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Good morning from San Francisco! We're getting ready for Wednesday's Technology 202 Live event with keynote speakers including former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and California attorney general Xavier Becerra. You can sign up for the livestream and find more details here.
Big Cable isn't scared of tech giants getting into TV streaming.
A top cable lobbyist says any talk of traditional television's demise is “dramatically premature” — even as Apple is expected to announce a new video subscription service with its own original content. It's the latest tech heavyweight to get into the Hollywood game, in which Amazon, Netflix and Google’s YouTube have been competing for years.
NCTA Internet and Television Association President and former Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell says that technology companies have totally different goals -- and ways to make money.
“They’re a radically different thing than what we are,” Powell told me and C-SPAN journalist Peter Slen on an upcoming episode of the network's “The Communicators” show, set to air later this week. “The gold for them is not the service. The gold for them is the data the service produces.”
Still, Powell concedes that back in Washington, the cable industry and Big Tech have a complicated relationship. He would even describe them as "frenemies."
Technology companies and cable businesses are constantly competing in the market for consumers’ eyeballs. The cable industry is wary of Silicon Valley’s growing power and the impact that has on competition in the market.
But on some issues, they align: Both want federal privacy laws that would supersede a possible patchwork of state laws.
“You can’t hold a grudge very long in this space,” Powell told us. “You have to take issues as they come and recognize it for this we are not friends, but tomorrow we may have to be for the good of the order.”
The following is an excerpt our interview with Powell from "The Communicators,” which will air on C-SPAN later this week, lightly edited for length and clarity. We’ll share video in The Technology 202 after it airs.
Zakrzewski: Do you think we're in a “techlash" moment right now?
Powell: To use that term, there’s no doubt about it.
I’ve been around this town long enough to think this is the biggest whiplash I’ve ever seen take place in policy or public sentiment. Just a handful of years ago at the height of the Obama administration, these companies could do absolutely no wrong. They essentially walked around town with a halo over their heads. They told America themselves that they do no evil, they are connecting the world, that their origin myths are all positive and beneficial to society. I think politicians drank that Kool Aid pretty aggressively for the last decade or so. Starting with the 2016 election and shortly thereafter, the shocking flip of that has been really quite dramatic.
Some of it’s probably overdone, but all of it’s probably overdue.
Every century there’s a great case that defines antitrust for that generation. The next great case in world history will be Google.
It is materializing. It will be around tech power and that will define antitrust for the foreseeable future.
Zakrzewski: Why do you focus specifically on Google?
Powell: I don’t. I mention them by way of exemplar. Some of the problems you can issue spot with respect to one are equally applicable to all.
I think it’s a little bit of a mistake to lump them as a single thing. They really do very different things but they use similar methodology which is a thing we have to get our head around.
There are some problems in antitrust law that are worth the government evaluating and having a conversation with. Antitrust worries about two big companies merging two to one. But these companies kill companies in their cradle, not when they’re at rival size.
They take them out at a stage where antitrust would say that’s not a big merger. Facebook buying WhatsApp doesn’t seem like a big merger in classic antitrust terms. I think they’re very, very good at identifying competitive threats through technology rather than market asset and size.
Slen: What about the regulatory structure? Your industries are regulated differently than the broadcast TV channels, Netflix, Facebook, Google etc. Should they all be regulated in a similar way?
I think they all have to be at least harmonized in some sort of overarching regulatory philosophy.
Almost all of our regulation is ancient legacy.
I would argue the regulatory environment is just an accident of history. It’s not rational, intentional decisions about what the optimal public interest is. It’s just a whole bunch of atomistic pieces, that don’t go together in any whole, and people game the systems.
Are [tech companies] my enemy? No. But I think bad public policy is always my enemy, and right now no one can say we have an intentional set of national public policies around how to regulate the digital information industry. It is a hodgepodge of kind of one-off stuff that you would be hard-pressed to weave a thread through in a logical way. I think it’s a task we’ll eventually have to take on.
Zakrzewski: As there's increasingly calls for greater regulation of the tech industry, are you concerned about the negative implications regulations on privacy or increased resources for the FTC might have on the cable industry?
We’re proudly out front in supporting those efforts.
If [Massachusetts Democratic Sen.] Elizabeth Warren and to be bipartisan, [Missouri Republican Sen. Josh] Hawley, are very, very worried about market power and tech, they can’t even get at that question until they get at the question of how they can collect, vacuum up and use data and privacy. I think that’s before we get to cyber threats, foreign actors attacking our system. Basically there’s not going to be any endeavor of human nature that’s not going to come down to who gets what about me and how they can use it in what ways. If I had my way, Congress would put down every other weapon almost and spend an enormous amount of energy on this.
Cable worries about it because it worries about it for its consumers. It also realizes we’re not an ad-fueled model, we associate ourselves with Apple’s argument. Look we make money. But we don’t make money selling you. We actually send you a bill. We charge you a lot. You may not like how much we charge you. But we don’t give you stuff for free and go make up for it by taking everything we know about you and selling it.
We have a different relationship with the consumer that’s more direct, more intimate, we take your check. So we don’t just take your life story and make our money that way. We’re not afraid of it and we think the public desperately needs it.
Correction: A previous version of this story called the NCTA the National Cable Television Association. The organization is now NCTA — the Internet and Television Association.
BITS: The Federal Emergency Management Agency shared the personal addresses and banking information of more than 2 million disaster survivors in a “major privacy incident,” my colleagues Joel Achenbach, William Wan and Tony Romm reported.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General recently uncovered the data mishap — which impacted victims of the California wildfires in 2017 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, according to the report.
“FEMA provided more information than was necessary” while sharing disaster survivor information to a contractor, according to a statement from FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow.
It is unclear if the oversharing led to identity theft or other cyber theft.
NIBBLES: Some experts are calling the world’s governments to take tougher action against 8chan after the service allowed gruesome images of the New Zealand shooting to thrive, my colleagues Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg report. While companies like Google’s YouTube and Facebook raced to remove hateful content, 8chan helped it thrive.
The white supremacist uprising on the platform echoed tactics used by another form of online extremism — Islamic terrorism.
“Critics of 8chan argue that the site, and others like it, may warrant a similar governmental response: close monitoring and, when talk turns to violence, law-enforcement investigation and intervention,” my colleagues wrote.
The owners and administrators of 8chan did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The company said in a tweet on Saturday that it is responding to requests from law enforcement.
The 8chan administration is responding to law enforcement regarding the recent incident where many websites were used by a criminal to publicize his crime. We always comply with US law and won't comment further on this incident so as not to disrupt the ongoing investigation.— 8chan (8ch.net) (@infinitechan) March 16, 2019
BYTES: Pinterest’s Friday initial public offering filing underscores how much smaller Internet companies depend on Google — and can be “whipsawed” when the search giant alters its algorithm, reports Bloomberg’s Alistair Barr.
As the photo-sharing website joins a wave of other technology companies gearing up to go public, it revealed that Google removed its keyword landing pages from its massive network in the first quarter of 2018. As Barr notes, the process, known as “de-indexing,” typically means those results don’t show up in Google search results. Pinterest’s filing says that hurt its traffic and user growth.
“This can be disastrous businesses in an increasingly online world,” Barr wrote. “Pinterest did not say in the filing whether its issues had been resolved.”
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