Tech Monopolies: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses tech monopolies, and how to address the hidden harm they can do.
Tech Monopolies: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 14
Aired on June 12, 2022

Main segment: Big Tech monopolies
Other segment: 2022 United States Senate election in Arizona (primary)

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight.” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been another busy week. Boris Johnson narrowly survived a no-confidence vote, the U.S. postal service unveiled a Nancy Reagan stamp in an apparent attempt to cancel out Pride Month, and the house committee investigating January 6th held its first prime-time hearing, prompting a crisis for conservative media. Fox news opted not to air it at all, and OAN went one better, airing a tribute to Trump instead, featuring this exquisite transition to commercials.

You have inspired countless millions and shown our nation what it truly means to make america great again. For one America news, I’m Pearson Sharp.

Generic Viagra delivered within 48 hours in discreet packaging on approval. No one will know but you. Oh, and your mailbox. [Laughter]

John: Perfect. Absolutely no notes. With the sole exception of, maybe spare a thought for the mailbox there. It just got given a raging flag boner by discreetly packaged pills, and now it just needs to sit there frustrated and hope for a pigeon to land just right. [Laughter] but we’re going to start by checking in on the midterm elections again. This time, in Arizona, currently represented by two democrats in the senate. Kyrsten Sinema, the only senator who seems to buy all her clothes exclusively from Girlboss pyramid schemes. [Laughter] and Mark Kelly, who’s up for reelection. Republicans think they have a real chance of unseating him, which has led to a competitive primary. The best-known contender is probably Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s current AG, whose whole vibe can probably best be summed up by this video he released to celebrate the end of the state’s ban on nunchucks, which proved so popular, he later released this sequel:

People, you want more chucks? [Laughter]

John: I know that’s ridiculous, but I’m personally enjoying Danny McBride’s newest character and I’m excited to see where he goes with it. But Burnovich faces resistance from die-hard Trump supporters, who feel he didn’t do enough to try and overturn the 2020 election. Which has opened up space for candidates like Jim Lamon, a retired energy executive who has made waves with this tv spot:

The good people of Arizona have had enough of you. It’s time for a showdown. ♪ ♪ I’m Jim Lamon and I approve this message.

John: Well, you shouldn’t have approved it, Jim, because your ad is terrible. “Shifty Kelly” is supposed to be Mark Kelly, who’s married to Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head in 2011. So shooting at her husband is, at best, insensitive. It’s frankly amazing a grown man dressed in a sheriff costume that looks like it was discontinued by party city is somehow just the second most distasteful part of that ad. But surprisingly, Trump didn’t endorse Lamon, either. Instead, he’s endorsed Blake Masters. And if you think his name alone makes him sound like a third tier bond villain wait until you hear about his everything else. Because masters is a Peter Thiel-backed, self-described “conservative nationalist.” And since Trump’s endorsement, things have started to surface about him, like this audio, from a podcast that he appeared on back in April.

We do have a gun violence in this country and it’s gang violence. Right? It’s gangs, it’s people in Chicago, St. Louis, shooting each other. Very often, you know, black people, frankly.

John: Okay, blaming black people for gun violence in America is just outrageously, uncreatively racist. But also unsurprising from someone who — and this is true — was called an “immigration patriot” by the white nationalist website v-dare, which praised him, saying he “checks all the right boxes.” And “he’s an immigration patriot who checks all the white supremacist boxes” just isn’t what you want to hear about a man running for office. You don’t even want to hear it in a “sex and the city” voiceover. That night, charlotte met Blake, who was an immigration patriot who checked all the boxes, and I couldn’t help but wonder: were we all just searching for our white knight? [Laughter] masters also embraces a national abortion ban, has questioned whether January 6th was set up by the FBI. And then there’s this interview, in which he chooses the exact wrong answer to the softball question, “who’s a subversive thinker who’s underrated?”

Subversive thinker that’s underrated?

Yeah.

I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this. I mean, I’d say, how about, like, Theodore Kaczynski?

Good! Good one, actually, yeah.

