with Aaron Schaffer

A new D.C. antitrust lawsuit against Amazon escalates pressure on Washington to take on the e-commerce giant. 

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine yesterday brought a lawsuit against Amazon, which alleged its abusing what it argues is monopoly power leading to higher prices for consumers, as Rachel Lerman and I reported yesterday. Racine accused the company of fixing prices through the terms and agreements it has with third-party sellers. The suit alleges that Amazon prevents them from selling their products at lower prices on any other online platforms, leading to “artificially high” prices across the Internet. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“Amazon has used its dominant position in the online retail market to win at all costs,” Racine (D) said in a statement.

Amazon pushed back against the lawsuit’s claims, saying in a statement that the suit would force the company to feature higher prices. Amazon spokesman Jack Evans said that Racine had “it exactly backward” in a statement.

Yet the company’s critics cheered on Racine, and called for this suit to be just the beginning of action against Amazon. 

Racine’s narrow suit against Amazon focuses on just one of many ways that consumer advocates say the company has stifled competition and abused its power. And he decided to bring it in D.C. Superior Court under D.C. antitrust laws, rather than coordinating with other state attorneys general or federal regulators. 

But it is possible that it could inspire more antitrust enforcers to bring similar complaints or others against the company. 

“If the case is successful, it would be an indication that other states, federal enforcers, or even private companies would also be likely to be successful on a similar legal theory, so that would be an additional pressure on Amazon to fix their policies across the country,” Charlotte Slaiman, the competition policy director at the consumer group Public Knowledge, told me. 

Amazon has been under the regulatory spotlight, but so far has not faced the same level of legal action from the federal government as tech rivals Facebook and Google, which are both the targets of federal antitrust lawsuits. 

The Federal Trade Commission has been probing Amazon for almost two years, but it has yet to bring an antitrust suit against the company. Meanwhile, federal and state regulators have brought cases against Facebook and Google. Slaiman says the D.C. suit could add pressure on the agency to do so. 

As this case moves forward, it might also uncover evidence that could be useful to other regulators aiming to bring antitrust action against the company. 

However, most of Amazon’s critics don’t want to wait for a lengthy antitrust legal battle to see changes at the company. 

Antitrust cases against well-resourced tech companies typically take years to conclude, and critics of the company’s competitive practices said Congress needs to act swiftly to address monopoly concerns at Amazon and other companies. 

“This suit also comes as momentum to break the extraordinary and dangerous power of Big Tech reaches new heights,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project. 

Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a top critic of Amazon, said Congress needs to pass legislation to address the company’s dominance. She said far more drastic action is needed from regulators.

“To have a truly competitive e-commerce market, you have to break up Amazon,” she said. “There’s a fundamental conflict of interest when you own the infrastructure and you also compete on that infrastructure.”

State attorneys general are playing a critical role in tech's antitrust reckoning. 

Last year, groups of state attorneys general brought two antitrust lawsuits challenging Google’s dominance in search and advertising. A separate group of 48 attorneys general filed a landmark antitrust suit against Facebook, seeking to break up the social networking giant.

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A Facebook report says Russia is still the top producer of disinformation. 

The findings come five years after Russian operatives launched a wide-ranging online campaign to influence the 2016 elections, my colleague Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. The company's new report summarizes 150 disinformation operations that the company has uncovered, and it highlights how the campaigns have become more sophisticated over time. 

Many other players have also learned from Russia's example, including shadowy public relations firms, politicians, fringe political groups and other governments themselves. 

“It started out as an elite sport, but now we see more and more people getting into the game,” said said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, who added that such efforts increasingly resemble influence operations that were conducted before social media, “narrower, more targeted, expensive, time-consuming, and with a lower success rate.”

Facebook and Instagram are rolling out a feature to hide likes after years of testing.

The feature, which users on both apps will be able to use in the coming days, will be optional, Rachel reports. It came as a compromise between influencers who rely on the metrics and critics who say that they have negative effects.

“We’re always trying to figure out the effects of what we build on people’s lives and we want to do what we can to minimize the bad and maximize the good,” Instagram head Adam Mosseri told reporters.

Oracle pushed law enforcement data-mining software in China.

The company promoted its Endeca tool by telling Chinese audiences about successes when it was deployed by Chicago’s police department, the Intercept’s Mara Hvistendahl reports. The software, which can sift through massive amounts of data such as tweets, would have serious implications in China, a U.S. rival that has long come under fire for human rights abuses.

“Sifting through data and social media posts in hopes of finding ‘unknown unknowns’ sounds more like dragnet surveillance than a targeted and responsible investigatory tactic,” said Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s irresponsible and careless from a civil liberties perspective to collect up a vast amount of data in hopes that something in the pile will be a precisely ‘unknown’ line of investigation.”

Oracle, which has previously denied selling technology to police in China for scouring the data of its citizens, declined to comment on the article. The company confirmed that slide decks obtained by the Intercept are genuine; some have since been taken down.

Spectrum is forcing customers eligible for a federal subsidy to opt in to full-price service after the benefit runs out. 

The policy appears to be skirting Federal Communications Commission rules, Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky reports. The $3.2 billion emergency broadband program was designed to support Americans hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Yes, customers opt-in at the time of enrollment to continue receiving service once the program ends,” Charter representative Rich Ruggiero said. “Customers will receive notice 30 days before the program ends, and can make a decision about keeping or terminating their service.”

FCC is in touch with Charter “to ensure its webpage more accurately represents the FCC rules regarding the need for consumers to affirmatively opt in to continuing to receive Internet service from Charter once the Emergency Broadband Benefit program concludes,” FCC spokeswoman Paloma Perez said.

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  • Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Google vice president Vint Cerf and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) discuss the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Commission at events today.
  • A House Judiciary Committee panel holds a hearing on counterfeit online goods on Thursday at 2 p.m.
  • Keith Gabbard, the CEO of the Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative, discusses President Biden's broadband infrastructure plan at the Brookings Institution on June 2 at 2 p.m.

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