Technology

Ottawa is getting ready to meddle in your newsfeed and streaming services

David Clement writes about Ottawa’s plan for draconian new regulation of your newsfeed, social media, and even Netflix.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced last week the Trudeau government wants to enforce Canadian content regulations for platforms like Spotify and Netflix, and is looking at Australian-style regulations requiring platforms like Facebook to compensate news outlets whenever a news outlet’s link is shared there.

Both of these proposed regulations are silly.

For Canadian content, the Trudeau government seems hell-bent on applying outdated regulations to innovative tech platforms like Netflix and Spotify. These platforms are successful because they provide consumers what they want in terms of video and audio content. It seems quite paternalistic for the government to interfere, and require that these companies produce Canadian content, regardless of whether there is consumer demand for it.

This is problematic because CanCon regulations forcibly tell consumers that they want, or are required, to consume Canadian content, and then force companies to create content based on that false assumption. I, of course, want Canadian artists and content creators to do well and thrive, but I also know that the Canadian media/entertainment space is mature enough to stand on its own two feet. It would be better for Canadian success to be a result of meeting consumer demands and not the result of a government decree. 

Supporters of CanCon regulations say these regulations are required to “protect Canadian culture and the people who produce it”, but who exactly are we protecting Canadian culture and its producers from? If Canadian content isn’t successful in the domestic market, that is because it isn’t appealing to the demands and wants of Canadian consumers. It is backwards for the government to meddle to try and shield Canadian creators from the wants of domestic consumers.

If legislators want to actually listen to the demands of Canadian consumers, they’d know that Canadians like Netflix and Spotify just how they are, and that intervention isn’t needed. Plus, we already have a taxpayer funded outlet to protect Canadian culture and its creators: the CBC. Is the $1 billion the CBC receives not enough to provide a home for Canadian content? Do we really need to be forced to pay for Canadian content as both taxpayers, and in the private sector? I don’t think so.

Beyond content, the heritage minister’s comments regarding social media platforms having to pay news outlets to share web links are just as misguided. In an interview with Radio-Canada, Minister Guilbeault suggested that Canada is looking at following Australia’s lead, and creating regulations that would force a platform like Facebook to pay news outlets every time one of their web links is shared. That means that when you or I share an article, let’s say from the Toronto Star, Minister Guilbeault thinks that Facebook should be forced to compensate the Star, despite the fact that Facebook is acting as a free lead generator. This genuinely leaves me scratching my head as to why this is a good idea. Media outlets make their money in two ways: advertising dollars linked to views or through subscriptions. Being able to freely share a news story on social media drives traffic to these news outlets, which is exactly how they make their advertising money and solicit subscribers. 

It is bizarre for the federal government to mandate that Facebook compensate newspapers for driving web traffic to their website and sending them free leads. This desire to have the government further protect the media industry becomes even more strange when you consider that the industry is already subsidized by taxpayers at the tune of $600 million dollars.

And if Australia has shown us anything, following through with this type of legislation would be disastrous for consumers, for newspapers, and for society at large. In response to the regulations down under, Facebook stopped allowing for users to share news links on their platform. 

This hurts consumers because it means that news won’t be available on social media at all, where most of us consume it. This is a net negative for society because less news availability ultimately means poor media literacy, which certainly isn’t good. And lastly, this is terrible for newspapers because it eliminates their ability to reach online audiences via social media, which reduces traffic and their ability to generate subscribers.

Rather than enforce outdated regulations on Netflix and Spotify, legislators should listen to Canadian consumers. In regards to the offer of additional regulations, with all due respect Minister Guilbeault, thanks, but no thanks.

David Clement is a columnist for the Western Standard and the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center

Originally published here.

Consumer Choice Center Signs Joint Letter to Senate Judiciary Committee on Antitrust Hearings

September 15, 2020
The full letter can be downloaded here

The Honorable Michael S. Lee
Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights

The Honorable Amy Klobuchar
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights

Dear Chairman Lee and Ranking Member Klobuchar,

We, the undersigned, write today to provide you with a statement for inclusion in the record of the Subcommittee’s September 15th hearing, “Stacking the Tech: Has Google Harmed Competition in Online Advertising?”[1] We are a group of legal experts, economists, and consumer and taxpayer advocates who believe in the importance of promoting competitive markets and defending the rule of law.

