After Amazon's summer, the FTC wants to bring on fall
Photo: Jeremy Thomas/Unsplash

After Amazon's summer, the FTC wants to bring on fall

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m feeling a bit wistful for those long school summer vacations and wondering what’s ahead for tech in the fall. Plus, what the Democrats’ big bill means for tech as it heads to the House, and Google sues Sonos back.

Amazon’s coming fall?

Like a high school student joyriding on the breezes of a summer night, knowing they’re supposed to buckle down come fall, Amazon has been on a bit of a spree lately — even as it seems like the company’s clash with the government draws near.

The latest is the e-tailer and cloud giant’s plan to buy Roomba maker iRobot for $1.7 billion.

  • The deal came a few weeks after Amazon said it intends to buy boutique primary health care provider One Medical for almost $4 billion.

Of course, the current chair of the FTC made her name criticizing Amazon’s competitive practices, and the commission has been investigating the company since the Trump administration.

  • The ongoing competition probe didn’t stop Amazon from buying MGM earlier this year.
  • But (almost) as surely as the school year starts again each fall, the newly constituted Democratic majority on the FTC is finally able, and seemingly eager, to take a big swipe at the company.
  • Since taking over, Khan has put more staffing toward the investigation of Amazon, and the commission, which had focused on third-party sellers and cloud, has deepened its look at Amazon’s acquisitions, according to a Bloomberg report.

Of the two recent deals, the acquisition of iRobot may provide the basis of a more traditional stand-alone antitrust case — or part of some larger complaint.

  • Amazon, after all, has a rival home robot and controls the online outlet where plenty of people buy their Roombas.
  • By contrast, Amazon, whatever its ambitions, is a much smaller player in the provision of health care, meaning the FTC would probably have to get creative — or bring up data concerns somehow — if it wants to challenge the One Medical deal.

But that’s not the only way Amazon might pull its grades up.

  • As Business Insider recently reported, Amazon also faces increasing FTC scrutiny of its Prime subscription, which some consumer advocates say tricks people into signing up and staying signed up.
  • OSHA seems to be upping its investigation of warehouse conditions.
  • And if Congress brings its new get-stuff-done spirit to tech antitrust, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill would spell big trouble for the company.

There’s a joy to pretending that summer will never end. Amazon may not be sure exactly how soon the FTC will move to cut short its beach days, but it seems to be having plenty despite — or maybe because — fall seems to be coming so soon.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act after a marathon weekend-long session, sending President Biden’s signature energy and health care package to the House and putting years’ worth of Democrats’ top agenda items within reach of becoming law.

  • Among the more than $300 billion in the bill directed at slowing climate change is an extension of the EV tax credit as well as provisions designed to spur green energy production.
  • The bill also creates a 15% corporate minimum tax on firms with more than a billion in annual profit, which some Democrats portrayed as a way to wring more money out of tech, pharma and other sectors.
  • At the last minute, however, lawmakers approved a change so that the minimum tax wouldn’t whack big wireless companies engaged in spectrum purchases, according to POLITICO Pro.
  • The bill also made it through despite a social media AstroTurf campaign that seemed to be attacking the measure from the left for not going far enough on climate change — but appears in actuality to be linked to GOP activists.
Republican FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips told POLITICO he plans to step down this fall. President Biden can’t replace Phillips with a Democrat, because the law mandates a maximum of three majority-party commissioners at a time. Still, the move sets up a complex set of negotiations between the White House — which may hope it can find a tech-skeptical Republican to fill the seat — and Senate GOP leaders who will likely want to provide a maximum check on Chair Lina Khan’s ambitions.


Chip shortage could undermine national security: The global shortage of semiconductors has impeded the production of everything from pickup trucks to PlayStations. But there are graver implications than a scarcity of consumer goods. If the U.S. does not ensure continued domestic access to leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing, experts say our national security could suffer.

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In the courts

Google has filed two new lawsuits against Sonos alleging the smart-speaker maker violated its patents. It’s the latest salvo in a years-long courtroom battle between the two companies over patents and features. Sonos won the last round back in January.

Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, the Delaware judge hearing Twitter’s case against Elon Musk, has a track record of “quick work,” according to a Wall Street Journal profile. McCormick joined the Delaware Court of Chancery in 2018 and was named chancellor in 2021, the first woman to hold that role. She is also presiding over a Tesla shareholder suit against Musk. Musk, meanwhile, took to Twitter again over the week to bash the company over bots and challenge Parag Agrawal to a debate for some reason.

The California DMV says Tesla’s Full Self-Driving and Autopilot functions are deceptively marketed. Tesla suggests incorrectly that the cars possess complete autonomous capabilities, the agency said. It kicked off an administrative hearing, and Tesla has until the middle of this month to respond. Federal authorities have also expressed concerns about Tesla’s claims and are also looking into the safety records of Autopilot systems.

Around the world

YouTube is still up and running in Russia — to the surprise of many company executives, The Wall Street Journal reports. Google’s video site provides a small opening for independent content on Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to exist inside Russia, but its continued operation comes despite the stormy and expensive relationship that it has with the Kremlin because of its suspensions of government-linked accounts.

Chinese solar panel exports to the U.S. are declining — and don’t seem poised to increase again anytime soon — as American efforts to combat forced labor have increasingly strained relationships with suppliers, according to a Bloomberg report.

In the c-suite

Palantir reported a surprise loss and cut revenue forecasts because of questions around the timing and size of government contracts, especially outside the U.S.

Might makes right

Former Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal tweeted that he’s currently seeing “the largest rightward-shift in Silicon Valley politics” of his 20 years in the area, claiming that a lot of the movement has happened beneath the surface. Sure, the valley has long gotten behind progressive social causes, but it’s also been defined by plenty of libertarian-ish plutocrats. I guess we’ll just have to look at the midterm donations to see if he’s right.


Chip shortage could undermine national security: To ensure American security, prosperity and technological leadership, industry leaders say the U.S. must encourage domestic manufacturing of chips in order to reduce our reliance on East Asia producers for crucial electronics components.

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Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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