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FTC sends signal it could break up big tech

     
3:16 am on Aug 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The boss of the Federal Trade Commission, Joe Simons, said yesterday that his agency could split up big technology companies if other solutions or remedies did not work.

[theregister.co.uk...]

Those hoping this happens should not hold their breath. There are two investigations on going, one from the FTC, the other from DOJ. Given the rate of government action (generally GLACIAL) nothing will happen "soon".

But this comment is different from previous and big tech needs to wake up because the other side is waking up, too!

Confine comments to the break up to tech, not politics. Keep it related to competition, privacy concerns, information exchange. And how it might affect you, as a webmaster.

One of the comments by Simmons was going back and undoing big tech acquistions (think FB and instagram and snapchat, eg). This could radically change the info highway landscape.
11:23 am on Aug 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I cannot see anyway this could be anything but good for smaller businesses and consumers - in fact for anyone other than big tech.

Big tech are clearly capable of a mixture of monopoly pricing, market manipulation, and limiting consumer choice. Breaking them up would level the playing field.
11:49 am on Aug 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I'd like to put a positive spin on this report. It's great news the authorities are starting work on this. I really don't care if it's slow, as long as it is thorough.

If it ultimately means we have to pay a subscription for certain services, then, that is fine by me, as long as it takes away the given right of our data to become private.
2:43 pm on Aug 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I dont think this would accomplish anything at all and is being pushed like most of the 'news' to satisfy the growing crowd of people waking up.. they already have billions of dollars and i think can figure out ways around any new laws.

Wait so if i break my company into 2 i can sell stuff back and forth between them? Cha ching
10:15 pm on Aug 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Shades of AT&T
10:18 pm on Aug 15, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I don't think the FTC or DOJ has the work ethic needed to carryout any breakup. The FTC and DOJ have a long history of cherry picking easy open and shut cases to pursue. Even when FTC/DOJ investigators recommend pursuing legal action, commissioners have overruled them and simply slapped Google on the wrist. Both agencies are more inclined to fine big tech companies large sums of money, with assurances from the companies that they will tweak some practices/policies, and give little to nothing to those that were harmed in the process.

I've done my part to complain to the appropriate authorities over the years, including sending new info to the DOJ this week as they requested at: [justice.gov...] For as much as I despise Google's practices, the info I sent in did not mention Google one time. The reason? Google is nearly irrelevant in ecommerce. An oligopoly exists with Google having great control over information and Amazon having great control over ecommerce.

My concerns mostly relate to how Amazon steers consumers into buying goods that Amazon warehouses and ships, which are mostly sold by offshore sellers. Amazon makes it difficult for shoppers to leave product reviews on products sold by domestic sellers that ship their own items, Amazon warehoused (Prime) goods often get the "Amazon's Choice" label, etc. I see a couple senators questioned how Amazon awards the Amazon's Choice label after a report revealed that many of those products carrying the Amazon's Choice label are inferior in quality. See [reuters.com...] for more info. Senators are concerned such labels may be awarded based on fraudulent reviews. The problem is Amazon makes it hard for domestic manufacturers that ship their own goods to even get reviews, as I noted previously with the product review steering scheme Amazon is engaged in.

The bottom line is the FTC and DOJ have been asleep at the wheel for years, which is why big tech is the problem they are today. I don't expect much to change because both the FTC and DOJ are too lazy to fight a big battle that actually results in substantial changes that protect both competition and consumers.
2:11 am on Aug 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The beginning is half of the whole.
Plato c. 427 BC – c. 347 BC

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1:13 pm on Aug 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I really thought folks would welcome some movement on this.

I do.

I say, bring it on.
2:24 pm on Aug 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I really thought folks would welcome some movement on this.

I do, but it's hard for someone that has been complaining to politicians and regulators for years to expect any real changes. Sadly, many webmasters will complain on forums and do nothing beyond that. Maybe if more webmasters and businesses complained to politicians and regulators they would take notice. But I have a feeling that many here feel things will never change, which can be witnessed on this forum, and will take no actions to voice their opinions.

I will send letters (mailed with signature delivery confirmation) to Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal regarding Amazon's product review steering for domestic shippers. They may find it interesting there is little chance for a domestic manufacturer/shipper to ever get the Amazon Choice label when Amazon gives consumers hurdles to leave product reviews that don't exist for Prime products. That's part of the reason why many products with the Amazon Choice label are junk (offshore Prime Chinese junk). My hope is that others will take some actions to inform politicians/regulators about Amazon and the other big tech companies. Despite my pessimism, the current political environment is far more favorable to produce change then it has ever been in the past.
6:09 pm on Aug 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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It does take public noise for things to happen, but more importantly it takes the politicians being discomforted to really kick things into motion. Recent years and reports and whistleblower reveals have created concerns across the board.

