved. It has happened before, and it probably will happen again. Many times.

            On the other hand, when one only has limited choices to access the Internet, and those are all very slow and flaky, that is a big problem. Which one would you prefer Mike, Techdirt, or for that matter the rest of us be more concerned about?

            There is a hierarchy of anti-trust issues to be concerned about. Wouldn't it be great if the FTC took notice, and action, on all of them? But they can't, or won't, so the next best step is to get them to deal in physical areas, rather than ethereal. Infrastructure quality and access is physical. Where you go after that is ethereal. One can live without Facepuke (I do, so do many others) but Internet access, and quality of access (improved by choice of providers) is another matter entirely. Worth the FTC's time and attention, but for whatever reason, that time and attention has not been committed.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 6:22pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I don't use Facebook either, but I still live in a world where literally billions of other people around the world use it every day, and the company's decisions affect much more than just those who use it.

              It reminds me of the arguments that pro-telecom people use, when they make the bogus argument that you should just switch ISPs. If I luck out and find a small, local ISP that provides good service, that doesn't make the harm and damage that the oligopoly telecoms create go away. If I luck out and find a small social media platform or message board where I can feel comfy, that doesn't make the harm that Facebook's decisions create go away.

              If Facebook gets broken up, then that saps the ability for its then-split-up parts to shrug off accountability for their malicious and/or neglectful actions. An accountable Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp would be a massive boon for the users of those services and non-users alike, and also invite competition to step in and slug it out against the now-shrunken behemoth(s) where before people were afraid to do so. I just don't think that waiting for a competitor to come along and challenge the currently-monolithic Facebook and its acquired companies, while they wreak all sorts of havoc thanks to their size and unaccountability, is feasible or beneficial.

              Which one would you prefer Mike, Techdirt, or for that matter the rest of us be more concerned about?

              I'd like for Mike and TD in general to take a realistic stance and treat tech corporations such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon as equal threats to the telecoms. They may be ethereal, but their actions have major effects on the physical world that shouldn't be discounted.

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              • icon
                Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 6:57pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I get that Facepuke has more 'power' than it should, but frankly that is only because we give it to them. Some companies have stated to me (on their websites, not personally) that the only way to interact with them is through Facepuke (I make no apologies for the continued use of that derogatory metaphor), I don't, and won't do business with them. I am only one, but that removes some of Facepukes power. When more companies learn about how much potential market share they miss by limiting their market communications to a simplified Facepuke page, then we will see more diminishment of that power.

                But realistically, if Facepuke is broken up, just what assets will each of the new parts get? One gets the name, another gets the phone number, yet another gets the address, a fourth gets the email address, a fifth gets the track record of sites visited, and so on? It won't be that one fifth of the users go with group 1 and another fifth go with group 2, and so on. It won't be that we can make the mistake we did with the Bell break-up and make regional entities that will then buy each other out until we get one entity again. An it is unlikely that we could find a way to split equal parts of the company in such a way that each new entity has access to all the markets that the original had, with equal pieces of assets which theoretically gives them equal ability to compete against each other, simply because those assets are often not tangible and easily divided. Besides, what if my reason for being on Facepuke is to communicate and share with you, and we wind up with different entities? Or my family is on three different systems?

                I don't agree that Facepuke, Google, and Amazon are equal threats to those that provide, and prevent, access to the system. They are just players in the system, and while the have built strong positions, those positions are not unassailable. Getting a choice between DSL and fiber access to those players, or none at all because the Telecom spent their government handouts that were supposed to go to building out their infrastructure, but spent them on executive bonuses or investor dividends instead is a much, much, much bigger deal, and needs to come first.