Uh, probably not great to be talking about the Unabomber while campaigning. [Laughter]

John: Yeah, probably not! Also, I’m sorry, “Theodore Kaczynski?” What are you, his mom when he’s in trouble? Theodore John Kaczynski, have you been sending mail bombs to airlines and universities around the country from a remote cabin in the Montana wilderness? You are so grounded, mister! Naughty Theodore! [Laughter] now, masters insists he doesn’t endorse the “bomb” aspect of the Unabomber, which was a pretty key part of his whole deal. [Laughter] but unsurprisingly, Jim Lamon has now produced an attack ad featuring that and many other terrible things masters has said, and his pushback to that was full of even more red flags.

Look, as my competitors self-destruct, I’m sure these attacks are only going to increase. Right, they’ll interview my classmates from middle school. They’ll pore over whatever I may have written as a teenager, try to twist it all out of proportion. But I’m not going to get sucked into that kind of petty, dirty politics.

John: Holy shit. “They’ll pore over what I may have written as a teenager” is just not a normal thing to worry about. [Laughter] It’s like saying, “my petty opponents will go from dog pound to dog pound, asking the staff what I may have done with all those stray dogs. Classic petty, dirty politics.” Except, no, it isn’t, Blake! It’s weird, specific politics that we now need to know a lot more about. Look, this primary is very much up in the air. And we don’t know whether it’ll go to nunchucks McGee, the world’s most pathetic cowboy, or a guy who liked the Unabomber’s earlier, funnier stuff. [Laughter] what we do know, though, is things are going to intensify in Arizona over the next couple of months, that these results could well shift the balance of power in the senate, and that, crucially, someone probably needs to interview Blake Masters middle school classmates as soon as possible. [Laughter] and now, this.

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Announcer: And now, Sean Hannity’s favorite joke.

To coin a phrase, was a total Schiff show if you know what I mean.

We call it the 2022 Adam Schiff show.

Capitol hill has descended into a Adam Schiff show.

Adam Schiff show.

This latest Schiff show.

A Moscow doesn’t give a Adam Schiff about sanctions.

Speaking of their Adam Schiff hole.

Bombed the living Schiff out of ISIS.

Of that is total bull-Schiff.

Total b.s., or total b Schiff, Adam Schiff. Guess what, Spotify is in deep trouble, or Adam Schiff, as I call it. [Laughter]

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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns the internet, a world-changing resource that was initially sold to us like this:

We installed the internet on our computer just a short time ago and I haven’t been able to get the kids off it ever since.

Not only do they play the typical computer games that all the kids enjoy, but their curiosity for learning has skyrocketed. Peter is constantly quoting sports statistics, and he can tell you the best surfing spots around the globe.

Not to mention the improvement in Peter’s grades. And Dasha’s, too.

John: Okay, first, Peter was not checking surfing spots or sports statistics. Peter was masturbating. [Laughter] That is what Peter was doing. But spare a thought for Dasha there, who just gets “also good grades.” You deserve better, Dasha. I hope you grew up to be an early investor in cellphones, made millions of dollars and never spoke to your weird family ever again. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the fact our experiences on the internet are now dominated by a very small handful of companies, who are getting pretty used to throwing their weight around. In 2020, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust released a massive 450-page report detailing anticompetitive conduct by Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet — that’s the parent company of Google. And the findings couldn’t have been clearer: each platform serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution, allowing these giants to pick winners and losers throughout our economy. And I know, for some, that’s part of the appeal.

Apple’s the empire of the smartphone with all its attendant services. Facebook is the repository of your identity. Amazon’s the online world backed by cloud infrastructure. And Alphabet is all things search. Now, these companies have all created incredible products that we can’t live without. They are gargantuan businesses that are, for the most part, loved and respected by the most important people, their customers. Are they monopolists? I honestly don’t care! I don’t! Wake me up when someone else can do it better!

