Attn: U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
425 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
A Free Speech issue has now presented itself against the technology sector. The Australian government has recently proposed a law that would require Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and whatever else social media platforms to pay for news. These companies do not consume such content, however, but merely administer it to consumers as content delivered by others.
This is an involuntary requirement by two or more independent media companies to enter into a market allocation agreement, where an exigent amount of money is exchanged to keep competing media portals and new publishers out of the market.
Microsoft has recently offered support for such arrangements. Make no mistake about it, allocation agreements between media companies is an antitrust behavior. Such actions do not serve Free Speech and they do no serve Open E-commerce. Microsoft is wrong and looks out for its monopolistic practices, aiming to take on Google with a subpar search engine, Microsoft Bing.
In real USD numbers, if Google decides (or is forced to) to pay $9 to $12 billion a year to news organizations to aggregate their content, there will be no VC (venture capitalist) willing to build an alternative news aggregator because it would require at the very least that much in revenue upfront to be available to them. Such agreement would make it financially impossible for any new startups to enter the market.
Imagine for a second, for Google in 1998, at its inception, to come up with $9 to $12 billion in funding just to pay an access fee to promote content of others for free. There would not be Google today if that was arrangement was in place back then. The reason for this is that such arrangements are a form of collusion between multiple businesses to deliver a single product to consumers.
As digital services, we improve digital assets with newer and better information to make a living.
Fresh, accurate, and engaging content is what we, media companies, offer as an asset. This asset is fully protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” An excellent media company is an entity that upholds this Civil Right above all others. We produce content superior, if and only if, it is unabridged content.
The government must allow media companies to fail if they are unable to compete in the open market, that same way the government must allow media companies to succeed. Some media companies have been made irrelevant by Google, others thrive. This is a natural phenomenon, just like all selective evolution.
How does one compete against Google?
Google is a Big Tech company, one of the Big Five technology companies that in aggregate take up 40% of the entire NASDAQ 100 index by capitalization value.
Yes, Google is a very big company, but it grew up in a garage, literally. Google was able to produce better content and it was able to deliver it in a highly efficient manner across a vast multitude of markets, everything from shopping, news, communications, travel, real estate, digital photography, gaming, SAAS, cloud, and many other digital media sectors.
Yes, I will be the first to admit that maybe no one startup can compete with Google against all of these verticals at once, but startups are fully capable to take on one or two sectors with big enough markets.
A revolutionary startup (1 will survive out of 15,000 that will fail) can deliver better information against a vertical sector than Google due to some innovation otherwise unavailable in the market. Think Airbnb, for example, or Bumble. These startups found a way to compete with Google against a specific vertical market niche: be that travel or dating apps. There are countless other examples of startups doing exactly that in Fintech, Proptech, media, payments, and other emerging technologies.
I can give you countless examples of a “symbiotic” relationships between technology platforms of various market caps and industries to show you a pattern: all technology companies are in competition with one in another, but the best technology services are able to utilize Google as a fair medium to expand their services without a payment being exchanged for preferential treatment.
Google may serve as a catalyst channel for what otherwise may not even be a service available to consumers.
Lets examine these technology platforms for traces of this pattern: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Trulia, HomeOpenly, Airbnb, Booking.com, Uber, NYTimes, CNN, and Yelp. First, you will easily agree that all of these companies are technology and/or media services.
Google is a pioneer in web data indexing and online search, aims organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Microsoft is a pioneer in personal computing, maintains one of the most widely-available personal computer operating system on Earth. (As of February of 2021, Windows and Android have each about 30% to 40% of the O/S market share, iOS has about 15% share, followed by very small market share by others, such as Linux, etc.)
Apple is a pioneer in mobile computing, maintains one of the most successful mobile devices on Earth.
Trulia is a pioneer in online real estate, an Internet MLS aggregator, empowering consumers with data, inspiration, and knowledge around the place they call home.
HomeOpenly is a pioneer in online real estate, an Open Marketplace, helps its users to make the opportunity of homeownership transparent, affordable, and an open experience.
Airbnb is a pioneer in online travel, maintains a digital marketplace for short-term rentals and other local travel experiences.