We believe that weaponizing antitrust for broader socio-economic purposes would fundamentally alter the primary goal of antitrust and seek to address the increasing calls to move away from the consumer welfare standard[2] and to use antitrust as a tool for unrelated concerns.[3] While signatories herein may prefer various approaches for addressing non-competition concerns about issues such as privacy, online content, liability, and myriad other popular topics associated with technology firms, we uniformly agree that any congressional assessment of issues related to digital markets must be characterized by rigorous economic analysis, productive in promoting competition and consumer welfare, and based on predictable and enforceable standards.

As discussions about antitrust law enter mainstream discourse, we thank the Subcommittee for the opportunity to provide a statement for inclusion in the record, and for providing an appropriate forum specifically dedicated to the discussion of antitrust concerns.

PUTTING RECENT PROPOSALS INTO PERSPECTIVE

Before addressing the specific topic of today’s hearing, we find it critical to make note of the economic consequences of many of the recent proposals to revise antitrust law, which seriously risk making the American economy and consumers substantially worse off across a wide array of industries. Many discussions around antitrust have centered on large, successful American technology companies, and the House Judiciary Committee has launched an investigation and we expect to see certain proposals come out of that investigation. However, the implications of today’s antitrust debate extend far beyond just “Big Tech.”

These proposals — which are likely to materialize within the days or weeks following today’s hearing —include aggressive merger prohibitions, inverting the burden of proof, allowing collusion and antitrust exemptions for politically favored firms, and politicizing antitrust enforcement decision-making more generally. Additionally, arbitrary or overly broad antitrust enforcement would hamper economic recovery and risks job losses as the nation recovers from the economic slow-down, evolving market dynamics, and changing consumer needs resulting from the global pandemic.

I.            The Current State of the Antitrust Debate

We fear that both sides of the aisle are pushing for the weaponization of antitrust, either as a tool to punish corporate actors with whom they disagree or out of a presupposition that big is bad. Unfortunately, the antitrust debate has begun to devolve into a litany of unrelated and often contradictory concerns, unsubstantiated and dismissive attacks, and seemingly a presumption that any market-related complaint that can be made on the internet can also be cured by the panacea of antitrust. This highly charged atmosphere has led to radical proposals that run contrary to economic evidence and endanger significant advances made in antitrust scholarship.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary — and specifically this Subcommittee — has an important role to play. While there are many issues plaguing our society today, we believe that this Committee is equipped to examine antitrust soberly and without misdirection from legitimate anger over other issues which antitrust is not designed to address.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR FURTHER INQUIRY

II.            The Law: New Technology, Same Principles  

a.      The consumer welfare standard has greatly benefited antitrust and is underrecognized as a significant narrowing of federal government power in the last half century and a major victory for the movement to preserve the rule of law.

It is important to consider what is at stake. Using antitrust to achieve policy or political goals would upend more than a century of legal and economic learning and progress. The need to bring coherency to antitrust law through a neutral underlying principle that cannot be weaponized is what led to the adoption of the modern consumer welfare standard. It is broad enough to incorporate a wide variety of evidence and shifting economic circumstances but also clear and objective enough to prevent being subjected to the beliefs of courts and enforcers.[4]

Therefore, we would like to stress the need to distinguish between the proper and improper uses of antitrust in approaching discussions of market power, and are concerned that today’s hearing could lead to the use of antitrust to address concerns surrounding online content moderation, data privacy, equality, or other socio-political issues that are unrelated to the competitive process. Weaponizing antitrust for broader socioeconomic purposes would fundamentally alter the primary goal of antitrust, undermine the rule of law, and negatively impact consumers.

I.            The Role of Presumptions

b.      Approaches to antitrust enforcement based on presumptions of anticompetitive harm drastically upend core tenants of our legal system by inverting the burden of proof and diminishing the role of the federal judiciary.

Returning to the highly interventionist pre-1970s antitrust jurisprudence through burden shifting provisions that would require a company to prove it is not a monopoly would create greater incentives for the government and private plaintiffs to file suit. More importantly, however, these reforms are not needed because current antitrust law has adequate power to intervene and claims of lax antitrust enforcement are demonstrably false. The FTC and the DOJ have only lost a handful of cases in the last decade, and private litigants continue to bring monopolization claims. Outside of the courtroom, multitudes of mergers and anticompetitive actions are prevented out of fear of government action.

II.            The Market: Questions of Concentration and Definitions

c.       Digital platform markets are not traditional linear markets. They are two-sided markets and competition typically turns on non-price factors.