John: Okay, there are a few problems with that. First, in order to be woken up, at some point you do need to go to sleep, something I feel like Jim Cramer — a man who constantly exudes big “running late to my child’s thing” energy — hasn’t done in the last decade. But second, a big thing these companies are accused of doing is suppressing their competition so completely that we’d never actually know if someone else could do it better, because they’ll never get a fair chance to try. That is the problem here. It’s not that tech companies are inherently bad because they are big — it’s that they’re engaging in anticompetitive behavior. And here’s where, unusually, I might actually have some good news. Because there are two bills before congress right now with bipartisan support that could curtail at least some of big tech’s excesses. But for reasons we’ll get into later, if they don’t pass in the next month or so, they’re not likely to pass at all. So, tonight, let’s talk about tech monopolies, the hidden harm they can do, and how best to address that. And let’s start with a tiny bit of history. Because in the past, the U.S. has actually taken strong action to break up harmful monopolies. In the early 20th century, we broke up Standard Oil. And as recently as 40 years ago, the government took action against, who else, but AT&T, our business daddy who left for cigarettes and never came home. [Laughter] They were actually the largest firm on the planet, back then, and broadly well-respected and considered good. Which is to say, completely unrecognizable from the AT&T of today. But crucially, that popularity may well have been because people had no alternatives. You had to rent your phone from AT&T, and they were in charge of both local and long-distance services, which, as we now know, were wildly overpriced. And when MCI — a much smaller company — tried to offer long-distance phone service at a lower rate, AT&T was not having it.

MCI, which charges up to 50% less than Bell, argued that AT&T tried to put it out of business by refusing to provide equipment needed for long-distance transmission. A key exhibit: AT&T’s own notes of a 1972 Florida meeting by company executives in which one said, “let’s choke them off before they get started.”

John: Now, obviously: fuck AT&T now and forever. But is that what that said? The only bits of squiggle I can decode there are the words, “dangerous to samanthas,” a dollar sign, something that weirdly might be Covid, and then something that’s definitely, no question, capital-b “balls.” [Laughter] The DOJ then actually filed an antitrust lawsuit, which AT&T fought vigorously for a decade. And when, in 1984, it was formally broken up by the government, AT&T’s chairman warned the public that we’d come to regret what had just happened.

Oh, I’ve had the conviction and taken the position in more than one forum that the country in the long run will be sorry. I find it difficult to believe — difficult to believe that things will work as well in the future as they have in the past.

John: Yeah, but he was wrong. Things actually worked better. Because it turns out, ending a monopoly is almost always a good thing, whether it’s AT&T or Standard Oil, or literally any game of monopoly. We didn’t know it at the time, but AT&T’s dominance was seriously holding back innovation. But as soon as it wasn’t controlling the phone lines and what you could attach to its network, many new products started proliferating, from the answering machine to the modem. The breakup of AT&T was actually a key step in producing the internet revolution, giving us the web as we now know it, and Peter the ability to look up sports stats, surfing spots, and what we all know he was really doing there. [Laughter] The point is, when harmful monopolies end, innovation flourishes. And I want you to bear that in mind as we talk about the monopolies of today: tech companies. And tonight we’re going to focus on just one way they use their monopoly power, something called “self-preferencing.” It’s where companies unfairly favor their own products on their own platforms, which have become so big most of us have no choice but to use them. This is a particularly big problem with these three companies, and we’re going to start with Apple. Specifically, its App Store, which is basically the only place to download software for your iPhone. Which is already a little weird when you think about it, right? You can download any software you like to your desktop computer, but if you have an iPhone, Apple has set it up so that its App Store is the only game in town. And Apple’s been accused of unfairly pushing its own apps to the top of search results. The company denies doing this, but “The Wall Street Journal” found Apple apps that generate revenue through subscriptions or sales, like music or books, showed up first in 95% of searches related to those apps. But regardless, perhaps more important is the stranglehold Apple has on developers who want to get their apps onto your phone. Because they are required to use Apple’s payment processor, which takes a huge piece of every dollar that customers spend on those apps and any digital purchases within them.

