Microsoft classes for Google

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My colleague Steve Lohr saw almost everything in technology. And even he believes that the power of Big Tech cannot be compared to anything he's seen before.

Steve's writing on technology for the New York Times for over 20 years includes coverage of the US government's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, which began in 1998 and ended in 2002 with settlement.

Steve spoke to me about this case and the numerous government antitrust lawsuits that have been filed against Facebook and Google over the past few months, including a new antitrust case against Google that was filed on Wednesday and another expected on Thursday. He said Microsoft didn't have anywhere near the influence of today's tech superpowers in the 90s.

Shira: What about the Google and Facebook cartel cases and the Microsoft cases?

Steve: Many of the legal and business issues are similar. There is an idea that it will be difficult to prove that Google and Facebook are harming consumers, as harm has mainly been defined as a price increase and these companies' products are largely free.

But the prices weren't really part of the Microsoft case either. Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser was free and bundled with Windows. The government said Microsoft did this to protect its monopoly from the internet threat.

Another concern for big tech is their gatekeeper role – that they have the power to influence which companies or industries thrive and die. It was the same with Microsoft. Banks, news organizations and automakers feared that Microsoft could monopolize the Internet and become a tollbooth between them and their customers.

Those fears were wrong that Microsoft would dominate the web, but they were right that the internet was turning entire industries upside down.

Most of the predictions made about the Internet in the mid-1990s have come true – just a decade or later, and with a twist.

What feels different about the cartel cases from Google and Facebook?

Today's technological forces affect far more areas of life than Microsoft has ever done before. The Microsoft antitrust case was fairly closely focused on trade and market power. Big tech issues now have a bigger canvas than antitrust law. It is also about misinformation, their ability to shape public opinion, data hoarding, and how the government should limit the disadvantages, if at all.

What impact did this case have on Microsoft and the technology?

It's impossible to know, but I think Microsoft was involved in the antitrust case and that may have created space for Google and other tech companies to thrive. But the technology was also changing faster than Microsoft.

Is that going to happen to what? feels like this unbeatable big tech Companies?

Never say Never. However, the network effects and lock-ins of today's tech forces are on a scale that we have never seen in their tech fields. It is reasonable to ask whether government intervention might be necessary to level the playing field.

Economy & Economy

Updated

Dec. 17, 2020, 4:35 p.m. ET

What are overlooked changes that have resulted from technology?

The technology infiltrating every industry has the ability to do what manufacturing once did: bring more people into the middle class.

One negative change is the tendency to trust the technology too much. A doctor recently told me that diagnostic software is useful in medicine, but it is also risky if we rely on it without thinking. The ultimate Hollywood example of dystopian technology is "Wall-E" – technology that makes everything so easy that we lose our personal agency

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The state governments' lawsuit against Google on Wednesday had probably the largest disclosure of any antitrust lawsuits filed by Big Tech to date.

One claim made by the 10 Texas-headed states was that Google had a secret agreement with Facebook a few years ago to combat the then-emerging method of buying ads online. Concerned that this process, known as "header bidding" – Wired has a good explanation – was threatening the company's sales, so it asked Facebook for help.

In return for Facebook's promise not to support this alternative advertising system and to redirect advertisers to Google, Google has given Facebook preferential treatment in the computer-aided auctions run by Google to determine who is buying a commercial in apps.

I know this is complicated. But you get the variance even without understanding the details: The states say Google and Facebook worked together to help their own businesses at everyone else's expense.

This is a claim, not a fact, and many potentially juicy details are obscured in the public version of the lawsuit. But if the claims are true, they are not good for either company.

(Google said the allegations in the lawsuit were unfounded, and a company spokeswoman told my colleagues that the allegations regarding Facebook were inaccurate. A Facebook representative declined to comment on my colleagues.)

Many of the allegations so far in the lawsuits against Google and Facebook are not the kind of courtroom revealed in Law & Order that makes jurors gasp and cry. (That happens on TV, doesn't it?) And that's fine. Proof of antitrust law does not require any surprises.

But this Facebook detail is what it takes for legal thrillers. Well, a certain kind of legal thriller. The big thing here is that having a monopoly in the United States isn't against the law. What is against the law is for everyone else to be betrayed and hurt in the process. A collusion with one of Google's biggest competitors would be a fraud.

I'm here for this little pointless beef: The heads of Facebook and Apple believe the other company is overtaking the rest of us. (Both are right.) My colleagues Jack Nicas and Mike Isaac explained the long-standing corporations feud and why it's pretty silly as each corporation needs the other. DealBook also has more about the Fracas.

It's not fair to need a school bus to get online: In yet another sign of the disparate American Internet system, Kathleen Gray and Erin Kirkland have a photographic essay about families who rely on Jackson, Michigan school buses that serve as mobile Internet access points. Approximately one in five Jackson school children enrolls this way.

Maybe all of our stupidity on the internet makes sense? This was a peak year for rash social media posts and rash responses to them. (The bodega tweet was … oh boy.) Scare all the boo-boos online with this vox writer who says our bad posts help us understand human behavior and learn how to get better .

This Instagram account contains elaborate Jell-O shape constructions that were shot in slow motion to demonstrate their shaky shine.

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