                The other issue, that those three companies you mention, might be too big to be over taken says merely that you have little faith in the ingenuity of the entire population of the world. Yes they are big. Yes they are powerful. Yes they have lots of money, and more coming in each year. But they are not infallible, and either by user backlash, or an up and comer, they will be tamed...in the long run. That long run might be longer than you wish, but that is the way of the marketplace. There does not appear to be any actual anti-trust issue with any of those groups (though I am not a lawyer nor in any way an anti-trust expert) there is nothing about them that prevents others from doing the same thing. Duck Duck Go, Walmart, and I am not sure about a social media reference as I don't use social media so I am not aware of other alternatives, but I bet there are some. For that matter, there was an article earlier today about Animal Crossings, a game limited to (I think) one platform that is making inroads, though I cannot conceive why.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 8:40pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  I get that Facepuke has more 'power' than it should, but frankly that is only because we give it to them. Some companies have stated to me (on their websites, not personally) that the only way to interact with them is through Facepuke (I make no apologies for the continued use of that derogatory metaphor), I don't, and won't do business with them. I am only one, but that removes some of Facepukes power.

                  You're just one person. Over a billion people use Facebook and the companies that it's acquired, combined. Your lack of using Facebook doesn't remove "some" of their power. It isn't even a blip on their radar. Those companies have all the customers they need. The kind of international mass exodus of individual users that it'd take to put a dent in Facebook's revenue is far beyond what any protest or boycott could muster.

                  But realistically, if Facepuke is broken up, just what assets will each of the new parts get? One gets the name, another gets the phone number, yet another gets the address, a fourth gets the email address, a fifth gets the track record of sites visited, and so on?

                  I.... I already addressed that in the comment directly above you. Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook split off from one another have much less power than the whole. A lack of combined strength means that they would be more accountable for their malicious and/or neglectful actions.

                  Yes they are big. Yes they are powerful. Yes they have lots of money, and more coming in each year. But they are not infallible, and either by user backlash, or an up and comer, they will be tamed...in the long run. That long run might be longer than you wish, but that is the way of the marketplace.

                  Not sure if you've looked at the state of the U.S. or the world in general lately, but the odds on us having a "long" run aren't that good. As well, the marketplace is stacked and rigged by the same companies that you say "will be tamed".

                  I'm also going to reply to your other comment farther up right here to save myself some space and time.

                  If fools wish to think of Facepuke as a definitive speaker of truth, when Facepuke probably does little actual speaking, but a bunch of dolt users of Facepuke make inept, uniformed, partisan, and sometimes inane statements that get believed over more reasoned and salient speakers, how is that Facepuke's fault?

                  Because Facebook knows that the kind of lies and bullshit and misinformation that gets spread is profitable. They give it free reign; their algorithms and micro-targeting of ads make that clear as day.

                  That some people believe what they read or see there over other things has the same basis as people who believe in the new religion that was thought up by some people last week. It is not up to us to tell them which religion they should believe in. Just as it is not up to us to tell Facepuke how to be. Bad speech is fought with more speech. Trying to get peoples focus off of Facepuke and to better forums for speech is an issue.

                  You can't fight Facebook with "more speech" in the form of boycotts or awareness campaigns asking people to stop using it. Its operations and userbase are far too vast and global.

                  Time isn't the issue. These same questions will still be there the next presidential cycle. They might be better, they might be worse, but they will still exist. And when Google, Facepuke, and Amazon are all history, guess what, we will have the same questions about their replacements.

                  "Time isn't the issue?" Give me a fucking break. Again, look at the state of the world today. Over the last 5 years, Facebook has been using its algorithms basically paving the way for there to never be another Presidential cycle.

                  I think I'm done here. Have a good rest of the day.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 2:38am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              But the article's point is exactly that platforms are fast becoming a sort of "virtual" infrastructure? Or am I missing something?

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          • icon
            Toom1275 (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 9:09pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Can you show me any articles from Techdirt which treated these mergers of tech & social media companies with the same level of scrutiny and criticism as the various telecom mergers that have occurred over these last few years?

            I don't have to. The burden of proof is on you, as the one making the claim, after all.

            It's not our job to do your homework for you when you can't support your narrative.

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          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 7:44am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "... with the same level of scrutiny and criticism as the various telecom mergers that have occurred over these last few years?"

            Why would you scrutinize the acquisition of a few trademarks with the same stringency as you would the acquisition of physical infrastructure?

