👋 Welcome to the FWIW by David Tvrdon - a tech, media & audio weekly digest.
In this edition
🤔 What to do about Big Tech
🤙 Facebook is in trouble again & France bans Huawei
💬 Other tech, media & podcasting news
Is Big Tech too big? Yes.
If anyone thought Microsoft will stay out of the heat (the chiefs of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple are testifying next week as part of the antitrust scrutiny of the companies), Slack is here to make it right.
Slack vs. Microsoft
Slack accused Microsoft of illegally crushing competition and filed a complaint in - wait for it - Europe. It is claiming Microsoft has "illegally tied its Teams product into its market-dominant Office productivity suite, force installing it for millions, blocking its removal and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers."
Jonathan Prince, Vice President of Communications and Policy at Slack:
Slack offers an open, flexible approach that compounds the threat to Microsoft because it is a gateway to innovative, best-in-class technology that competes with the rest of Microsoft’s stack and gives customers the freedom to build solutions that meet their needs. We want to be the 2% of your software budget that makes the other 98% more valuable; they want 100% of your budget every time.
Slack claims that Microsoft has illegally tied its collaboration software, Microsoft Teams, to its dominant suite of productivity programs, Microsoft Office, which includes Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. That bundling tactic, Slack contends, is part of a pattern of anticompetitive behavior by Microsoft.
Slack’s complaint is just a first step. The European Commission must decide if a formal investigation is warranted. In recent years, European regulators have more aggressively pursued antitrust actions against large tech companies than American officials.
This is huge news and many have looked back to 2001 when Microsoft was facing a nationwide, even global pushback because was accused of trying to create a monopoly.
Back then Microsoft got out of the trouble, here is a summary from Investopedia:
Antitrust laws ensure one company doesn't control the market, deplete consumer choice, and inflate prices. Microsoft was accused of trying to create a monopoly that led to the collapse of rival Netscape by giving its browser software for free. Charges were brought against the company which was sued by the Department of Justice in 1998. The judge ruled that Microsoft violated parts of the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered the company to break up into two entities. Microsoft appealed the decision, which was overturned. The Justice Department decided it will not seek to break Microsoft Corp. in two and ordered Microsoft and the Justice Department into settlement talks, which they reached a day before the deadline set by the judge.
Big Tech vs. what’s good for the world
If you google “Is Big Tech too big” you will find I did not use a particularly original title (shame on me!). Also, you will find a couple of articles that try to answer the question. In reality, none of them do and everyone lets the readers decide.
Some argue that’s good for the customer, especially those in the U.S. Others say big companies have bigger R&D spending which is better for everyone. And some say nothing, laying out two options and leaving them just hanging.
I’m more straight forward, telling you in the title that Big Tech companies are too big. Of course, my opinion doesn’t change a thing.
Although I said yes, doesn’t mean I have a solution. Sadly, I don’t. Though the first step in troubleshooting is acknowledging you have a problem. We have a problem. Big Tech is too big and we desperately and quite quickly need someone (justice court? antitrust division?) to decide on it and make changes.
More than a year after the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission moved to investigate Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple over their aggressive business practices, and the House Judiciary Committee announced an antitrust probe, we will witness (July 27) the four CEOs taking at least some public heat from officials. Microsoft is likely to face the same scrutiny in Europe after the Slack complaint.
The results are unknown at this point. Let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Meanwhile, start with these ethical tech alternatives.
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In other news
🇫🇷 France issues a de facto ban on Huawei by 2028. French authorities have told telecoms operators planning to buy Huawei 5G equipment that they won’t be able to renew licenses for the gear once they expire. France’s cybersecurity agency ANSSI said this month it would allow operators to use the equipment, including Huawei’s, under license of three to eight years. But it added it was urging telcos not currently using the Chinese company’s gear to avoid switching to it. In Britain, where major telecoms groups are heavily reliant on Huawei technology, the government has ordered the Chinese company’s equipment to be purged from the 5G network by 2027. [Reuters]
🤦♂️ Broken integrity of Facebook's fact-checking process. A fact-check of a viral climate misinformation article was quietly removed from Facebook earlier this month. Facebook says it did not ask fact-check partner Science Feedback to take down the label. But, Facebook debated internally the incident (several high ranking executives involved) as it concerned The Daily Wire, one of the top-performing pages, which is heavily conservative-leaning. Also, a Republican senator reached out to Facebook to take down the label. Yes, this concerns Facebook’s fact-check partner, although leaked internal conversations reveal climate misinformation is thought of opinion by some executives (e.g. Joel Kaplan). It’s a mess, again. [Popular Information]
🔨 LinkedIn cut 960 jobs. That’s about 6% of the company's workforce. It’s good and bad news. Bad news obviously for those people who have to find new jobs. Good for LinkedIn. The job cuts are being made in the global sales and hiring divisions. Meaning LinkedIn has a lot of people going around pitching LinkedIn Premium to businesses. That has to eventually stop and they have to operate online, it’s just more reasonable. [BBC]
4️⃣ The story of 4 internets. Analyst Ben Thompson lays out in his recent piece how the global internet should be looked at - the U.S. model, the E.U. model, India’s (Jio) internet, and the Great Firewall of China. Sadly, the E.U. model comes out of it as the sore loser. [Stratechery]
What differs Europe’s Internet from the U.S., Chinese, or Indian visions is, well, the lack of vision. Doing nothing more than continually saying “no” leads to a pale imitation of the status quo, where money matters more than innovation.
