Facebook has gone from tech darling to Darth Vader

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Good morning.

Give Facebook credit. It has managed to do the one thing no one else could—bring Republican and Democratic politicians together. The Federal Trade Commission and 46 states yesterday sued for a breakup of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, and an amazingly bipartisan chorus of political voices shouted support for the move. This case may be the only smooth hand-off that happens from the Trump administration to the Biden administration.

And let’s be clear: the case is hardly a slam dunk. Facebook was quick to make the strongest argument against it, which is this: the agency signed off on both acquisitions when they happened in 2012 and 2014. Have the facts changed? If it was okay then, why not now? 

What’s changed, of course, is the political environment. Facebook itself has gone from tech darling to Darth Vader—accused by Republicans and Democrats alike of destroying democracy. In its efforts to fix the problem, the company has only further angered Republicans—who feel the left coast company has it in for them. But a Democratic administration could prove to be an even bigger existential threat, as Democrats have been flirting for several years with a new, more expansive approach to antitrust policy. They now have their test case.

If it succeeds, the case will be the biggest deal in antitrust since the breakup of AT&T. Even if it fails, it will be one hell of a show. I oversaw the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the Microsoft antitrust case in the 1990s and can vouch for the fireworks that result when so much money and corporate power is at stake. A lot of lawyers and lobbyists will earn their retirements from this one.

More news below. And check out our coverage of the other big event of the day—the IPO of profitless DoorDash, which jumped 85% after it started trading to a reported valuation of around $72 billion. (The price jump, of course, was portrayed by investment bankers as a good thing, rather than a pricing failure.) Tomorrow, Airbnb, priced at $68 for a valuation of $47 billion, is no doubt hoping for a similar bump. Who knew so much money could be made in the midst of a global pandemic.

Alan Murray



Privacy fines

France's data-protection regulator has fined Google and Amazon a total of $163 million for privacy violations, namely depositing tracking cookies in users' browsers without prior consent, and not telling them clearly that the cookies are for delivering personalized advertising. Both companies have now stopped the dropping-cookies-without-consent part, but the watchdog is threating to levy further fines if they don't start being clear about why they track people. Fortune

Vaccine hack

Pfizer and BioNTech say hackers stole documents relating to the development of their COVID-19 vaccine. The cyber-heist occurred in an attack on the European Medicines Agency, which is evaluating their vaccine. The companies said they don't think the personal data of vaccine-trial participants were compromised. (Also read this Fortune comment piece on hospitals' vulnerability to cyberattacks.) Al Jazeera


A SpaceX experimental rocket exploded on landing yesterday, but no worries—according to CEO Elon Musk, it only had a one-in-three chance of making it down in one piece anyway. This was a prototype of the Starship, um, starship that SpaceX intends to one day use for ferrying people to Mars, and between Earthbound cities. SN8 was not the first Starship prototype to be destroyed in testing. CNN

Chinese sanctions

Following the imposition of U.S. sanctions on some Chinese officials over the Hong Kong crackdown, China will hit back with its own sanctions on U.S. lawmakers. Beijing also says it will place new travel restrictions on American diplomats. As yet, though, names have not been named. Fortune


Trade deal

Singapore has become the latest country to sign a trade deal with the U.K., though the deal really just replicates its existing deal with the EU, which the U.K. effectively departs at the end of the month. More than 20 such deals have now been rolled over, to start after the Brexit transition period ends. The EU has around 40 trade deals with over 70 countries. BBC

Brexit talks

Apologies for reporting earlier this week that the moment of truth had arrived for the U.K. and EU's own post-Brexit-trade-deal talks. Although the road ought to run out tomorrow with this year's final meeting of EU heads of state, who after all need to unanimously approve any deal, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have somehow agreed to kick the can further down. Sunday's the new deadline. Don't hold your breath. Guardian

After Harvey

Fortune's Emma Hinchliffe has a fascinating interview with Barbara Kavovit, the construction-business owner whose firm (Evergreen Construction) got to demolish the former offices of the Weinstein Company. "I had a permanent smile on my face as I watched each wall come down. I took a sledgehammer and started bashing in the walls," Kavovit said. "I felt a feeling of triumph, of closure, and rebuilding to make it better. It was a shift to me that as a woman-owned business we got hired to take down Harvey Weinstein's offices." Fortune

Biden's USPS

Although the Trump administration's treatment saw the American public rally to the defense of the U.S. Postal Service, things may not get much better under the incoming Biden administration. As Fortune's Nicole Goodkind writes, President-elect Biden won't be able to fire Postmaster General Louis DeJoy; that's up to the largely Republican USPS Board of Governors. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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