One of the most important questions to address in this discussion is that of market definition. Importantly, digital advertising is not a traditional, linear market. It is a two-sided market in which advertisers try to influence the online behavior of consumers through an intermediary.[5] Traditionally, market definition is framed around a static product with a distinct type of customer. With advances in technology, this build-and-freeze model breaks down as advertising platforms evolve.

However, as Ronald Coase pointed out: [I]f an economist finds something – a business practice of one sort or other – that he does not understand, he looks for a monopoly explanation. And as in this field we are rather ignorant, the number of ununderstandable practices tends to be rather large, and the reliance on monopoly explanations frequent.[6] Indeed, when it comes to the innovative business model that has engulfed digital advertising, regulators are struggling to apply the correct regulatory framework.

d.      The relationship between concentration and competition in the market is tenuous, and structural changes in the economy have resulted from increased competition.

A positive correlation between high market concentration and profitability does not indicate monopolistic practices, and the underlying drive for commercial success can simultaneously enhance pro-consumer efficiencies.[7] In other words, concentration alone does not indicate lack of competition, as firms capture a larger slice of the market through higher productivity and innovation.[8] Some critics argue that systematic anticompetitive conduct is inherent in the digital advertising model, or that the rapid growth or dominance of these platforms allow them to exist entirely insulated from competitive market forces.

As then-Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in U.S. v. Baker Hughes, “[e]vidence of market concentration simply provides a convenient starting point for a broader inquiry into future competitiveness.”[9]It is a step in the right direction to for today’s hearing to analyze the exercise of market power, but it is critical to determine whether the power of the market is being used to benefit or harm not the competitor, but instead the consumer. That is the relevant inquiry.

CONCLUSION

As Robert Bork pointed out, “[a]dvertising and promotion are particular obsessions of antitrust zealots.”[10]

We encourage the Committee to continue in this effort and to reclaim this debate from the politicized approach that seeks to transform our antitrust laws and refocus the conversation on enforcement, market analysis, and the core purpose of antitrust.

We thank you for your oversight of this important issue and ask that this letter be included on the Committee or Subcommittee’s website and repository. Please feel free to contact us should you have any questions or requests for additional input from signatories. We welcome the opportunity to further discuss these views and relevant proposals or congressional assessment with the Committee.

Sincerely,


[1] See Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Hearing Before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, 116th Cong, (July 29, 2020), available at: https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=3113

[2] See Robert H. Bork, “The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy At War With Itself” (1978).

[3] See, e.g. Douglas H. Ginsburg, Originalism and Economic Analysis: Two Case Studies of Consistency and Coherence in Supreme Court Decision Making, 33 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. (217–18) (2010) (discusses political goals read into the Sherman Act by the Supreme Court).

[4] Shifting away from the consumer welfare standard would catapult antitrust law back to the era of the 1960s when, in Justice Potter Stewart’s words, “[t]he sole consistency that I can find is that, in litigation under [the antitrust laws], the Government always wins.” United States v. Von’s Grocery Co., 384 U.S. 270, 301 (1966) (Stewart, J., dissenting).

[5] See, e.g. Ashley Baker, Comments Submitted to the DOJ Antitrust Division Regarding Competition in Television and Digital Advertising. (June 2019), available at: http://bit.ly/2PwehnJ.  

[6] Coase, R.H. “Industrial Organization: A Proposal for Research. Policy Issues and Research Opportunities in Industrial Organization.” (p. 67). (Victor R. Fuchs ed.) (1972).

[7] Harold Demsetz, Industry Structure, Market Rivalry, and Public Policy, 16 Journal of Law & Economics

(April 1973), 1-8.

[8] See David Autor, David Dorn, Lawrence F. Katz, Christina Patterson, and John Van Reenen. “Concentrating on the Fall of the Labor Share.” American Economic Review, 107 (5): 180-85 (2017).

[9] See U.S. v. Baker Hughes

[10] See Robert H. Bork, “The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy At War With Itself” (p. 314) (1978).
Organizations listed for identification purposes only.


