Liz Warren: Let’s Break Up Big Tech

Senator Warren announced yesterday morning that she thinks we should break up the big tech monopolies. She focuses on Google, Facebook, and Amazon in particular, though there are obviously other companies that would also fit this description.

Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.

One focus is on how companies use mergers and acquisitions to limit competition, like how Facebook snaps up every available messaging company. This seems pretty self-explanatory. The other main focus of her Medium post, which I find more interesting, is that companies which own networks should not be allowed to participate in those networks. This one’s a little less clear to the layperson, so she lays on some history.

But where the value of the company came from its network, reformers recognized that ownership of a network and participating on the network caused a conflict of interest. Instead of nationalizing these industries — as other countries did — Americans in the Progressive Era decided to ensure that these networks would not abuse their power by charging higher prices, offering worse quality, reducing innovation, and favoring some over others. We required a structural separation between the network and other businesses, and also demanded that the network offer fair and non-discriminatory service.

Her plan:

My administration would restore competition to the tech sector by passing legislation that requires large tech platforms to be designated as “Platform Utilities” and broken apart from any participant on that platform.

[…] Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search would be platform utilities under this law. Therefore, Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. Google Search would have to be spun off as well.

This is an interesting idea! And it’s high time we had this conversation at a presidential-campaign level. (I’m sure this was eaten by various shitstorms in yesterday’s news, but still.)

She sort of talks about how we also need to deal with privacy, but it’s not included in this plan, which is fair. The post says the same about preventing foreign tampering. To me, the big thing that’s actually missing is how to handle the infrastructure platforms like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. Those two service umbrellas undergird a great deal of the world’s technological infrastructure, including that of the American government. In the case of Amazon, they also provide most of the actual corporate profit, I believe. The cheapish, on-demand infrastructure they provide is actually pretty helpful to small innovators too.

Anyway, this, the co-determination bill, the CFPB, are all good examples of what I love about Warren. Her “making capitalism work for everybody” shtick just really resonates with this neoliberal shill.

I was originally going to post this yesterday afternoon, but my flight had terrible wifi, so now you’re getting it after dinner from Tokyo.

Klobuchar Takes on Big Tech

Finally got an opportunity to watch Amy Klobuchar’s campaign launch speech yesterday. I thought it was a pretty good speech overall, and if she wanted to convey grit and toughness by talking for 25 minutes in a howling blizzard, mission accomplished. I was shivering all the way down here in Florida:

One thing that struck me about the speech was Klobuchar’s focus on Big Tech. The Post noticed that too:

Klobuchar’s decision to make privacy and Internet connectivity a central focus of her campaign could elevate tech policy issues during the Democratic primary. By touting these issues during her first major speech as a 2020 contender, Klobuchar is making a big bet that privacy and other digital concerns are increasingly important to American voters.

It’s especially striking since tech policy is not generally an issue that drives voters’ feet to the polls. In a survey about voter priorities ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Gallup listed health care, the economy and immigration as the top concerns among voters. Technology wasn’t even included in the 12 issues on the list. Yet if Klobuchar shows Democratic voters — especially key demographics like millennials — are paying attention, other politicians may start to prioritize issues like privacy and net neutrality in campaigns.

I also saw a GMA clip from yesterday of Klobuchar talking to George Stephanopoulos, and she elaborated a bit on her approach to Big Tech when asked what she specifically brings to the 2020 race:

“I don’t think anyone is talking enough about the challenges of our day, like digital disruption and the changes it’s making to the workforce and the need for privacy laws. No one’s willing to take on the tech companies, and I am.”

Klobuchar was on Maddow last night, and she talked about the Russians using technology to fuck with our elections in refreshingly clear terms. She, Mark Warner and John McCain sponsored the sorely needed Honest Ads Act to bring online political advertising regulation in line with print, TV and radio ads.

Maddow asked about the reports from disgruntled employees. I thought Klobuchar handled that pretty well. She owned up that she could be “too tough” and push people “too hard” sometimes but also pointed out that there are people who’ve been with her for many years, including those who went on to work for President Obama and then returned to staff her office after his terms were up.

Maddow also asked about how Klobuchar is handling what Maddow characterized as the unusual circumstance of a run of negative press, and Klobuchar pointed out that she’d dealt with that before as a DA and senator and said she’s plenty tough enough to weather a presidential run. From what I’ve seen so far, I believe her.

I haven’t ruled out supporting any declared candidates for the Democratic nomination — except Gabbard, who is a kook and thankfully going nowhere. I don’t know who’s gonna catch fire in the primary or who has what it takes to win the general.

