Tech Regulation

Argentina’s telecom price controls are economic masochism

Last week, in a bid to ensure unrestricted access for everyone to telecommunication services, the Argentinian government decided to extend a price freeze for TV, internet and mobile services until the end of the year, deeming them “essential public services”.

Prices on these services have been frozen since May, and it was expected that the ban would be lifted at the end of this month.

In response, Luca Bertoletti, Senior European Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center, criticises the move saying that such a policy was populist and economically illiterate, and will destroy Argentina’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund who has been supportive of the country’s – though unsuccessful so far – road to prosperity.

“The Covid-19 crisis has overburdened most economies in the world and Argentina is no different. In order to help the economy get back on track, the Argentinian government will finally need to implement pro-free market reforms instead of holding onto socialist policies such as price controls on telecom services,” said Maria Chaplia, European Affairs Associate at the Consumer Choice Center.

“Argentina’s government should pull itself together and start making the right decisions, instead of pushing the country further down. Argentina deserves better than a populist government that pretends to act in the interests of consumers by extending price controls of TV, internet and mobile services at the expense of future prosperity,” concluded Bertoletti.

Originally published here.

Consumer Choice Center blasts potential Russian plan to force Apple to cut App Store commissions

Fedot Tumusov, a member of the Russian State Duma, has proposed a law that would force Apple to cut app store commission fees down from 30% to 20%. The law would require that a third of the app store commission be paid to the Russian government as part of a fund to train IT specialists.

In response, Luca Bertoletti, senior European affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center (a “global grassroots movement for consumer choice”), said the Russian government’s policy would be a significant step back towards the socialist economy that would discourage competition, and, in the end, drive Apple out of Russia thereby hurting Russian consumers.

Apple Russia big.png

“Forcibly lowering the commission would be an unnecessary direct intervention into the market. In an attempt to make it easier for IT developers to bring products to consumers, the Russian government will reduce Apple’s incentive to provide the platform through which it’s done,” he said.. The widely-spread anti-Apple sentiment among Russian politicians is no reason to support a policy that will be costly and detrimental to consumer choice.”

Maria Chaplia, European Affairs associate at the Consumer Choice Center, added this statement: What makes the proposed law even more shocking is the suggested obligation to collect part of Apple’s revenue to fund IT training. It is not the role of the Russian government to pick winners and losers. The IT sector is, of course, important, but putting these specialists on the pedestal while turning a blind eye to millions of Apple fans in Russia is shortsighted.

“Russia is far from being a champion of individual freedom and Tumusov’s motion will only worsen the country’s global standing. Is a cold war with an American company what Russia really needs now? Instead, the Russian government should focus on expanding freedom and letting the economy unfold at its own pace.”

Originally published here.

Antitrust tech hearings dig for consumer harm but come up short

Armed with face masks and fresh customer complaints, members of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law convened both virtually and in-person on Thursday, for the first of many hearings on competition in the tech sector.

It was a six-hour marathon of gobbledygook legal turns of phrase and static-prone troubleshooting for lawmakers.

The witnesses were CEOs from some of the four largest companies in America: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, and Sundar Pichai of Google.

Together, these companies serve billions of global consumers for a variety of needs, and have become very rich by doing so. They employ millions of people, make up big portions of the American economy, and have been the trailblazers for innovation in virtually every free nation.

It is also true that they’ve made many mistakes, errors in judgment, and have made it easy to be bashed by all sides.

Despite that, these companies are true American success stories. And that’s not even considering the industrious biographies of their CEOs on the witness stand: an immigrant from India; the son of a teenage mother and immigrant stepfather; a college dropout; and a gay southern man shunned by the Ivy League. Each of them is a self-made millionaire or billionaire in their own right.

But in the context of this hearing, they were America’s villains.

The potshots in the hearing came from both Democrat and Republican congressmen, each using their bully pulpits to reel out various accusations and grievances on the representatives from Big Tech. But lost in all of this was the consumer.

The scene was analogous to George Orwell’s Two Minute Hate on repeat, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein replaced by a WebEx video call on full screen with smiling CEOs surrounded by the furniture in their home offices.

For Democrats, these companies have grown far too large using unscrupulous business practices, beating competitors with lower prices, better service, speed, and slick branding – allowing them to purchase or bully their competition.

For Republicans, it’s all about the bias against conservatives online, facilitated by the thorny content moderation that selectively edits which social media posts are allowed to stand.

What’s missing from this story so far? American consumers.

The justification of the hearing was to determine whether these companies have abused the trust of the public and whether consumers have been harmed as a result of their actions.

