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Among Their Many Ills, Critics Say Google and Facebook Make It Difficult for Digital Media to Survive



WASHINGTON, June 11, 2019 — The practices of Google and Facebook were closely scrutinized at a House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing Tuesday, and the companies’ impact upon the digital news media came in for particularly stark criticism.

Some said that these major tech platforms were making it difficult for other media companies to survive, speaking at a broader inquiry of the companies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.

According to News Media Alliance President David Chavern, 93 percent of Americans get their news online. The majority of this stems from just two platforms: Facebook and Google.

These platforms are “controlling the game and playing it too,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, a progressive think tank seeking greater antitrust activity. By both competing against and capitalizing off of news media, the tech giants are making fair competition “impossible.”

Increased competition could potentially allow consumers the option of picking a platform that doesn’t use engagement algorithms that boost propaganda.

Hubbard pointed out that most disinformation also comes from Facebook and Google, claiming that “by prioritizing engagement, these platforms are actually promoting disinformation as well.” Content that inspires fear or anger is more likely to be engaged with, whether or not it is true.

Facebook and Google lack competition and regulation and have grown with impunity, said Hubbard. Since 2013, the two platforms together have bought more than 150 companies.

This lack of competition makes the digital news ecosystem completely reliant on two platforms in which a small algorithm change can completely alter what articles are shown to which people, she said.

And she said that that, in turn, can have a major effect on not only the publishers’ revenue streams but also on public opinion, as shown by election interference in 2016.

Facebook has acquired competitive social networks like Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook specifically identified WhatsApp as a threat before purchasing it, Hubbard said.

Meanwhile, Google has taken over the display advertising market by acquiring companies such as DoubleClick. Antitrust prosecutions against Google in Europe have held that the company prioritizes its own products and search results over that of rivals.

Computer & Communications Industry Association Vice President Matt Schruers took issue with these allegations, and didn’t see a problem with Google’s practices. Grocery stores are allowed to promote their own brand of products above others.

But other critics said that tech platforms are steadily draining revenue from news organizations through their control of advertising revenue.

Chavern said Facebook and Google are profiting off digital news industry in two ways:

“First, they scrape news organizations’ content and display it on their own pages, where they can monetize it through ads,” said Chavern. “Second, they control the advertising technology news organizations use to sell ads on their own sites, and the platforms charge increasingly exorbitant fees for use of those technologies.”

Brand suppression is a big problem with the major platforms’ display of news media. This is both bad for publishers because it takes away from their brand and bad for the public because it takes away from their ability to know the source of their news.

Schruers disagreed with Chavern’s analysis, citing a study which said that dispersing stories on social media to “road-test” them is beneficial to journalists and reporters. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, said that the study in question was funded by Facebook.

The lack of privacy rules also plays a deeply-related role, said Hubbard. If platforms gathered less data from consumers, they would be less able to hyper-target them.

(Photo of hearing by Emily McPhie.)


‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’



Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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FTC Commissioner Concerned About Antitrust Impact on Already Rising Consumer Prices

Noah Phillips said Tuesday he wants the commission to think about the impact of antitrust rules on rising prices.



Screenshot of Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Rising inflation should be a primary concern for the Federal Trade Commission when considering antitrust regulations on Big Tech, said Commissioner Noah Phillips Tuesday.

When considering laws, “the important thing is what impact it has on the consumer,” said Phillips. “We need to continue to guard like a hawk against conduct and against laws that have the effect of raising prices for consumers.”

Current record highs in the inflation rate, which means money is becoming less valuable as products become more expensive, has meant Washington must become sensitive to further price increases that could come out of such antitrust legislation, the commissioner said.

Phillips did not comment on how such movies would mean higher prices, but that signals, such as theHouse Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report two years ago, that reign in Big Tech companies and bring back enforcement of laws could mean higher prices. He raised concerns that recent policies are prohibiting competition rather than facilitating it.

This follows recent concerns that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, currently awaiting Senate floor consideration, will inhibit America’s global competitiveness by weakening major American companies, thus impairing the American economy. That legislation would prohibit platform owners from giving preference to their products against third-party products.

This act is one of many currently under consideration at Congress, including Ending Platform Monopolies Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.

Small businesses have worried that by enacting some legislation targeting Big Tech, they would be impacted because they rely on such platforms for success.

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Critics and Supporters Trade Views on American Innovation and Choice Online Act

American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to protect fair competition among businesses, but panelists differed on its impact.



Photo of Amy Klobuchar from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – Experts differed on the effect that antitrust legislation targeting big tech companies allegedly engaging in discriminatory behavior would have on small businesses.

Small businesses “want Congress not to do anything that will screw up or weaken the services that they rely on for their business,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice present of the Consumer Technology Association, at a Protocol Live event on Thursday.

Petricone said that antitrust bill would encourage tech companies to relocate to other countries, harming the American economy. He said small businesses would be affected the most.

Instead, Petricone called for  a “smarter immigration policy” to allow foreign innovators access to American tech market, as well as the defeat of the antitrust legislation.

But other said that small businesses suffer from predatory behavior by big tech companies. “Companies can’t get their foot in the door when there is already self-preferencing,” said Awesta Sarkash, representative for Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, adding that 80% of small businesses say they want antitrust laws to protect them.

Self-preferencing on online platforms is detrimental to the success of small businesses who rely on social media advertising for business, she said. The new antitrust proposals would ensure an level playing field and promote fair competition, she said.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, was introduced to the Senate on May 2 and is awaiting Senate floor consideration.

The debate follows concerns raised by both democrats and republicans about America’s global competitiveness as the bill would weaken major American companies.

If passed, the bill will follow the European Union’s Digital Services Act which similarly sets accountability standards for online platforms, preventing potentially harmful content and behavior.

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