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Professors vs. YouTube: It’s time to reimagine what a lecture looks like

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Good morning! This Friday, what the antitrust proposals might mean for tech, what makes a good online lecture, and why it's time to do your holiday shopping.

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The Big Story

What the antitrust proposals could mean for tech

Emily Birnbaum writes: Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, put things quite simply yesterday. "Once-scrappy, underdog startups have grown into the kinds of monopolies we last saw more than a century ago," he said. "We stand at a crossroads." He spoke at a congressional hearing, where academics, lawyers and experts proposed an array of sweeping antitrust reforms. Here are some of their suggestions — and what they could mean for tech.

Structural separation was promoted by multiple progressive academics as the most straightforward antitrust remedy. It would require large data companies to pursue a "single line of business" rather than leveraging their power to forge into new markets — preventing Amazon, for instance, from both operating its ecommerce platform and selling products on that platform. It's similar to the Glass-Steagall law for technology platforms that Cicilline has endorsed.

  • This rule would bulldoze the business models of all the major tech companies. But such an expansive proposal would certainly meet tough roadblocks: Even moderate Democrats are likely to eschew such an extreme incursion into private businesses.

Justification of acquisitions also came up. Some experts suggested a legal tweak that would require dominant firms to explain why proposed mergers aren't problematic, rather than the burden being on the government to prove that mergers are anti-competitive.

  • This kind of incremental change might be easier to get through Congress, but could still make life significantly harder for Big Tech. It would have made it harder for Facebook to push through its acquisition of Instagram, or for Google to buy DoubleClick.
  • It could also be problematic for companies that build themselves largely with a vision of getting bought out.

Public-utility style regulation was proposed by Sabeel Rahman, the president of liberal think tank Demos, as a key tool for taking on Big Tech's dominance. Rahman and Fordham University School of Law professor Zephyr Teachout laid out this case earlier this year, suggesting Congress could impose public obligations — like nondiscrimination and price regulations — on the companies. These proposals would place tech companies under a vast new regulatory framework similar to the one AT&T or Verizon work under.

  • It would be hard to draw up any Republican support for such a proposal, though: free-market advocates say it would amount to government overreach.

Getting more resources to the FTC and DOJ for antitrust enforcement is likely the easiest reform for Congress to pass. Most of the experts said the agencies need far more money, staff and time to bring serious antitrust cases against the companies. The combined value of FAAMG stands at about $7 trillion, compared to the FTC and DOJ antitrust division's combined enforcement budget of about $510 million, Rep. Ken Buck said.

  • Beyond funneling more funding toward the agencies, several experts and lawmakers suggested it's time for the FTC to act more aggressively. This option would create new challenges for the legal teams at Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, which are already being examined by the agencies, but it falls short of the structural change that Cicilline is likely seeking.

Some, if not all, of these ideas will make it into the subcommittee's tech antitrust report, which is expected to be published next week.


Done your holiday shopping yet?

Online retailers better brace themselves: New forecasts from Salesforce suggest this will be ecommerce's busiest ever holiday season.

Salesforce expects 30% year-on-year growth in global digital commerce this holiday season, dwarfing last year's 8% growth. That will drive ecommerce to a record high share of total commerce: It predicts that digital sales are expected to account for 18% of all retail globally, and a massive 30% in the U.S.

  • "It took us 20 years to get to 15%, and just over the course of this year we've skyrocketed up to 30%," Salesforce's Rob Garf, VP of industry strategy and insights, told reporters.

That huge surge in traffic, driven by worries about in-store social distancing measures and product shortages due to supply chain issues, "is putting a strain on the system," Garf said. Salesforce expects the volume of packages to exceed global shipping capacity by 5%, meaning up to 700 million packages could be delayed.

"Winners and losers this holiday season will be defined by the last mile," Garf said. He suggested that retailers that are working with gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft to expand their delivery capacity might be putting themselves in a strong position. Other options, he said, included "utilizing the store associates as not only pick-pack-shippers, but also delivery experts," or asking customers to come into stores to collect items.

To address demand, "retailers are attempting as much as possible to pull forward demand," Garf said. Amazon, ironically, may come to the rescue of many other retailers: Its Prime Day, scheduled for Oct. 13 and 14, will "create this halo effect," Garf said, allowing other retailers to take advantage and start selling earlier than ever. "What that will do, based on our projections, is pull 10% of demand forward" from Cyber Week, Garf said.

Still, some things will have to give. "I would be shocked if the traditional Dec. 17 ground shipping cutoff date stayed intact," Garf said, predicting that shipping deadlines will move much earlier. Time to start buying, then.


Time to reimagine what a lecture looks like

With college campuses the new pandemic hotspots, any hope of a normal school year is quickly vanishing. So figuring out how to do good online teaching is more important than ever, and Coursera has given us an exclusive look at some of its ideas.

