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The new antitrust bills are probably DOA. Antitrust action isn't.

The new antitrust bills are probably DOA. Antitrust action isn't.

Good morning! This Monday, don't panic over the antitrust bills — yet. Also: why Mark Zuckerberg is an effective founder, flying (autonomous) cars could be the next big thing, and GChat's back, baby!

Also, make sure you check out our latest manual: The New Database. It's a deep look into one of the hottest spaces in tech right now, and what you need to know to take advantage.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

The trustbusters are back

Following years of hearings and one bombshell report, House lawmakers released their long-awaited package of antitrust bills Friday, a muscular bipartisan showing that prompted the usual gnashing of teeth about how the provisions in the bills would blow up the internet as we know it.

There's a lot going on in these bipartisan bills: Big platforms would have to break up businesses when there's conflict of interest; platforms wouldn't be able to put their own offerings above others'; they wouldn't be able to buy smaller companies without first proving that the acquisitions aren't a competitive threat; they'd have to allow people to port data over from other places; and the last bill looks to raise merger fees on big deals.

Major parts of the internet would indeed blow up if these laws are enacted. But — whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing — that's precisely why these bills aren't likely to become law.

The House bills' prospects among Republicans in the Senate seem dim, with the exception of the increase on merger fees, which already passed as part of the Senate's gigantic U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.

  • Of course, the Trump years did see a lot more Republicans calling for a breakup of Big Tech, and the fact that the House bills have Republican co-sponsors is a big deal. In other words, anything could happen.
  • But it's still unclear if there's support among enough Senate Republicans, once the self-appointed protectors of free markets, to turn all that jawboning into actual policy and not just an endless stream of C-SPAN soundbites.

But that doesn't mean antitrust action should be counted out. The Senate is poised to confirm one of the tech industry's most prolific critics, Lina Khan, as FTC commissioner any day now. The appointment all but ensures a spate of lawsuits against tech giants, particularly Amazon (Disclosure: I'm married to an Amazon employee).

  • According to Protocol's Ben Brody, "Giving Khan a vote on the five-member commission, particularly when it's looking into the very company whose practices she has most criticized, has struck opponents of tech power as the beginning of the end in what they see as the commission's long defense to industry."

As commissioner, Khan would have an ally in FTC acting chair Becca Kelly Slaughter, who spoke with Protocol earlier this year about the need to enforce antitrust laws against tech giants with "outsized market share."

  • In particular, Slaughter defended the FTC's suit against Facebook, which seeks to unwind its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, and shot down Facebook's criticism that the agency is trying to undo business deals it already green-lit.
  • "We don't approve mergers in advance … we don't say we will never take action. We say: Right now, we're not going to take action, but that does not mean if we later understand this conduct to have been illegal we are precluded from bringing a suit," she said at the time. "So that should be a disincentive to companies to enter into conduct, whether it's mergers or other conduct, that's illegal."

So, while panic about the House bills may have been premature, actual enforcement of existing antitrust laws is undoubtedly on the rise — with some new key players ready to keep it that way.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

In 2018, Amazon increased their starting wage to at least $15 an hour for all employees across the U.S. The positive impact on employee morale and retention—and the surge in job applicants—was immediate.

Learn more

People Are Talking

The DOJ subpoenaing tech companies for lawmakers' information is beyond the pale, Nancy Pelosi said:

  • "What the administration did, the Justice Department, the leadership of the former President goes even beyond Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon had an enemies list. This is about undermining the rule of law."

AT&T's John Stankey wants broadband expansion out of Biden's infrastructure plans:

  • "It would be a shame that we take taxpayer money or ask local governments to go into a business that they don't run today. You know, their job is to deliver water, patch streets, things like that, not be in a capital-intensive technology business that requires constant refresh and constant management."

Everybody's been talking about Dan Rose's thread on why he thinks Mark Zuckerberg is such an effective founder:

  • "Within a couple of years after the Yahoo near miss, Mark replaced his entire management team and reconstituted the board. He needed people around him who believed in his vision, people he could trust to fight alongside him. I was one of them."

Coming this week

E3 continues until tomorrow, and there are still big announcements to come from Capcom, Razer, Nintendo and others. Here's a good roundup of the best stuff so far.

Stripe's Sessions conference starts Wednesday, and runs for the next two weeks.

Viva Technology starts Wednesday in Paris, and has a pretty solid speaker lineup that includes Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook.

Oracle and Adobe report earnings this week.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Hundreds of tech leaders signed a letter taking a stand against anti-Semitism in the U.S. after a recent string of attacks against Jewish people across the country.
  • Here's what you need to know about Taproot, a new update to the bitcoin system that makes it more like Ethereum and was just approved by miners.
  • Someone bid $28 million for a seat next to Jeff Bezos on the New Shepard rocket. We don't know the identity of the bidder yet, but if it's not Elon Musk we're going to be furious.
  • The Chamber of Progress, a tech policy group founded by former Google Policy Director Adam Kovacevich, is announcing a slew of new hires: Koustubh "K.J." Bagchi as senior director of federal public policy, Montana Williams as director of state and local public policy and Chris MacKenzie as director of communications.
  • Don't miss this look at the flying-car industry from The New York Times. There's a huge amount of talent and money in the space right now, but the road to ditching roads is a long one.
  • Speaking of flying cars: Larry Page's Kitty Hawk bought 3D Robotics, and has plans to make its flying car also an autonomous one.
  • Amazon will be the largest retailer in the U.S. by next year, according to JPMorgan analysts. That could change the conversation around Amazon's power, given that part of its defense has always been that it has so many large competitors.
  • And speaking of Amazon: It's testing a bunch of new tech to improve safety in its warehouses, including motion-capture software and robots for picking up and moving items around.
  • Cable companies can't be forced to offer cheap internet plans, a federal court ruled, which puts New York's Affordable Broadband Act into a complicated limbo.
  • Apple Stores are dropping mask requirements for fully-vaccinated shoppers. Employees won't have to ask for vaccination verification, either.

One More Thing

GChat rides again

Big news in the work-chat world: Google's new version of Google Chat is becoming available to everyone with a Google account. (Just to be clear, that's Google Chat, not Hangouts or Allo or Duo or Messages or Voice or Wave or Buzz or Google+.) It's part of Google's new plan to bring Workspace to everyone, and to reorient its entire work offering around communication of all kinds.

It puts Google in much closer competition with Slack and Teams, which is a big deal as this space continues to explode. Of course, give it three months and Google will probably kill this app like it does so many others, but for now it's a big win for GChat stans everywhere.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

A recent study from the University of California-Berkeley and Brandeis University found that when Amazon raised their starting wage to $15/hr, the average hourly wage in the surrounding area rose by 4.7% as other employers followed their lead.

Learn more

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