'The focus is on Schumer.' Tech antitrust is getting personal.
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, I’m looking at how the battle for the tech antitrust bill has shifted from a persuasion campaign to all-out pressure on one man. Plus, the existential weirdness of Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk, the FTC taking aim at bad anonymization and what Uber’s playbook tells us about Washington.
Getting Chuck’d up
The Senate is back from recess for now, but it’s not clear that the tech antitrust bill is any closer to a vote, even as the late summer kickoff of the election season threatens to derail the measure entirely. Many of those backing the bill see Democratic leader Chuck Schumer as the only real obstacle to that vote — for reasons they say have nothing to do with the difficulty of finding “yes” votes or prioritizing the measure among other issues, and everything to do with his sympathies for and ties to Big Tech.
- Fight for the Future sent a letter to Schumer’s office today urging him to disclose tech donors to a powerful, Schumer-allied outside dark money group (which is run by a longtime ally and largely benefits Senate Democrats).
- The letter says quick transparency “would help mitigate an ongoing appearance of conflict of interest and help reassure a public that is questioning your hesitation in cracking down on Big Tech despite broad, bipartisan public support for doing so.”
- Although the letter doesn’t mention Schumer’s recent trip to Bellevue, Washington, some observers in the motley crew of consumer groups, anti-tech conservatives and small and medium-sized businesses who support AICOA have noted how close Amazon and Microsoft’s offices are to the hotel where he was photographed.
It’s not just Fight for the Future, which continues to run mobile billboards through Schumer’s Washington neighborhood, urging him to bring AICOA to a vote.
- Ian Madrigal, the artist and activist known for their stunts as the Monopoly Man, is also targeting Schumer and Democrats who may be on the fence, in honor of Prime Day.
- “The focus is on Schumer,” a person familiar with the pro-AICOA strategizing told me, confirming plans to make things uncomfortable for the majority leader. “We’re just getting started.”
- Jon Schweppe, a conservative think tank official who has pushed for AICOA, suggested last month in an opinion piece that Schumer’s success in fundraising from Big Tech, and the work of family members for Silicon Valley companies, explained why he hadn’t called a vote.
So, what are all these ties?
- Over the years, Schumer has secured major checks from Big Tech, including more than $200,000 from Google employees since 2010 — although party leaders are, almost by definition, the most robust fundraisers.
- One of his daughters is also registered to lobby for Amazon in New York State, while the other works for Facebook.
Schumer also seems to view the industry fundamentally as doing more good than harm, even amid the techlash.
- In other words, whatever Schumer’s assurances of supporting AICOA, he hardly has the profile that the bill’s backers would want for the legislator in charge of whether they get a vote.
Having said all that, genuine political considerations might also be holding Schumer back.
- Vulnerable Democratic senators — whose preservation is Schumer’s top priority — appear to be concerned that the legislation, or the big money tech is spending to stop it, will hurt them come November.
- In addition, despite the unsupported assurances from AICOA’s main backers that it has filibuster-proof support behind the scenes, the vast majority of senators had no comment on whether they supported the bill when polled by The Washington Post — which is typical, but hardly inspiring for those who want the bill to pass.
- Industry-backed polling also suggests consumers may have concerns the measure would worsen inflation, a top-tier issue.
- And lawmakers are also struggling to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the China competitiveness bill, imperiling a longtime Schumer priority that also happens to be a White House priority.
- Incidentally, Schumer also has to stay away from the Capitol for the time being, as he currently has COVID-19.
- His office didn’t answer my questions about his stance on the bill, the tactic of targeting him directly or his recent trip to Washington state.
So, will Chuck duck the ruckus? Ultimately, Schumer, like so many New York politicians, is known to at least tolerate political stunts and comedy. That may actually show the tough spot AICOA’s backers are in: If all the whispers about fundraising and family offend him, he has plenty else on his plate to distract him.— Ben Brody (email | twitter)
In the courts
Yup, Twitter sued Musk. It has a pretty good case, but the weirdness of forcing someone to buy a company to which he’s overtly hostile may raise questions about how else the suit could shake out.
Google is countersuing Match Group, accusing the company — which filed an antitrust claim against Google in May — of acting in bad faith and in breach of contract.
An anonymous Twitter employee testified the company went easy on Trump ahead of Jan. 6 because it enjoyed his use of the platform, even though his clear outreach to extremists in the leadup to the insurrection led to internal warnings about the likelihood of violence.
