NYT Editorial | Visa Is Doing What Big American Companies Do to ‘Protect This Business’ – The New York Times

By 

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Credit…Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

“Visa dominates the lucrative business of processing debit card transactions. Merchants must choose between paying the financial services company’s fees or forgoing sales to the millions of Americans who carry cards emblazoned with Visa’s logo.

A San Francisco technology start-up named Plaid threatened that dominance. The company planned to debut a rival service next year that would charge half as much as Visa.

So Visa did what big American companies have learned to do: It agreed to buy the smaller company, pledging a king’s ransom to eliminate the threat of competition.

Last month, the Justice Department sued to block the deal as a violation of antitrust law. The intervention is necessary to protect the interests of merchants and consumers, and the health of the broader economy. The federal government has been far too permissive in allowing large companies to swallow potential rivals, particularly in the rapidly evolving technology sector.”

ThriftBooks is not just an Amazon seller anymore | Retail Dive

Secondhand booksellers are ideal when it comes to discovery for anyone who’s willing to browse the aisles (and maybe the piles on the floor) and take a chance with what’s there. If you do find something, you can have it for a fraction of its original cost — especially if you don’t mind the note penned by the original owner’s Aunt Martha, wishing him happy birthday in black ink.But it’s hard to go to a used bookstore with a particular title in mind because inventory is dependent on the quirks of its sources, including people who’ve just watched Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, or who are moving or renovating houses, or whose children have outgrown their copies of Dr. Seuss or Harry Potter.

Source: ThriftBooks is not just an Amazon seller anymore | Retail Dive

Opinion | With the Google Lawsuit, the Long Antitrust Winter Is Over – By Tim Wu – The tim New York Times

By 

Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“The true significance of the federal antitrust lawsuit filed against Google on Tuesday cannot be captured by any narrow debate about legal doctrine or what the case will mean for the company. This is a big case, filed during an important time, and it merits a commensurately broad understanding. The complaint marks the return of the U.S. government to a role that many of us long feared it had abandoned: disciplining the country’s largest and most powerful monopolies.

President Theodore Roosevelt best explained the role played by antitrust law after his Justice Department filed suit in 1902 against the Northern Securities Company, formed by J.P. Morgan and others. Roosevelt wrote to a friend that “the absolutely vital question” was whether “the government has the power to control the trusts.” As he had said earlier in a speech, the “immense power” of aggregated wealth “can be met only by the still greater power of the people as a whole.”

Can the power of the people prevail over the power of Google and other business giants? As in the days of Theodore Roosevelt, the power of today’s biggest private companies rivals that of the government, and they arguably have more influence over how we live.

Historically, the reaction to unfettered private power has often taken one of two forms. One is passive acceptance, in the hope that the private sector will do what is best for the public. That is unfettered capitalism. The other form is an aggressive attempt to nationalize (or at least heavily regulate) powerful companies, with the aim of converting them, in effect, into public servants. That is socialism.

Opinion | What Years of Emails and Texts Reveal About Your Friendly Tech Companies – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Denis Charlet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The spectacle of the chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testifying before Congress last week made for good TV drama. Yet the theatrics of the showdown distracted from the real payoff of the hearings: the accompanying cache of subpoenaed emails and texts from the past decade and a half. These documents provide compelling evidence — long rumored but seldom established — that the companies, especially Facebook and Amazon, in their rise to dominance did not always play by the rules and apparently violated antitrust laws.

Both public opinion and American law distinguish between two kinds of dominant company. The first is the monopoly fairly held: a corporation like Ford Motor that achieves dominance by virtue of its incomparable greatness. The second, its evil doppelgänger, is the company that achieves dominance unfairly — for instance, by suffocating or absorbing would-be challengers.

The Big Tech companies insist that their rise to power has been the first story, a saga of ingenuity and courage, and that their market dominance is a byproduct of continued excellence. They may be giants, the story goes, but they are friendly giants. Their immense size and power is simply what is necessary to offer users the best possible services.

The subpoenaed documents destroy that narrative. No one can deny that these are well-run companies, loaded with talent, and that each at some point offered something great. But it appears that without illegal maneuvers — without, above all, the anticompetitive buying of potential rivals — there might be no Big Tech, but rather a much wider array of smaller, better, more specialized tech companies.”