Sincerely,
Ashley Baker
Director of Public Policy
The Committee for Justice


Robert H. Bork, Jr.
President
The Bork Foundation


Wayne Brough
President
Innovation Defense Foundation


James Czerniawski
Tech and Innovation Policy Analyst
Libertas Institute


Richard A. Epstein
The Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law,
New York University School of Law
The Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior
Fellow, The Hoover Institution
The James Parker Hall Distinguished
Service Professor of Law Emeritus and
Senior Lecturer, The University of Chicago


Tom Giovanetti
President
Institute for Policy Innovation


Katie McAuliffe
Executive Director
Digital Liberty


Doug McCullough
Director
Lone Star Policy Institute


Grover G. Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform


Curt Levey
President
The Committee for Justice


Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center


Eric Peterson
Director of Policy
Pelican Institute


Thomas A. Schatz
President
Council for Citizens Against Government
Waste


Timothy Sandefur
Vice President for Litigation
Goldwater Institute


Pete Sepp
President
National Taxpayers Union


David Williams
President
Taxpayers Protection Alliance


Josh Withrow
Senior Policy Analyst
FreedomWorks

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.

How price controls in Argentina could have far-reaching consequences

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.

Banning telecommunications companies from raising prices might seem like a sensible policy, but the opposite is true. Price controls are a disastrous and irresponsible economic policy that only leads to a shortage of supply, thereby depriving consumers of choice, driving once-successful companies out of the market and reducing the quality of services provided.

The Covid-19 crisis has overburdened most economies in the world and Argentina is no different. The road to economic recovery will require a lot of investment that necessitates the need for legislative certainty. Latin American companies often have to resort to external financing and when unprecedented risks arise – such as price controls – the cost of financing goes up as well, according to Maryleana Mendez, general secretary of the Inter-American Association of Telecommunications Companies.

At first glance, the decision of the Argentinian government to extend price controls can be seen as the one that benefits consumers. The logic behind the said price controls is clear: to make sure that every Argentinian consumer – even those on low incomes – can enjoy TV, internet and mobile services.

While this approach stems from the noble motives, it is unfortunately doomed to fail and, in the end, companies will lose every incentive to operate in the market. If companies don’t have the freedom to set prices as they wish – keeping in mind their operational costs – what is the reason for them to carry on? One solution is to reduce the quality of their prices simply to keep afloat. Conversely, consumers who can afford to pay more are left out, and their demand cannot be met.

Argentina government’s meddling with the market forces is unacceptable and socialist ait its core, and will also worsen the country’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund. And while the government of President Alberto Fernandez (and his predecessors) has been widely distrustful of the IMF, Argentina is the IMF’s biggest client.

The country has received more than 20 financial aid programmes from the IMF since the late 1950s. Argentina constantly remains on the brink of collapse, so it’s high time the country took the path of economic liberalisation and started taking its relationship with the IMF more seriously instead of pulling off another harmful and populist intervention. Price controls are economic masochism.

Every consumer wants to have as many options to choose from as possible and to be able to reasonably balance out price and quality. If there is no one to provide these choices for them, everyone loses, especially in the long run. Similar to intellectual property rights, if companies don’t get protection for their inventions, there is little incentive for them to innovate.

The overregulation of the telecommunications industry is an expensive policy that will have a negative impact on Argentina’s investment climate in the future thereby hindering its economic recovery and destroying its relationship with the IMF. 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.

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

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?

The ‘Bad Boys’ of the Private Sector turn into Corona-Angels

In light of the Corona virus, businesses that are usually on the top of politicians’ lists to be taxed, regulated, nationalized, or shut down are demonstrating how much value they produce for society.

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

Le BREXIT une chance pour la science britannique ?

Science: Avec la victoire triomphale de Boris Johnson, le Royaume-Uni se dirige irrémédiablement vers une sortie de l’Union européenne. Alors que certains scientifiques britanniques semblent catastrophés, d’autres y voient une opportunité pour plus de liberté.

Scientists for EU est une association militante de scientifiques britanniques fondée en 2015 par Mike Galsworthy (1) et Rob Davidson dans l’optique de faire campagne pour maintenir le Royaume-Uni dans l’UE. Sur leur site internet (2), ils n’hésitent pas à annoncer la couleur : « La science est vitale pour l’économie et la qualité de vie du Royaume-Uni. La science est également au cœur des défis sociaux mondiaux auxquels nous sommes tous confrontés. Nous pensons que nous pouvons faire beaucoup plus de bien pour le Royaume-Uni et le monde au sein de l’UE. »

Malgré la victoire du camp des brexiters, ils continuent de faire campagne et n’ont d’ailleurs pas perdu espoir dans leur cause. Ainsi, sur leur page Facebook, on trouve un mème moquant le Premier ministre Boris Johnson essayant de faire rentrer une « cheville carrée dans un trou de forme ronde » symbolisant ainsi sa tentative de réaliser le Brexit.