The FTC issued a warning for companies to actually anonymize any “anonymized” data. In a blog post, a top official at the agency, which is under pressure to protect at least some digital information of those seeking abortions, said it would “will vigorously enforce the law if we uncover illegal conduct that exploits Americans’ location, health, or other sensitive data.”
The Treasury Department wants public comments on crypto. As part of President Biden’s executive order, the department set out to understand the impact of crypto on the lives of everyday Americans. The public comment period, which ends on Aug. 8, comes amid a steep decline in crypto asset prices that has left many novice investors feeling duped.Amazon’s Ring has five times as many law enforcement partnerships as it did in late 2019, according to a company answer to questions by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, who has criticized its privacy practices.
In the states
Peloton scrapped its plans to manufacture in the U.S. Well, it scrapped plans to manufacture altogether. After terminating its plan to build a manufacturing facility in Ohio, the company decided to outsource all production to Taiwanese company Rexon Industrial Corporation.
Vermont joined a multistate investigation into Celsius. The state’s Department of Financial Regulation released a statement suggesting Celsius is “deeply insolvent” and failed to give customers proper disclosures around risk and financial conduction. The states involved now include Texas, Alabama, Washington, Kentucky and New Jersey.
A MESSAGE FROM GOOGLE PLAY
Google Play connects small apps and games businesses with over 2.5 billion Android users in 190 countries. From productivity apps to mobile games, and from small businesses to large-scale public companies, over 500,000 US developers choose to build their businesses on Google Play.
PlanCPills.org is using Facebook and Google trackers that sends information on people seeking abortion pills to third parties, despite the site’s attempts to warn people about the legal liability they may face in post-Roe world. In response to Protocol’s investigation, the site said it would work “with experts to shore up the digital privacy of visitors to our website.”
Standard Washington operation goes global: The Uber files reveal that the company wanted former Obama administration officials to touch base with ambassadors and foreign heads of state, while it also paid for positive “research” and partnered up with Russian oligarchs.
Crypto companies are suing the SEC to garner favorable treatment. Companies such as Grayscale are turning to the courts as a way of settling disputes with the SEC and other key regulators. These battles can have far-reaching consequences for the industry at large as the regulatory landscape only begins to come into focus.None of the top five social media platforms are scoring above 50% on a rubric of LGBTQ+ safety. The survey from GLAAD looked at Facebook, Instagram, Google, TikTok and Twitter on issues including prohibiting targeted deadnaming and misgendering of transgender and nonbinary people.
Around the world
TikTok agreed to halt a controversial ad-tracking policy change in the EU. After receiving pushback from regulators in Ireland and Italy, the company said it would continue obtaining user content for targeted ad tracking.
German industrial company Bosch committed to invest $3 billion in chips. The investment will run through 2026 and includes expansion of an existing wafer factory in Germany.
In the C-suite
Elon Musk has strong words for former President Donald Trump. On Twitter (where else?) Musk said it was time for Trump “to hang up his hat & sail into the sunset.” Musk’s preferred candidate to take on Biden? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “If DeSantis runs against Biden in 2024, then DeSantis will easily win — he doesn’t even need to campaign,” Musk tweeted.
And, of course, Trump came out swinging in response: “When Elon Musk came to the White House asking me for help on all of his many subsidized projects, whether it’s electric cars that don’t drive long enough, driverless cars that crash, or rocketships to nowhere, without which subsidies he’d be worthless, and telling me how he was a big Trump fan and Republican, I could have said, ‘drop to your knees and beg,’ and he would have done it,” he wrote Monday on his own Twitter clone, Truth Social.
100,000 euros: That was the “consulting fee” Uber paid to a high-profile French economist. That academic in turn told Uber that the findings of his report would be “actionable for direct PR to prove Uber’s positive economic role.” This revelation comes out of the Uber files, a leaked trove of over 124,000 documents.
A MESSAGE FROM GOOGLE PLAY
Android was founded on the belief that openness would help people access technology, and help developers reach a world of potential customers. Today, Google Play helps developers grow by connecting them with consumers in over 190 countries.
BMW executives are taking a page out of the video game industry’s book, to the dismay of just about everyone. The German automaker is charging around $18 per month for some vehicle owners in Germany, South Africa, the U.K. and New Zealand to “unlock” front seat heating. All the physical components for heated seats are in the car, but BMW uses software to lock the feature behind a paywall: innovation! For those who don’t want to bother with heat-as-a-service, BMW sells “unlimited” access for $415.
Thanks for reading — see you Friday!