But more often than not, questions from committee members hinged on the and “business acumen” of decisions taken within the company, classifying rudimentary strategy decisions as illegal and hostile moves.

Platforms Opening to Third-Party Sellers

An example is Rep. Pramila Jayapal, of Washington State. She represents the district where Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos. She condemned Amazon for collecting data on third-party sellers who are able to use Amazon’s website to sell products.

“You have access to data that your competitors do not have. So you might allow third-party sellers onto your platform, but if you’re continuously monitoring the data to make sure that they’re never going to get big enough to compete with you, that is the concern that the committee actually has,” said Jayapal.

Here, we’re talking about Amazon’s online platform, which sells millions of goods. Two decades ago, Amazon opened up its platform to merchants for a small fee. It was a win for sellers, who could now have easier access to customers, and it was a win for customers who now can buy more products on Amazon, regardless of who the seller was.

When Amazon sees that certain product categories are very popular, they will sometimes make their own, knowing they have the infrastructure to deliver products at high satisfaction. This brand is called Amazon Basics, encompassing everything from audio cables to coolers and batteries.

Rep. Jayapal says that by collecting data on those merchants in their store, Amazon is effectively stealing information…that sellers voluntarily give in exchange for using Amazon’s storefront.

However, the end result of the competition between Amazon’s third-party sellers and Amazon’s own products (on Amazon’s platform) is something that is better for the consumer: there is more competition, more choice, and more high-quality options to choose from. This elevates the experience for a consumer and helps save them money. This is far from harm.

The same can be said of Apple and its App Store, which came under fire from the chairman of the committee, Rep. David Cicilline. He said Apple was charging developers who use the App Store “exorbitant rents” that veered toward “highway robbery”.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was quick to retort by pointing out that the App Store is a platform for its own apps, but it also allows third-party developers to use that store for a fee. This is an entirely new market space that never existed before Apple opened it, and thus is a net gain for any developer who uses the store, and benefits consumers who click and download even more.

Business As Usual

Throughout the hearing, public officials pointed to internal documents as proof of the malfeasance of the tech firms. The documents were unearthed by the committee and contained emails and memos on mergers, acquisitions, and business practices from all four tech firms.

The Financial Times classified these documents as evidence that the companies “chased dominance and sought to protect it.”

Rep. Jared Nadler of New York chased down Mark Zuckerberg for his decision to purchase the photo-app Instagram back in 2012, calling the move “outright illegal” because he believed Facebook bought it to “essentially put them out of business.”

Today, Instagram is an incredibly popular app that has grown to half a billion users, thanks to Facebook’s investments, talent, and integration. It’s made consumers very happy, and has become an attractive product for advertisers as well. Again, no harm for the consumer.

Pro-Consumer, not Pro or Anti-business

One of the most astute lines from the hearing came from the sole representative from North Dakota.

“Usually in our quest to regulate big companies, we end up hurting small companies more,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong. Indeed.

And add to that the eventual scenario whereby only the highly connected and vastly wealthy tech companies will be able to comply with stringent regulation from Washington. That’s not what consumers want, and it’s not what Americans want either.

If Congress aims to use antitrust power to break up or heavily regulate the enterprises built by Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Apple, it won’t be done lightly. It would likely leave a lot of damage in its wake for small and medium-sized businesses, many of whom rely on these major firms to conduct their business. In turn, consumers rely on those companies for products and services.

Each of these companies represent a case study in innovation, entrepreneurship, and giving the people what they want to create a huge network of consumers. There’s a lot to learn there.

Instead of using the law to break up companies, what if we learned from their success to empower more consumers?

En telcolobby hekelt netneutraliteit in coronatijd

Europees afknijpverzoek aan Netflix is ‘onnodig, en de schuld van netneutraliteit’.

“De EU dwingt het internet om langzamer te zijn, dankzij netneutraliteit”, luidt de boodschap van het Consumer Choice Center. Het beperken van de snelheid en kwaliteit van online-diensten zoals Netflix zou niet alleen onnodig zijn, maar ook schadelijk voor alle Europese consumenten die nu thuiszitten en thuiswerken. Aldus deze Amerikaanse lobbygroep die de belangen behartigt van onder meer sigarettenfabrikanten en telecomaanbieders.

Het verzoek van Eurocommissaris Thierry Breton aan Netflix om videokwaliteit terug te schroeven, wordt door het Consumer Choice Center geïnterpreteerd als EU-bevel wat onnodig en schadelijk is. Breton heeft afgelopen week in een tweet laten weten dat hij Netflix-CEO Reed Hastings heeft verzocht om naar standaardresolutie ‘terug te schakelen’ wanneer HD-video niet echt nodig is. Dit uit voorzorg om mogelijke overbelasting te voorkomen door thuiswerken en videostreamen bij zelf-quarantine en lockdowns in EU-landen.

