In 1998, Microsoft, the world’s preeminent software company headed by the world’s wealthiest person, was sued by the Department of Justice for operating as a monopoly. Imagine a world where your only choice for a web browser was Microsoft Explorer.
Because of this lawsuit, Microsoft wasn’t able to dominate the next 20 years of dot com innovation. Instead, we’ve got Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple.
The CEOs of these tech companies are appearing today before the House Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, they all dropped their opening statements, guaranteeing 12 hours of framing, which boils down to: it is anti-American to say we are monopolistic because we are super patriotic! We built our companies out of our garages! We are the innovators!
Politico put the statements in one nifty package:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's opening statement
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' opening statement
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai's opening statement
Apple CEO Tim Cook's opening statement
The Wall Street Journal spoke with the subcommittee chairman, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who said:
“These platforms have been allowed to run wild and free from really any constraints. The responsibility we have is to make clear what the impacts are of the lack of competition in the digital marketplace.”
The biggest concern I have is that Congress has no idea how the digital world operates. Beeswax’s CEO Ari Paparo highlights just how complicated Google’s ad stack is, and this is just one faction of one of these companies.
So the pushing narratives (tech’s patriotism and capitalism rah-rah vs. Congress’s throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks) will cause lots of whiplash.
And not content on letting the Congressional spotlight shine on these companies, the up-and-coming (in terms of revenue and advertiser curiosity; users are already there) TikTok felt it needed to enter a comment.
In a meandering statement on its website, Kevin Mayer, the newly appointed CEO, writes that TikTok is all for competition:
At TikTok we welcome competition. We think fair competition makes all of us better. To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on. Facebook is even launching another copycat product, Reels (tied to Instagram), after their other copycat Lasso failed quickly. But let's focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Facebook – disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US.
Ok, sure. But then he writes this, and if this weren’t 2020, where everything is dumb (I mean, yesterday’s news cycle was dominated by demon sperm), I wouldn’t believe that the CEO of a huge company, who just a few weeks ago was a high-level executive at an even larger company, would write something so...silly. (Emphasis mine)
Without TikTok, American advertisers would again be left with few choices. Competition would dry up and so too will an outlet for America's creative energy. We are not political, we do not accept political advertising and have no agenda – our only objective is to remain a vibrant, dynamic platform for everyone to enjoy. Consumers can only benefit from the growth of healthy, successful platforms like TikTok and we will fight to continue to give American creators, users and brands an entertaining outlet for many years to come.
Pro tip: sometimes the best strategy is to not say anything.
As the hearing unfolds, we’ll see two main themes from Congress: Democrats will push an anti-competitiveness narrative while Republicans will push an anti-Conservative narrative (i.e., the platforms penalize Conservatives; of course, will probably ignore that the posts that have the most engagement each day come from Conservative voices/media, but who cares about facts these days?)
So what will happen? It’s 2020 so who knows. What won’t happen, though, is a smart, important conversation that leads to smart and common sense regulation of an industry that, to steal the phrase I hear at least once a week from ad tech folks railing against the walled gardens, consistently “grades its own homework.”
Thank you for allowing me in your inbox. If you have tips or thoughts on the newsletter, drop me a line. Or you can follow me on Twitter. If you like this newsletter, please consider sharing it on your social networks, at least before the regulation comes.
Funkadelic, “Super Stupid”
Some interesting links:
In an unstable economy, I found freedom and security in sex work (Psyche)
‘Hidden Gem’ Made Popular by TikTok Is Shut to Keep Out-of-Towners Away (New York Times)
The video of my daughter's murder is still on YouTube and Facebook. They should have to take it down (CNN)
P&G strikes upfront deals directly with TV networks (Ad Age)
Anthony Fauci explains why the U.S. still hasn’t beat Covid (Wired)
Inside Space Force (Time)