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Facebook and Big Tech Critics Regroup, But What Does the Public Want?

Lost in the debate over Big Tech is what the consumers actually want.
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What Should Congress Focus On

Facebook Wins Round One

On December 9, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of attorneys general filed two separate antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, alleging unfair monopolies.

On June 28, 2021, Facebook won round one as a US District Court Dismissed Monopoly Charges

Judge James Boasberg ruled "The FTC has failed to plead enough facts to plausibly establish a necessary element of all of its Section 2 claims — namely, that Facebook has monopoly power in the market for Personal Social Networking (PSN) Services.

Big Tech Critics Regroup

The WSJ reports Facebook Critics Regroup in Bid to Reshape the Digital Behemoth

Several House members said the legal developments show the need for their proposed legislation to update antitrust laws for the internet age. Measures adopted by the House Judiciary Committee last week aim to block large technology platforms from favoring their own products and services, make it easier for users to migrate their data from one platform to another, prevent dominant platforms from killing off potential rivals through acquisitions, and make it easier for regulators to hive off operations of tech companies.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) and David Cicilline (D., R.I.), the chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee and the House antitrust subcommittee, respectively, said those proposals are important to “address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct.”

Some lawmakers representing districts in California, where companies such as Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are based, are wary of the impact the proposed legislation could have. During the House committee hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley, said the bill “would essentially, metaphorically, take a grenade and just roll it into the tech economy and blow it up and see what happens.

California Democrats Not On Board

The last paragraph above shows the problems with legislation. California legislator are not on board. Republicans are generally not on board, but some are.  That makes it difficult to get anything done.

Big Tech Antitrust Package

On june 24, the House Judiciary Committee passed the final piece of a Six-Part Antitrust Package aimed at curbing the dominance of large tech companies.

The final piece of its six-part package, the “Ending Platform Monopolies Act,” which restricts big tech companies’ ability to leverage their platform dominance to promote other lines of business and disadvantage competitors. The measure could make it easier for federal regulators to break up the companies, lawmakers said. 

The package also includes a measure to bar big tech companies from favoring their own products in a range of circumstances on their platforms. Known as the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, it would prohibit big platforms from engaging in conduct that advantages their own products or services, disadvantages other business users, or discriminates among similarly situated business users.

Another measure requires that the largest internet platforms make it easier for users to transport their data to other platforms and even communicate with users on other platforms. The bill—known as the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching, or Access, Act—would give the Federal Trade Commission extensive new powers to set individualized standards for the large tech companies.

“The president is encouraged by the bipartisan work to address problems created by big tech platforms,” a White House official said. “We hope the legislative process continues to move forward on these bipartisan proposals, and we look forward to working with Congress to continue developing these ideas.”

21-20

The bill barely made it out of Committee on a 21-21 vote. That was four days before the district court ruling.

Where's the package going? 

Try nowhere. If that's the best the House can do, the bill stands no chance at all in the Senate. 

What Does the Public Want?

Morning Consult conducted a survey of Views of Tech Companies and Antitrust Legislation

This poll was conducted between June 17-21, 2021 among a national sample of 1,995 registered voters. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of voters based on age, educational attainment, gender, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of +/- 2%.

Take those alleged margins of error with more than a bit of skepticism, but here are the findings.

Key Findings

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  • Majorities of voters place value across all tested platforms and functions, including 61% who say free shipping on certain Amazon Prime products is very valuable. 
  • Voters think regulating technology companies should be a low priority for Congress; of the tested issue areas, 44% say technology company regulations should be the least important priority to Congress. 
  • In the initial read of support for the bill, about half (53%) of voters said they support Congress passing the legislation, a quarter (25%) oppose, and 23% don’t know or have no opinion.
  • When asked about the possible services and functionalities that could be eliminated if the legislation passed, 59% of voters say they are more likely to oppose the bill after reading the message about Amazon being restricted from providing free shipping on certain products, including 42% who are much more likely to oppose. 
  • Learning more about possible impacts moves voters towards opposing the bill; after learning more, voters are 20% more likely to oppose (45%) the legislation than they were in the pre-test, and 14% less likely to support the legislation (39%).
  • Democrats (44%) and Republicans (46%) are both more likely to oppose the bill post-message test.  

Morning Consult Ranking

Morning Consult Ranking

That was a sponsored poll, but so what? Accuracy is what's important. FiveThirtyEight Rates Morning Consult a B.

Value Added 

value added morning consult

What Should Congress Focus On? 

Rank #1 or #2

  • Economy: 70%
  • Public Health: 59%
  • Infrastructure: 29%
  • Climate Change 28%
  • Technology Regulation: 15%

Rank #1,  #2,  #3

  • Economy: 85%
  • Public Health: 80%
  • Infrastructure: 57%
  • Climate Change 50%
  • Technology Regulation: 29%

The general public has little concern for Technology Regulation and for that matter Climate Change.

Ask people if Google or Amazon is too big (or if Climate Change is a concern) and you get one answer. 

Ask them if they want services disrupted in breakups or are willing to have huge tax increases and you get another set of answers. 

Either way, it's Progressive activists promoting these breakup ideas. 

Filter Needed

In general, if any idea has the strong backing of Progressive activists and Elizabeth Warren, it is not something that a majority of people are going to agree with. 

And that is the case here.

Congress should butt out. The package is far too overreaching and has no chance in the Senate. Heck, even passage in the House is uncertain.

Discussion With Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald asked "You're on Amazon's side?"

Here is my two-part answer.

Mish