            If Google acquires the full rights of two thousand logos that's completely irrelevant as far as competition goes. The same can't be said if Verizon acquires the one and only broadband trunk not in their ownership which supplied a fair-sized city with an internet connection.

            And that you haven't the faintest clue as to what antitrust means is illustrated in your own comment;

            "Amazon using its sheer size and cash pool to eat costs to put the Diapers website out of business harmed consumers by depriving them of options, but apparently Amazon isn't a viable antitrust target in the eyes of Techdirt. "

            Shady, but not a monopoly. In fact i dare you to name any successful US business which hasn't applied the exact same principle. If "Sheer size and cash pool" were the key indicators to use in antitrust no US corporation in the top 500 would live.

            There are plenty of reasons to lambast Amazon, but antitrust isn't a viable course of contention.

            "Techdirt's antitrust commentary is one-sided and it really shows."

            Nope. That's just you proving you don't realize what "antitrust" means. Ma Bell was a classic antitrust case, as was the breakup of the old railroad tycoon fiefdoms, where a single actor could eliminate viable competition.

            That's not the case with Google and Facebook, nor with Amazon - although less clearly so given Amazon's physical supply network.
            Google could be dethroned tomorrow by two guys with a great idea in a garage, the exact same way Google dethroned Yahoo. Facebook could be dethroned the very second someone comes up with a social platform which works better. In Amazon's case you'd have to invest plenty to build a competing supply chain - but you can dethrone amazon as well.

            "He also uses Twitter regularly and runs circles around Mike (and Techdirt's as a whole) plute-licking antitrust stance."

            ...and since your lying outright about what he claims let's put the record straight. Doctorow advocates enforcing interoperability while clearly removing himself from the option of breaking up the indivisible - the argument you keep running with above and below here.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 9:56am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              ...and since your lying outright about what he claims let's put the record straight. Doctorow advocates enforcing interoperability while clearly removing himself from the option of breaking up the indivisible - the argument you keep running with above and below here.

              He recently created a large Twitter thread where he discussed monopolies,
              monopsonies, and trustbusting. One excerpt sticks out in contradiction to your assertion that he stops at "breaking up the indivisible":

              They could not be more wrong. There is no difference in the moral case for trustbusting Big Tech and busting up Big Telco. If Big Tech goes first, it'll be the amuse-bouche. There's a 37-course Vegas buffet of trustbustable industries we'll fill our plates with afterward.

              I've seen his BoingBoing articles and his work at the EFF. He advocates for busting up monopolies alongside advocating for interoperability. He even responded to one of Karl Bode's articles on the subject of Big Tech Breakups vs. Big Telco Breakups:

              Bode sees Big Cable's hands working behind the scenes to manipulate and mainstream the debate over monopoly and Big Tech, using conservatives' distress at seeing the "free market" turn into a monopolized communications world that is increasingly hostile to them to get them to overcome their 40-year commitment to permitting monopolies (which are a godsend to the investor class, which is also the political donor class).

              There may be some truth to that. Certainly, Big Telco is the consummate lobbying machine, second only to Big Military Industrial Complex, and they're very, very good at leading the political classes around by the nose. That said, I don't think Tim Wu or Liz Warren or AOC or Casey Newton or the Open Markets Institute arrived at their trustbusting ideas because they were duped by cable lobbyist. For one thing, they all want to break up Big Telco, too.

              And that's the thing: even if Bode is right and there's a bunch of hidden Big Cable money pushing for the Big Tech trustbusting movement, they're playing a very dangerous game. Once the precedent is set that America is the kind of company that breaks up monopolies, they're not going to stop with Big Tech. Once the Overton Window is resized to allow trustbusting through, it's going to be very hard to slam it shut again.

              Do you still think I'm a liar?

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              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 1:12am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Do you still think I'm a liar?"

                Given how you spin Doctorow's assertions? Yes.

                He says it himself;

                "As has been the case so often in the internet's brief life, humanity has entered uncharted territory. People (sort of) know how to break up a railway or an oil company and America once barely managed to break up a phone company. No one is sure how to break up a tech monopolist. Depending on how this moment plays out, that option may be lost altogether."