Editorial | How to Hold Big Tech’s Feet to the Fire – The New York Times

Here are some questions subcommittee members ought to consider:

The subcommittee will probably focus on the company’s relationship with third-party merchants that use the site to sell directly to consumers. Such merchants represent about 60 percent of Amazon’s sales. The company also operates an enormous shipping network, an advertising sales business and a cloud computing service that may raise alarms among regulators. Amazon’s trove of sales data gives it incredibly detailed insights into both customers and merchants.

  • After an investigation by German regulators, Amazon vowed last year to overhaul its contracts with third-party merchants. Did the company adequately do so? Does Amazon have contracts that require lower prices than other retailers’? Does it require exclusivity, meaning merchants cannot offer their goods on other sellers’ websites?

  • An Amazon lawyer told the panel, “We don’t use individual seller data directly to compete” with other businesses on Amazon’s site. But a Wall Street Journal report showed evidence that Amazon does just that, helping it create tailored private-label products that undercut competitors. What is the extent of Amazon’s use of seller data?

  • Amazon offers its sellers warehousing and shipping services worldwide. What does it seek in return, beyond a commission? Does Amazon use sales data from small merchants to source new products or to help larger sellers succeed, forcing out smaller ones?

  • In 2010, Amazon dropped diaper prices well below profitability, in a successful effort to force a competitor, Diapers.com, into acquisition talks. Amazon has since shuttered that site. Does Amazon view such actions as exclusionary? And is the company engaged in other such pricing wars in order to force a competitor to sell?

  • A Washington Post investigation showed that Amazon pushes consumers toward its private-label products even when they appear to want to buy name brands. Does Amazon favor its own products in consumers’ searches? Does it require fees or advertising purchases from merchants or brands to ensure their products rise to the top of searches?

While Apple is best known for its iPhones and laptops, it also has healthy competition from companies like Samsung and Lenovo in hardware sales. As a result, Mr. Cook is most likely to be asked about the structure of Apple’s App Store, where millions of software developers offer their apps for download.

  • Why does Apple permit only its own app store on iPhones?

  • Developers are generally required to offer their in-app purchases and paid subscriptions through Apple’s App Store, rather than on their own websites, where they may avoid Apple’s commissions. Apple has threatened to remove apps that don’t abide. How is this in the best interest of consumers and app developers?

  • Some app developers have alleged that Apple uses the detailed data it collects about app downloads to copy their ideas and that the company favors its own apps in searches. Is this true? If so, how does the company defend such practices?

Facebook’s aggressive acquisition strategy — including the giants Instagram and WhatsApp — makes it vulnerable to a breakup if regulators find that it was trying to rid the market of real competition.

  • Reportedly, the Federal Trade Commission had documents demonstrating Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 in an explicit bid to stifle a competitor. Were those documents mischaracterized? How did Facebook’s buying Instagram benefit consumers, and how did it determine the $1 billion price?

  • British lawmakers released emails showing Facebook used an analytics app to collect detailed data about competitors in order to snuff them out. That helped Facebook decide to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion, the emails show. Couldn’t that be called an abuse of market power? Does Facebook still cull proprietary data on rivals in order to protect its market leadership?

  • Advertisers can target customers on Facebook with incredible accuracy, in part because of the platform’s ability to track users’ internet browsing activity across the web. Shouldn’t users consider those terms onerous? Also, has Facebook made assurances about the privacy of customer data that it later reneged on? What assurances do consumers have that their data will remain private and not be repurposed for Facebook’s benefit?

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook quashed efforts to make its site less politically divisive because partisan content drives more use of the site, which is beneficial to its advertising business. How can suppressing opposing views for users be viewed as anything but an abuse of power?

Opinion | The Neoliberal Looting of America – By Mehrsa Baradaran – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Baradaran is the author of “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.”

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

““It’s hard to separate what’s good for the United States and what’s good for Bank of America,” said its former chief executive, Ken Lewis, in 2009. That was hardly true at the time, but the current crisis has revealed that the health of the finance industry and stock market are completely disconnected from the actual financial health of the American people. As inequality, unemployment and evictions climb, the Dow Jones surges right alongside them — one line compounding suffering, the other compounding returns for investors.