Apple takes a 30% commission on sales of apps and in-app purchases. So, if an app costs $4.99 upfront, apple collects $1.50. Same goes for if you use an app to buy digital goods, like virtual weapons, or sign up for a subscription to a monthly service.

John: It’s true. And that was pretty shocking to me. It means every time someone spent money on the Jeremy Renner app, something real people actually did, to boost their posts about him so they could #beseen by Jeremy Renner — again, something humans wanted — in amounts ranging from $1.99 to nearly 100 actual dollars, Apple got a cut. And that is blood money right there. [Laughter] Apple makes literally billions every year, just on commissions on app store purchases. And some app developers have tried to find ways around this. Tinder, for instance, charges a higher price if you subscribe through the app than if you do it on their website. And if you open Netflix on your iPhone and don’t have an account, you get a message reading, “trying to join Netflix? You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know it’s a hassle. After you’re a member, you can start watching in the app.” And you can see why Netflix would do that. It doesn’t want to lose a third of its subscription revenue to apple. It needs that money to promote its Netflix Pride Month collection! Which is absolutely great — simply scroll by the dozen standup specials mocking the trans community and it’s right there! Shine with pride, guys! And while Apple will say it’s lowered its commissions for certain small app developers, and now even allows some apps to link to an external website and bypass commissions, a key reason that happened is that they were put under extreme pressure, from lawsuits and from regulators overseas. And if you are thinking, Apple’s not the only game in town, what about Google’s app store? They charge similarly high commissions to developers. And the fact is, over 99% of smartphones are part of either Google’s or Apple’s app ecosystem. Let’s actually talk a bit about Google now. Because their app store is clearly only a small part of their story. As I’m sure you know, they absolutely dominate online searches.

Last year, Google conducted 90% of the world’s internet searches. When billions of people asked trillions of questions, it was Google that provided the answers, using computer algorithms known only to Google.

They have this phrase they use, “competition is just a click away.” They have no competition. Bing, their competition, has 2% of the market. They have 90%.

John: Exactly, people use Google to the extent “googling” something is now a verb. You can’t say that for any other search engine. No one has ever said “I’m going to Bing it,” except for maybe Bing Crosby announcing he’s about to masturbate. [Laughter] But that’s it! And Google has exploited their market dominance in subtle ways, having to do with the search results that it shows you. Because it used to be, when you googled something, you got a page that looked like this: a series of blue links to various pages across the internet that Google’s algorithm had determined to be the most relevant. And that was the company’s goal at the time. As its co-founder Larry Page said in 2004, “most portals show their own content above content elsewhere on the web. We feel that’s a conflict of interest. We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible.” But when you search for something today, you get a lot of Google content before anything else appears. In fact, “the markup” found Google devotes 41% of the first page of search results on mobile devices to its own properties and what it calls “direct answers” meaning a user would have to scroll nearly halfway down the page before reaching the first organic result in that search. Now, Google disputes their methodology, but think about what it is like when you search for something. Let’s say you want to look up dolphins. So you google “dolphin animal”, and you get this, a bunch of pictures of dolphins on Google Images. A bunch of buttons up top like “sounds” that mostly lead you to videos on YouTube — also owned by Google, by the way — a section on the right side that’s mostly links to related Google searches, like “orca” or “amazon river dolphin” and a box of direct answers to questions people have asked about dolphins, like “what are five interesting facts about dolphins?” Or “is dolphin a friendly animal?” Or “can a dolphin love you?” And while you’ve never even thought of that as possibility, suddenly, you’re curious. So you click on it, and it says “dolphins have also shown loving emotions towards humans.” And your heart kind of flutters for a moment, who knew that there was room in a dolphin’s heart for love? Maybe there is room in one for you? Then you see more questions like “do dolphins protect humans?” Which they must, right? After all, we just learned they can love us. But the answer is “there just isn’t any reliable evidence that it’s true.” And what does that mean? They’re willing to love, but not protect us? They’re just going to throw our love away? And as the feeling of betrayal creeps in, you see that others have searched “are dolphins evil?” And the answer is, “dolphins have a huge capacity for evil.” Which, of course they do. They’re monsters with no understanding that you might’ve opened up to them, for the first time in a long time, and they’d abandon you like you’re nothing? And then you see “what do dolphins think of humans?” And you can barely even breathe as you open this one, but you know the truth before it even appears: “dolphins are essentially bribed with fish to interact with humans.” And even though you’re hurt, at least you can accept that it’s not actually you, it was never you, it was the fucking dolphin! [Laughter] And the point is, throughout that whole emotional rollercoaster, you never even left Google! In fact, one analysis found that two-thirds of searches on Google ended without ever clicking to another web property. And the thing is, information that Google feeds you in searches like that may have been copied from other sources, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. And if you’re thinking, well, it’s free information, why does it matter if I read it on Google or on the site they took it from? Site traffic is one of the major tools that many websites, especially free ones, use to sell ad space, so taking away visitors to their site is essentially taking money out of their pocket. And when Yelp explicitly refused to have their data scraped, Google told them the only way to have their site’s content removed was for it to be removed from Google’s general results entirely. And as the CEO of Yelp explains, that is basically a death sentence.