Booking.com is a pioneer in online travel, maintains an illegal monopoly market share on the travel industry with the use of price parity clauses in collusion with local hotels via price fixing.
Uber is a pioneer in ride hailing, maintains an illegal monopoly market share on the private car sharing and food deliveries industry with the use of price fixing in collusion with independent “gig workers” by allowing itself to set their fares.
NYTimes is a pioneer in news media, helps people to understand the world through on-the-ground, expert and deeply reported independent journalism.
CNN is a pioneer in news media, seeks to inform, engage and empower the world.
Yelp is a pioneer in online reviews that connects people with great local businesses.
As an open platform, Google Search, becomes a network effects accelerator for many of these media services — for no other reason than that Google Search aims to be free and unbiased for the vast majority of the results.
Google gladly takes good information that all of these media companies offer and displays it to users, even if a media company does not want to, or is unable to pay Google for the added exposure.
The government must allow Google to continue to offer the service to aggregate the information for free if it is made available to them by the “robots” “index” directives.
If a news organization or another technology service feels strongly about its content and does not want it to be used elsewhere as a reference, let them block it from indexing entirely.
For example, Yelp, uses “noindex” as a tool to purposefully exclude content from Google, such as their decision to hide reviews for Opendoor.
While Booking.com does participate in Google Travel vacation rentals, Airbnb refuses to do so despite the fact that Google offers this service absolutely free. Airbnb in this sense is using exclusionary tactics to stay relevant against Google, while Google is actually aiming to improve consumers’ options and invites Airbnb to use their services for free.
LinkedIn and Facebook generally do not allow Google to index their content, while services such as Trulia and HomeOpenly depend entirely on our ability to deliver rich content via free Google Search on the subject of 130 million individual homes records anywhere in the United States.
CNN and NYTimes want Google to index their articles. These media services pay absolutely nothing for this free exposure. Sure, Google is the gatekeeper here, but it is a massive network effects generator for all news services.
Without Google Search, our news would still be distributed via sidewalk newspaper kiosks. Google allows consumers to find content that may be years or decades old that otherwise would never be found. I submit to you that news organizations thrive in a highly liquid competition due to Google News service, and not harmed by it.
The worst thing the government can do is to create conditions where Google decides what news consumers are able to view based on some internal payments of exigent value with other media companies. Any such action would inevitably destroy the quality of the unbiased news and remove any new and upcoming organizations from being able to deliver their content, absent a pre-arranged agreement with Google.
Microsoft further claims that media services prioritize access to Googlebot over Bingbot. Yes, Googlebot has an unlimited access to pretty much every web site, including the one that my team maintains, HomeOpenly. Bad and ineffective crawlers drain on our server time and bring little value because the majority of all traffic is coming from Google. Media services decide this organically, without any payments made in between companies. Bingbot is currently a subpar crawler, and this is why media companies often refuse to allow it. This decision is made on the basis of good online software development practices, and not on the basis of collusion against Microsoft.
All media services further spend a great deal of time and resources to physically block crawlers that do not serve our interests. Google Search itself was on the receiving end of this dynamic when it first began operations — some people did not want Googlebot to access their services.
“It turns out that running a crawler which connects to more than half a million servers, and generates tens of millions of log entries generates a fair amount of email and phone calls. Because of the vast number of people coming on line, there are always those who do not know what a crawler is, because this is the first one they have seen. Almost daily, we receive an email something like, “Wow, you looked at a lot of pages from my web site. How did you like it?” There are also some people who do not know about the robots exclusion protocol, and think their page should be protected from indexing by a statement like, “This page is copyrighted and should not be indexed”, which needless to say is difficult for web crawlers to understand.” Source: The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.
This means that if a dominant search aggregator is able to “subsidize” their crawling efforts in some way with cash payouts, it will affect this organic behavior between media services and result in a pay-to-play collusion.
If a new and in some way superior crawler begins their operations, companies like Google and Microsoft may begin to use money as leverage to pay them for a greater crawling bandwidth with a similar excuse as the “support of journalism.” After all, what is the difference really between a search aggregator having to pay to prioritize “news content” over other “generic content” that they don’t actually consume?
