Hello, and welcome to this Wednesday’s edition of the Insider Tech newsletter, where we break down the biggest news in tech.
This week: 449 pages of scary bedtime reading for Zuck, Bezos, Sundar and Tim Cook
At approximately 4 p.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, the US House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee dropped a 449-page depth charge on the tech industry. The report was not unexpected â€” it’s the product of a 16-month investigation and a public hearing with all the CEOs in July â€” but its release instantly was still a bombshell in the world of tech.
Referring to Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook as “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” the legislators declared a “clear and compelling need” for immediate antitrust enforcement to restore competition.
Tech’s Big Four, as you would expect, came out swinging against the Congressional report.
The big question now is are any of the companies at immediate risk of being split up?
The report doesn’t explicitly call for specific companies or businesses to be broken up, but it doesn’t require too much imagination to see where the targets are among the reports’ recommended remedies, such as:
“Structural separations and prohibitions of certain dominant platforms from operating in adjacent lines of business.”
- The word “adjacent” can mean a lot of things, and Big Tech companies offer plenty of examples of different types of adjacent lines of business. Consider Google and Apple parlaying their dominance of mobile software into mapping apps, or Amazon using consumer shopping data from gleaned through its online market to identify types of clothing and other products to produce with its own private label brands.
“Prohibiting dominant platforms from engaging in self-preferencing.”
- Think of the longstanding claims that Google’s search engine gives preferential treatment to its own reviews and products over those of rivals, or the ongoing app store fees battle between Apple and Fortnite maker Epic Games.
With an election less than a month away, Tuesday’s antitrust report isn’t likely to result in any immediate action from Congress. And as many have noted, the Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas about what needs to be fixed in tech. But as tech companies face increasing pushback from the public and from regulators in the US and overseas, the House report is a detailed blueprint for reducing the power and reach of tech’s four giants â€” and it’s likely to be widely read in the coming years.
Police blotter, tech edition
John McAfee, the founder of the software cybersecurity company of the same name, was arrested in Spain this week on tax evasion charges. The arrest is the latest chapter in the tech entrepreneur’s bizarre life story which has included fleeing Belize after being named a “person of interest” in the still-unsolved murder of his neighbour, getting detained in the Dominican Republic for carrying weapons on his yacht, and a brief, unsuccessful campaign to become the Libertarian party’s presidential candidate in the 2016 US elections.
- Note that McAfee the person has not been involved with McAfee the company for decades. But the timing of his indictment couldn’t be worse for McAfee Corp, which just filed the paperwork for an IPO. The company’s S-1 filed on September 28 makes no mention of its founder. But don’t be surprised if you see an updated version of the S-1 with an entertaining “Risk Factor” explicitly disavowing any connection to the company’s eccentric namesake.
A former Amazon employee was arrested and charged with fraud involving nearly $US100,000 in “false refunds.” According to the criminal complaint, Vu Anh Nguyen, who worked as an Amazon selling-support associate in Tempe, Arizona, used fake buyer accounts to purchase expensive electronics and then issued refunds which he funneled to himself and his associates.
- That’s a different case, by the way, than the recent indictment of six people, including two former Amazon employees, on allegations of bribery.
- It’s also separate from the former Amazon manager charged last month by the SEC with insider trading that allegedly netted the defendant and her family $US1.4 million.
Snapshot: Slack’s new work-from-home sneaker
As we embrace the new work-from-home lifestyle, we need to adjust our wardrobe. So it’s fitting that Slack, the workplace collaboration tool, has stepped forward with a special sneaker for the days of lockdowns.
The limited-edition “Generation ZerÃ¸grand” shoe is a collab between Cole Haan and Slack, inspired by “the pandemic-related rise of remote working.” The $US120 sneakers, which feature the Slack logo and are available in Slack’s four signature colours, were apparently designed entirely through communications conducted over Slack.
I’m not quite sure what makes an ideal shoe for the rigors of working-from-home (personally, I haven’t worn any kind of footwear since March), but there’s no doubt that Slack just raised the stakes in the competition between tech collaboration software firms. Let’s see what kind of cool kicks Asana, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom hit back with.
“You put the soapbox someplace â€” in a safe space â€” where you can go and you can talk and people who want to listen will listen, and people who need to work can work, and people who don’t want to listen don’t have to be forced to listen.”
â€” Tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya discussing his decidedly low-tech idea of creating designated “free-speech zones” in the office using actual soapboxes. The soapbox suggestion comes amid a firestorm over Coinbase’s decision to forbid political conversations among its employees at the workplace.
Not necessarily in tech:
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