This is how the chipping away of Big Tech’s vast power begins.
On Friday the most powerful digital companies, represented by the Internet Association, their trade group, stopped fighting a bill that aims to limit using the Internet to facilitate sex trafficking. Why in the world would Alphabet (Google’s parent), Facebook, and others have opposed such a bill? As The New York Times explained, the companies believed “the bill would jeopardize a free and open Internet as well as subject them to many potential lawsuits for the actions of users.”
There are many loaded words and terms in this description, all important to understand the mindset of Silicon Valley’s Internet giants. A “free and open” Internet has been an article of faith in and around Mountain View, Menlo Park, and its environs for two decades. The religious dogma, since the passage of two acts in 1996, generally holds that the Internet industry is somehow different and worthy of special protections. One act shields Internet companies from the liability they’d shoulder if they were considered to be publishers. (This is the legislation the sex-trafficking bill is amending.) The second exempts Internet companies from being sued for copyright infringement and other nasty behavior others might engage in on their platforms.
Under this way of thinking, all the companies of Silicon Valley had to do was charge that something might hurt “innovation” or threaten the “free” nature of the Internet, and that something would be deemed bad. Remember SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, a 2012 bipartisan measure the Internet industry summarily killed?
For two decades the Internet companies claimed a sort of exceptionalism, an ethos that because they were doing such special work they didn’t have to play by the rules of others. They were so special that their word that they were combatting sex trafficking on their sites should be good enough.
Then Mark Zuckerberg was incredulous that Russians manipulated Facebook. And Google, that lover of democracy, was hollowing out journalism by re-printing the “fair use” work of others but wasn’t a publisher itself.
The arguments are wearing thin.
Toppled. Saudi Arabia’s political turmoil touched U.S. tech investing as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal—who has owned large stakes in Apple, Twitter, and Lyft—was among those arrested in a consolidation of power by the country’s crown prince.
Knocked apart. T-Mobile and Sprint agreed to end their effort to combine and create a wireless giant with more than 130 million subscribers. Sprint majority owner and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son decided he wasn’t being paid enough to give up control of the fourth-largest carrier. Prior efforts to acquire T-Mobile, by Son in 2014 and AT&T in 2011, were shot down by antitrust regulators. In an effort to keep Sprint’s stock price from plunging, SoftBank said it would buy another 3% or so of the carrier’s stock. In premarket trading, shares of Sprint still dropped 10% while T-Mobile’s stock lost 5%.
Reluctantly together. Communications chip maker Broadcom announced an unsolicited offer to buy Qualcomm for $70 per share, or $130 billion in total including debt. The deal, which would be the biggest tech acquisition ever, comes after Qualcomm’s raging legal battle with Apple has torched its stock price this year.
Strange bedfellows. Intel will use graphics chips from CPU competitor Advanced Micro Devices in chip sets for video-gaming oriented laptops next year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The move may give Intel the power to match Nvidia’s graphics products in the high-performance mobile segment.
Stopped. Ring must stop selling its $200 Protect home security system after market leader ADT won a temporary injunction against the startup in the Delaware Court of Chancery. ADT says Ring is using stolen intellectual property obtained from former employees of failed software developer Zonoff, which was backed by ADT.
Blocked. A U.S. judge moved to stop a Canadian Supreme Court decision that had massive implications for global free speech. Canada’s top court ruled in June that Google must block certain search results across the entire world to comply with a lower court ruling from the country. But American judge Edward Davila granted a temporary restraining order allowing Google to continue showing the disputed results in this country. Removing the links “threatens free speech on the global Internet,” Davila wrote.
Horning in. Did you watch season 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things yet? My six-word review: Just as great as season one. Nielsen, which is trying to horn in on calculating ratings for streaming shows without any cooperation from Netflix, says 16 million people watched the show in the first three days. Netflix, which points out Nielsen only tracks viewing on traditional TVs, has said prior announced numbers for its shows aren’t even close.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It will go down in history as one of the most significant, and perhaps successful, cyberattacks in history. But the Russian effort to steal emails from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 political campaign began with an outdated contact list from her 2008 campaign, the Associated Press reports in a deep investigation into the attack.
Unfortunately, just a single staffer who had bridged the eight-year gap and was still using the same email address clicked on one of the Russian hacker’s phishing links, surrendering hundreds of private email addresses from the 2016 campaign. The hackers immediately expanded their efforts, duping campaign chairman John Podesta, among others. Dell cyber security unit Secureworks was at the time tracking the activities of the Russian team, which was known as Fancy Bear. Eafe Pilling, a senior security researcher with Secureworks, told the wire service:
As soon as we started seeing some of those hillaryclinton.com email addresses coming through, the DNC email addresses, we realized it’s going to be an interesting twist to this.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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Apple iPad: Is It Turning a Corner? By Jonathan Vanian
BEFORE YOU GO
Homer’s epic tale of the aftermath of war, The Odyssey, has been translated into English by five dozen different men, but now comes a new version of the story created by British classicist Emily Wilson. She’s made some different choices, as explained in a worthwhile New York Times Magazine profile.