How important is that first page?

It’s not even just the first page. It’s the first few links on the page is the vast majority of where user attention goes, and where the traffic flows.

So, if you’re not at the top of the page, or at the bottom of the first page, or on the second page, that’s going to affect your business?

Yeah, if you’re on the second page, forget it, you’re not a real business.

John: Exactly. And putting the merits of Yelp aside, Google’s algorithm shouldn’t determine whether or not someone’s business is real. Frankly, that distinction should only be withheld if someone’s business includes the words “Instagram influencer.” Because that is not a job, you’re not a business, you’re just attractive, independently wealthy, and it’s sunny outside. That is all that is happening there. [Laughter] And before Jim Cramer says “who cares, build a better product and you’ll land on the front page,” the top results Google feeds you may not be the best ones. Take Google Flights. It used to be, if you googled “NYC to Boise,” your top results would be links to sites like these. But now, you’ll almost always get this Google Flights widget at the top of the page, already set up so that you can can stay on Google and find a flight without clicking anywhere else. And while you, personally, might scroll down past that, many don’t. And the industry has felt this. As one travel analyst wrote, “the fact that Google is leveraging its dominance as a search engine into taking market share away from travel competitors is no longer even debatable.” And Google might say that it’s at the top because it’s the best. But “the markup” found Google Flights did not always display the cheapest fares, or all available flights. Though I guess that explains why Google Flights’ banner image is a woman and a child hiking somewhere while pointing at an airplane that they are not on, seemingly saying, “what the fuck? There are flights here? [Laughter] Google told us our best option was to walk to Denver!” Now, Google, like Apple, will quibble with a lot of what I’ve just said. They’ll tell you they send billions of clicks outside of Google every day, and that they don’t preference Google Flights in searches, which… Okay! Okay, Google! They’ll also tell you Yelp and other companies can now select which of their information gets scraped, though that only happened under serious pressure from the FTC. And if you’re noticing a theme here that these companies only do the right thing when they’re pushed up against the wall, that’s a little bit the point. But arguably the company most guilty of self-preferencing is Amazon, founded, of course, by a man rich enough to buy absolutely anything, including, seemingly, the rights to pitbull’s identity. [Laughter] Amazon reportedly controls 65% to 70% of all U.S. online marketplace sales. It hosts about 2.3 million active third-party sellers from all around the world, and to those sellers, like this man, who sold sporting goods, it’s close to the only game in town.

You’ve got to be on Amazon. You have to be there, because that’s where everyone is. 100 Million Prime subscribers.

They will tell you that there are options. There is Walmart, there is Alibaba.

I’ve heard that response from Amazon executives before. And we did that.

We listed all of our products on every other online marketplace. All of the others that were non-Amazon, combined, did about 10% of what we were doing on Amazon.

