Power

Cracks are appearing in the bipartisan pushback against big tech

Though Democrats and Republicans alike have joined the "techlash," their policy conclusions are sometimes far apart.

Rep. Jim Jordan

Rep. Jim Jordan has found himself at the center of a pressing question for Republicans: How should they think about the tech industry?

Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg

The bipartisan energy around the most important congressional investigation into the tech industry could be in jeopardy.

As the House Judiciary Committee's nearly yearlong antitrust investigation into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple nears completion, some Republicans involved have started to distance themselves from the Democrats on the committee, and even the probe itself.

That distance was brought into sharp relief Wednesday, when every Republican member of the antitrust subcommittee pushed back against the Democratic chairman in charge of the investigation. In letters to the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, the six Republicans on the antitrust subcommittee, including ranking member Jim Jordan, derided recent Democratic proposals to pause mergers amid the pandemic.

Rep. David Cicilline, the top Democrat on the antitrust subcommittee, recently proposed such a moratorium, as did the progressives Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Cicilline on Tuesday criticized a potential takeover of Grubhub by Uber, calling it "a new low in pandemic profiteering."

The Republicans on the antitrust subcommittee disagree. "These lawmakers … are using the crisis as a pretense to rail against firms being free to make decisions they perceive to be in their best interests," the Republicans wrote in their letter. They added that they believe the federal regulators in charge of antitrust law are conducting proper reviews amid the pandemic, and delaying M&A activity could "stunt economic development and development."

The merger moratorium did not even make it into the Democrats' economic stimulus package proposal, which was unveiled on Tuesday. But the letter signals that, despite a bipartisan "techlash" in Washington, many Republicans' pro-business inclinations could yet prevent them from getting behind the farthest-reaching proposals to rein in tech.

Though Republicans and Democrats have coalesced around heated criticism of Facebook and Google, particularly since 2016, significant differences in approach and style have emerged — and there are serious limits as to how far many Republicans will go in calling for government regulation of the tech industry.

Jordan, a fervent Trump ally as well as a legendary libertarian and congressional investigator, has found himself at the center of a pressing question for Republicans: How should they think about the tech industry? It's a tense spot as his libertarian, free-market ideology runs into the culture war around the power of big tech.

Republicans, including Jordan and most importantly President Trump, have loudly and frequently derided the big social media platforms for exhibiting "bias" against conservatives. Democrats, meanwhile, have focused more ire on the working conditions within tech companies and big tech's unprecedented corporate power.

But the policy conclusions on either side of the aisle are sometimes far apart.

When Democrats and several Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee threatened to subpoena Jeff Bezos for testimony at the beginning of this month, Jordan's signature was noticeably absent, though three Republicans signed onto the letter. A GOP aide familiar with thinking on the Republican side of the committee told Protocol at the beginning of May that Jordan disagrees with the Democrats' approaches on "price-gouging and merger reviews."

And in February, when Rep. Doug Collins was still the top Republican on the committee before he stepped down to pursue a Senate seat, top Republicans threatened to abandon the tech antitrust investigation altogether after the Democratic chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, Jerold Nadler, appeared to call for "breaking up all the large companies" at an event.

There is still significant GOP support for the probe. Several Republican members of the subcommittee have been supportive of the investigation itself. Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, recently told Politico that "support is growing" among conservatives for tweaking antitrust laws. And Rep. Matt Gaetz, another Trump ally, has continually criticized big tech and supported Cicilline's efforts.

Matt Stoller, a leading antitrust advocate, told Protocol last week that he sees "skepticism" toward big tech in the House Freedom Caucus, a small-government block of conservatives in Congress that Jordan co-founded.

"Big tech's obviously a big policy problem for both sides," he said. "I could see [Jordan] moving one way or the other." As a member of the minority party in the House, ultimately Jordan is not in control of the investigation and will not dictate its conclusion. But Stoller said that it "matters" if Jordan ultimately dissents, after the investigation was bipartisan for months under Collins.

Jesse Blumenthal, who oversees tech policy for the Charles Koch-funded group Stand Together, said he thinks Jordan is deeply skeptical of the antitrust probe, and will balk at a "politicized" process in which Congress "comes in and decides 'this is a good company' and 'this is a bad company.'"

The letters on Wednesday mark Jordan's most significant public comments about antitrust issues since replacing Collins, and there's likely far more to come — particularly if Bezos is compelled to testify before the committee. For now, staffers from both parties are continuing to work side-by-side on the "fact-finding" phase of the investigation, which will culminate soon in a final congressional report. They could also propose legislation to update antitrust laws to better rein in Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

Cicilline this month said he expects the committee's report by the end of spring. The Republicans have not yet promised that they will sign onto the final product.
Entertainment

Google is developing a low-end Chromecast with Google TV

The new dongle will run the Google TV interface, but it won’t support 4K streaming.

The Chromecast with Google TV dongle combined 4K streaming with the company’s Google TV interface. Now, Google is looking to launch a cheaper version.

Photo: Google

Google is working on a new streaming device that caters to people with older TV sets: The next Chromecast streaming dongle will run its Google TV interface and ship with a remote control, but it won’t support 4K streaming. The device will instead max out at a resolution of 1080p, Protocol has learned from a source with close knowledge of the company’s plans.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

Keep Reading Show less
Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Enterprise

Why software releases should be quick but 'palatable and realistic'

Modern software developers release updates much more quickly than in the past, which is great for security and adding new capabilities. But Edith Harbaugh thinks business leaders need a little control of that schedule.

LaunchDarkly was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle.

Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

The CEO of LaunchDarkly, which was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle, is trying to reach customers who want to move fast but understand that moving fast and breaking things won’t work for them. Companies that specialize in continuous integration and continuous delivery services have thrived over the last few years as customers look for help shipping at speed, and LaunchDarkly extends those capabilities to smaller features of existing software.

Keep Reading Show less
Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Workplace

Building an antiracist company: From idea to practice

Twilio’s chief diversity officer says it’s time for a new approach to DEI.

“The most impactful way to prioritize DEI and enable antiracism is to structure your company accordingly,” says Lybra Clemons, chief diversity officer at Twilio.

Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

Keep Reading Show less
Lybra Clemons
Lybra S. Clemons is a seasoned C-suite executive with over 15 years of Human Resources, Talent and Diversity & Inclusion experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives across Twilio's global workforce. Prior to Twilio, Lybra was global head of Diversity & Inclusion at PayPal, where she managed and oversaw all global diversity initiatives. Lybra has held critical roles in Diversity & Inclusion with Morgan Stanley, The Brunswick Group and American Express. She serves on the board of directors of Makers and How Women Lead Silicon Valley Executive Board of Advisers, and has been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the Top Corporate Women in Diversity.
China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

Passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% to nearly 3.3 million from a year ago.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

2021 was a banner year for China’s EV industry. The latest data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that total passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% from a year ago to nearly 2.99 million: about half of all EVs sold globally. Out of every 100 passenger cars sold in China last year, almost 15 were so-called "new energy vehicles" (NEVs) — a mix of battery-electric vehicles and hybrids.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

Latest Stories
Bulletins