Lobbygroep Consumer Choice Center stelt in een rondgemaild persbericht vandaag dat de Eurocommissaris voor de interne markt digitale streamingdiensten en dienstverleners heeft gevraag om hun bandbreedte te beperken tijdens de COVID-19 crisis. “Dit bevel is gegeven ondanks bewijs dat breedbandcapaciteit nog lang niet aan zijn grenzen zit”, aldus de in Brussel gevestigde organisatie. Bij deze stellingname over bandbreedtegrenzen verwijst het lobbycentrum naar een artikel in Engadget over Bretons tweet.

‘Geen problemen in UK, India en China’

Daarin stellen Vodafone UK en Telecom Italia dat er toenemend internetverkeer met andere pieken in de netwerkbelasting zijn, maar geen berichten van wijdverbreide uitval. Ook een tweet van de Britse security-expert Kevin Beaumont over bandbreedtebelasting in Manchester wordt aangehaald door Engadget, wat weer wordt aangehaald door het Consumer Choice Center. De lobbygroep voor onder meer de tabaks- en telecomindustrie linkt in zijn protesterende persbericht tegen het afknijpverzoek van de EU ook naar een artikel in The Indian Express.

Daarin worden meetresultaten van snelheidsmeetdienst Ookla belicht, voor vaste en mobiele breedbandverbindingen in bepaalde Aziatische landen. Daaronder China, waar het nieuwe coronavirus voor het eerst is losgebarsten, en India, Japan en Maleisië. In die landen was er vooralsnog geen sprake van grote stijgingen in het gebruik van bandbreedte sinds het uitbreken van COVID-19. “Zelfs in Italië, dat al weken in lockdown verkeert, zijn er geen meldingen van wijdverbreide storingen”, vervolgt het Consumer Choice Center zijn boodschap.

Marktwerking en netneutraliteit

Volgens topman Luca Bertoletti geven alle grote telecomproviders in Europa aan dat ze stabiele, sterke en snelle verbindingen leveren aan consumenten, en dat die dat zeer waarderen. “Tegelijkertijd vragen de Europese beleidsmakers bedrijven om hun internetdiensten te vertragen voor alle Europeanen, wat duidelijk onnodig is en schadelijk voor alle consumenten die vertrouwen op snelle internetverbindingen voor hun werk en hun privé bestaan”, aldus Bertoletti die ook lid is van een rechtse denktank die vóór vrije marktwerking is. De forse financiering voor het Consumer Choice Center zou ook vanuit rechtse hoek komen.

Adjunct-directeur Yaël Ossowski van het Consumer Choice Center wijst in het ook online gepubliceerde persbericht nu Europese netneutraliteit aan als de boosdoener. “Dit scenario in Europa is exact de reden waarom de Verenigde Staten in 2018 netneutraliteitsregulering heeft herroepen.” Hij spreekt van ‘beleefde dwang’ die overheidsinstanties uitoefenen op digitale bedrijven om streamingdiensten van lagere kwaliteit te leveren.

‘Verkeer overlaten aan telcombedrijven’

“Dat is niet alleen slecht publiek beleid, maar het toont ook aan waarom breedbandproviders en niet overheidsregelgevers het beste gepositioneerd zijn om ons online-verkeer te dirigeren, of dat nu in normale tijden is of in tijden van crisis.” Ossowski uit de hoop dat dit mensen tot nadenken zet wat betreft steun voor verdere overheidsregulering van het internet en digitale diensten.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Low-battery warning fight

Microsoft’s carbon dating, Google in $1tn club, Logitech’s split keyboard

Don’t tell anyone, but my iPhone charger is hidden under some newspapers on my desk so that it’s less likely to go walkies when I’m not there.

I’ve always taken precautions, with people very eager to “borrow” this vital energy supply, and in future, I may have to bolt my chargers to the desk. The European Union just doubled the chances of me losing them this week when it revived the idea of universal chargers that would fit Apple, Samsung and any other smartphones.

Apart from the extra jeopardy I will face personally, the tech industry’s own selfish interests are in focus here. “The EU-enforced common charger is the enemy of progress” was the headline of a release from the corporate-backed Consumer Choice Center, which said any such move would undermine innovation and restrict competition. It echoed the argument when this last came up from Apple, which is the king of proprietary technologies and whose Lightning connectors are still cursed by anyone wanting to plug in a headphone jack.

