Justice Department Launches Sweeping Antitrust Probe of Big Tech Companies

The U.S. Department of Justice opened a sweeping antitrust investigation of big technology companies and whether their online platforms have hurt competition, suppressed innovation or otherwise harmed consumers.

It comes as a growing number of lawmakers have called for stricter regulation or even breaking up of the big tech companies, which have come under intense scrutiny following a series of scandals that compromised users’ privacy.

President Donald Trump also has relentlessly criticized the big tech companies by name in recent months. He frequently asserts, without evidence, that companies such as Facebook and Google are biased against him and conservative politicians.

The Justice Department did not name specific companies in its announcement.

The focus of the investigation closely mirrors a bipartisan probe of Big Tech undertaken by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Its chairman, Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, has sharply criticized the conduct of Silicon Valley giants and said legislative or regulatory changes may be needed. He has called breaking up the companies a last resort.

Major tech companies already facing that congressional scrutiny declined to comment on the Justice Department’s probe.

Amazon had no comment. Facebook also did not have an immediate comment.

Google directed requests for comments to the testimony its director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, made to the House Judiciary Committee last week. Cohen reiterated the company’s benefits to consumers.

Apple referred to comments from CEO Tim Cook, who told CBS last month he doesn’t think “anybody reasonable” would call Apple a monopoly.

Shares of Facebook, Amazon and Apple were down slightly in after-hours trading.

One antitrust expert believes the DOJ investigation may prompt regulators to interpret U.S. competition law in new ways.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Herbert Hovenkamp said the companies may have been their abusing market power by collectively buying hundreds of startups in recent years to devour their technology and prevent them from growing into formidable rivals.

Traditionally, antitrust regulators have only sought to block acquisitions involving large companies in adjacent markets. But Hovenkamp says U.S. antitrust law is broad enough for regulators to consider the potential damage wrought by relatively small deals, too.

Earlier, the Washington Post reported that the Federal Trade Commission will allege that Facebook misled users about its privacy practices as part of an expected settlement of its 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The federal business watchdog will reportedly find that Facebook deceived users about how it handled phone numbers it asked for as part of a security …read more

Source:: Time – Technology


What Russia’s absurdly over-the-top monuments get right about space

When it comes to monuments, Russia does nothing halfway. It is, after all, a country that recently dedicated a 30-foot-tall monument to the inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, counts a 481-line poem about a statue of Peter the Great among its most valued literary treasures, and somehow allowed this abomination to stand in its capital for two decades. Naturally, then, monuments celebrating the Soviet Union’s Space Race victories reach absurd and often literally great heights.

(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Although the United States was the first country to put a man on the moon, we don’t share quite the same flair for drama as our former cosmic competitor. While America does have several monuments dedicated to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, as well as a somber memorial to the 24 people that have died in our space program, such dedications tend to be small, understated, or just plain bad (seriously, the Mercury monument looks like Prince’s love symbol). Yet even as all but the most glorious or tragic American space projects have been forgotten, Russia has managed to keep the accomplishments of its aeronautic heroes in the public consciousness with its monuments.

The fact that America lacks the same over-the-top displays as Russia could admittedly be chalked up to the idea that the U.S. had — and has — nothing to prove. While America might have had a slow start to the Space Race, pretty much everyone today agrees that we ultimately won. The USSR, on the other hand, was faced with a crumbling communist experiment and the need to justify to its people the heavy strain of resources that its space program required; as such, it had greater pressure to partake in the nationalistic vanity project of monument construction. Still, it’s hard not to be awed by Russia’s tributes to the explorers of space when visiting the country today.

Take the not-especially-humbly-named Monument to the Conquerors of Space, located in Moscow’s Cosmos pavilion. Standing 351-feet tall — 45 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty — the shimmering titanium structure depicts the sweeping plum of a rising rocket. Along the monument’s stone base are images of the men, women, and canine who contributed to the advancement of the country’s space program. Built in 1964, the Monument to the Conquerors of Space was perhaps a bit …read more

Source:: The Week – Tech


Why America shouldn’t stop at the moon — or Mars

A half century after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, the moon landing remains both a monumental achievement for humanity and a powerfully resonant symbol of American greatness. If you have any doubts of the latter, just watch a bunch of political campaign ads. Images from the Apollo 11 mission often serve as visual shorthand for the nation’s technological prowess and can-do spirit. Now mix in some quick-cut World War Two footage (U.S. troops marching through Paris, the Iwo Jima flag raising), lay down a Hans Zimmer-esque score, and the result looks a patriotic mini-blockbuster directed by Michael Bay.

So it’s not surprising that when politicians want to appear as visionary leaders and make a visceral appeal to voters, their eyes turn back to the skies. America’s three most recent presidents, despite many philosophical differences, all agree that putting an American on Mars is an important national goal. In his recent Fourth of July speech, President Trump told the crowd that “we’re going to be back on the moon very soon, and, someday soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.” And while Democrats in attendance might have hated that Trump was speaking at all, they probably liked the idea. A recent Gallup poll finds support for a Mars mission is rising, with 53 percent in favor and both parties equally supportive.

Okay, then, let’s return to the moon and build a permanent base there. And then proceed to Mars and build one there, too. But our ambitions shouldn’t stop at the Red Planet, or even in our Solar System. The stars should be our destination.

And as it happens, there are some well-financed folks already trying to get there. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative is a $100 million R&D program — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is on the board — that’s trying to build proof-of-concept spacecraft for an interstellar journey to Alpha Centauri, the next solar system over and home of possible Earth-like planets. The ultimate goal is a fleet of tiny explorers that could use laser-pushed lightsails to reach 20 percent of the speed of light for a 20-year journey. (Apparently the physics all work.) While the organization’s other programs are trying to develop technologies to detect and analyze other Earth-like planets in our cosmic neighborhood, Starshot could beam back images.

Of course, moving beyond proof-of-concept might well require government money. That could especially be …read more

Source:: The Week – Tech