Vote No Because We Say So…

Like many Americans these days, my husband and I stream our television watching. But we do watch the news on traditional broadcast television, and lately, we’ve been treated to one of those periodic political non-messages, urging us to call on our Congressperson to oppose a bill that “will make us less safe.”

No details, of course, about the bill–only the urgent need to oppose it. It’s a bad bill, and we know it’s bad because the people paying for the advertisement say so.

So what is really going on–other than another example of just how stupid the sponsors of the ad think we are? (Admission: I worry that they may be right about that…) Tom Wheeler of the Brookings Institution has the details.

“A multimillion-dollar campaign is pushing Dems to ditch antitrust reform,” The Washington Post headlined. Of the $36 million spent to date, The Wall Street Journal reports the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has spent the most—over $24 million. The CCIA commercials reportedly focused on the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. CCIA represents companies such as Amazon, Apple, Meta/Facebook, and Alphabet/Google.

“Don’t Break What Works” is the theme of the CCIA advertisements. “Congress has plans that could stop progress in its tracks, breaking the products and services you love,” the commercial warns. The campaign targets S. 2992, the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Act that would empower the government to challenge self-preferencing practices of the online platforms if they are determined to be anticompetitive.

Of course, you would never guess that the bill you are being told to oppose had anything to do with anti-trust; no, the voice-over tells us it’s about national security. The advertisement I heard–paid for by something called the Consumer Technology Association– insists that  the legislation is a “national security threat.” It references the Russian attack on Ukraine and “cyber warfare against the U.S.,” and then asks, “Why is Congress considering legislation that makes us less safe?” The commercial doesn’t make reference to a specific piece of legislation, but it concludes with a dark warning:  “Don’t break American technology when we need it most.”

The Brookings report details other, similar ads. Among them:

Another advertising campaign is being run by a heretofore unknown organization named American Edge Project. These commercials also fail to mention what legislation concerns them, how those concerns could be fixed, or how the horrors they warn of could actually happen.

“I don’t understand why some in Congress want to take away the technology we use every day,” the owner of a small plumbing business worries in an American Edge ad. Lamenting “this political campaign against American technology,” Larry Melton of Gilbert, Arizona, warns, “our leaders need to strengthen, not weaken, American technology.”

In another advertisement from the group, small business owner Renee Carlton of Corinth, Mississippi, warns that “some politicians are pushing new laws that will weaken American technology.” The result, she cautions, “will make small businesses dependent on China for the technology we use every day.” Ms. Carlton concludes, “I have a message for Congress. Don’t weaken American technology.”

What will this mysterious bill really do? According to ARStechnica,

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, cosponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would limit Big Tech firms’ ability to “unfairly preference” their own products and services. For example, under the proposed bill, Amazon couldn’t boost search rankings of its private-label products, and Apple and Google couldn’t do the same for their apps in their app stores

These Big Tech platforms  can be immensely useful, but they also have a dark side.

By working both sides of a market, platform owners have unrivaled insights into both buyers and sellers, giving them an advantage when selling their own products and services. In some cases, that can harm consumers. In others, it can harm sellers. So far, antitrust law has struggled to address all the ways that dominant platforms skew markets.

As Klobuchar has pointed out, current law doesn’t address these problems, because existing antitrust measures were written before these platforms came on the scene. Anti-trust laws haven’t been meaningfully updated since the birth of the Internet.

The merits and concerns relevant to this legislation have been debated in Congress, and the bill is supported by the Justice Department. (DOJ’s analysis determined that the legislation would “supplement the existing antitrust laws in preventing the largest digital companies from abusing and exploiting their dominant positions to the detriment of competition and the competitive process.”)

There’s a reason those advertisements don’t tell us that what they oppose is an anti-trust measure that would hamper Big Tech’s ability to exploit dominant market positions. Most Americans wouldn’t see that as an attack on national security, because it isn’t.

 

 

17 thoughts on “Vote No Because We Say So…

  1. As I was reading this essay that exact ad came on the morning news. Cracked me up!

  2. We need antitrust laws to regulate mega corporations and the wealthy advantage in our government: both elections and laws favor them.

  3. This is why I switched to watching my Nat’l news from PBS.
    Judy Woodruff and The News Hour is good whether I’m watching TV (rarely) or streaming.
    No fluff.
    No commercials.
    No tacky, dark money political ads.

    I admire Judy from years of reporting and look forward to the younger people she’s mentoring.
    I’m sure someone will news-splain the News Hour but I will stand me ground.
    And there’s no seedy ads!

  4. I wondered about these ads, but could make no headway researching them. Being a contraction, they immediately made me want to vote for whatever they told me not to. Good to know my instincts were correct.

  5. I use Google and Wikipedia to research new warnings, people and organizations seeking donations from unknown sources. Also research people who make questionable or warning claims and supporting questionable issues. We cannot relax our vigil today on anything in the media in all of its forms; these days we cannot trust family members, friends and neighbors unless we know where they are getting their information…and then we need to research their sources. Paranoia; most certainly! But Chicken Little was right, the sky is still falling.

    While not trusting our national security today, we must also be vigilant in our homes, on our jobs, in church, while shopping, on our streets, having a relaxing evening out and it is no longer safe to send children to school and the media is no longer a prime source for trusted information. This is an entirely new world for America and we must be on guard 24/7. Believe it; but not because I say so.

  6. If the Dems are ditching the anti-trust bill, I rather suspect it is not the ad campaign, but the direct lobbying.

    I’ve seen those ads and thought “What a waste!”. They are too vague to be very useful, unless their aim is to stop all legislation (which it may be – without federal legislation, corporations can do whatever they want).

