Tech

Amazon’s ties to the latest DOJ suit

With help from John Hendel and Leah Nylen

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— Antitrust moves: Amazon could be a major character in an antitrust suit over a proposed merger between two book publishers.

— Lost in translation: What’s the best way to combat disinformation in non-English languages? Policymakers offered their takes on legislative and regulatory fixes.

— Spectrum wars: President Joe Biden’s telecom picks will face a growing pile of spectrum fights once they’re confirmed.

IT’S THURSDAY, NOV. 4. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Wednesday night “possible consideration” of the infrastructure and social spending packages today. Stay tuned…

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AMAZON AT THE HEART OF PUBLISHERS’ MERGER SUIT — The online retail giant may soon play a starring role in the Justice Department’s antitrust suit to block the $2.18 billion merger between Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House. (For more on the suit, see Leah’s write-up for Pros.) The publishers appear serious about the merger, having hired antitrust litigator Dan Petrocelli, who helped AT&T and Time Warner win at trial against the DOJ. Both the DOJ’s complaint and the merging companies’ press release response highlight Amazon’s major role in book publishing today.

Amazon is the United States’ biggest bookseller, controlling half of all new book sales in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. It also owns Audible, the biggest audiobook company; Goodreads with its giant collection of reader reviews; and Amazon Crossing, now the biggest publisher of translations, according to Publishers Weekly.

With the 2011 introduction of the Kindle, Amazon began a new chapter in its contentious relationship with book publishers. (Remember when they teamed up with Apple and the iPad to combat Amazon’s dreaded $9.99 ebook pricing?) But after some tough negotiations in the early 2010s, the tech giant reached deals with the Big Five U.S. publishers: Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan. So it wasn’t surprising when Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House couched the announcement of their pending merger in terms of gaining leverage against Amazon.

But Amazon isn’t just a bookseller. It’s since moved into book publishing itself, a fact the two publishing houses highlighted in a release this week. In 2009, the company founded Amazon Publishing, its own traditional book publishing arm, through which popular horror writer Dean Koontz and crime novelist Patricia Cornwell now print their books. The online retailer also dominates in self-publishing through its Kindle Direct Publishing platform, where authors can publish their own ebooks and paperbacks (to be sold on Amazon). The company said last year that authors earned more than $334 million in the previous 12 months through this self-publishing service. One 2018 survey found more than one-third of self-published authors in the U.S. used the service, a number that has likely grown since.

— Conclusion? Amazon isn’t the one being merged here, but you can expect a lot of arguments about the company as the suit moves forward.

TACKLING THE NON-ENGLISH DISINFO PROBLEM — Lawmakers are calling for legislation to combat the problem of disinformation that has proliferated in non-English languages, spurred in part by concerns over election and health-related misinformation in Spanish-speaking communities.

“Do we need legislation? Unfortunately we do,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) told reporters on Wednesday as part of a panel hosted by Free Press, a civil society group. Social media platforms “would love to self-police. … They claim that they’ve come very far, but in fact they have not.”

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who were part of the panel, pointed to legislation on the Hill that could help address these issues. One bipartisan bill, which was included in one of the Democrats’ failed voting rights bills, would require political campaigns to disclose when they’re advertising on social media platforms. Another bill, recently introduced by Luján, would strip Section 230 protections from online platforms that use algorithms to promote extremist content.

“We should make these companies accountable for their algorithms, when they encourage extreme content in service of their bottom line,” he said.

— Regulatory action: Democratic FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter added that the FTC should also get involved and that online regulation needs to focus not only on privacy but also “data abuses, generally, and the abuses that stem from the surveillance business model across the board.”

Instead of waiting for Congress to act, she said the FTC could start using its powers to investigate, take enforcement actions and draft regulations. “When I listen to the conversation about the harms associated with the amplification of disinformation, I hear a lot of indicia of unfair acts and practices,” she said.

— Driving the discussion: Klobuchar and Luján sent a letter Wednesday to Meta (née Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg over recent reports that said Zuckerberg objected to plans at WhatsApp to promote Spanish-language election materials ahead of the 2020 election because it might not be viewed as “politically neutral.” The senators asked Zuckerberg to provide additional information related to those claims.