There's a better chance of things changing in this environment than any of the previous.

Contrary to common believe, the frog does know when the water starts to boil. :)
6:32 pm on Aug 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Big tech have immense potential globally for huge & sustainable organic growth, without the need of killing off everybody else. Current situation is the result of unprecedented & immoral GREED. It's a disgrace.

Seems the EU, by its widely publicised actions, along with widespread complaints globally, has provoked the US into contemplating action. Contemplation (if not a mere smokescreen) is a good start, still a long way from action & results. Let's monitor the situation, press politicians more, and see what happens.
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11:21 pm on Aug 16, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Of-course big companies have anticipated this kind of situation, may be since their creation. So they are ready, they'll make things last as long as possible, show how it would hurt customers if they are broken up, etc... but ... if it happens, I bet that we'll discover that it will reinforce their position again more "somehow". We are talking about companies which are not only harvesting the brightness engineers, but also the brightness lawyers, and all the brains specialized in optimization business structures. They'll always be a step ahead of the legislation.
3:53 pm on Aug 17, 2019 (gmt 0)

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They'll always be a step ahead of the legislation.

This is what AT&T thought. It didn't work well for them. It worked great for the consumer and everybody else.

Authorities with high moral compass, talent and determination are needed. Exactly what has been lacking. And seems little has changed in this respect.

If individuals of the required calibre find their way to posts of authority & power, the resistance of today's seeminlgy towering & untouchable big tech will crumble like a house of cards.

Democracy, society, the economy and innovation have much to gain from uncompromising intervention.



.
5:19 pm on Aug 17, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This is what AT&T thought.

Indeed, but when was it? Early 80s? Things have changed since that time, big companies are more than ever prepared and anticipating this.
5:54 pm on Aug 17, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The difference this time around is the FTC might rescind acquisitions made AND also break up the companies into component parts. While something like that won't kill a megacorp, it sure can get their attention for everything else that is in play ... such as user privacy/data.

The landscape will change dramatically.

Will this actually help competition? Will privacy/data be secured? Will enormous revenues finally be taxed? All legitimate questions. What concerns me, on the other hand, is what kind of collateral damage made come about for the "small fry" trying to make a living on the web.

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3:59 am on Aug 18, 2019 (gmt 0)

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5 years ago I'd have prefered gov stay out of private tech company business.

Today I ABSOLUTELY want big tech companies to be broken up.

Sadly I've watched big tech companies and payment processors become political in their practices and they were not stopped, they continue now even with the veil lifted. This tells me that the current "investigations" are for show but won't change a thing. You can(and probably should) take matters into your own hands and not use the services or products of ANY of these companies.

You may like the political party benefiting today but that doesn't mean you'll like the party benefiting next election. It shouldn't be happening and you don't need a toothless investigation to tell you that.
4:33 am on Aug 18, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Things have changed since that time, big companies are more than ever prepared and anticipating this.

Yes, times have changed indeed. Big tech spends big money on lobbying. Everyone, outside those harmed, loves Amazon, Google, etc. Government has become lazier than ever. I see quite a few hurdles to any real changes despite having a more favorable political climate for change.

As far as Amazon goes, Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal are concerned how Amazon awards the Amazon's Choice label and why so many inferior products get the much coveted label. I wrote them both letters to show how it works, and of course provided evidence from my own buyer account. It's real simple - Amazon severely limits buyers from leaving product reviews for those products manufactured and shipped by domestic sellers. The algorithm that awards the Amazon's Choice label is believed to heavily rely on data from product reviews in assigning this label, which pretty much knocks out most domestic sellers that produce and ship their own products. With far fewer product reviews, this results in less sales which means Amazon's "Best Seller" label also goes to the Chinese company's products that Amazon ships via Prime. Less product reviews, and fewer sales, also is believed to impact the product ranking algorithm.

There are three ways a verified buyer on Amazon can leave a product review.

1. Return to the product page and click the review link.
2. Login to your account and click the leave product review link in your orders.
3. Click the link in the reminder email that Amazon sends you (unless your marketing preferences are set for no emails).

FBA products get all three. Me, as a domestic manufacturer that ships our goods directly to Amazon's customers, we only get #1 listed above. Instead, Amazon steers buyers using methods #2 and #3 to leave us seller feedback, which is buried.

I can go back years and Amazon has omitted the leave product review link for all non-Prime product orders in my account. Steering product reviews is a form of product review manipulation and Amazon is the biggest offender as they are doing two things:

1. Attempting to steer consumers into purchasing Prime products where Amazon makes more money by billing the seller for warehouse, pick and pack fees, etc.
2. Steers domestic sellers into a more costly FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) Prime plan just to be able to have an opportunity to get product reviews as their offshore competitors do.

