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Why It’s Not So Easy To Regulate or Split Up Big Tech Companies—Data Sheet

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The emotional highlight of the second day of Brainstorm Tech was the town hall meeting on how tech should be regulated, moderated by Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal.

The Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz drew hisses for suggesting hate speech can’t be defined, as she also made the broader case that government is ill-equipped to regulate tech companies. “If you don’t like the speech on Twitter, don’t go on Twitter,” she said. The University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales passionately argued for regulating Big Tech through antitrust law as an antidote to their dangerously concentrated power. But the simpler break-up strategy may not work, he noted. “Breaking up Facebook from Instagram and WhatsApp is only going to create a temporary wall…eventually one of the three will emerge,” he said. “How are you going to break up (Google’s) search engine, from A to L and M to Z?”

Multiple participants at the event in Aspen, Colo., weighed in on all sides of the contentious topic. “As clueless as Congress is about tech, tech is about government,” VC Roy Bahat quipped. It was a gloriously open, robust, and rigorous conversation. We've posted the entire hour-long video on YouTube.

Other notable moments:

  • Beth Ford, CEO of farmer cooperative Land O’Lakes argued for government action on the magnitude of the New Deal’s rural electrification program to bring broadband access to rural areas. She said 25% to 30% of all farmers lack broadband.
  • Pro-market Securities and Exchange Commissioner Hester Peirce made the case for light regulation of cryptocurrencies. She thinks it’s down-right ridiculous that her agency would even look at regulating Starbucks gift cards.
  • Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said during the town hall that it is “magical thinking” to believe content moderation can remove online hate speech.
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman made the case for their new Quibi short-form video service. Significant portions of the audience didn’t seem to be buying it.

You can follow many of today's events on our livestream, starting at 9:15 a.m. Mountain Time, and I’ll have much more in my wrap-up tomorrow.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky



A whole lot of shakin’ going on. Speaking of regulating tech, Congress held three different hearings on Tuesday covering different controversies in tech. Facebook had to defend its Libra digital currency proposal from hostile questioning (Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown called it “delusional”). Antitrust was the focus of another hearing with representatives of Facebook plus Apple, Amazon, and Google. Finally, another group of lawmakers examined alleged censorship and bias in Google’s search results.

Some like it hot. In some more advanced regulatory maneuvering, the European Union opened an official probe into Amazon’s impact on competition among retailers. And Qualcomm got support in its court battle with the Federal Trade Commission that threatens to upend its licensing model. The departments of Justice, Energy, and Defense asked the court to set aside, at least temporarily, a May court ruling in favor of the FTC. “The district court’s ruling threatens competition, innovation and national security,” the filing warned.

Glitching. The reason Twitter didn’t label or hide President Trump’s racist tweet attacking four Congresswomen was because it didn’t violate Twitter’s standards, CFO Ned Segal said at the Brainstorm Tech conference. “If you see something on Twitter, it means it didn’t violate our policy,” Segal explained.

Zapped. Electric automaker Tesla raised the price of the entry-level versions of its Model S sedan by almost $5,000 to $79,900 and Model X SUV by almost $4,000 to $84,990. Tesla also cut its low-end Model 3 sedan’s price by about $500 to $38,990.

Vegan volatility. Meal kit company Blue Apron has taken investors on a volatile ride since its 2017 IPO. But investors got a reprieve on Tuesday. The stock jumped 36% after the company announced a partnership with alternative-meat startup Beyond Meat. Shareholders of Spotify weren’t so lucky. Its shares fell 2% on news that Apple may expand into funding premium podcasts in competition with Spotify’s similar strategy. Apple also announced new emojis coming to the iPhone in the fall, including a sloth, skunk, and falafel. More significantly, new emojis will offer a wider array of couples holding hands and add some key items to represent disabilities, such as a guide dog, a wheelchair, and a prosthetic arm. 

Brighter prospects. In the cloud market, IBM said it signed AT&T to a multi-billion dollar deal for hosting business applications. AT&T will also rely on IBM’s newly-acquired Red Hat unit to help manage its cloud workloads.

Getting excited. After a controversy over an award for a company that made women’s sex toys at last year’s annual consumer electronics show, the Consumer Technology Association said on Tuesday it will feature some devices in the category at next year’s show–as long as they offer innovation. “We don’t want to see rows and rows of just standard vibrators,” association EVP Karen Chupka said.


The fears of possible harmful health effects from wireless technology go back to the dawn of the mobile era. But there’s not much science backing up the most alarming claims that phones or cell towers cause cancer. New York Times reporter William Broad delves into the history of a particularly incorrect and misleading chart that was prepared for a Florida school district in 2000 and has since spread far and wide. The chart purports to show that humans receive a higher dose of radiation the higher the frequency of wireless transmissions. Only one problem:

According to experts on the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation, radio waves become safer at higher frequencies, not more dangerous. (Extremely high-frequency energies, such as X-rays, behave differently and do pose a health risk.) In his research, Dr. Curry looked at studies on how radio waves affect tissues isolated in the lab, and misinterpreted the results as applying to cells deep inside the human body. His analysis failed to recognize the protective effect of human skin. At higher radio frequencies, the skin acts as a barrier, shielding the internal organs, including the brain, from exposure. Human skin blocks the even higher frequencies of sunlight.


A.I.’s Hidden Biases Are Continuing to Bedevil Businesses. Can They Be Stopped? By Jeremy Kahn

Twitter, Unable to Control Its Worst Elements, Rolls out a Site Redesign By Xavier Harding

Andreessen Horowitz Leads $15.3 Million Funding Round in Newsletter Publishing Platform Substack By Polina Marinova

London Hasn’t Legalized E-Scooters. But a YouTube Star’s Death Shows It’s Still Confronting Their Risks By Katherine Dunn

Intel’s New CEO Blames Years-Long Chip Delay on Being Too ‘Aggressive’ By Aaron Pressman

Lime Exec: Scooters, Bikes, and Ride-Sharing Will Boost Real Estate Values By Robert Hackett

Why Away Doesn’t Sell Luggage on Amazon By Jen Wieczner


The award for the best lead of an article this week should go to Financial Times columnist Pilita Clark, who started her column about good office design practices with this gem: “For the past two months I have stopped doing something at work that I thought I would do for ever. I no longer flush the loo.”

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.