John: Exactly, Amazon is essentially the only place to sell anything on the internet, unless, that is, you’re looking to offload some human teeth. Then it’s Craigslist all the way, baby! [Laughter] And for a third-party seller, the most important thing in the world is something called the “buy box.” It’s that little box that shows up on any Amazon product page, where you can instantly click to buy. So when we searched for Duracell AAA batteries, we got this page, and here’s the buy box, right here, where with one click, we could buy a pack for $14. And you might assume that’s the best deal, but if you click on this little box below, you can see multiple other sellers who are offering the same product, many at a lower price. The problem is, most people aren’t going to see that, because an estimated 80% of Amazon sales go through that first buy box, and it’s even more for mobile purchases. Because if we’ve learned anything so far tonight it’s that nobody ever, ever wants to scroll down. So out of all those sellers, only one of them gets to be in that box. And nobody except Amazon knows how its algorithm picks the winner. But it sure seems to consistently favor Amazon, with one analysis finding the company chose itself for the buy box for about 40% of products, while the next highest seller got it in just half of one percent of popular products. And even when the buy box did go to a third-party seller, nine out of ten times, it went to those that used Amazon’s shipping service, fulfilled by Amazon. Basically, it is Amazon’s playground, they make the rules, and they do seem to win a lot of the time. And as this expert points out, if they’re competing with you, you’re basically dead.

Third-party sellers have told me that once they see that Amazon is selling the same good that they’re selling, they liquidate their inventory. They know it’s impossible to compete against Amazon on Amazon’s own platform.

John: Of course. Think about it, of course it is. You don’t stand a chance. Amazon is to retailers what dolphins are to the human heart. [Laughter] If they take an interest in you, you are going to wind up devastated. Fuck you, Flipper! [Laughter] And the thing is, Amazon isn’t just a marketplace or indeed a shipping company, it also started coming up with its own products now. Because it currently has approximately 158,000 private label products across 45 in-house brands. And it’s been accused of preferencing them over its competitors — or even worse, making clear knockoffs of products that’ve been successfully sold on its website. Take a small company called Peak Design. It made this camera bag, and when it noticed a suspiciously similar bag being sold by Amazon, it made this pretty decent, snarky video in response.

This is the everyday sling by Peak Design. And this is the everyday sling by Amazon basics. It looks suspiciously like the Peak Design everyday sling, but you don’t have to pay for all those needless bells and whistles, like years of research and development, recycled bluesign-approved materials, a lifetime warranty, fairly paid factory workers, and total carbon neutrality. Instead, you just get a bag designed by the crack team at the Amazon basics department. [Laughter]

John: Yeah, it sure seems Amazon is putting out a cheap copy with essentially the same name and design. And it’s pretty weird that one of the biggest companies in the world seems to be using the same strategy as knockoff DVDs designed to confuse parents. “Hey kids, we got you the movies you asked for: Ratatouille, Transmorphers, and Chop Kick Panda! Why are you crying? It’s what you wanted” and Amazon has a huge advantage over its competitors, because it runs the marketplace, and has access to all the independent seller data — like, hypothetically, what bag is proving popular. And look, Amazon denies that they preference themselves, their own products, or sellers that pay for their logistics services. And they also deny ripping off products based on internal data, though when Jeff Bezos was asked about that directly, his answer wasn’t great.

Let me ask you, Mr. Bezos, does Amazon ever access and use third-party seller data when making business decisions? And just a “yes” or “no” will suffice, sir.

I can’t answer that question “yes” or “no.” What I can tell you is we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business. But I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.

John: Not great, Jeff! “We have a policy but I can’t guarantee you it hasn’t been violated” has gotta be one of the most incriminating ways to answer a question. It’s right up there with answering “did you break the law?” With “which law?” Look, it’s pretty clear here: self-preferencing stifles competition, hurts small business and often results in serving consumers an inferior product. So what can we do? Well, that brings me to the good news I mentioned earlier. Because these two bills are currently before congress, and would address some of the problems you’ve seen tonight. Among other things, they’d stop massive companies that operate app stores, like Apple and Google, from requiring developers to use the company’s own in-app payment processor, and they’d ban advantaging a platform’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of a rival. And unsurprisingly, tech companies are fighting these bills hard, making the same arguments that AT&T made 40 years ago — that if you tamper with them, things won’t work as well in the future as they did in the past. Although this time, they also have trade groups running ridiculous ads like this:

