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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Amazon foes fear its health acquisition will cement its power

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Greetings from Washington, where half the town (myself included) is still wearing formalwear despite the oppressive heat! Send news and cooling tips to: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: Facebook is changing its news feed, and YouTube bans abortion-related misinformation. First:

Amazon foes fear its health acquisition will cement its power

Proponents of antitrust reform are sounding the alarm about Amazon’s expansion into the health industry, warning that its deal to buy primary care provider One Medical could further entrench the technology giant’s power and give it access to troves of health data.

The companies announced the $3.9 billion deal on Thursday. It will “give Amazon a physical network” of medical offices and providers “as well as access to technology the start-up has built to enable virtual doctor visits,” my colleagues Rachel Lerman and Hamza Shaban reported. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Top antitrust advocates on Capitol Hill expressed deep concern that the acquisition poses a threat to competition.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) urged the Federal Trade Commission to “thoroughly investigate” the deal in a letter sent Thursday. Klobuchar cited what she called Amazon’s “history of engaging in business practices that raise serious anticompetitive concerns,” including favoring their own services.

“I also ask that the FTC consider the role of data, including as a potential barrier to entry, given that this proposed deal could result in the accumulation of highly sensitive personal health data in the hands of an already data-intensive company,” Klobuchar wrote.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another prominent Amazon critic, said the deal “should be deeply concerning to American families and antitrust regulators.”

“Amazon already has too much economic power, a terrible track record with workers, and alarmingly little clinical experience, which raises major questions about how this deal could impact consumer prices and health care choices,” Warren said in a statement to The Technology 202.

While the deal to buy One Medical marks a “major expansion” of Amazon’s move into health care, as Rachel and Hamza wrote, the medical provider is dwarfed in size by health giants like Cigna and United Health.

Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the progressive anti-monopoly group the American Economic Liberties Project, said their concern is not that Amazon will instantly become a medical behemoth, but that the acquisition will give the giant access to reams of user data along with another leg up on competitors.

“I think it is a data play for Amazon, where it will drive their ad market. It will give them just one more set of controls into hundreds of thousands of individuals,” she said.

Amazon spokesperson Angie Quennell said in a statement that the “deal is not closed and nothing is changing today,” including One Medical’s “obligations to comply” with federal laws around sensitive health data and other regulations.

“As required by law, Amazon will never share One Medical customers’ personal health information outside of One Medical for advertising or marketing purposes of other Amazon products and services without clear permission from the customer,” Quennell added.

Amazon noted in its announcement that the deal is subject to typical regulatory approval. The deal will not significantly expand its market share, but proponents of antitrust reform have argued that technology firms possess so much data that it serves as a barrier to entry for new rivals.

It is a relatively novel and untested legal theory in competition policy, advocates said, but is one that could factor into a lawsuit if regulators follow through and challenge the deal.

Under Chair Lina Khan, a prominent Amazon critic, the FTC has revamped its antitrust investigation of Amazon and is scrutinizing its mergers, including its blockbuster MGM deal.

Neil Chilson, senior research fellow at the libertarian nonprofit Stand Together, pushed back on the notion that Amazon’s acquisition would harm competition. Instead, he said, Amazon could be an “upstart” that brings “desperately” needed innovation to the sprawling health industry.

“Amazon will be a tiny player” competing in “one of the most entrenched industries in the country, and I think I welcome that. I think that’s a sign of healthy competition,” said Chilson, who served as acting chief technologist at the FTC in the Trump administration.

Chilson also said critics were overstating the risks posed by a company like Amazon gaining access to more user data and downplaying the benefits.

“Data is a powerful tool for pro-competitive uses often, and so the reason that a company would merge often is to gain access to more information so that they can serve those consumers in a comprehensive way,” he said.

Our top tabs

Facebook is overhauling its news feed to compete with TikTok

The change will elevate content from creators over posts from friends as part of a bid to capture users’ attention from rival TikTok, Naomi Nix reports. Facebook users will still be able to find recent posts from friends, family and groups in a “feeds” tab, but the default screen will show content from outside creators, providing posts from short-form video service Reels and ephemeral video service Shorts.

“During the final three months of last year, Facebook reported that it lost daily users for the first time in its 18-year history, sending its stock price plummeting,” Naomi writes. “While the social media outlet’s user growth numbers held stable early this year, company executives have said they are focusing their energies on winning the attention of young people,” Naomi writes. On the other hand, TikTok’s U.S. user base has soared to more than 110 million, she reports.

Facebook has pointed to TikTok as a major competitor when fending off allegations that it is a monopoly. It has also taken aim at the short-form video app by hiring Republican consulting firm Targeted Victory to turn Americans against TikTok, The Post reported this year.

YouTube introduces new ban on abortion-related misinformation

YouTube will no longer let users post videos promoting or giving instructions on “unsafe or alternative” ways to have abortions that health authorities don’t back, CNN’s Clare Duffy reports. The company also won’t let users post misinformation about the safety of abortion procedures.

The policy change comes as researchers warn that information that abortion-seekers find online could be confusing or even dangerous in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

YouTube will also direct users searching for and viewing abortion-related videos to health authorities like the National Library of Medicine, Duffy reports.

FCC is taking aim at robocalls promoting auto warranties

The Federal Communications Commission is ordering telecom providers to stop carrying calls by a group of people it says was responsible for 8 billion such calls since 2018, CNN’s Brian Fung reports. It marks the first order that forces providers to stop carrying the calls; the FCC previously notified telecom firms about the calls.

Many automated calls without the consent of recipients are illegal under U.S. law, CNN reports.

“As part of its scheme, the group bought access to nearly half a million phone numbers from more than 200 area codes in the fall and winter of 2020, the FCC said, and then used them to make it appear to recipients that the robocalls were coming from local numbers,” Fung writes. The FCC noted that they’re still making millions of illegal calls daily, Fung reports.

Rant and rave

Twitter users imagined the promotion opportunities that could come out of Amazon's acquisition of One Medical. Reporter Tonya Riley:

Reporter Matthew Zeitlin:

Technology columnist Joanna Stern:

Agency scanner

SEC roils Coinbase insider-trading case by arguing coins are securities (Tory Newmyer)

Hill happenings

Amazon breaks lobbying record amid antitrust fight (Bloomberg)

Apple CEO Cook uses his star power to fend off antitrust threat (Bloomberg)

Chinese TikTok owner increased U.S. lobbying spending by 130% this quarter (CNBC)

Inside the industry

GOP AGs ask Google not to limit antiabortion center results (Associated Press)

Workforce report

Activision Blizzard staff walk out, protesting loss of abortion rights (Shannon Liao)

Leaked document shows how Amazon managers evaluate employee performance (Insider)

Snap announces plans to cut back hiring as it posts bleak results (Financial Times)

Trending

Yes, crypto Twitter, the FBI is reading your tweets (The Verge)

Daybook

  • Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Rostin Behnam discusses cryptocurrency regulation at a Brookings Institution event Monday at 2 p.m.
  • A House Homeland Security Committee panel holds a hearing on U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s use of facial recognition technology Wednesday at 2 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee discusses children’s privacy and safety legislation Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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