One reason is that an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years, raising the fortunes of the financial economy — and its agents like private equity firms — at the expense of the real economy experienced by most Americans.

The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism in Cold War Europe. Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — was especially potent because it disguised itself as a neutral statement of economics rather than just another theory. Only unfettered markets, the theory argued, could ensure justice and freedom because only the profit motive could dispassionately pick winners and losers based on their contribution to the economy.

Neoliberalism leapt from economics departments into American politics in the 1960s, where it fused with conservative anti-communist ideas and then quickly spread throughout universities, law schools, legislatures and courts. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization of public functions including schools, pensions and infrastructure. The governing logic held that corporations could do just about everything better than the government could. The result, as President Ronald Reagan said, was to unleash “the magic of the marketplace.” “

Amazon Alternatives

Ethical Alternatives to Amazon

Welcome to the most lovingly curated selection of Amazon and Prime alternatives anywhere. We aim to make giving up Amazon easy and to encourage more people to spend their money with businesses that have higher ethical standards.

While Amazon’s monopolistic stranglehold on our economy has made it increasingly difficult to completely avoid supporting them, we’ve discovered that—contrary to conventional wisdom—it’s often possible to find lower prices, sometimes substantially, by shopping elsewhere. You just have to know where to look…

Our Ideal Bundle

This is a subjective selection of our ideal Prime-replacing bundle from the extensive options we’ve researched and tested. We think the average user of these alternatives to Amazon will be able to access a broader selection of goods, save money and support more ethical business practices.

Source: Amazon Alternatives

Opinion | The Life and Death of the Local Hardware Store – by Tim Wu – The New York Times

“On Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, not far from where I live, there’s a small neighborhood hardware store called Chelsea Convenience Hardware, which is distinguished by its unlikely display of dozens of Russian nesting dolls in the storefront window. Inside, tools and supplies are piled to the ceiling, and when you enter, the owner, Naum Feygin, an immigrant from Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, looks up to ask you what you need.

The “convenience” in the store’s name is no misnomer, for the place is extraordinarily efficient. It is cheaper and faster than ordering from Amazon and offers expert advice that reduces the risk of buying the wrong thing. It is all too easy on Amazon, for example, to buy halogen bulbs that don’t fit your lamp base; Mr. Feygin has spared me many such headaches. And the store’s small size is a virtue: Unlike at Home Depot, you can be in and out in 10 minutes.

Nonetheless, Chelsea Convenience is set to close at the end of November, another casualty of rising commercial rents and competition from e-commerce. The closing is of no great economic significance, other than to Mr. Feygin. But it is a microcosm of the forces reshaping the United States economy, often paradoxically and for the worse. Why is a less efficient, less personalized and more wasteful way of buying screws and plungers — ordering online — displacing the local hardware store?”

Opinion | It’s Time to Break Up Facebook – by Chris Hughes – The New York Times

“Over a decade later, Facebook has earned the prize of domination. It is worth half a trillion dollars and commands, by my estimate,more than 80 percent of the world’s social networking revenue. It is a powerful monopoly, eclipsing all of its rivals and erasing competition from the social networking category. This explains why, even during the annus horribilis of 2018, Facebook’s earnings per share increased by an astounding 40 percent compared with the year before. (I liquidated my Facebook shares in 2012, and I don’t invest directly in any social media companies.)”

Opinion | The Roots of Big Tech Run Disturbingly Deep – The New York Times

” “Big tech” companies like Google and Facebook are, in reality, the products of hundreds of mergers. Each root below represents a company acquired by a tech giant at a particular moment in its history. A vast majority of these acquisitions, funded by public markets, have received minimal media coverage and limited regulatory scrutiny. But that is changing, given new concerns about consolidation in the tech industries.

Google
(Alphabet)270 Total Acquisitions171 Competitive 55 Conglomerate 44 Others

David Lindsay:  Yes, yes, yes. We should break up Amazon, Facebook, Google, and California.

Seriously, Amazon should be forced to sell every company it forced to sell to itself, like Diapers.com, as reported in Bloomberg Businessweek.

It appears that the other two giants are also guilty of throwing their weight around.

BUARLH!   Break Up And Regulate Like Hell!