The DOJ/FTC have known about this for years, and they really don't need me or anyone to give them proof. I bet at least half the investigators shop on Amazon and could look at their own purchase history and see how Amazon is steering product reviews themselves. Regardless, the FTC/DOJ has ignored this despite being notified of the practice years ago. Sometimes I think our emails and letters hit the trash, which is why I send everything to them by postal mail with signature delivery confirmation. Will what I sent in be ignored this time as well? I hope not, which is why I am reaching out to Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal along with other Senators.

What made matters worse is how Google has gifted Amazon with so much domain crowding in the SERPS over the years. Google gets shoppers to Amazon where Amazon takes over and deceives consumers by steering them to products that make Amazon more money, which in my industry is Chinese junk.
10:37 am on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Apparently there are TWO big techs some want broken up:

Tech that gathers personal data/privacy and...

Tech that has all the ecommerce.

.

Personally I have another reason ... but that's a subject we generally avoid at WW. :)
5:35 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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There are bigger issues at play.. should search engines dictate who we do business with? Sure, competition is just a click away.. but is it legal for Google to tell me I can't link my relevant site with yours? Not according to dozens of attorneys I've talked to.

When search engines like Google produce illegal rules and enforce them by removing those who violate their rules from their index - while they control access to the internet, I don't see how you can't get government involved.

There are other issues affecting medium to large business. With Google placing ads on the majority of page 1, it practically eliminates a legal playing field that forces many big business to pay Google for placement. This is NOT how Tim Berners Lee envisioned the internet when he invented it. It was called the World Wide Web because websites would be free to link and be linked to. What happened to the WWW? Doesnt look like that to me.. looks like the WWG where you pay or you fail.

From small to large business, owners are fuming because of the current Google climate. Just got off the phone with a potential client who has a great idea but is scared about how hes going to get traffic. I mentioned social but he just finished reading an article from Forbes interviewing those who tried advertising on FB and reported that 50-90% of the traffic that was sent wasn't even human.

And then there is the huge B2B freight startup (whom I won't name but you can find it easily) out of San Francisco making big waves in the shipping industry going up against Amazon.. but they are having trouble getting the word out because you guessed it - they have spent thousands a month on G ads and they are getting little return despite their decent budget for good content, social media precense, etc. Their BOD hates Google. You would think they are all in the same gold lined boat - but no.. people are getting pissed at Google day after day and its not just us little guys.

These are unprescendented times when one of the biggest startups to go up against Amazon is pissed off at the executives at Google.

It's the wild west on the internet right now.. big business can't compete without wasting $ on ads. Small business won't try new ideas because they are frightened by the search climate. This Libertarian dislikes big govt but something must be done.

Maybe the solution is not to "break up big tech", but require them to abide by all Federal laws.

It would be divine brillance to have WebmasterWorld Pubcon bring in Tim Berners Lee to Vegas this fall to discuss his concerns and solutions on this topic. He has the most insight on the proposed tech breakup.

I should close by noting that legistlators and FTC/DOJ members do not understand the mechanics and technical of most of these bigger matters.. they are so focused on "anti-trust" and privacy that they are missing the bigger violations I brought up above. We need people like Berners Lee and the legal community that understand these issues to get into this conversation immediately while we have the Feds attention.
6:23 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This is NOT how Tim Berners Lee envisioned the internet when he invented it. It was called the World Wide Web because websites would be free to link and be linked to.


You seem to be confusing the internet and the web.

Sure, competition is just a click away.. but is it legal for Google to tell me I can't link my relevant site with yours?


Google cannot tell you who to link to. They can use patterns of links are part of their search rankings algo.
6:51 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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You seem to be confusing the internet and the web.

Graeme I know the difference.. 98% of the public using the internet does not. I am thinking like an end user would think.

Google cannot tell you who to link to.

They have been restricting linking since 2012.. surely you know this.
[support.google.com...]
"Link to me and I'll link to you" is considered a scheme/prohibited which is why you no longer see links/partner pages on the web anymore. A flagrant violation of Restraint of Trade. The average website manager has no clue what nofollow means or if it even exists.. and why should they?
7:03 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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"Link to me and I'll link to you"

You should quote the whole sentence:
Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking

I never changed my practices of link echange, since the mid 90s, and never get any problem, may be because these links are no "intended to manipulate PageRank".

Google is not forbidding, it's web publishers are scared of doing something wrong, then comes the question, why to be scared? May be because you feel that what you are doing is fishy ...

