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Protocol | Policy

Republican senator slams conservative tech lobbyists to their faces

Sen. Mike Lee, a top lawmaker on antitrust, told right-leaning tech trade group NetChoice that conservative defenders of the industry were standing in the way of innovation.

Sen. Mike Lee

Sen. Mike Lee has challenged tech's antitrust defenders.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Mike Lee had harsh words for those on his own side who say that conservatives should support the tech antitrust status quo — and he delivered them directly to people making that case.

During a virtual speech Tuesday hosted by the right-leaning lobbying group NetChoice, which counts Big Tech companies like Amazon and Google among its membership, Lee said that conservative defenders of the industry were the ones politicizing antitrust, not those who question tech's power.

"Frankly one of the biggest impediments to opportunity and innovation is groups that go around telling conservatives that if you support the consumer welfare standard that you have to support Big Tech," said Lee, referring to antitrust analysis championed by conservatives like Robert Bork.

Tech companies have carefully watched Lee, the senior senator from Utah and the top GOP member of the Senate's subcommittee on competition law, because he's in a position to negotiate with — or resist — Democrats over how to rein in Big Tech, and his criticism of companies was growing louder even before the Tuesday speech.

Lee, who formerly chaired the panel, had flirted with skepticism of Big Tech in the past, but his position meant in recent years that he was one of several obstacles to progressive proposals to alter competition law, including a shift away from Bork's emphasis on price increases. Even in his speech on Tuesday, he accused progressives of trying to bring far-left economic and social theories into antitrust analysis, and to dupe conservatives into following along.

Yet over the last year or so, Lee has joined the strange bipartisan alliance interested in antitrust reform. He is one of several prominent Republicans, for instance, who claim that tech's alleged censorship of right-wing voices, personalities and topics demonstrates power by the companies and suggests that the bipartisan interest in antitrust reform may have merit.

"The idea that Big Tech operates in a functioning free market can no longer be taken as a serious position," Lee said.

In his speech, Lee essentially cast progressive antitrust reformers, including those in the House who have signed on to sweeping bipartisan proposals to rein in tech's power through competition law, on the same plane of danger as his conservative hosts.

"When well-compensated lobbyists and their nonprofit proxies attempt to pervert conservative economic and legal philosophy into a defense of Big Tech monopolists, antitrust policy and consumers suffer," Lee said.

Tech companies say they do not silence people based on their political beliefs and that they face robust competition. NetChoice in particular has been at the forefront of the defense, leveraging their political positioning on the right to assure lawmakers that the companies are just trying to maintain safe online environments and to innovate for customers before rivals do.

The group has also reiterated that any potential bias is protected by the First Amendment, and speech issues are not part of antitrust analysis. Lee agreed with the latter point, but he raised examples like Apple and Google's removal of the conservative social media site Parler from their mobile app stores following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and social media suspensions of former President Donald Trump's accounts. He said this "prejudice and disdain shown towards conservatives" was a "warning sign" of a market power.

"Conservative anger at Big Tech is real, and it's entirely justified," Lee said.

Earlier in June, Lee released his own antitrust reform bill, and it had all the hallmarks of an opening bid for negotiation with Democrats. It would codify Bork's approach, but it would tighten rules around mergers that have allowed tech giants to grow to their massive size. It would also empower the Justice Department to collect massive damages on behalf of consumers.

At the end of the speech, a lawyer for NetChoice who was acting as master of ceremonies for the event called Lee a "hard act to follow."

Protocol | Fintech

Amazon wants a crypto play. Its history in payments is not encouraging.

It missed chances to be PayPal, Square and Stripe — so is this its chance to miss being Coinbase, too?

Amazon wants to be a crypto player.

Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

The news that Amazon was hiring a lead for a new digital currency and blockchain initiative sent the price of bitcoin soaring. But there's another way to look at the news that's less bullish on bitcoin and bearish on Amazon: 13 years after Satoshi Nakamoto's whitepaper appeared on the internet, Amazon is just discovering cryptocurrency?

That may be a bit unkind, but the truth is sometimes unkind. And the reality is that Amazon has a long history of stumbles and missed opportunities in payments, which goes back more than two decades to the company's purchase of internet payments startup Accept.com.

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Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas is a senior editor at Protocol overseeing venture capital and financial technology coverage. He was previously business editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and before that editor-in-chief at ReadWrite, a technology news site. You're probably going to remind him that he was managing editor at Valleywag, Gawker Media's Silicon Valley gossip rag. He lives in San Francisco with his husband and Ramona the Love Terrier, whom you should follow on Instagram.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

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Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Enterprise

How Google Cloud plans to kill its ‘Killed By Google’ reputation

Under the new Google Enterprise APIs policy, the company is making a promise that its services will remain available and stable far into the future.

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has promised to make the company more customer-friendly.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images 2019

Google Cloud issued a promise Monday to current and potential customers that it's safe to build a business around its core technologies, another step in its transformation from an engineering playground to a true enterprise tech vendor.

Starting Monday, Google will designate a subset of APIs across the company as Google Enterprise APIs, including APIs from Google Cloud, Google Workspace and Google Maps. APIs selected for this category — which will include "a majority" of Google Cloud APIs according to Kripa Krishnan, vice president at Google Cloud — will be subject to strict guidelines regarding any changes that could affect customer software built around those APIs.

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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.

Amazon job opening points to plan to accept crypto payments

The news sparked a rally in the values of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Amazon may be planning to let customers pay for orders with cryptocurrencies.

Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

Amazon is looking to hire a digital currency and blockchain expert suggesting a plan to let customers accept cryptocurrencies as payments.

The tech giant's job opening says Amazon is looking for "an experienced product leader" to help develop the company's "digital currency and blockchain strategy and roadmap" Amazon is looking for product leader with expertise in blockchain, distributed ledger, central bank digital currencies and cryptocurrency.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Protocol | Policy

Big Tech tried to redefine terrorism online. It got messy fast.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism announced a series of narrow steps it's taking that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

Erin Saltman is GIFCT's director of programming.

Photo: Paul Morigi/Flickr

A little over a month after the Jan. 6 riot, the tech industry's leading anti-terrorism alliance — a group founded by Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter — announced it was seeking ideas for how it could expand its definition of terrorism, which had for years been more or less synonymous with Islamic terrorism. The group, called the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism or GIFCT, had been considering such a shift for at least a year, but the rising threat of domestic extremism, punctuated by the Capitol uprising, made it all the more clear something needed to change.

But after months of interviewing member companies, months of considering academic proposals and months spent mulling the impact of tech platforms on this and other violent events around the world, the group's policies have barely budged. On Monday, in a 177-page report, GIFCT released the first details of its plan, and, well, a radical rethinking of online extremism it is not. Instead, the report lays out a series of narrow steps that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. 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.

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