                You truly can not break up a search engine from its primary revenue stream and still expect it to work. Doctorow admits this and I'm pretty sure he's not trying to advocate that any fully functioning online tool should be considered a monopoly subject to antitrust.

                Secondly he's also very clear that every attempt made by governments to "curb" online service consolidation has become a direct assistance to the giants of Big Tech, mainly harming anyone trying to get a competitor off the ground by raising the entrance bar.

                Third - and this pertains some of Doctorow's earlier work - every effort made by government to curb Big Tech has been lobbied for and modified by the copyright industry and other interests, turning what should have been pseudo-ineffective legislation into actual Red Flag Acts.

                " He advocates for busting up monopolies alongside advocating for interoperability."

                And he says himself that no one knows how to do the former by breaking up Big Tech so interoperability is the only method he actually advocates to get it done.

                THAT is why you are lying. If you try to split Google, or Facebook up then you've effectively created the legal precedence that search engines and social platforms are unlawful, because there is no dividing line which allows the resulting companies to function at all. And this isn't what Doctorow is saying. Or anyone else who understands just how different Google is from, for instance, the empire of a Railroad Tycoon or Verizon.

                Instead it would be wiser to use interoperability in the same way that in the physical world european nations enforce cable sharing and lease when it comes to infrastructure.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 5:22pm

        Re: Re: The lines are clear

        So some of your lines make some sense (Instagram from FB), but most of the others would just cleave big dominant players off into dominating their own small market. The only value I can see to that is they will have less resources from the parent company to buy up a competitor, but that sort of anti-competitive thing should be caught by a competent regulator, so maybe we need to focus on making one of those first.

        And that still doesn’t deal with the monopolistic quandary of social media: a social media site’s usefulness is proportional to it’s active user base. Facebook wouldn’t be a thing if there were only 20000 people on it (remember when Google Plus was a thing? Pepperidge Farms remembers). That is why TD harps on the “protocols not platforms” mantra. It’s the only way to maintain the value of being on a social media site while making social media sites compete. There’s a lot of winging about Facebook being too big, but nobody pauses to acknowledge that if Facebook were smaller as-is, they wouldn’t use Facebook.

        So by all means, we can try to split up some of the worst excesses of conglomeration (looking at you Facebook-Instagram), but let’s not pretend that is going to be a panacea for the issue of “Facebook’s too damn big”. And again, that needs competent regulators, or we can watch the baby Bells gobble each other back up into the reincarnation of the original problem.

        And the reason most of the anti-trust hype on TD gets pointed at the ISPs is because there usually isn’t reasonable replacement options for the user, and there is for most of the online services. I navigate life just fine not using Facebook. Let’s not pretend the difference between Google search and DuckDuckGo search is equivalent to the difference between my 25 MB/s connection from Comcrap and the 500 kB/s I could get from satellite.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 3:30pm

    Is there anyone who doesn't want to regulate the internet for anything other than selfish reasons? Look at who want to do this, the entertainment industries do they can keep contol of their various sections, how it's distributed and how much for, while stopping all artists, new and old, from 'doing their own thing' without having to rely on the ancient gate keepers and politicians and judges who are taking bribes to aid the entertainment industries in whatever way they can!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 7:01pm

    The simple fact is, I don't have to use Google. There's always, save-the-foundation, Bing. I don't have to use Facebook. There's always ... who cares? Both of them give me something someone might want, and don't charge me for it.

    The simple fact is, if I want to go online, I have to go to Spectrum (or Frontier, or whichever most-hated-company-in-America-three-years-running offers the only cable through my neighborhood.)

    That's why ISPs need serious regulation, including but not limited to antitrust, fraudulent advertising, net-neutrality, bribery of public officials, mopery, dopery, and general malingering.

    And Google doesn't.

