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In late February I published a short piece in Fortune suggesting that a new regulatory wave generally–and an increased focused on antitrust enforcement specifically–was about to hit the biggest technology companies.
Since then, as often is the case where the main actors in a drama are regulators and legislators, almost nothing has happened. Congress has made little progress on a privacy law to override a soon-to-be-enacted provision in California. Though Facebook has said that the Federal Trade Commission is about to fine it billions of dollars, it hasn’t. The Justice Department, humbled in its quixotic attempt to stop AT&T from acquiring Time Warner, hasn’t moved against a Silicon Valley hegemon.
And yet the drumbeat grows louder. The New York Times reports that the FTC and Justice have drawn an antitrust Tordesillas meridian, with the FTC turning its sights on Amazon’s market power in retailing and Justice focusing on the effect Google has on competing e-commerce sites. (The Wall Street Journal said last week the Justice Department is readying a case against Google; read closely, and it’s clear all these investigations—not including the FTC’s coming action against Facebook—are preliminary.)
If these cases get going, they’ll turn wonky fast. The high level is what will matter. Modern antitrust theory zeroes in on consumer harm, typically measured by higher prices. Google (whose services are free) and Amazon (which relentlessly drives down prices) won’t be susceptible to such arguments. Instead, regulators and courts will need to agree that harm done to competitors is reason enough to punish the behemoths.
The battle will not be short.
Rites of spring. It’s the start of Apple’s annual World Wide Developer Conference in a few hours. Stay tuned for news about all of the company’s various software platforms and maybe a hardware surprise (new Mac Pro, anyone?).
Nothing up my sleeve. Were we just talking last week about Cypress Semiconductor maybe getting bought? Yes? Now it’s real. German chipmaker Infineon Technologies on Monday grabbed its rival for $10.1 billion.
The pitter-patter of tiny feet. Was your Sunday night perhaps a little more stress-free than usual? Could be because of a multi-hour outage of Google’s cloud service that also knocked out Snapchat, YouTube, and other distractions in parts of the United States and Europe.
Surveillance state. Want a visa to enter the United Stated? Under a new policy, the Trump administration is now requiring applicants to list all social media accounts they have used in the past five years. Foreshadowing a possible lawsuit, the ACLU called the policy “dangerous and problematic.”
Club fed. The former CEO of Phantom Secure, which built an encrypted messaging network for criminals, was sentenced to nine years in prison last week. Vincent Ramos was also ordered to forfeit $80 million in ill-gotten earnings.
Asking for permission. The chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Christopher Giancarlo, says his agency is in the “very early stages of conversations” with Facebook over the company’s plan to create a digital currency, The Financial Times reports. Facebook has also briefed the Treasury Department.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
We’ll all have access to super-fast, new 5G wireless networks on our phones, someday. But for now, 5G is just for customers of two carriers in a handful of cities. CNET’s phone reviewer extraordinaire Jessica Dolcourt and some of her colleagues have been flying around the country to try out the new networks in Chicago and Dallas. Download speeds, which may hit 50 megabits per second on a typical 4G LTE connection, peaked at almost 500 mbps on Sprint’s 5G network and over 1 gigabit per second on Verizon’s. But it’s still early days, she warns:
Verizon has the upper hand when it comes to consistently fast 5G speeds…when you can actually latch onto the network. Sprint showed us how slower-but-broader 5G coverage can still benefit you with faster-than-4G downloads across the board. That said, these tests are still best thought of as demonstrations, since they’re tightly monitored by the carriers and since there are only a few people using the network at a time. When people start pinging the 5G networks in droves, that will be the real test of network speed, congestion and convenience. After all the talk, it’s invigorating to see 5G networks come to life. But they still have such a long way to go.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Google Requires Loot Box-Laden Kids’ Games Disclose the Odds of Winning Digital Goods By Lisa Marie Segarra
New York’s MTA Gets Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Fitbit Pay: Here’s How to Set It Up By Jeff Johns Roberts
BEFORE YOU GO
There’s plenty of travel writing focused on popular spots like Paris, Rome or Bangkok. But what about the tiny village of Kegaska in Quebec, Canada? The Boston Globe has a great write up of visiting unusual, remote destinations aboard the cruise and cargo ship Bella Desgagnés. Not the height of luxury but the height of mind blowing, sounds like.