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Big Tech’s time is up

October 7, 2020, 5:09 PM UTC

House Democrats struck Big Tech with a broadside on Tuesday.

A congressional committee took four gleaming Goliaths to task—Amazon, Apple, Alphabet’s Google, and Facebook—in a damning report that accuses the companies of abusing their market power to stifle competition and unfairly reap profits. The 449-page document, which you can read in full here, is the culmination of a 16-month antitrust investigation by a House Judiciary subcommittee.

The findings are hardly a surprise. Anyone who has watched these tech giants romp and stomp and squash underfoot all who would interfere with their frenzied dance to riches will see them as a belated acknowledgment of reality. As the reports’ authors observe: “Companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”

These latter-day Rockefellers and Vanderbilts have been calling the shots for years. It’s no secret that Google and Facebook utterly dominate the digital advertising market. Facebook is, in particular, notorious for its attempts to copy and crush rivals, like Snapchat and now TikTok. Amazon’s turbo-capitalist ambitions can barely be contained. As for Apple, well, look no further than the mounting backlash from developers, led by Fortnite maker Epic Games, over the Cupertino colossuses’s highway robbery—I mean, App Store payments policy.

Now what to do about the abuses? The report recommends reviving antitrust enforcement. It seeks to bolster the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission’s power to block corporate mergers and acquisitions. And it proposes allowing people to pack up their user data and port it wherever they like.

Not everyone is on board with the conclusions. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) disagreed with key portions, especially ones relating to “structural separations.” He called these a “thinly veiled call to break up Big Tech firms” in a draft response, Reuters reported. For another acute dissection of the report’s shortcomings, I recommend this thread by Alex Stapp, director of technology policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank that, in spite of its name, leans centrist.

The regulatory reckoning has proponents though. “I suddenly feel waves of hope,” commented Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and former 2014 New York gubernatorial candidate. “This is powerful, deeply studied, serious, and is what Congress is supposed to do.”

The reckoning has begun.

Robert Hackett

Twitter: @rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

THREATS

Not falling far from the tree. Mark your calendar for Oct. 13. That's the date Apple set for its next product event. Expect four redesigned iPhones to debut, including ones with 5G wireless capability, better cameras, and faster processors. The product show will be Apple's second of the year after last month's release of new iPads and Apple Watches

The not-so wonderful wizard of QAnon. Citigroup has sacked an IT manager based in N.J., one Jason Gelinas, who operated a digital hub for QAnon, a baseless conspiracy movement. The axing comes a month after Gelinas has been put on administrative leave. "Our code of conduct includes specific policies that employees are required to adhere to, and when breaches are identified, the firm takes action," a Citi spokesperson said. Read this bonkers Bloomberg Businessweek feature for more.

You can't handle the truth. Facebook stepped up its frequently half-hearted misinformation sweeps this week. After three years of letting QAnon run amok on its website, the media giant labeled the group a "militarized social movement" and put in place a ban. The company also struck down a post by President Trump that claimed, falsely, the seasonal flu is more dangerous than the coronavirus.

A cooler water cooler? Following LinkedIn's rollout of "stories," an ephemeral video feature, Slack is broadening its scope too. The workplace chat app is adding the ability for people at different companies to direct message each other early next year. Also coming: spam-fighting check marks that designate "verified" organizations.

For whom the Nobel tolls. The Nobel Committee has awarded the developers of CRISPR gene-editing technology with the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The recipients are Emmanuelle Charpentier at the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin and Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley. The two scientists' work on DNA-alteration techniques has set the stage for a biotechnology boom that has already begun to yield new medical treatments (and controversies).

When it comes to IoT, maybe abstinence is the best policy.

ACCESS GRANTED

Just how sick is President Trump? The White House's reticence to reveal details has everyone wondering—including spies. Politico warns the uncertainty around POTUS's health offers foreign adversaries an opportunity to spread disinformation.

"As the White House brushes aside questions about just how serious the president’s bout with the lethal virus really got, America’s enemies are poised to fill the information void, former and current U.S. national security officials are warning.

Their fear: Foreign adversaries are working overtime to glean insight into the true state of Trump’s health and potentially use it as leverage to make mischief and sow doubt about the stability of the U.S. government—for example, using doctored photos or audio of a pale or hoarse Trump to make him seem sicker than his team is letting on, and paint America as unable to handle the pandemic."

FORTUNE RECON

Why it feels like we’re in a recession—even though we aren’t by Geoff Colvin

Ripple threatens to leave U.S. over crypto regulation by Jeff John Roberts

Trump kills hope of more stimulus checks as approval rating on the economy falls by Lee Clifford

Which A.I. planet do you live on? By Jeremy Kahn

Black Friday traffic could fall as much as 25% amid earlier deals, COVID anxiety by Phil Wahba

Atom looks to capitalize on the stock market craze by Robert Hackett

Which COVID-19 vaccine works best? A new lab network promises an answer by Jeremy Kahn

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access.Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

ONE MORE THING

Is any technology more crucial for navigating the modern world than GPS? Distressingly, the seemingly indispensable marvel of geolocation relies entirely on a mere 30 satellites orbiting earth. Backup systems would no doubt be wise; in this article, the BBC explores alternative systems, including a world-spanning network of radio transmitters (eLoran), space junk-tracking telescopes (Skymark), and inertial sensors (quantum accelerometry).