Washington is full of problems, not solutions. Every time they get involved in a new area of our lives, they just seem to make things worse. And now, politicians are boasting about a plan to control my devices and how I use them? [Laughter] Their silly ideas could ruin some of the services that I rely on. If I need directions, I simply click one button and it gets me straight to where I need to go. In their search for popularity and power, D.C. doesn’t care whether they mess up what I need from the internet. My message to Washington: focus on fixing America’s real problems. And leave my phone alone. [Laughter]

John: What is going on with that unsettling man? “Focus on America’s real problems, like me, and whatever my deal is, because what is going on with me? What’s that thing in my truck? Is it a trashcan taped to a desk? A Jabba the Hutt barge taped to a chimney? Also, what did I just do to it, and why? My broader point seems to be I’d like government to pay less attention to whatever weird shit that I’m definitely up to. Basically, to leave my phone and whatever obviously incriminating shit is on there alone, or I will lunge at you. I will lunge right at you, Washington! [Laughter]
These companies have pushed some wild arguments, from claiming the bills will help China, to saying they’ll somehow hurt people of color. And we don’t have time to go through every bullshit boogeyman they’ve come up with, but none of them really stand up, and some have fallen apart spectacularly. Apple, for instance, claims they have to control the apps you can download, otherwise it would expose users to serious security risks. Ignoring the fact that these bills have explicit carveouts for that, if Apple could prove those risks genuinely exist. As for Amazon and Google, they’ve been arguing small businesses would be harmed by these bills, funding lobbying groups like this one, the Connected Commerce Council, which supposedly represents 5,000 small businesses who all oppose antitrust regulation. But when Politico reached out to its members, nearly all of the businesses it contacted said they’d never heard of the Connected Commerce Council. [Laughter]
And I do get why Amazon, in particular, wouldn’t have filled them in about it, because when it directly asked its third-party sellers to oppose these bills, one of them wrote back, “any informed seller is going to support massive action taken against Amazon in the antitrust arena. We are not morons and know how to read and think for for ourselves.” Which is basically a polite way of saying, “fuck you and the spaceship you rode in on.” The truth is, these bills are narrow — arguably, too narrow. But that’s probably why they have broad bipartisan support. Both Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley want to pass these bills. That’s basically the only thing they have in common. Apart from the fact both their smiles are exclusively upper teeth, no lip. So why haven’t the bills moved forward? Well, some believe it doesn’t help that at least 17 members of Congress currently have children who work or have recently worked for four of the biggest tech companies, including, crucially, Chuck Schumer‘s daughters, one of whom works as a marketing manager at Meta, and one of whom is a literal registered lobbyist for Amazon. And the reason that is interesting is because Chuck Schumer is the person who needs to call these bills to a vote. And while he has certainly said he’ll do that, he hasn’t done it yet, and if he doesn’t do it before Congress leaves for its August recess, the bills are probably dead, because in the fall, everyone’s going to have moved on to focusing on the midterm elections, where as well all know, the democrats will be absolutely annihilated. So we have a very small window, right now, to actually do something about this. And if any part of you is thinking, who cares? Things basically work fine for me right now. It’s worth remembering, people thought things worked fine with AT&T before they were broken up, because they literally didn’t know what they were missing. The problem with letting a few companies control whole sectors of the economy is that it limits what’s possible for startups by, if I may quote AT&T’s incoherent memo, “choking them before they can even get started.” An innovative app, or website, or product, might never get off the ground, because it could be surcharged to death, buried in search results, or ripped off completely. These bills would crack the door back open for innovation, and nudge the internet back toward what it was supposed to be from the start: a revolutionary tool that expands global access to information, and the absolute best place to research surfing spots. Get yours, Peter. Get yours.

[Laughter]

That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. See you next week. Good night!

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