I don’t buy their concerns. Where would we be without common USB and HDMI standards, and WiFi and Bluetooth, all with dongle-less backwards compatibility? I would happily trade a little innovation and commercial advantage for those invaluable conformities. 

Of course, legislators are always behind the tech curve and the common charger debate would become moot if we all bought wireless charging mats that removed the need for hard connections completely. Then again, some companies are not being as innovative in taking us to that bright new future as they think they are. Apple announced its AirPower wireless charging mats in 2017, but had to cancel the product less than two years later after struggling to make one that worked properly.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Microsoft’s carbon dating The software shop has gone further than other tech giants in committing to become “carbon negative” by 2030 and offset all carbon emissions made since it was founded. The $1.2tn company also announced a $1bn innovation fund to tackle the climate crisis.

2. There’s another trillion-dollar tech titan Alphabet on Thursday became the fourth Big Tech company to reach a market capitalisation of $1tn. Apple was the first public company to achieve the milestone, in August 2018, and is now more than a third of the way to a second trillion. It was followed by Amazon, which has since fallen back below the 13-digit threshold, and then Microsoft. Meanwhile, Tesla’s soaring share price is giving short sellers the heebie jeebies.

3. Peacock proud of its free streaming strategy The last major streaming debut is also the cheapest. Comcast unveiled its NBCUniversal Peacock streaming service on Thursday and said it would be free for its existing cable customers when it launches fully in July. There will be live sports and news, a large catalogue of older sitcoms, and the service will primarily rely on advertising rather than the subscriptions favoured by rivals. “We like the idea of zigging when others zag,” said NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke.

4. WhatsApp won’t rely on ads Facebook is dropping plans to show ads on its WhatsApp messaging service, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. WhatsApp disbanded the team working on integrating ads on to the platform recently and even the code they had created was deleted from the app.

5. Ad industry faces wrath of regulator The UK’s data protection regulator is braced to do battle with the country’s £13bn online advertising industry, saying it will start investigating individual companies that are in breach of European data protection law and enforcing it against them. The Information Commissioner’s Office said the ad industry had responded insufficiently to a six-month grace period to get its house in order.

Originally published here.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at 
consumerchoicecenter.org

Opinion: Facebook trustbusters motivated by partisan politics, not consumer protection

Channeling the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt and nostalgia for the early 20th century Progressive Era, the latest bad idea being circulated in elite circles is to use the trust-busting power of the federal government to break up the social network Facebook.

The idea has been promoted by such Democratic politicians as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz. Even Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, has hitched his wagon to the idea, as expressed in his now infamous New York Times op-ed.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes the keynote speech at F8, the Facebook’s developer conference, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in San Jose, Calif.
Tony Avelar, AP

But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not dealing with a corporate monopoly akin to Standard Oil, U.S. Steel or even Microsoft. We’re talking about social media websites and services available on the open web.

No one is forced to use these platforms, and are very free and cheaply able to create their own. This is not a monopoly in the literal sense, or even a figurative one.

There are already plenty of competing social networks that people use for a host of services. Whether it’s Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest or Twitter, there are plenty of services where people connect with friends and share information. Facebook just happens to have “clued in” to the needs of the greatest numbers of consumers. Does that warrant government intervention? No.

Let’s be clear: The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations, however, will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

No doubt, some actions by the company have been egregious and they’ll be rightfully punished. The Federal Trade Commission’s expected $5 billion fine on Facebook because of its mishandling of data and consumer privacy is a good first step.

But the movement calling on federal regulators to use their power to break up the company reeks of partisan politics.

Democrats are incensed that users on the platform may have been persuaded to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election due to an impressive outreach effort by the Trump campaign (not to mention alleged Russian front groups). Republicans, on the other hand, decry Facebook’s liberal-heavy moderation that has specifically targeted conservative pages and posts. Its censoring of a post citing the Declaration of Independence because it was considered “hate speech” is just one example.

But from what we’ve learned from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other tech elites, banning individuals or pages are highly complex decisions made by thousands of moderators who follow an internal set of guidelines, whether at YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. The investigative article published on the Verge about Facebook moderators’ workload and stress while removing bad content from the platform speaks to that.

Despite these follies, the overwhelming majority of users are happy with their profiles. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability for ordinary people like myself or millions of other consumers to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up.

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not tip our hand to invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on.

The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states. Let’s not use temporary partisan politics to determine the fate of online services and platforms from which we all enjoy and benefit.

Yaël Ossowski is a consumer advocate and deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Read more here

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