Issue 54

Bad mistakes, Europe has made a few

More specifically, the regulatory behemoth that is the European Union:

"Regulators  in Brussels have been heralded as the world’s leading tech industry  watchdogs. But Mr. Stables and other veterans of the Continent’s  antitrust battles are telling American authorities, who are  investigating Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, something else: There  is a lot to learn from Europe’s mistakes."

The NYT article the quote above was pulled from notes that while the European  Commission has taken plenty of action against the likes of Google,  Amazon, Apple and Facebook (fining them billions of dollars), it hasn't  achieved the desired outcomes.

In typical NYT fashion, those  outcomes aren't specified, with the article just trotting out the usual  anecdotes from failed businesses along the lines of "Google stopped  sending free traffic to my site". It also fell back on the ultimate rent  seekers in this space, antitrust lawyers, who want - you guessed it -  "tougher rules, including expanding the scope of antitrust enforcement  into new areas of the digital economy".

Europe's approach to  big tech is a dangerous one, but not in the way the NYT claims.  Antitrust regulation is not simple and it's not obvious that big tech  companies in their current forms should be subject to it. Yes, they have  the advantage of network effects, but that certainly didn't help  MySpace, Friendster, Bebo, OpenSocial, ConnectU, or Vine - and those are  just some of the competitors that Facebook has seen off. These  big tech companies operate in highly contestable markets and keep  prices low (or don't charge anything!). Sure, they have advertising  platforms but they face fierce competition on that front too, not just  from each other but from traditional media such as television.

Worryingly,  it could be much worse. The US has so far taken a mostly hand-off  approach, although that might change regardless of who wins the  Presidency given the attitude of Trump's Attorney General William Barr.

But  the proposals offered by some of the Democratic Presidential candidates  are particularly disturbing. While their ability to execute and enforce  those proposals is a separate issue, the ideas themselves are straight  out of Margrethe Vestager's play-book, the nutter at the helm of the European Commission for Competition.

I've already covered a few of Warren's, so here are some of the 'tech guy' Andrew Yang's worst, who has promised that as President he would:

  • Work  with companies to create algorithms that minimize the spread of  mis/disinformation, and information that’s specifically designed to  polarize or incite individuals.
  • Require algorithms on platforms  that allow political advertisements or the sharing of news stories to be  open source, or confidentially disclosed to the Department of the  Attention Economy.
  • Set new standards and metrics for antitrust, including size of data assets and lack of business formation.

You  read that right, a "Department of the Attention Economy". Yang wants to  create a big new tech bureaucracy that will regulate everything from  political advertisements to social media and even video game prizes,  such as loot boxes. All in the name of protecting the children, of course. What could possibly go wrong?

Enjoy the rest of this week's issue. Cheers,

— Justin


The bits

Meet Google, the evil company

Remember when I said Google wasn't so bad?  It's bad all right, just less bad than certain ISPs. Now the evil  company wants to enter the banking world, although much like the Apple  card it will be a half-hearted, mainstream offering with Citigroup  running the back-end. Presumably Google will provide a nice app and  zero/low fees, a loss leader enabling it to gather financial data about  its users which it can sell to advertisers.

Learn more:

Corbyn's "crazed communist scheme"

Trust me Jeremy, you don't want to go down this road:

"The  plan would involve nationalising elements of BT connected to broadband  provision, forming a new company called British Broadband. Labour says  it would cost about £20bn to roll out universal full-fibre broadband by  2030."

Corbyn  won't win the election but it's still a horrible idea. Nationalising  broadband will stifle future technology (can't have anyone competing  with the government) and increase the risk of what's happening in Iran, where access to its equivalent of "British Broadband" was just cut off.

But  really all Corbyn needs to do is have a look at Australia where the  quality of broadband has deteriorated following the hundred-billion  dollar boondoggle known as the National Broadband Network. Who would  have thought that establishing a large, government-run monopoly to  provide outdated, cross-subsidised technology might be a bad idea... 5G  can't come soon enough.

Learn more:

So much for Libra

Facebook  was in the news again for mostly the wrong reasons. Basically, its  Portal TV is a mediocre TV that will spy on you; the Zuck says he  believes in democracy but only because he didn't get his way; Facebook's  app was (is) literally spying on you via the camera app; and Facebook  Pay almost certainly spells the end of Libra (to be clear, Libra will  eventually emerge but only as a figment of its former, white-paper  self).

Learn more:


Other bits of interest


Image of the week

Every  traffic light captcha you click is training some self-driving  algorithm, probably Google's via Waymo, how to detect traffic lights.


This week's data breaches

So-called "deepfakes" are only an issue if companies don't have the correct processes and procedures in place. Hint: tokenisation renders it harmless.

The breaches:

That's all for now. If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to share it via email


Issue 54: Bad mistakes, Europe has made a few was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 19 November 2019. Feel free to send feedback, suggestions for future issues, ideas, insults, or pretty much anything that crosses your mind to their Riot.im account.