    I can just hear the phone call
    “Hello, Senator, I am really upset about that, um, er, um, that… Well I want you to vote against the Stifle High Tech Innovation Act and the Make America Less Safe Bill … Yeah, that’s what I’m mad about. That’s what you need to do.”

    Vote No because we said so can work, but you need a target. The Clinton health care plan was well played against a very identifiable target. This time, I think not so much.

    BTW – Thank you for explaining those, Sheila. I never understood them, and I never cared to try to research them because they smelled of industry lying to keep something they shouldn’t have.

  7. The proposed provision of the law is simply codifying Microsoft vs Netscape….30 years too late.

    Our Congress’ efforts to regulate technology has always been laughable and always will be as long as they choose to exempt it from many of the existing laws and regulations other industries have to live by. In this case it’s no different than a Doctor directing a patient down the hall to get an MRI administered by a clinic owned by the doctor. Or one of several Indiana hospital systems gobbling up all their competitors as well as family and specialty medical practices. We’ve simply given up on the idea that high levels of market concentration are a bad thing. It CAN be tolerated but always with strings attached…such as utility rate regulation (as bad as it can be). This is no different.

    Facebook should have been forced to divest itself of Instagram years ago. Same with Google and YouTube. Amazon and any product it’s brought in-house to compete with sellers on its platform. But it won’t happen because the lackeys in Congress are there to serve the oligarchs that run these outfits – not the American people.

  8. Actually, the anti-monopoly laws are coming from our agencies who are just starting the process of breaking up the monopolies.

    The monopoly guru I follow is Matt Stoler. He is way ahead of the curve but will not likely be on national television to help inform you. 😉

    This is probably the best article to date if you are interested: https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/torpedoes-in-the-water

    The FTC’s new director (I don’t know how she got through the political party screening) is a beast and is asking or demanding all the right questions.

    Matt is your guy if you want to know about our supply chain issues and so-called free-market inefficiencies.

    With all the doom and gloom, there are a few rays of light shining through.

  9. Since big tech is being limited by the EU, it seems to ignore their faults, might just be a competitive advantage for the good old US of A. What it truly would be is an advantage for Russia, Iran, and China, who use social media platforms to foment outrage among us.

  10. Thank you Sheila.

    Technology seems to be so pervasive and life consuming these days that I am working on figuring out ways to be less tied to it.

    My calls and emails to my Legislators seem to be only fodder to give their Aides and Interns a chance to tell me why I am incorrect in my opinion.

  11. Good morning Todd!

    I always liked Matty Stoller, he seems to keep his ear to the rail for the most part. He would be on Rachel Maddow every so often!

    The problem with this movement, it’s going to be roadblocked and obstructed until the clock runs out. And even if some solution was come to, and even the solution was enacted, the supreme Court could dismantle it with one vote.

    If you’re going to play Major League baseball, don’t play by Little League rules, and use little league players!

    It didn’t take long for the house to burn down after the spark was elected. And, everyone knows it takes much longer to rebuild than it does to burn down! Unfortunately, rebuilding takes a unified effort! And that is non-existent. The only solution to that is one I’ve mentioned before, but undoubtedly will not happen. Executive ordered martial law.

  12. today Germany (DW.com)is investigating the dominace of googles own brand or their highest paid advertiser to gain dominace in searches. the euro law dose not allow dominace in the searches. google every year pays billions in fines in the euro,time for some kickback here eh?,this bill here today, is also about dominace and its own brand ads. back when ,like micro 98, the search engines had page 1 to 10 and you could line in page 55 if ya wanted too. now its page one,page two, etc. one by one from the bottom. ive been into searching many items in the auto/truck ,machine and metals fields since searches started. bing,yahoo,etc all follow the same con as google. (remember to dump ur cookies after every search too) but in euro, you can search as you wish any page you type in. and 3 ads dont dominate the first 7 pages either. seems the open line,or say thomas,to the online address your looking for,is merely some data company enjoying your aggivation while you search,and adding a cookie to see where ya end up..this is illegal in euro.
    the bill today also addresses this.. of course you see how suckerburg and etc got thier wealth also.
    but republicans cash in on the shareholder experience at our experiance in data mining. this may not be a carbon copy of the euro GDRP,(er) but its better than wasting time and securing your privacy a little better. besides, i found that that a small company that barely hangs on,doesnt because of this issue. ive watched many a small supplier who specialized in fields i work with and in my shop, disappear,to find that product on amazon from china..nuff said… p.s. ive never amazoned, i find my junk mailbox with few to no junk. i have however found,using a side bar to the supplier,gets you their junk and ads too..
    best wishes..

  13. Peggy:
    competition is great,when its a level field. google like engines have distroyed many small time suppliers because nobody knows they exist.
    recent search couldnt find a window lift by a company that at one time had the best,American made,. i looked back to 2003 in issues of a car mag,and found the ad, crossed it to a search. found him still in buisness. went back to the web after i dumped the cookies,and searched in window lifts,auto, he was near page 16.. three other suppliers dominated almost 10 pages.

  14. if you typed in tiger/swan,would you get a natl security company? after all,its profit eh?whos conning who?

  15. The Constitution specifying liberal democratic government and our rights are our protections against government. Laws are our protection from each other. One of those protections prohibits organized grifters from selling stuff by using their unfair advantage over unorganized consumers.

    Like politicians, the current practices of some businesses grift consumers and/or potential competitors. What you see is not what you get.

    Get the grifters out of our wallets by updating anti-trust and campaign financing laws for this era, not the last.

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