My favorite line in Elizabeth Warren’s manifesto to slice Google, Facebook, and Amazon down to size was her discourse on the Internet search business and the debt of gratitude consumers owe to antitrust regulators.
“Aren’t we all glad that we now have the option of using Google instead of being stuck with Bing?” she asserted.
I had to chew on this. Google is the dominant search tool in most of the non-China world and a monopoly in certain rich countries. Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, launched after Google already was dominant. It has been a relatively also-ran. I’m not certain that consumers ever feared being stuck with Bing; they probably don’t give Bing much thought at all.
Warren’s point is that Google arose because Microsoft was slowed in the 1990s by antitrust regulators. (She is theorizing that Microsoft, in the normal course of things, would have offered Bing and that it would have been lame.) Now Google must get the same treatment so the next Google has a chance, which it won’t unless Warren becomes president.
I’d argue that changes in antitrust enforcement are far more likely than a Warren presidency. She has two broad ideas, and the second feels like more and more of a sure thing: Antitrust regulators should do their jobs better. It’s hard to argue that Google, Facebook, and Amazon should be able to snuff out and otherwise use their market power to harass competitors. All sorts of candidates, Democratic and Trumpist, will be interested in addressing this.
Warren’s other idea is to prohibit “platform” companies with more than $25 billion in revenues from also selling their own goods and services on their platforms. This is arbitrary and unfair, but that hasn’t stopped Congress from disallowing big banks from charging fees that are fine for small banks.
Like the Green New Deal, Warren’s proposal isn’t a bill, which is telling because legislation is something a senator has in her power to offer. Instead, it is a conversation starter. And it’s a conversation worth having.
A few of you objected to my referring last week to the use of net operating loss carryforwards, or NOLs, as a “gimmick.” I concede that that was a bit hyperbolic and therefore a poor choice of words.
Incidentally, the context of this comment was my observation from Lyft’s IPO filing that it may be years before it could use its NOLs, meaning it might not be profitable for years. One financially savvy reader told me this about that: “Investors, and particularly potential prospective corporate buyers of Lyft, will attribute a positive net present value to to Lyft’s $3 billion worth of NOLs. As a rule of thumb , if utilized by an acquirer next year, the concomitant value for the buyer would be $3 billion times the marginal tax rate (about 35%), or $1.05 billion in net profit.” Translation: NOLs are only of use to companies with profits, which Lyft doesn’t have. But if a profitable company bought Lyft, a real possibility, this asset would be worth a cool billion dollars in profits to the acquirer. Now that’s interesting.
U-turn. In a move reminiscent of Netflix’s cancelled Qwikster plans, Tesla says it will not close all its stores as CEO Elon Musk announced two weeks ago. In a Sunday blog post, Musk says Tesla will keep running about half the stores slated for shuttering. To make up for lost cost savings, the carmaker is raising prices 3% as a result.
Stepping on the gas. Graphics chip giant Nvidia is making its largest-ever acquisition, buying Israeli datacenter and supercomputer equipment maker Mellanox Technologies for $7 billion. The deal for Mellanox, which had sales of $1 billion last year, will help Nvidia further diversify beyond the video gaming market.
Take the next exit. Chinese online brokerage Futu Holdings went public on the Nasdaq and saw its share price jump 28% in its first day of trading on Friday. Futu scaled back the IPO, however, raising $90 million instead of $300 million as it planned last fall, Bloomberg reported.
Roll down the windows. The city of Paris failed in its initial attempt to sue Airbnb over more than 1,000 alleged improper apartment listings. A French court dismissed the city’s lawsuit, saying that the evidence presented was inadequate.
Fog lights. Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey’s startup, Anduril Industries, has won a contract from the Department of Defense to help use A.I. technology in battlefield video analysis. The startup is working with the Pentagon’s Project Maven, the same program that stirred controversy among Google employees, prompting the search giant to let its contract expire.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A lot of YouTube fare turns out to be people standing in front of a wall, behind a desk, talking. Film critic Lindsay Ellis does that sometimes, but she also aspires to create far more complex (and expensive) videos. Brian Raftery for Wired magazine digs deep into how Ellis built a sustainable business with a YouTube channel, a Patreon account, and some serious attitude:
Ellis’ deftly edited essays are in a genre all their own. She rarely focuses on the big-name new releases of the moment. And she doesn’t care much for what she calls “thing-bad” videos, in which someone piles on the bile toward a beloved film. Instead, she approaches movies, even the ones she doesn’t especially love, with a combination of scholarly rigor, film-history acumen, and reliable wryness. Watching her clips is like taking a Screen Aesthetics 101 class with a cool professor, and then hanging out at the campus coffee shop afterward, listening in as she riffs about, say, the significance of a giant robot peeing on John Turturro. Or the complicated blandness of Disney’s Pocahontas. Or the stilted rebelliousness of 2005’s Rent adaptation. “The things I think most about,” Ellis says, “are things that are deeply flawed but have this really interesting potential.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Would You Trade Gmail for This Personal Email Server? I Tried By Jeff John Roberts
BEFORE YOU GO
Following a report that some scientists at Harvard and Yale are trying to manipulate bird genes to recreate dinosaurs, one expert of sorts on the topic is sounding a warning. Actor Jeff Goldblum, who played nervous mathematician Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park movies, tweeted a link about the dinosaur revival efforts with one of his signature quotes from the movie: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should…”