Such information sharing dynamics between technology companies are often cluttered, unreasonable, random, maybe even self-serving, but they only become an antitrust issue as soon as money changes hands to utilize exclusionary tactics.
This is why the government must prosecute Google and Apple against entering into a secret search placement agreement in an exchange for billions USD in kickbacks between these companies paid annually.
This agreement is a pay-to-play ploy designed to keep potential Google competitors out of top placement with popular Apple iPhone and other devices. Google and Apple are guilty here and both must be held accountable.
Make it hurt, government. Take ten years of profits from these companies as the antitrust fines that they cannot ignore.
Drag through the mud the current CEO of Google and the current CEO of Apple against Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act as a federal crime that carries a ten-year prison sentence. Antitrust violations are a crime, and having it “pay well” is not an option for consumers.
However, do not break up Google because it grew big organically. Do not tell Google what to publish and how. Do not force media services to enter into agreements that restrain free trade. Respect our right to Free Speech, above all.
Free Speech and antitrust laws are simple in their approach because they are meant to be widely used to meet any new development with open arms. Free Speech allows us to give the free voice a benefit of the doubt even when one does not deserve one. Free Speech allows us to find the truth even if it is deeply hidden in a web of deliberate lies.
Circumstances will arrive that will require one to say something, and another person to dissent against it. These rights cannot cost a dime, they cannot be bought, they should not be influenced with payouts.
Technology companies are highly effective media companies. We can break unbreakable Walls under the premise of efficiency. Therefore, let us help ourselves build amazing legal monopolies, let us explore truly consumer-centric experiences as means to make money.
Yes, sometimes success may seem like it was easy to get to for Google. I assure you when Google was working in the garage, they were frustrated, they were angry, sometimes even furious, but they were also determined to build a better product.
Google has built a massive excellent user experience, but, unfortunately, it is often hijacked by certain VC conglomerates to promote poorly built products in e-commerce that utilize price fixing, price parity, market allocation, and other forms of collusion with what is known as “mega-rounds.”
Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, Postmates, Amazon Home Services, Amazon Marketplace, Walmart Marketplace, HomeAdvisor Handy, Redfin Partner Program, Opendoor Brokerage, Open Listings, Offerpad, Booking.com, Zillow Flex, UpNest, Rocket Homes, Better.com Real Estate, Realtor.com ReadyConnect (Opcity), loanDepot mellohome, OJO Labs, HomeLight, and many other VC-backed platforms all utilize unlawful collusion agreements as means to generate revenue.
These products typically utilize Google Ads to promote either ultra-competitive pricing or exigent pricing as means to maintain collusion schemes with small independent business service providers. All these products directly violate Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act and remain the core of all uncompetitive practices in the e-commerce industry that affects the daily lives of all American consumers: our homes, our transportation, our rest, and our household essentials.
To restore balance to e-commerce, the government must look into the actual violations of the antitrust laws — the illicit agreements that restrain free trade, the kickback agreements, the price parity, and the “dynamic pricing” schemes designed to outperform free-market forces.
In conclusion, I urge the government to set aside the notion that “Big Tech is bad because it is big.” Big Tech media companies are mostly driven to offer open market user experiences otherwise unavailable.
Google Travel, for example, is taking on Booking.com 20% take rake with a ads-based alternative. Google Shopping is taking on Amazon Marketplace with a 0% commission. Facebook Marketplace is offering users a unique ability to buy and sell locally subject to zero take rate. Microsoft Teams takes on Slack and Zoom fee-based platforms with an absolutely free service.
At the same time, there is collusion between Big Tech companies, and collusion between Big Tech companies and local small businesses, that make up the most damaging of all collusion in e-commerce: price-fixing. For the government, to resolve these specific violations is to allow an opportunity to develop the next generation of open e-commerce.
Further, to resolve the problem of “dynamic pricing” is to resolve the unfair labor practices problem created by the gig economy.
Legitimate media companies and e-commerce marketplaces must remain free to speak, free to rate content, and free to produce a superior media user experience. The Federal Trade Commission makes it crystal clear that “obtaining a monopoly by superior products, innovation, or business acumen is legal.”
Media companies can attain a dominant gatekeeper position in any US mega-market legally because the antitrust law allows us to develop an organic monopoly as a result of business success.