Amazon the innovator or Amazon the violator?
This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.
The last time I wrote a feature article about Jeff Bezos or Amazon was a political lifetime ago, in March of 2016. For the piece, about Bezos’s leadership skills, I took what felt like a refreshing and slightly novel approach. I examined the three major businesses on his plate: Amazon, The Washington Post, and Blue Origin, his rocket ship company.
The notion of Amazon facing antitrust concerns in those late Obama years never came up—or at least didn’t find their way into print. I did write this: “His company is expanding internationally and spreading its hydra-headed product and service offerings in unexpected new directions.” But this was written admiringly rather than forebodingly. Amazon was long considered a thug to competitors and a slavedriver to employees, hourly and salaried alike. But not a monopolist.
Times have changed. The long knives are out for Amazon, from the Trump White House, leftish quarters of Queens, N.Y., and even the Gard region of southern France. Along with its Big Tech brethren Facebook, Google, and Apple, Amazon also is in the crosshairs of House of Representatives investigators.
Amazon is powerful, no doubt. But it likely will take new laws or a novel interpretation of existing antitrust law to force it to break up. What I find surprising is the suggestion that Amazon isn’t innovative. True, the engines of its success had predecessors. There were web-hosting companies before Amazon Web Services, Costco memberships before Prime, Sonos speakers before Echo, and so on.
That line of reasoning reminds me, though, of the hollow knock against Apple back in the day. It didn’t invent the MP3 player (iPod) or jukebox software (it bought the company that became iTunes) or even the smartphone (Palm and Nokia came first). That argument was pedantic at best. Apple improved dramatically on each concept and profited handsomely. So has Amazon in its way.
An innovator can be an unfair monopolist too, of course.
After tomorrow you’ll see a new lineup on Data Sheet. Aaron will write the report top to bottom on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Robert Hackett will do the same on Tuesdays. And Fortune tech writer Danielle Abril, who’s written for us a few times already, will join the fray on Thursdays. You’ll be in good hands with this crew.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Librageddon. Facebook's ambitious plan for a global cryptocurrency backed by real money, known as the Libra Project, has drawn the ire of the world's most influential financial regulators. Finance ministers and central bankers from the G7 are publishing a report on Tuesday concluding that the concept has yet to "adequately addresses relevant legal, regulatory, and oversight requirements." Elsewhere at the world's biggest social network, turns out 2020 is the year to ban posts that deny or distort the Holocaust.
Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Reorg. The House of Mouse announced a major restructuring as the company tries to deal with both the current pandemic and longer-term changes roiling the entertainment industry. Disney's new focus is streaming, so all media properties will be consolidated under one umbrella, the better to serve Disney+. “I would say Covid accelerated the rate at which we made this transition, but this transition was going to happen anyway,” CEO Bob Chapek told CNBC. But the company didn't make the change that rival Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, recently said would be a true sign of commitment to streaming: "There’s still a thing called Disney Plus, it’s not just all called Disney.”
Trick or treat. The infamous botnet known as Trickbot got a taste of its own medicine last week. Microsoft says it got a court order allowing it to knock the cybercrime network of more than 1 million zombie computers offline. But the Russian crooks behind Trickbot will likely be able to reconstitute the network in computers beyond the reach of U.S. law. After all, they survived a head-on attack from the U.S. military's Cyber Command last month.
The girl's got curlers in her neural net. Remember that stunning demo two years ago at Google's I/O conference when the company showed off its digital assistant calling a hair salon to book an appointment? It's now a live feature on many phones, Venturebeat says. Still, I'm more excited for the new "wait on hold for me" feature Google just announced.
Rubbing my nickels together. It's finally Apple's iPhone debut day 2020. Follow along the streaming presentation at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT. The headline has been widely leaked: The iPhone is going 5G. PC Magazine discovered that Verizon has a little related news of its own: It will start offering a broadly available, low-band 5G network across the country to complement its current high-band but scarcely available 5G offering.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Addressing the climate crisis will require many changes in our habits and our technology. Airbus is working on aircraft that use hydrogen for fuel. Reporter Ned Potter gives the idea a reality check for IEEE Spectrum.
Others have their doubts. “A lot of these things, you can; the question is, should you?” says Richard Pat Anderson, a professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “When we say, ‘Should you?’ and you get into economics, then it becomes a much more difficult conversation.” Anderson says battery-powered aircraft are likely to become practical later in this century, and it is a dubious proposition to build the massive – and costly – infrastructure for hydrogen power in the meantime.
ON THE MOVE
Twitter hired Tracy McGraw, top publicist at Tyler Perry Studios, as senior director of global consumer communications...Web-hosting company Squarespace appointed Marcela Martin as the company’s new CFO. She was previously CFO of Booking Holdings...AR game maker Niantic Labs hired Brian Benedik as VP of global revenue after seven years as Spotify's chief revenue officer...Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has left the company and will start a new hardware venture...Online casino and sports betting company Rush Street Interactive hired Kyle Sauers as CFO. Sauers held the same position at Echo Global Logistics...AudioEye brought in Bryan Rodrigues as chief marketing officer. He was previously VP of marketing & ecommerce at Tile.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The world’s best workplace: It's still Cisco By Alan Murray and David Meyer
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
Okay, calm down, no one is actually saying we should eat the insects grown by French ag startup Ÿnsect. Right now, Ÿnsect just sells the larvae of the Tenebrio Molitor beetle as livestock and pet food. They're coming to an animal food shelf near you sometime by next summer upon getting approval from the U.S. FDA. Yum?