In a new study, the company analyzed data from its platform to establish which factors lead to higher learning quality, defined as engagement, skill development, completion rates and career outcomes. The big takeaway: You can't treat online like offline.

One good example: class length. Keeping lectures under 10 minutes increases lecture completion rate by 16%, according to the study, and lower median video length also boosts course completion rates.

  • "People's attention can be pulled in a lot of different directions [online]," Coursera's VP of data science Emily Glassberg Sands told me.
  • When professors teach online, they're competing with Facebook and YouTube for students' attention — so they have to adapt their content accordingly. Instructors, Glassberg Sands said, have to evolve their teaching "to the attention spans and default behaviors of this generation of learners."

The study also found that hands-on projects can increase skill development rates by 30%, while the perfect length for a course is around one month. Community interaction is important, too: "Learners who participate in forums are over 25% more likely to complete courses, even controlling for all of the observable covariates at our disposal," the study says.

Universities will likely need help adapting to this new normal: Earlier this year, edX co-CEO Adam Medros told me that schools were coming to the platform asking for help designing online courses, and both edX and Coursera have entire (online) courses on how to teach online.

  • The stakes couldn't be higher. "I worry that if we don't do a reasonable job taking education forward right now, the current generation is going to have a tough time in the labour market," Glassberg Sands said.



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Small businesses need to attract and sell to new customers, but many worry about adding operational complexity – especially right now. QuickBooks Commerce is a new platform to manage multiple online and in-store sales channels and better maintain inventory while getting profitability insights – all from one central hub.

Learn more

People Are Talking

UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich studied the effect of the ride-share minimum wage rules in New York, and the results may encourage other cities:

  • "The lesson from New York is that, when regulators changed rules for the whole industry, drivers were paid more, companies earned more and passengers on the whole did fine."

Democratic campaign staff are not happy with Facebook:

  • "They're essentially slapping Band-Aids on wounds that require emergency room stitches," said one anonymous source.
  • "It feels like we're just continuing to just throw things into the void and yell off of a rooftop, and it's falling on deaf ears," said another.

Mike Pompeo told an Italian newspaper that Huawei's investments are a threat:

  • "Their investments are not private because they are subsidized by the [Chinese] State. Hence they are not transparent, free, commercial transactions like many others but they are rather carried out to the exclusive benefit of [China's] security apparatus … [They] are predatory actions that no nation must or can allow."

Satya, you may want to chat with Jerry Seinfeld given he just said this:

  • "I don't even know what LinkedIn is."

Number of the Day


That's how many frontline Amazon and Whole Foods employees have so far tested positive for COVID-19, according to the company. It says that's 42% lower than if its 1,372,000 employees had been infected at the same rate as the general population.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: The Senate Commerce Committee voted to subpoena Jack Dorsey, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg. The executives will testify about Section 230, facing questions about privacy, disinformation and anti-conservative bias. POLITICO also reports that the White House has been pressuring Senate Republicans to increase scrutiny of social media companies ahead of the election.
  • A federal judge partially blocked Trump's H1-B visa ban. Most Big Tech companies should now be allowed to bring in workers under the visa through the end of the year.
  • New York launched its contact-tracing app. It uses the Apple-Google APIs, and will work with similar apps in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
  • Facebook made some changes to groups. It will start recommending groups to users, showing public group posts in search engine results, and will test showing public group discussions in users' news feeds. It also launched some automoderation tools.
  • Google said it will pay publishers over $1 billion in the next three years to produce "quality journalism." That content will feature in a new product called Google News Showcase, launching first in Germany and Brazil, two countries where Google has sparred with publishers.
  • Roblox is considering an IPO next year, Reuters reports. The company is reportedly working with banks for a listing that could value it at $8 billion — double its private market valuation in February. It is also reportedly considering a direct listing.
  • ByteDance's largest outside investor is an options-trading company, reports The Wall Street Journal. Sources claim that Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna International Group owns around 15% of the company, a stake potentially worth over $15 billion.

One More Thing

It's not easy being green

Apple has been a big proponent of reducing electronic waste, going so far as to stop providing chargers with its new gadgets. But it's running into some issues. Apple sued an electronics recycling company called Geep Canada, alleging that the company stole and resold around 100,000 Apple products that were supposed to be destroyed. Geep says it's not done anything wrong, claiming three employees stole the products without the company's knowledge. But it leads to a weird conclusion: Someone reusing a phone isn't proper recycling, but destroying it is?



Introducing QuickBooks Commerce, a new way for small businesses to grow

Small businesses need to attract and sell to new customers, but many worry about adding operational complexity – especially right now. QuickBooks Commerce is a new platform to manage multiple online and in-store sales channels and better maintain inventory while getting profitability insights – all from one central hub.

Learn more

Today's Source Code was written by Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your weekend, see you Sunday.

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