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Big Tech should worry about the EU’s Amazon antitrust fight

Image: Web Summit / Protocol
Margrethe Vestager

Good morning and Happy Veterans Day! Thanks to all those who have served. This Wednesday: What other companies should take from the EU's antitrust complaint against Amazon, what's inside Apple's new Macs, and why tech is all over the Biden transition team.

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The Big Story

Antitrust comes for Amazon

The U.S. Justice Department may be focused on Google and Facebook — with Congress mostly interested in yelling about conservative bias on social networks — but the antitrust fight is coming for Amazon anyway.

  • The European Commission's Margrethe Vestager sent a Statement of Objections to Amazon yesterday, which focused on the company's "use of marketplace seller data." The issue is one that came up in the congressional hearings over the summer: Amazon using what it knows about its third-party sellers to make its own products.
  • There's also a second investigation by the Commission, into Amazon's "Buy Box," the feature that makes it easy to buy stuff on Amazon while also tacitly choosing a winner every single time it appears.

Taking note: the legal teams at Google, Facebook, Apple and elsewhere, who will find a lot of familiar context in the EU's complaint. Whereas the DOJ's suit against Google is specific enough that other companies can breathe easily, this one is all-encompassing.

  • From the statement: "Amazon has a dual role as a platform: (i) it provides a marketplace where independent sellers can sell products directly to consumers; and (ii) it sells products as a retailer on the same marketplace, in competition with those sellers."
  • That could apply to Google and search results, or Apple and the App Store, without changing much.

Amazon's next move is to respond to the statement, then wait for a ruling. The European Commission could fine the company (which Amazon would see as a big win almost no matter the amount) or force it to change its way of doing business in the EU. That would be a big problem for Amazon, but not as big as the problems that could come from other governments and agencies surely watching to see how this fight plays out.

Apple

Laptop internals get their day in the sun

"We love the Mac," Tim Cook said at the beginning of yesterday's Apple launch event. And I swear I could hear every developer in Silicon Valley yell, "Yeah, OK, whatever Tim, now how about that keyboard?"

Apple clearly thinks the future is an iPad for most regular people, rather than a laptop or desktop. But after yesterday's event, it's at least obvious it still cares about the Mac.

  • It's launching three new Macs, all running its homemade M1 chip: a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro and a Mac Mini. All three are meant to be faster and more efficient than their Intel-powered brethren. And on the laptops, one of the main selling points is their longer battery life.
  • The introduction of the M1 chip was classic all-our-competitors-suck posturing from Apple. It uses a five-nanometer process! There are 16 billion transistors! And you can tell, just from the sheer amount of time it spent on teraflops and per-watt performance, that Apple sees the Mac as mostly a power-user device.
  • And if you're holding off committing to Apple's chips, it looks like the entire Mac lineup will switch to in-house silicon fairly quickly.

Apple framed the new lineup carefully, and as more than just "the Macs you know, now with Apple Silicon." It seems to understand that most people's laptops and desktops are the hub of their setups: maybe not the device they use most often, but the one that has all the storage and all the apps.

  • That means it's making the Mac work more like, and better with, its other devices.
  • Apple's pushing hard on universal apps, and the Rosetta 2 tech that makes mobile apps work on Macs without extra work. This idea has a long, decorated history of not working very well (just ask the Chrome OS or Windows RT teams), but it's also true that nobody wrangles developers like Apple does.

Oh, and if you missed John Hodgman's awesome comeback, you gotta see it.

Politics

All the tech names on Biden's transition team

Emily Birnbaum and Anna Kramer write: Yesterday, we found out that Joe Biden's transition team is absolutely stacked with tech industry players — more than 20, in fact. These are the people who will figure out who should be hired at the various federal agencies, meaning their input will seriously shape the Biden administration.

Some people on the list might look to prepare the administration for fights with Big Tech. But they're outnumbered by those who could lend it a pro-tech flavor, and the full list includes folks from almost every big company in the industry. Here are a few of the most notable names.

