Regulators in Europe and the UK have opened an antitrust probe into a deal between Google and Meta on online advertising, in the latest effort to tackle the market power of the world's biggest technology companies.
The move follows US antitrust investigators who are also probing an agreement informally known as "Jedi Blue." The search engine giant and Facebook's parent company have been accused of working together to carve up advertising profits, acting together to buttress their businesses.
The EU and UK probes represent the latest assault on Big Tech from global regulators that are also preparing to unleash new rules designed to challenge the primacy of groups such as Google, Meta, and Amazon. In response, US tech groups have launched lobbying efforts in Washington and Brussels in an effort to protect their interests.
[...] Companies found in breach of EU law stand to lose up to 10 percent of global revenues, but the legal processes could take years.
Amazon lied to Congress about its use of third-party seller data, the House Judiciary Committee said today. In a letter to the Department of Justice, the committee chairs asked prosecutors to investigate the company for criminal obstruction of Congress.
"Amazon lied through a senior executive's sworn testimony that Amazon did not use any of the troves of data it had collected on its third-party sellers to compete with them," the letter says (emphasis in the original).
[...] "Amazon has declined multiple opportunities to demonstrate with credible evidence that it made accurate and complete representations," the letter says. "Amazon's failure to correct or corroborate those representations suggests that Amazon and its executives have acted intentionally to improperly influence, obstruct, or impede the Committee's investigation and inquiries."
Congress held a series of hearings as part of a 16-month antitrust investigation that scrutinized the practices of Amazon, Google parent company Alphabet, Apple, and Facebook, now known as Meta. During those hearings, lawmakers questioned Amazon executives about whether third-party seller data was used to develop private-label products or to privilege its own products in search results.
"We do not use any seller data to compete with [third parties]," Nate Sutton, associate general counsel for competition, told Congress in sworn testimony in July 2019. "We do not use any of that specific seller data in creating our own private brand products."
Yet as today's letter points out, subsequent investigations by The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and The Markup revealed that not only did Amazon employees working on private-label items have access to third-party data, but they routinely used it, even discussing it openly in meetings. "Amazon employees regularly violated the policy—and senior officials knew it."
In February, an engineer named Dmitri Brereton wrote a blog post about Google's search-engine decay, rounding up leading theories for why the product's "results have gone to shit." The post quickly shot to the top of tech forums such as Hacker News and was widely shared on Twitter and even prompted a PR response from Google's Search liaison, Danny Sullivan, refuting one of Brereton's claims. "You said in the post that quotes don't give exact matches. They really do. Honest," Sullivan wrote in a series of tweets.
Brereton's most intriguing argument for the demise of Google Search was that savvy users of the platform no longer type instinctive keywords into the search bar and hit "Enter." The best Googlers—the ones looking for actionable or niche information, product reviews, and interesting discussions—know a cheat code to bypass the sea of corporate search results clogging the top third of the screen. "Most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust," Brereton argued, therefore "we resort to using Google, and appending the word 'reddit' to the end of our queries." Brereton cited Google Trends data that show that people are searching the word reddit on Google more than ever before.
[...] Google has built wildly successful mobile operating systems, mapped the world, changed how we email and store photos, and tried, with varying success, to build cars that drive themselves. [...] Most of the tech company's products—Maps, Gmail—are Trojan horses for a gargantuan personalized-advertising business, and Search is the one that started it all. It is the modern template for what the technology critic Shoshana Zuboff termed "surveillance capitalism."
The article goes on at length about ruthless commercialism via ever-intrusive ads, constant tweaks to the search algorithm, and how different generations use the ubiquitous search engine.