    And Facebook--who, honestly, has any good reason to care what they do? Set up your family circle, if you want, shut off everything else, and ... find something better to do than try to hurt other people's feelings because your feelings were hurt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 8:08pm

    Fuck your consent manufacturing

    It is as "inevitble" as Hillary Clinton being queen of the united states - not at all unless everyone has the agency of a bag of rotten lard.

    "Inevitably" is lazy teleological bullshit without actual reasoning behind it. The "problems" are just a bunch of entitled assholes who want everything their way and not anybody elses. "For their own good." Like the "problem" of people shopping at a Walmart whenever one is opened up in town - if the people didn't want it they would close on their own just fine.

    I am fucking sick of idiot talking heads telling me how I should feel about things and their stupid unfounded claims of things being over. They are just as ill informed as the late Prince!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 11:11pm

    The only value I can see to that is they will have less resources from the parent company to buy up a competitor,...

    Ah, but you don't understand high finance. You don't need money to buy up a competitor. You're better off (from an MBA-perspective, which--rabid-skunk-in-heat-insane though it be--is the only perspective that counts when a CEO goes to market to justify an even-higher salary by growing his company) borrowing money: your balance sheet looks good and so long as your ROI is higher than the interest rate, you make out like--an MBA hoovering out a bank vault.

    Of course, if ROI looks like it's dropping below market-interest-rates, you strap on your golden parachute and send out your resume to even bigger companies. Or go into politics, if you're evil enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    chrislaarman (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 1:44am

    But who?

    I too could think of some rules for the Internet. But who would create them, who would enforce them? In my view (impression rather than opinion), some global body would be appropriate, as the Internet transcends borders. A logical place would then be some branch of the United Nations, probably something related to Human Rights. But some governments doubt the neutrality of the UN, or have themselves special views on legitimacy of things. And these doubts and views are subject to change... Many of the comments preceding mine address the power of big companies. Yes, they seem to really have quite some power. And some governments (and maybe some loose groups of hackers) too. These powers seem to be used in competition, yes, even in rivalry between independent states. We may end up having several "internets", interfacing at different levels of information transport.(I started my life "on-line" on the Fidonet. I also remember the gopher-protocol beside the http-protocol.) No, I don't have a solution. Views on scope, content and enforcement of any regulation of the Internet will remain divided, even opposed, and subject to change. A simpler way might be to control ourselves, some "love thy neighbor" approach. But I can't even imagine the world population ever to embrace such principle. PS: Isn't it remarkable that we always want to regulate others, but not others to regulate us?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 2:29am

    But can you regulate the military use of the Internet?

    Inherent problem with regulation will be that it has to be national only, and leave clearly open the possibility to weaponize the internet abroad, for spying, government change operations etc. Almost all the technologies of the internet "edge", as described in the article, are dual-use (or "weapon-grade" / export-controlled, as described for example by a British MP). And the internet is such that government work in cyberwarfare is often delegated to these private companies (not only in the US, but worldwide), and thy would be subject to different regulations in different countries. So how do you reconcile the military use of the internet and the regulatory framework? By inventing a sort of "diplomatic immunity" for companies like Booz Allen? And what about reciprocity then? Would you do the same for, say, Yandex? And if you assimilate these companies and services to the defense industry, on the other hand, which is clearly segmented, then wouldn't you would create the equivalent of a balkanized, regulated internet "NATO", with a line of approved and regulated suppliers, and a ban for everyone else?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Sep 2020 @ 10:10pm

      Re: But can you regulate the military use of the Internet?

      Militaries by definition are regulated only by those who have the ability to enforce it by sheer force. No matter how well or poorly the laws are written they are meaningless if you can't enforce them. Don't even bother trying, it just breeds contempt for the law.

      The question was already answered by the assinine attempts at treating cryptography as a munition - they tried it and got implementations exported and reimplemented outside.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    genghis_uk (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 3:17am

    US Regulation - will the world care?

    Regulation of 'The Internet' by the US would only pander to the wet dreams of corporate lobbyists and the best democracy that money can buy but it would not be a regulation that the rest of the world will recognise.