  • Nicole Wong, a former Twitter and Google executive and deputy U.S. CTO under Obama, is one of the most prominent tech players on the transition. She'll be helping shape the Office of Science and Technology Policy — a reasonable fit.
  • Gene Kimmelman and Bill Baer are both former antitrust officials with expansive knowledge of tech issues. Kimmelman, who works for Public Knowledge and served as chief counsel in the DOJ antitrust division, and Baer, a fellow with Brookings Institution who's worked at both the FTC and DOJ, have been prominent voices pushing for regulators to take stronger action against the tech giants.
  • Big Tech should be deeply unnerved by the inclusion of Sarah Miller on the Treasury Department review team. Miller, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, is one of the primary architects of the modern trustbusting movement — and she's serious about breaking up the tech giants.
  • Mark Schwartz, Amazon Web Services' enterprise strategist, is known for helping the federal government adopt up-to-date enterprise tech. He'll help review the Office of Management and Budget, where you can bet enterprise tech will come up.
  • Nicole Isaac, LinkedIn's director of public policy for North America, worked as a special assistant to President Obama during his second term, handling legislative affairs. She'll be advising the Treasury Department review.
  • Nairi Tashjian Hourdajian, VP of comms at Figma, was Uber's first head of comms and worked for Biden when he was in the Senate. She'll help out on the Department of Transportation review team.

That's surely not all: There will be more names to come once the transition team starts announcing some of the big agency roles. And if you're looking for even more soon-to-be D.C. power players you might want to add on LinkedIn, here's a good list to start with.

A MESSAGE FROM MASTERCARD

Mastercard

Mastercard expanded its City Possible™ network and capabilities, whose unique solutions now reach over 500 communities in over 50 countries worldwide. The partnership framework focuses on building more inclusive and sustainable cities by increasing access to city services, expanding urban mobility solutions, and informing an inclusive recovery through data driven insights.

Mastercard Expands Efforts to Help Over 500 Cities Build More Inclusive and Sustainable Communities

People Are Talking

Facebook is "shredding the fabric of our democracy" in these post-election days, Biden spokesman Bill Russo said:

  • "We knew this would happen. We pleaded with Facebook for over a year to be serious about these problems. They have not."

The only way to compete with Big Tech is to do things they're not, Mark Cuban said:

  • "Because if you're trying to change the world and you are the best of the best of the best in AI? The last motherfucking thing you're working on is search."

WarnerMedia is reorganizing and laying off more than 1,000 people, and its CEO Jason Kilar said the company just needed to be different:

  • "This entails simplifying how we are organized, partnering with the very best storytellers, and leaning into world class product and technology as we share our stories directly with audiences across the globe."

Making Moves

Beyoncé is heading to your Peloton. Her new partnership includes music but also a series of "themed workout experiences," making her the most famous among a new industry of, err, Pelofluencers that I suspect you're going to see a lot of.

Kevin Mayer is a new advisor at Access Industries. The former TikTok CEO will "focus on its media businesses and identify new potential opportunities for the firm," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Noam Bardin is leaving Waze after more than a decade at the top of the company. He'll step down officially in January, and is already looking for his replacement. So get at him.

Gabriella Kellerman is the new chief product officer at BetterUp. Dr. Kellerman had previously been the company's chief innovation officer and head of BetterUp Labs.

Jennifer Berrent might leave WeWork, Bloomberg reports. The company's chief legal officer, who was once co-president, is reportedly in talks to depart early next year.

In Other News

  • Spotify bought podcast ad platform Megaphone for a reported $235 million. It plans to use Megaphone to offer streaming ad insertion to third-party podcast publishers.
  • TikTok hasn't heard from CFIUS in weeks, CNBC reports. With the supposed deadline for a sale being … tomorrow, the company filed a petition calling for a review of CFIUS actions.
  • A former Chan Zuckerberg Initiative employee filed a racial discrimination claim. Ray Holgado said "Black employees are underpaid, undervalued, denied growth opportunities, and marginalized" at the organization.
  • Reps. Frank Pallone and Mike Doyle asked the FCC to stop working on "partisan, controversial items." In other words, they want the Section 230 stuff to be put on pause until Biden takes office. Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks encouraged Ajit Pai to comply with the request.
  • Walmart will trial self-driving grocery deliveries. It's using GM's Cruise tech, and will start the tests in Arizona early next year — though human backup drivers will be present at first. Meanwhile, Honda said it would be the first company to release mass produced level 3 autonomous cars, as early as March.
  • Airbnb delayed its IPO filing because of the election fallout, Bloomberg reports. It was due this week.

One More Thing

Gaming hits its peak

Don't ever let anyone tell you gaming's not an extreme sport. Especially when you're playing at 18,569 feet above sea level, like Will Cruz did to win a contest around the launch of Far Cry 4. Turns out, the PS4 works just fine up in the Himalayas! Wonder how high the PS5 can go.

A MESSAGE FROM MASTERCARD

Mastercard

Register today for the inaugural City Possible Summit, pioneered by Mastercard. Experience the superpower of collaboration by visiting the City Possible Digital Plaza and hear from thought leaders from across the cities ecosystem who are committed to driving equitable urban development.

Check out the City Possible Digital Summit!

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

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