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House lawmakers introduce Big Tech bills that could break up Amazon, Google and others

The bipartisan legislation marks Congress’s most significant push to date to rein in Silicon Valley, in some cases taking direct aim at tech giants’ underlying business models. If successful, the legislation could force Google (GOOG) to stop promoting YouTube in its search results, or prohibit Amazon (AMZN) from selling products on its marketplace that compete directly with third-party seller listings. Apple (AAPL) could be required to relax its restrictions on iOS app developers, and Facebook (FB) could be banned from acquiring nascent companies for the purpose of stifling future rivals. The most aggressive of the five bills, which addresses concerns about tech giants using their control over multiple business lines to favor their own products or to suppress rivals, opens the door to breakups of the companies if they don’t comply. “For example, a search engine could not own a video service that it has incentives to favor in search results,” according to press material provided for the proposed legislation. “In such instances the bill requires dominant platforms to divest lines of business where the platform’s gatekeeper power allows it to favor its own services or disadvantage rivals.”The bills do not name specific companies. But virtually every legislative proposal seeks to respond to the findings of a 16-month investigation of the tech industry conducted by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel. That investigation concluded, in a landmark report, that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google enjoy monopoly power and have abused their position in varying ways at the expense of fair competition. “Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” Rep. David Cicilline, the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”Google declined to comment on the legislation. Facebook, Apple and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The large tech companies have previously denied engaging in anti-competitive conduct. They argue they compete fairly, and provide products and services that have greatly benefited consumers.The proposed legislation prompted praise from Big Tech critics and smaller rivals. Roku, the streaming device maker that competes with several of the largest tech companies, said Friday that an “aggressive set of reforms is needed to prevent a future where these monopolists further abuse consumer choice and hamper access to innovative and independent products.”Tech industry advocates say the proposed bills would lead to dramatic changes for consumers. The bills would potentially outlaw practices such as the ability to see YouTube videos in Google search results, or free shipping on Amazon Prime for select products, Adam Kovacevich, founder and CEO of the Chamber of Progress, an advocacy group backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google and others, wrote ahead of the bills’ introduction.Each of the bills is being spearheaded by multiple committee Democrats and at least one Republican, according to congressional aides. The bipartisan cooperation highlights how the techlash has become one of the rare issues that can unite both sides of the aisle, though the two parties sometimes disagree about diagnosing the most pressing problems from Silicon Valley.”There’s not much Republicans and Democrats agree on these days, but we agree we need to tackle this crisis,” one of the aides said. The package does not include any provisions addressing Republican claims of perceived anti-conservative bias from online platforms, the aides said, in part because online content moderation is not within the committee’s jurisdiction and because the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Ken Buck, believes allegations of ideological bias stem from a broader monopoly problem in tech. “These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online marketplace by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition,” Buck said in a statement. “This legislation breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field.”The legislation seeks to impose restrictions on only the nation’s largest platforms. For example, a proposed ban on so-called “killer acquisitions” would apply to platform companies with a market cap of over $600 billion and at least 50 million monthly users or 100,000 business customers.While the bills prohibit certain practices, they hand responsibility for enforcement (and greater resources) to antitrust officials at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. “America has been on the sidelines” when it comes to antitrust enforcement, one of the aides said. “We’ve been asleep at the switch over these many, many transactions. There’s a growing consensus around the world that the status quo is not working.”