[edited by: Dimitri at 7:06 pm (utc) on Aug 19, 2019]

7:06 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Correct.. we should be able to cross link with relevant sites the way it used to be.. exclusively for cross-linking. Excessive if I want to because lord knows its impossible to get organic rankings on page 1 in a very competitive niche. So why can't I build reciprocal links when they are relevant? that is not illegal but since Google controls access to the web, and they say we can't do it, it is restraint of trade.
11:19 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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but is it legal for Google to tell me I can't link my relevant site with yours? Not according to dozens of attorneys I've talked to.

After Penguin was released, and a little more was learned about it, I submitted an antitrust complaint to the DOJ. With Penguin, Google took a massive swipe to knock down referral traffic, which is one of the three main pillars of traffic to any website (type-in traffic is the fourth, but few enjoy that as a "main" source of traffic). Anyway, my chief complaint at the time was that by putting fear into webmasters that linking to another site may cause them harm, Google's actions would curtail linking. Fewer links among websites would leave consumers more reliant on search engines which Google would largely benefit from because of their marketshare. I received no response from the DOJ at all. These days I send my complaints postal mail with signature confirmation. I'm much more likely to receive a response when doing it this way. In fact, today I received an acknowledgement letter from the DOJ regarding the details/evidence I sent in regarding Amazon as I discussed above.

At the time Penguin was released, I owned a high traffic website with a lot of outbound links (large site). I saw the writing on the wall and sold the site for a lot less then it was worth just to unload it. But I knew it's value was dropping quickly as was the referral traffic because of the fear of Penguin. Less than six months after I sold the site, I received a penalty notice for the website in my Google webmaster account. The penalty was for linking. A once thriving and popular website is now gone, though I'm grateful for some friends I made during that venture. Google squished that site with Penguin, but it is just one of many sites Google crushed.

Google had made the argument that using nofollow on links would prevent penalties. I think this is how they skirted antitrust concerns. With a limited understanding of nofollow, many webmasters had a knee jerk reaction at the time and would not link out to anyone of a fear of being penalized. To this day it is hard to get links because that underlying fear of being penalized stills exists...
11:49 pm on Aug 19, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Well said Glakes... I too have sent the evidence to all members of the DOJ and FTC via certified return receipt & most offices reply thanking me for the info. I hope others do same. Nothing will change if we don’t speak up.
3:25 am on Aug 20, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Longgggggg overdue.

Start with Google please. The most corrupted, sneaky bunch of thieves the world has ever seen.

Controlling the world’s information is power and Google have been allowed to abuse it for far too long.
3:40 am on Aug 20, 2019 (gmt 0)

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After Penguin was released, and a little more was learned about it, I submitted an antitrust complaint to the DOJ. With Penguin, Google took a massive swipe to knock down referral traffic....


I feel your pain. I used to own 5 very popular websites, a pet discussion and collaboration site, two electrical components web stores, a clothing industry dedicated site and a jewellery web store. All very successful at the time. Dozens of orders every week, combined.

Google decimated all after the penguin “update”. In lay terms, i was down from dozens of sales per week to two or three orders per year. The switch was sharp and very distinct. The only traffic i see to those sites now is from google bots or third world countries i have no dealings with. The only way to get more traffic is to pay google for Adowrds. It could not have been more deliberate and more clear.

This search engine needs to be broken up to very small pieces and some of it’s CEOs locked up.

Thats how i feel about them really. Thives!
6:15 pm on Aug 20, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Glad to hear others are sending evidence to DOJ. Please keep it up!
1:52 pm on Aug 22, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@cnvi

“advertising on FB and reported that 50-90% of the traffic that was sent wasn't even human”

Lawmakers know that these tech giants do not have the traffic they claim. It was reported that FB has destroyed 2.4 billion fake accounts that has not even been investigated. 2.4 billion is half of their user base. Also no lawmaker would look into zombie traffic, the small businesses are getting and reality is that no one knows what a genuine buyer sees as search results and how much personalisation has been harvested on that buyer IP.

There is no transparency and no competition and the more we complain the more they will ban us.
9:50 pm on Aug 22, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Buck up, buckaroos!

Congress (USA), FTC and DOJ are taking serious looks at ALL tech giant activities for bad faith/acting. Won't happen overnight, but the next two years (at a minimum) will see the curtains being drawn back to expose the wizards.

MEANWHILE, every complaint presented is one step closer to real transparency, and accountability.

MEANWHILE2, the tech giants will run their one-trick (privacy/targeted personalization) for as long as possible.

GDPR (EU) is already attacking these issues and while the court cases will be a tough slog, will have an effect.

Will we get 1999 back? Probably not, but we might get something closer to 2002 when all is said and done.

Give it time, but also keep hounding the powers that be to make things happen. Probably easier to do this time around since even the pols are seeing too much power in too few hands, and how the marketplace has been turned on its head in the last 10 years. When politics is injected in that concern expect significant pushback .... after all, we're talking about the hearts and minds of "voters".

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