But I’m glad Elizabeth Warren is in the race elevating economic issues, and I’m happy Klobuchar is bringing workforce dislocation, online manipulation, data and privacy issues to the fore. I think people care about the issue more than the polling suggests. If they don’t, they damn well should.

Open thread!

Secrecy Isn’t What It Used To Be

Results of CIA investigations continue to be leaked. Concern was expressed at this norm-breaking. The norms exist for a reason, though. The CIA’s reason for existence is national security.

The President of the United States is acting in conflict with the recommendations of his national security agencies and in conflict with national security. Sending troops to the border for political effect. Sharing another nation’s highly classified intelligence with an adversary. Bragging about a plane that he believes is invisible. Failing to visit the troops in war zones. And more.

This is a conundrum for the national security agencies. The internet and the availability of information are changing their roles too.

Information once of limited availability is now on the internet. Some are free, some for sale. Overhead satellite photos, court documents, historical archives, social media that inadvertently shows significant features. Read more

That NYTimes Facebook Bombshell: “Delay, Deny, Deflect..”

Much as I hate to endorse any opinion of Franklin Foer’s, I have to admit I’m glad I never joined Facebook. (Not being on Facebook has sometimes felt like a minor luxury, because I don’t have an employer who demands it, or social networks that I can’t access via alternate routes. And, yes, I realize they’ve probably mined all my personal information anyways.) Props to the NYTimes reporters:

In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.

But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

…[T]rust in the social network has sunk, while its pell-mell growth has slowed. Regulators and law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe are investigating Facebook’s conduct with Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that worked with Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, opening up the company to fines and other liability. Both the Trump administration and lawmakers have begun crafting proposals for a national privacy law, setting up a yearslong struggle over the future of Facebook’s data-hungry business model…
Read more

The Deadline That Wasn’t


The deadline to renew your health insurance coverage via is NOT today, as I had in my head the past couple of days. But it IS one month from today.  There’s no time like the present to get ‘er done, especially if you find some unfilled time. The site is improved and worked quite well.

I spent part of yesterday signing up – I’m all done, and happy to see a new competitive offering in my marketplace. I went ahead and added VSP to my 2019 plans because I will need some new glasses and I prefer the bells-and-whistles, and those options add up, now don’t they! Without David’s advice from over the months and years, I know I would have made poorer choices, so thanks David!

I also spent some time early Christmas shopping (research and online purchases) and took advantage of the early Thanksgiving Dell pricing to get a new 15″ laptop and docking station. It’s not the greatest computer for all needs, but it should suit me well. It will be nice moving on from my 7 year old, 17″, 8 pound monster laptop. Even though I just upgraded the memory and hard drives early this year, it made sense to buy new, now, before the new anti-Chinese tariffs kick in January 1st (10% goes to 25%).

I will now have a smaller, faster, better machine and can add dual 4k monitors when the time is right (i.e., when the price is right). Coupled with my other new machine (an Intel NUC and associated parts arrived today, getting it working later and tomorrow), I expect to have a much better future with technology. I expect I’ll be using approximately 30% of the power to do the same things, so it’s not just replacing older hardware, it’s wasting less money on electricity bled as heat and then paying more to cool my house in warmer months.  My desktop tower – from 2010 – puts out as much heat as a person, even when just sitting on and doing nothing except awaiting an incoming network connection and otherwise being on. You can feel it in the summer months when it has been on for a few hours versus off; the room temperature in this top-floor office is much warmer. The new NUC sips power, and will do what I need performance-wise. It doesn’t have a gaming-class graphics card, but it’s sufficient to do what I need, and it takes up the space of three stacked packs of Dunhills (my old smoke, back when I was a nicotine junkie).

On that note, I hope you find good deals and neat stuff in your insurance, tech, and non-tech shopping over the next few weeks. I believe this is the first Christmas where I’m far ahead of the game. That’s a good thing as I hope to get outdoors and play a bit in December as I try to develop some better lifestyle and activity habits.

Open Thread!


oh – don’t forget, if you play Fallout 76, drop me a line (I play on Xbox) so we can connect in-game. If you play on PC, let me know so I can put you in contact with other jackal Fallout 76 PC players. Use the Contact a Frontpager form. We need to hang together, there are nasty folks out there. Having my power armor already helps a bit, but since I’m not a high-enough-level, I can’t wear anything but the frame. Ok I lied, I have two sets, but they don’t provide the protection I need, so I’m LFG.