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Politics

The DOJ went narrow on Google. That may be good news for the rest of Big Tech.

The antitrust complaint focuses on facts specific to the search giant. But there are warning signs for Facebook, Amazon and Apple, too.

The DOJ went narrow on Google. That may be good news for the rest of Big Tech.

Despite all the bluster, the DOJ's legal argument is narrow and fact-based, focused not on Google's size but primarily on the contracts it has with other companies.

Photo: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In the opening paragraphs of Tuesday's antitrust complaint, the Justice Department suggests that the problem with Google is … pretty much everything. The "scrappy startup" has become not just "a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet," but an "empire" that's too big, too rich and too much in control of everything related to search.

But that's not what the DOJ is suing over. Despite all the bluster — "Google is so dominant that 'Google' is not only a noun to identify the company and the Google search engine but also a verb that means to search the internet" — the DOJ's legal argument is narrow and fact-based, focused not on Google's size but primarily on the contracts it has with other companies.

That should be a relief to the other big tech companies. Instead of making legal arguments that could apply with equal force to any of them, the DOJ's case takes aim at a set of facts that are unique to Google.

"It's factual and narrow, and that may limit its scope," said Gary Reback, a veteran Silicon Valley lawyer who has been credited with getting the government to bring a case against Microsoft in the 1990s.

Before the Google case landed, industry watchers had speculated that the case would include some discussion of self-preferencing, or the allegation that Google prioritizes its own products in search results. But the DOJ didn't go there, instead homing in on Google's agreements that require mobile phone manufacturers like Apple to keep Google as their default search engine.

A discussion of "self-preferencing" might have left Amazon vulnerable, as critics have long accused Amazon of prioritizing its own private-label products. And a broader indictment of Google's practice of buying market dominance could also spell trouble for Facebook, which deals with its competitors in a similarly spendy way. Facebook could have come off even worse, given the email evidence that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to buy up competitors to kill competition.

And — big talk at the beginning notwithstanding — the complaint specifically avoids concluding that the sheer size and success of Google is a cause for legal concern. That might be too much for pro-business Republicans to swallow.

The big tech companies are certainly not out of the woods. One worry: the way the DOJ defines the relevant market.

Google has argued that it's got plenty of competition because Expedia offers search results in travel and Amazon offers search results in retail. Similarly, Amazon has argued that it's in competition with every brick-and-mortar store in the world, and Apple has resisted the argument that its App Store is a market unto itself.

With Google, the DOJ has taken a much narrower view of the relevant market, defining it as "general search"; think less Amazon and Expedia, more DuckDuckGo. Similarly narrow definitions could spell trouble for the other big tech firms.

"This confirms what [the tech companies] suspected, which is that government agencies are not going to accept their universe-and-all-it-contains market definitions," said former FTC Chairman William Kovacic.

There's one other big worry for Google's big tech brethren: the line where the DOJ says, "When a consumer uses Google, the consumer provides personal information and attention in exchange for search results. Google then monetizes the consumer's information and attention by selling ads."

For years, some experts have argued that digital platforms can't violate antitrust laws because they offer their services for free. The DOJ has now taken the view that companies like Google and Facebook don't really offer their services for free because they monetize users data with ads.

"This confirms that the government is looking at these issues not in the way the tech companies would like," Kovacic said.

Power

Don't sacrifice security for performance when computing at the edge

Companies must look at security in tandem with networking.

Federal IT managers and security analysts need to weigh the risk and reward of each upgrade or improvement to minimize new risk, writes Jim Richberg.

Image: Florian Olivo/Unsplash

Jim Richberg is the Public Sector Field CISO at Fortinet.

As federal agencies increasingly push for improved performance and agility through their networks and devices, they must also consider the lack of visibility that comes with deploying cutting-edge technology. Centralized visibility and unified controls are sometimes being sacrificed in favor of performance and agility through smart devices collecting and processing data at the edge.

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Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Politics

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

WhatsApp thinks business chat is the future — but it won't be easy

From privacy policy screw-ups to UI questions, can WhatsApp crack the super-app riddle?

WhatsApp Business is trying to wrap shopping around messaging. It's not always easy.

Image: WhatsApp

At some point, WhatsApp was always going to have to make some money. Facebook paid $21.8 billion for the company in 2014, and since then, WhatsApp has grown to more than 2 billion users in more than 180 countries. And while, yes, Facebook's acquisition was in part simply a way to neutralize a competitor, it also knows how to monetize an audience.

The trick, though, would be figuring out how to do that without putting ads into the app. Nobody at WhatsApp ever wanted to do that, including co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who reportedly left Facebook after disagreements over ads. More recently, even Mark Zuckerberg has slowed the WhatsApp ad train, with The Information reporting that ads in WhatsApp likely won't come while the company's under so much regulatory scrutiny. So: $21.8 billion, no ads. What to do?

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. 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.

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