    Remove 230 protections? Fine - a lot of US lawyers will become rich but the rest of the world will carry on moderating as they want because legal systems elsewhere are set up differently. Not necessarily better or worse but different. Google, Facebook etc. are US corps and may have to go along with it but if I created a website in the UK I could moderate it as I please, just as I can today.

    Go full on and ban gambling or nudity while promoting right wing extremism? (not a serious suggestion, just making a point!) and the rest of the world will carry on betting and creating porn while creating their own filters for content... How will the US prevent access to sites that do not meet the new US only regulations?

    Copyright seems to be the only area where a lot of the world has a consensus - and look where that has got us!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 7:00am

    Why are people trying to break up the Facebook rat when the monopoly elephant is in the room?

    Why is Facebook being criticized for accepting gifts of the same information that the Internet "Service" Providers steal? Outlaw, for starters, ANY collection of information about customers (other than that required to provide service to an address and collect money from a person to pay for it). Hang, draw, and quarter ATT for blatant violation of that.

    And speaking of quartering: there is an obvious dichotomy between Internet Connectivity providers (whose only service is in their name) and content providers (like, say, big movie studios). In the old days, ATT was prohibited from being in any profit-making business other than what was directly entailed in communication. Satellites? yes, used for communications. Computers and software, yes, but they couldn't sell the stuff separately. Give away Unix? sure, not a sale issue or a profit line.

    Today: Movie studios? REALLY?

    One could start by requiring the Internet and Cable ("communications") companies to divest themselves of all content-providing divisions, and handle connections to content-providing companies according to a publicly-stated fee schedule. This would keep them from using the likes of Disney, Time/Warner, HBO as cards in their monopoly game, so that new competitors could freely enter the Content-providing businesses TO COMPETE WITH THE LIKES OF HBO, FACEBOOK, GOOGLE, AND THE NEW YORK TIMES IN THE CONTENT-PROVIDING ARENA ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.

    Now Google is a more effective content-creator-and-aggregator than the New York Times. Tough. The NYT will have to live with being second-best, or get better. (Either option can be made to work. I don't care which.)

    At least, I don't care SO LONG AS I CAN GET TO EITHER ONE, EQUALLY WELL, FROM MY SPACULUM ISP.

    Google and NYT sell ads and deliver them along with their own content. That's ... well, tolerable. Or, at least, if it isn't tolerable I can go away. (And there are sites that I don't visit because ads. Everyone's choice.

    But when my ISP starts delivering ads on someone else's content, it's time to bring out the pitchforks and torches and stake-and-burn their whole executive suite. Because I DON'T HAVE THE CHOICE.

    That's the key to this all. If people have choices, then the market can decide. But if people have no choice but to swallow whatever swill their only available internet connector excretes, then the market is powerless and the robber barons are in control.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

    Facebook isn't the town square. Google isn't the town square. Neither one can be, and any town can build its own square any time. But for surety and certainty, ATT/Spectre/RearTier or another of their ilk IS the entire town, county, state, and national road system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 12:34am

      Re:

      "Why are people trying to break up the Facebook rat when the monopoly elephant is in the room?"

      You really need to ask? Look at those monopoly Elephants - ATT, Verizon, Comcast etc -observe who are the first in line to point at the Facebook rat and scream "THAT is the monopoly! Right there! Kill it!".

      To summarize, any child knows the fastest way to divert attention from being caught with their hand in the cookie jar is to point at the younger sibling and holler "He ate all the cookies, mom!"

      "One could start by requiring the Internet and Cable ("communications") companies to divest themselves of all content-providing divisions..."

      And this, right there, is what the net neutrality debate was all about. The provider of the cable providing content is akin to the builder of a road making that road more convenient to use for their own offers and less so for anyone else. To the great detriment of the consumer.

      "Now Google is a more effective content-creator-and-aggregator than the New York Times. Tough. The NYT will have to live with being second-best, or get better. (Either option can be made to work. I don't care which.)"

      ...or the NYT and it's peers instead lobby for Red Flag Acts meant to cripple the competitors who are being unfairly competent.