Dans la lettre (3) qu’ils avaient publiée dans le Times de 2015, on pouvait lire « Il n’est pas suffisamment connu du public, que l’UE est un trésor pour la science et l’innovation du Royaume-Uni. La liberté de mouvement pour le talent et les ambitieux programmes de financement pour la recherche qui soutiennent la collaboration internationale, mettent le Royaume-Uni dans une position de leader mondial. Ceci a des conséquences sur l’éducation, la formation, les petites entreprises innovantes et le futur de notre économie ». La lettre insiste également sur l’expérience positive qui découle de la collaboration étroite avec la communauté scientifique de l’UE. En conséquence , les signataires renouvellent leur soutien à l’Union, sa direction scientifique et son adhésion à l’UE… On trouve des signataires prestigieux comme l’astronome Lord Rees of Ludlow, Tom Blundell, président du Science Council et co-fondateur d’Astex Therapeutics, Sir Paul Nurse, prix Nobel de physiologie et médecine et Andrea Taroni, éditeur en chef de Nature Physics… pour n’en citer que quelques-uns. Hélas, il ne semble pas que cette initiative ait été entendue des Britanniques ; une question se pose alors sur les conséquences pour la science britannique du Brexit à venir et également pour la science UE.

UN FINANCEMENT PERDANT ?

Au début de l’année 2019, Paul Nurse, un prix Nobel de génétique, a soutenu que le Brexit serait un désastre pour la science britannique (4). Qu’en est-il ? Sur Brexit Myths, un site qui passe en revue les arguments pour et contre le Brexit, on trouve une analyse d’une tribune du Guardian de Matthew Freeman, membre de Scientists for EU, qui affirme que le Royaume-Uni ne peut pas se permettre de perdre la réserve d’argent que représente le financement scientifique de l’UE. La thèse de Freeman étant que l’UE « paie directement une grande partie de la recherche et de l’innovation au Royaume-Uni ; et parce que la science en Grande-Bretagne est performante, il y a un gain financier et scientifique net. » (5) D’après lui, le Royaume-Uni percevrait davantage qu’il contribuerait. Les auteurs du blog remarquent alors que ces sommes évoquées sont insignifiantes par rapport au fait que les Britanniques font partie des plus gros contributeurs au budget de l’UE avec 11,3 milliards de livres et que pour de tels montants le pays pourrait mieux lui-même servir ses propres scientifiques (6).

On conçoit que la question du financement de la recherche représente aujourd’hui un enjeu stratégique. Surtout pour ce qui concerne les projets qui nécessitent des efforts colossaux et où les pays pris individuellement n’ont pas les budgets disponibles. On pense notamment à la recherche spatiale, à l’IA ou encore à la recherche militaire dont les budgets récemment ont battu des records. La question se pose également du devenir de la participation britannique à Horizon Europe, le plan censé prendre la suite d’Horizon 2020, et pour lequel l’UE prévoit d’engager 100 milliards d’euros pour la R&D. Une solution évoquée prévoit que les britanniques deviennent partenaires d’Horizon Europe, mais cela n’est pas garanti. Et il est également envisagé que le gouvernement britannique finance lui-même une transition. Notamment pour les chercheurs dont les travaux à ce jour dépendent de fonds européens. Aussi, si le partenariat avec Horizon Europe n’était pas concrétisé, un rapport (7) prévoit la mise en place d’un programme phare (flagship) de bourses de recherche semblable à celui du Conseil Européen de Recherche, reconnu comme efficace. Reid, un des auteurs du rapport, affirme que la version britannique proposerait « des subventions plus importantes, une durée plus longue et une supervision par les pairs plus rigoureuse ». Une autre idée suggérée consisterait à attirer des chercheurs du monde entier.

On le voit, la question du financement trouble la communauté scientifique britannique, jusque sur la page d’accueil du site de l’incontournable Royal Society : « La Royal Society s’efforce d’obtenir les meilleurs résultats pour la recherche et l’innovation au travers des négociations sur le Brexit et de soutenir les relations continues et d’en créer de nouvelles en Europe et au-delà. » (8)

DES SCIENTIFIQUES LIBÉRÉS DE LEUR CARCAN ?