📵 Google Search delays mobile-first indexing until March 2021. The search engine was supposed to switch to mobile-first indexing this September. Google cites “uncertain times” as the reason for the delay. It gives more time for anyone to prepare. Especially businesses that have been neglecting the mobile web. (Yes, there are still plenty.) [9to5Google]
📷 Adobe wants everyone to have a Google Pixel camera (app). Adobe says it has hired Marc Levoy, a top researcher who developed computational photography for Google's Pixel line, to help it make a universal camera app. [The Verge]
🤑 Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft increased spending on political lobbying in the second quarter. Amazon even set a new lobbying record, spent a record $4.38 million for the three months ending June 30 was up more than 9% from the same period a year ago, and represented a slight increase from its previous record in the first quarter. Spending by Apple and Google declined in the second quarter. [Bloomberg]
🙅♂️ Zuckerberg: No deal with Trump. Per a report in The New York Times, Trump and Zuckerberg had a secret understanding. Now Facebook CEO says that’s not the truth. Zuckerberg had to address the issue also in front of the employees during a company-wide Q&A. [Axios]
🤖 GPT-3. Maybe you stumbled upon some news regarding GPT-3, the neural network model that writes essays, creates music, or can even write code. You should read more about it. Some go as far as to say GPT-3 is the answer to the question of whether we will reach human-level understanding by a machine. [Leo Gao]
💵 Instagram is testing a ‘Personal Fundraiser’ feature. The feature will allow users to link directly to a fundraiser from their profile page. The test will initially run in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland on Android, followed by iOS. Donations to the fundraiser itself will be powered by Facebook Pay, which also powers Instagram’s new shopping features. I am still curious whether Instagram will introduce a subscription for influencers. The tech infrastructure is clearly laid out, the question remains if this is something Facebook would allow. [TechCrunch]
👩 Meredith Kopit Levien named CEO of the New York Times. Kopit Levien (49) is the paper's current COO and will replace Mark Thompson (62), current CEO on September 8. A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher, and a board member called Ms. Levien “a brilliant and transformative leader.” She is credited with turning the paper to focus on digital subscription growth and diminishing reliance on advertising. The company’s board voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Levien to the post during a meeting on Tuesday. [Axios]
🤷♂️ Why no one knows which stories are the most popular on Facebook. Facebook’s analytical tool Crowdtangle about a month ago made it easy to discover top-performing public posts. Although after a NY Times columnist Tweeting relentlessly the sources, head of news feed at Facebook fired back saying most interactions (as Crowdtangle counts it) do not represent the most popular stories which are viewed and clicked the most on Facebook and in reality it is a much diverse list (compared to the one by Crowdtangle that tends to be right-leaning). Facebook has an internal tool that lets them see the most popular stories and it would be probably good for everyone that this list became transparent with some tweaks so that user privacy is taken care of in case a birthday fundraiser goes viral. Though I would argue that if it was a public post it would be a big story and worth knowing about. [The Verge]
🔥 The New York Times to acquire Serial Productions. The spin-off studio from This American Life is led by Julie Snyder, Sarah Koenig, and Neil Drumming. Serial remains arguably, even after years one of the biggest podcast ever made. The Times also announced that it has entered “an ongoing creative and strategic alliance” with This American Life. + On July 30 there will be a new show from Serial Productions: “Nice White Parents,” which features Chana Joffe-Walt examining the role that white parents play in the shaping of public education. “HBO of Podcasts” might now be a fitting name for the Times audio operations. [HotPod]
🎧 Non-English podcasts are growing fast. Chadd Hollowed, Director of Data at ART19 posted a Twitter thread with many charts. Especially big growth in Spanish, Portuguese & Hindi podcasts.
📺 Spotify launched video podcasts worldwide. Not available for everyone yet, the streaming giant is starting with selected creators. It will be interesting to watch the adoption and the ability of Spotify to make the audio to video leap. Not sure this is what users want. It is true famous podcasters have a popular YouTube show, tough the podcast audience is not on YouTube, that’s a different audience. [TechCrunch]
😔 Joe Rogan creates trouble for Spotify. It was just a matter of time I guess something like this happened.
Alex Paterson @AlexPattyyJoe Rogan and Abigail Shrier spent nearly 2 hours pushing dangerous misinformation about trans youth. Rogan, one of the most influential podcasters in the world, compared being trans to joining "suicide pacts" and a "crazy radical cult." https://t.co/4koIIeHmYJ
😮 Is the end of RSS around the corner? Probably not, though open podcast directories might be closer to an end than people might think. Spotify hosting its exclusive podcasts is a sign. Apple hosting its own show and hiding the RSS is a confirmation. [Podcast Pontifications]
🤬 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver tackles coronavirus conspiracy theories. It’s fun and also instrumental. As always.