      "But if people have no choice but to swallow whatever swill their only available internet connector excretes, then the market is powerless and the robber barons are in control. Why is this so hard to understand?"

      Because a fair market requires rules to exist. Said rules can only be imposed by government. Which in the US of today is assumed to be an even worse choice of arbiter. Looking at the FCC I can't even say they're wrong about that...

      "Facebook isn't the town square. Google isn't the town square. Neither one can be, and any town can build its own square any time. But for surety and certainty, ATT/Spectre/RearTier or another of their ilk IS the entire town, county, state, and national road system."

      That's the truth. Not held in high regard or esteem in todays USA, alas.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 8:05am

    The Amazon-diaper situation stinks (at least, according to the reporters who got the scoop from diaper.com. But, realistically, how is that different from Kroger or A&P or Walmart selling their own house brand of bread and water beside products branded by the supplier--but cheaper?

    And Amazon has a monopoly in used-book aggregation (a market which matters deeply to me), which it got by buying out the competition. And predatory pricing is illegal (insofar as it can be distinguished from competitive pricing, which is not always). I'm not sure how you'd get more competition in the distribution business. In the current social/tech environment, there are genuine advantages to scale. Perhaps Amazon might spin off all its producers/manufacturers, but still... what can a government legitimately and usefully regulate about Amazon (other than, perhaps, unsafe working conditions--and that doesn't require targeted laws)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 12:37am

      Re:

      "but still... what can a government legitimately and usefully regulate about Amazon (other than, perhaps, unsafe working conditions--and that doesn't require targeted laws)?"

      Very little. Amazon doesn't block anyone else from creating a new and better Amazon 2.0. Hell, there are plenty of online retail outlets who don't even give Amazon a passing nod.

      The only place where Amazon could earn itself an antitrust smackdown might be in it's web services but even that would be a pain to determine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 1:25am

        Re: Re:

        "The only place where Amazon could earn itself an antitrust smackdown might be in it's web services but even that would be a pain to determine."

        Well, that honestly is the only major place where Amazon could find itself vulnerable. Lots of new projects just default to being on AWS - developers are familiar with it, it's trivial to set up new services in an instant and it's far cheaper then running your own kit. So, many competitors large and small make use of AWS to run their businesses.

        If it could be found that Amazon were deliberately doing things on their platform that were anticompetitive and causing competitors to lose sales to Amazon's retail business, that would be a clear violation and be something to crack down on.

        Even then, the question of "why are you using Amazon to run your competing business when there's equally robust and feature-rich options from Google, Microsoft, DigitalOcean, AliBaba etc. that don't come from your main competitor?", but it makes more sense then going after them for having a successful retail empire.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Sep 2020 @ 7:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Well, that honestly is the only major place where Amazon could find itself vulnerable. Lots of new projects just default to being on AWS - developers are familiar with it, it's trivial to set up new services in an instant and it's far cheaper then running your own kit."

          ...and that, viewed in the current lobbied-for witch hunt, is telling. Amazon may be many things - shady as all fuck, literal slave drivers, unethical in their business practices etc, and in a saner place than the US unions would have shut down most of Amazon's supply chain until they learned to treat their serfs as human beings, or levied criminal charges against various labor and safety code violations.

          But the fact that amazon AWS and it's online store are more convenient?

          As many bright thinkers have highlighted there is a problem that Big Tech is consolidated among a very few actors. But if the reason for that growth is just because those actors have teh skillz to make their business convenient and easy to use then there's no problem you can point to other than telling their competition "The Customer is King! Fucking get learnt already!".

          There is a good cause to implement a sort of common carrier doctrine with enforced interoperability so customers can choose which parts of the services to use while avoiding lock-in trap effects.

          But the loudest callers for antitrust operations against Google, Facebook and Amazon aren't giving a shit about that. They just want the law to split Googles and Amazon's wheel in two unicycle in half while insisting that solution leaves two functional vehicles rather than two piles of scrap.

          It's the stagecoach drivers calling for a Red Flag Act again, nothing more.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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