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Antitrust

EU Grills Facebook on Third-Party Apps, Google CEO ‘Maps’ the Future, Broadband Now Checks FCC Data

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Photo of Google CEO in December 2015 by Nguyen Hung Vu used with permission

The European Union requested documents from Facebook to determine whether Facebook partially awarded users data to special third-party applications, The Wall Street Journal reports. This action comes in the wake of a $5 billion fine levied against the social media juggernaut by the Federal Trade Commission last summer, the largest fine on record by the agency.

The EU is specifically investigating two potential misdemeanors: Whether Facebook fooled users into giving up their rights to data and whether Facebook used the Israeli-app Onavo (which it purchased in 2013) to gather intelligence on competitors in order to choke out competition before it could grow.

The EU is requesting “internal emails, chat logs and presentations” in order to come to a decision on these charges. However, Facebooks lawyers rejected this request on the grounds that the order to produce these documents were too broad. The EU has rescinded the order but is expected to issue a more tightly defined order soon.

Google CEO talks up Maps, deflects on Justice Department investigation

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and its holding company Alphabet, is using billions of user data and artificial intelligence to revamp Google Maps functionality, according to an interview with Wired magazine on Wednesday by Lauren Goode.

Google is hoping to promote long-embedded but hidden features of the application like augmented reality that point a consumer to where he wants go and AI crowdsourcing of data to answer questions such as, “What’s the best pizza place in town?”

The interviewer also dug into Google’s advertising practices in light of the Justice Department’s apparently accelerating investigation into Google’s market dominance through the DoubleClick platform.

Pichai dodged a question about the current investigation and gingerly stated that the company will “constructively engage” with the feds.

Pichai was more gregarious in talking about Google’s use of AI to map the hills of Africa and render three-dimensional models of buildings on the Maps app. He also expressed excitement about Google’s development of its API to integrate Maps into apps that aren’t normally associated with mapping such as offering a navigator of a mall a “unique shopping experience.”

FCC data off by half, claims report by BroadbandNow

A new report by John Busby, Julia Tanberk and BroadbandNow shows that the amount of Americans without broadband is probably double what the FCC reports.

By referencing more than 11,000 addresses with “check availability” tools offered online by nine large ISPs, BroadbandNow found that 13 percent, or 42 million Americans, are without access to wired or fixed wireless broadband

The FCC’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report puts that figure at 6.5 percent, or 21.3 million Americans.

The report highlighted how overreporting disproportionately affects rural communities. The organization used South Carolina as an example, where 50 percent of residents live in an urban area and unserved addresses are 30 percent higher than FCC estimates. They compared that to Arizona, where 90 percent of residents live in an urban area and unserved addresses are 11 percent higher.

The report also addressed solutions like how policymakers could collect better data. The authors stressed that to achieve this, the FCC should operate on address-level availability for the sake of transparency. It also insisted that the FCC reporting be “more timely” as it usually takes the agency 12-18 months to publish its report after ISPs self-report.

Antitrust

‘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.’

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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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Antitrust

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.

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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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Antitrust

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.

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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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