BIDEN’S TELECOM PICKS BRACE FOR SPECTRUM CHAOS — House Energy and Commerce lawmakers are offering bipartisan grumbling about whether Biden’s executive branch is properly coordinating with the FCC on how to manage wireless airwaves. Their latest concern: the Federal Aviation Administration issuing warnings about possible disruption to airplane equipment from wireless carriers’ use of 5G-friendly airwaves in the C-band.

— What this will mean: Pressure on the leaders Biden has tapped to head the FCC and NTIA — Jessica Rosenworcel and Alan Davidson, respectively, who will likely face their confirmation hearing the week after next.

— Let’s all get along: Executive branch agencies shouldn’t unilaterally question FCC decisions, E&C lawmakers argue, and instead should coordinate through Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees federal airwave issues (the FCC handles commercial ones). Such skirmishes repeatedly arose during the Trump era, with the departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Defense and Transportation challenging various FCC decisions on spectrum.

“Unfortunately we’re starting to see the same behavior that plagued the previous administration,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) lamented during a Wednesday markup, in reference to the FAA warnings about C-band. E&C ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and others also mentioned the FAA’s complaints. The subcommittee unanimously voted to advance a bill that would demand better coordination between the FCC and NTIA.

— Interagency tensions go far beyond the FAA’s 5G concerns: Other percolating spectrum fights pit Biden officials at the departments of Defense, Transportation and Commerce Department against the FCC on the agency’s Trump-era decisions involving GPS and auto safety airwaves.

So far Rosenworcel has resisted pressure to revisit these decisions in her months as acting chair. Last month, for instance, her lawyers filed a court brief defending the agency’s auto airwaves carve-up. But the confirmation process is likely to raise all these fights anew — and many policymakers say that the Biden administration needs to truly commit to a national spectrum strategy in order to fix things. While Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo called for such a plan early this year, NTIA acting chief Evelyn Remaley last month said at an event that “we don’t have a timeline” and that staff were just “starting to begin the planning” required for one.

FCC APPROVED — The agency has authorized Boeing’s application to launch satellites to provide broadband internet service.

Kurt DelBene has been nominated to be assistant secretary for information and technology and CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The longtime Microsoft executive retired from the company in September as EVP and is an Obama administration alum. His wife, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), is also a former Microsoft executive.

Tiffany Haverly has joined the Internet Association as comms director. She was most recently at Finsbury Glover Hering and was comms director for House E&C Republicans. … Miriam Daniel, an Amazon VP who worked on Alexa and Echo, is leaving the company, Bloomberg reports. … Thomas Dohmke has been promoted to CEO at GitHub. The chief product officer is replacing Nat Friedman, who will become chairman emeritus.

EducationSuperHighway is launching “No Home Left Offline,” a campaign to help those who have access to the internet but aren’t able to afford it. … Access Now and Free Press have launched a campaign calling on the FTC to initiate a rulemaking on privacy and civil rights.

SPOTTED: Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and Miranda Kerr touring the monuments with their children and at the annual budget ball for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget on Tuesday night, per POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman.

Spiegel was the keynote speaker at the reception on the roof of 101 Constitution, where he told the crowd that it was good to be back in Washington because his parents had met on a blind date at the Old Ebbitt Grill “so I’m kind of a product of D.C.” He said he had learned from CRFB president Maya MacGuineas that for every six dollars America invests in seniors, we invest a dollar in young people. “One of the things that cuts across all policies is our policies investing in children have very, very high return and of course our policies that invest in seniors are less so, not that we shouldn’t do it.”

He also talked about how augmented reality is going to change the world: “In the future, computing will be overlaid on the world around you, will be far more immersive. You can walk through it, you can interact with it the same way with the physical world.”

Leon Panetta, Mitch Daniels, Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Angus King (I-Maine), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Eric Cantor, Michael Steele and Steve Rattner were also in attendance.

Brace yourself: “Vaccine misinformation poised to spike as Covid shots for kids roll out,” NBC reports.

Back at it again: “Google Wants to Work With the Pentagon Again, Despite Employee Concerns,” via NYT.

Sticking it to Apple: Zuckerberg announced Wednesday a workaround that would let creators on Facebook avoid losing out on a 30 percent fee to Apple for their subscription revenue.

Let’s discuss: The Future of Privacy Forum released a discussion draft on verifiable parental consent, which is required by law before most personal data can be collected from children under 13.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

SEE YOU TOMORROW!



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