Et pourtant, les scientifiques britanniques ne sont pas tous des « remainers ». Certains d’entre eux vont même jusqu’à se réjouir de la situation. C’est le cas de Matt Ridley, auteur scientifique à succès, par exemple, qui vient d’intituler une de ses chroniques pour le Times, « L’aversion absurde de l’UE pour le risque étouffe de nouvelles idées » (9). Après avoir affirmé qu’une régulation excessive avait pour conséquence de supprimer les avantages qu’apportaient les nouvelles technologies pour la santé et l’environnement et les politiques protectionnistes, il compare la réglementation de l’UE et celle de l’Organisation Mondiale du Commerce.
Selon lui, le problème de l’Union est qu’elle se base sur le « danger », alors que celle de l’OMC considère le risque global présenté par un produit (10) . En raison de ce distinguo, certaines autorisations sont plus difficiles à obtenir. Tout ceci étant la conséquence de l’adoption d’une version forte du principe de précaution à la suite du traité de Lisbonne. Selon lui, ceci a pour conséquence de créer d’énormes différences avec les standards scientifiques mondialement acceptés et créer des obstacles à l’innovation : « de manière assez ironique, l’application du principe de précaution rendra impossible le développement de certaines technologies qui peuvent améliorer la santé humaine, l’environnement et promouvoir la biodiversité. » Le chroniqueur évoque le cas de l’agriculture européenne, par exemple, où on veut interdire le glyphosate et faire la promotion d’agriculture bio qui emploie des pesticides plus nocifs pour l’environnement. De même l’UE a une réglementation des plus strictes sur les OGM elle l’a transposée récemment aux organismes obtenus par CRISPR.

On comprendra alors que la réglementation UE pénalise la recherche et le développement de solutions technologiques au sein des états membres. Nous nous étions interrogés, il y a peu de temps, sur le fait que l’UE exporte les peurs et doive importer les bénéfices du progrès . Du coup on peut imaginer qu’en quittant ce « corset » les scientifiques britanniques vont pouvoir retrouver une liberté perdue et rejoindre la compétition de la scène scientifique mondiale. Ainsi, comme le remarque Maria Chaplia du Consumer Choice Center, « si le Royaume-Uni choisit de s’éloigner de ces réglementations typiques de l’UE à la suite du Brexit, il pourrait devenir une puissance biotechnologique mondiale tournée vers l’avenir (…). L’approbation de cultures GM résistantes aux ravageurs, par exemple, pourrait économiser environ 60 millions de livres sterling (79 $ millions) par an d’utilisation de pesticides au Royaume-Uni. » (11) Ce qui permettrait un gain considérable pour le consommateur britannique. On peut imaginer que cela peut s’appliquer à bon nombre d’innovations.

La science britannique sortira-t-elle grandie du Brexit ? L’avenir le dira. En attendant, les scientifiques britanniques qui voudraient continuer d’échanger sur la politique scientifique et témoigner de leur expérience restent toujours les bienvenus sur European Scientist.

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


(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Galsworthy
(2) http://www.scientistsforeu.uk/about
(3) https://twitter.com/Scientists4EU/status/601811591802269696/photo/1
(4)  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00694-w
(5)  The EU “directly pays for much UK research and innovation; and because Britain is scientifically outstanding, there is a net financial as well as scientific gain.”, in https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/may/13/eu-science-funding-the-uk-cannot-afford-to-lose-out-on-this-pot-of-money
(6) The sums involved in Professor Freeman’s science grants pale into insignificance against this figure, from which a substantial quantity of money could be taken to fund British science after Brexit. https://brexitmyths.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/brexit-myth-britain-cannot-afford-to-lose-eu-science-funding/
(7) https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03444-0
(8) https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/brexit-uk-science/
(9) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-eus-absurd-risk-aversion-stifles-new-ideas-z7wffs0bc
(10) « The problem is that the EU, unlike the rest of the world, bases its regulations on “hazard”, the possibility that a chemical could conceivably cause, say, cancer, even if only at impossibly high doses. WTO rules by contrast require a full “risk” analysis that takes into account likely exposure. Coffee, apples, pears, lettuce, bread and many other common foods that are part of a healthy diet contain entirely natural molecules that at high enough doses would be carcinogenic. Alcohol, for instance, is a known carcinogen at very high doses, though perfectly safe in moderation. The absurdity of the EU approach can be seen in the fact that if wine were sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under a hazard-based approach. », ibid.
(11) https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/12/11/viewpoint-conservatives-say-uk-could-break-from-outdated-eu-gmo-crispr-regulations-if-they-sweep-brexit-election/

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