yesMike MurphyNone
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Politics

Who’s looking good so far

Although there's definitely a possible antitrust argument for each of the companies at the hearing, some are coming off stronger than others.

Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai

In every case, these companies have built ecosystems that are tough to break out of.

Photo: Getty Images

We're about two hours into the hearing, and Jeff Bezos has had almost nothing to do. While Facebook, Apple and Google's CEOs have had to endure being drilled from members of both parties, Amazon's CEO has primarily sat with his Webex feed turned off, being asked only one question so far.

It's indicative of how the hearing has been going for all four companies. Although there's definitely a possible antitrust argument for each of the companies at the hearing, some are coming off stronger than others.

Rep. Jerry Nadler grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether he saw Instagram as a competitive threat before the company acquired it. In the world of sharing photos (which is, pretty much all you can do on Instagram), Zuckerberg said that it was. Nadler reminded him that buying a company to quash competition under FTC regulations is illegal.

Rep. David Cicilline brought up a recent report by The Markup that showed, more often than not, that Google's top search results were Google's own products. CEO Sundar Pichai was also hounded about the lyrics the company allegedly lifted from the lyrics-archive website Genius for its own search results.

Rep. Hank Johnson took Apple CEO Tim Cook to task over the monopoly it has over what apps can be installed on the 100 million iPhone devices in the U.S., and the cut Apple takes from their developers.

Amazon so far has only had to answer one question, about its search feed. It's yet to have to answer for the fact that its AWS cloud services power so much of the web, nor that it has had reportedly investing in companies only to launch competing products itself, or that it's changed its search algorithms to boost its own products.

In every case, these companies have built ecosystems that are tough to break out of. More people use social media through Facebook properties than any other service in the world. Google is far and away the largest provider of search, video, and email services, and along with Facebook, effectively control the digital advertising market. If you want to work with Apple, you have to play by its rules, and pray it doesn't alter the deal any further. Amazon is well on the way to becoming the internet's "everything store," while owning some of the most important digital infrastructure online.

But some of these ecosystems are more exclusive than others. If you don't want to use Apple products, there are excellent alternatives for all of its products made by other companies — just be wary of the social stigma of green text bubbles. If you don't want to sell to or buy from Amazon, there's Walmart, Target and, to a degree, Shopify. For AWS, there's other major cloud providers (though a few of them are also on this hearing). For Google, your options are more limited — there's no search engine quite as dominant as Google, nor a video platform as broad as YouTube. But there are some other options — products like Firefox instead of Chrome, Bing (it's not bad!) or DuckDuckGo instead of Google Search, and even products like Helm if you don't want any tech company of any kind reading your email. For Facebook, you can try calling your friends or just texting them photos, but you won't have nearly the same reach as you would on Facebook or Instagram.

And then there's Twitter, which Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner seemed to have confused for Facebook. The microblogging site recently suspended Donald Trump Jr. for sharing a highly controversial video about COVID-19. Zuckerberg informed him that he was in fact thinking of Twitter, and not the company he runs. Twitter CEO Jack is probably enjoying not having to dial into this hearing with a bit of meditation.

Correction: This post was updated July 30 to correct Jerry Nadler's name.

People

Beeper built the universal messaging app the world needed

It's an app for all your social apps. And part of an entirely new way to think about chat.

Beeper is an app for all your messaging apps, including the hard-to-access ones.

Image: Beeper

Eric Migicovsky likes to tinker. And the former CEO of Pebble — he's now a partner at Y Combinator — knows a thing or two about messaging. "You remember on the Pebble," he asked me, "how we had this microphone, and on Android you could reply to all kinds of messages?" Migicovsky liked that feature, and he especially liked that it didn't care which app you used. Android-using Pebble wearers could speak their replies to texts, Messenger chats, almost any notification that popped up.

That kind of universal, non-siloed approach to messaging appealed to Migicovsky, and it didn't really exist anywhere else. "Remember Trillian from back in the day?" he asked, somewhat wistfully. "Or Adium?" They were the gold-standard of universal messaging apps; users could log in to their AIM, MSN, GChat and Yahoo accounts, and chat with everyone in one place.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

People

Google's union has big goals — and big roadblocks

Absence of dues, retaliation fears and small numbers could pose problems for the union's dream of collective bargaining, but Googlers are undeterred.

Recruiting union members beyond the early adopters has had its challenges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

When the Alphabet Workers Union launched with more than 200 Googlers at the beginning of the year, it saw a quick flood of new sign-ups, nearly quadrupling membership over a few weeks. But even with the more than 710 members it now represents, the union still stands for just a tiny fraction of Google's more than 200,000 North American employees and contractors. The broader Alphabet workforce could prove difficult to win over, which is a hurdle that could stand in the way of the group's long-term ambitions for substantive culture change and even collective bargaining.

The initial boom of interest from Googlers was thrilling for Alex Peterson, a software engineer and union spokesperson. "It's really reinvigorating what it means to actually be a community of Googlers, which is something that's been eroding over the past four or five years, or even longer."

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Politics

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t save it from the Trump ban backlash

The Board's decision on whether to reinstate Trump could set a new precedent for Facebook. But does the average user care what the Board has to say?

A person holds a sign during a Free Speech Rally against tech companies, on Jan. 20 in California.

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Two weeks after Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump's account indefinitely, Facebook answered a chorus of calls and referred the case to its newly created Oversight Board for review. Now, the board has 90 days to make a call as to whether Trump stays or goes permanently. The board's decision — and more specifically, how and why it arrives at that decision — could have consequences not only for other global leaders on Facebook, but for the future of the Board itself.

Facebook created its Oversight Board for such a time as this — a time when it would face a controversial content moderation decision and might need a gut check. Or a fall guy. There could be no decision more controversial than the one Facebook made on Jan. 7, when it decided to muzzle one of the most powerful people in the world with weeks remaining in his presidency. It stands to reason, then, that Facebook would tap in its newly anointed refs on the Oversight Board both to earnestly review the call and to put a little distance between Facebook and the decision.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.

Big Tech gets a win from Biden’s sweeping immigration actions

Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai praised President Biden's immigration actions, which read like a tech industry wishlist.

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.

Keep Reading Show less
Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Politics

This is the future of the FTC

President Joe Biden has named Becca Slaughter acting chair of the FTC. In conversation with Protocol, she laid out her priorities for the next four years.

FTC commissioner Becca Slaughter may be President Biden's pick for FTC chair.

Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Becca Slaughter made a name for herself last year when, as a commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission, she breastfed her newborn baby during video testimony before the Senate, raising awareness about the plight of working parents during the pandemic.

But on Thursday, Slaughter's name began circulating for other reasons: She was just named as President Joe Biden's pick for acting chair of the FTC, an appointment that puts Slaughter at the head of antitrust investigations into tech giants, including Facebook.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Latest Stories