Lyft has yet to disclose sexual assault incidents as cases grow

In May 2018, after a CNN investigation into sexual assault and abuse incidents by ride-hail drivers, Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT), each committed to releasing safety transparency reports that would disclose internal data on the most severe safety incidents on their platforms. By the end of 2019, Uber put out its first report, which revealed it had received 5,981 reports of sexual assault involving passengers and drivers in the two years prior, including 464 reports of rape. Lyft, for its part, has not followed through on its own prior timelines for putting out the report. When CNN Business asked Lyft in September 2019 about the status of the report, Lyft said it planned to release its transparency report by the end of the year. In May 2020, Lyft told CNN Business the company planned to release the report that year. In March 2021, Lyft’s head of policy development, Jennifer Brandenburger, cited a roadblock: Lyft, she said, is waiting for Uber to resolve its ongoing issue with the California Public Utilities Commission prior to releasing its own report. (The CPUC requested additional information on incidents that occurred in the state and then fined Uber $59 million for failing to comply with its request; CPUC and Uber are in ongoing mediation to resolve the issue.)In a statement, Lyft spokesperson Ashley Adams told CNN Business, “The CPUC’s recent actions put victims’ privacy at risk and must be resolved before we will release our safety report.”When asked about the changed timelines, Lyft told CNN Business it had decided to include data from 2019 in its report and was waiting on government traffic fatality data to be released. By the time it was, the CPUC had taken issue with Uber’s report.As Lyft waits, legal cases against the company continue to grow stemming from its handling of alleged sexual assault and rape incidents. At least 72 passengers are suing the company over alleged incidents. Of those cases, a small number are expected to go to trial through a coordinated proceeding. Some of the cases allege Lyft has been aware that its drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female passengers for years but has failed to take adequate steps to protect passengers and warn them of the issue.The first trial is set to begin in January 2022. (Lyft referred CNN Business to its statement from December 2019, after suits were filed: “Everyone deserves the ability to move about the world safely, yet women still face disproportionate risks. We recognize these risks, which is why we are relentless in building safety into every aspect of our work. That means continually investing in new features and policies to protect our riders and drivers.”)According to Levin Simes Abrams LLP, one of three firms bringing the cases against Lyft, the number of passengers seeking legal counsel over alleged sexual assault and abuse claims by Lyft drivers is much higher. The firm said it has retained more than 400 clients whose cases it is investigating and prosecuting, with roughly 80 cases filed currently. Estey & Bomberger LLP, another firm bringing separate cases against Lyft and is also part of the coordinated proceeding, said it has “many” other alleged victims whose cases it has yet to file. “These [cases] are going to keep coming unless [Lyft] changes its procedures or institutes more safety measures,” Angela Nehmens, associate attorney at Levin Simes Abrams LLP, told CNN Business last month. “Uber is at least making an attempt to be open with the public. … Lyft is not doing that at all.” “They’re not cooperative,” said Laurel Simes, a partner at Levin Simes Abrams LLP, who added that while Uber meets periodically with the firm to try and resolve cases, Lyft does not. In a statement after this story published, Lyft pushed back at this characterization. “As the court recently noted, Lyft has been engaged in ongoing discussions with Levin Simes,” Adams said, referring to a recent hearing concerning the coordinated proceeding. “We remain open to discussing any of their clients’ cases.”For Lyft there is much at stake in releasing the report, including the potential to dent its brand just as the US economy is beginning to reopen.Lyft is also facing an ongoing class action lawsuit from investors alleging securities fraud. The suit, which was first filed in 2019 after the company went public, specifically alleges a disconnect between Lyft’s public image and its handling of sexual assault incidents. “Lyft built a reputation as a company that cares about women, safety, and social issues. Lyft’s focus on the strength of its reputation was a key selling point to IPO investors,” according to the complaint. “Contrary to the public image … Lyft had a pervasive problem with sexual assaults committed by its drivers.” The complaint further notes that Lyft failed to disclose this in its IPO registration statement, which made no mention of the issue. Lyft declined to comment on the investor lawsuit.According to Susan Sorenson, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania whose research areas include the issue of violence against women, it is “reasonable cause for concern” that Lyft has yet to disclose this data, which would help define the nature and scope of the issue on its platform for the general public.Sorenson said companies “can and do take action when they feel it’s in their best interest.”Information around safety incidents can help people make informed decisions about how and when to travel, but the transparency also runs the risk of damaging a company’s reputation, according to Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Distinguished Professor of urban planning and design at UCLA.”[The companies] should be very concerned if people start saying that there’s an increasing number of people that complain about harassment because this whole idea of safe travel through Lyft or Uber falls apart,” said Loukaitou-Sideris. “I think that’s why they’re very much protecting their data on this point.”Loukaitou-Sideris, who has studied sexual harassment in public transit, said not producing a report may also discourage reporting of incidents to the company. One reason people do not report alleged incidents of sexual violence, according to Loukaitou-Sideris, is because they perceive that nothing much will happen as a result of their reporting. “By not publishing this data, it is one more reason that justifies that approach,” she said, citing a possible unintended consequence of Lyft having yet to put out a report. Uber, meanwhile, is slated to publish its second transparency report later this year. While Uber “took a really important first step” in releasing its data, according to Sorenson, she said there is still much more to be done. Sorenson said it would be helpful to release raw data in an anonymized way so that it can be studied. Additionally, she and attorneys at Levin Simes Abrams LLC said ride-hail companies could require drivers to record rides, for example, so there’s more accountability inside vehicles for both drivers and passengers. (Uber recently started prompting drivers to register their dashcams with the company, citing that it can help drivers follow local surveillance and recording laws. The company said it alerts riders that their trip will be recorded if a driver has registered the dashcam, which may deter safety incidents from occurring.)Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote to a different partner at Levin Simes Abrams LLC who was on a group call with CNN Business for this story.

An obscure service provider briefly broke the internet Tuesday. It could happen again

Reddit, CNN, Target (TGT), Amazon (AMZN), a UK government website and countless others all went dark after a technical issue at cloud service provider Fastly (FSLY). Although the outage was short-lived, it served as a jarring reminder of the internet’s fragility. More than that, at a time when concerns are growing about cyber risks to critical physical US infrastructure, the Fastly outage may raise alarms about risks to our digital infrastructure, too.Nearly all websites rely on a service provider like Fastly — which runs what’s called a “content delivery network” or CDN (we’ll get into what that means later on) — as a layer between internet users and the servers where their content is hosted. The problem: There are only a small handful of CDN operators. If one of them goes down — whether because of a benign software bug, as in Fastly’s case, or a cyberattack — huge swaths of the internet could go with it.”Absolutely the biggest centralized point on the internet is these CDNs,” making them a potential target for cybercriminals or government actors, said Nick Merrill, research fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. Utilities, social media platforms, news organizations, financial services, government agencies and more rely on CDNs like Fastly to operate their websites. Although Fastly was able to restore its service quickly, one can imagine problematic future scenarios if the resolution is slower. “The problem with the internet is it’s always there until it isn’t,” said former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer David Vaskevitch, who now runs photo storage service Mylio. “For a system with so many interconnected parts, it’s not always reliable. Any one fragile part can bring it down.”Even before this week’s outage, internet infrastructure experts have been ringing the alarm about concentration in the CDN space, where the small number of major providers could make for big targets for an attack. What is a CDN? For websites to load and run as quickly as we expect them to, they need to have computing power located physically close — at least relatively — to the people wanting to access them. That’s why companies like Fastly exist. Fastly’s “content delivery network” is essentially a collection of “cloud” servers distributed across various geographic locations where websites can store content in close proximity to their users. This makes it possible for apps and websites to load within seconds and enables high quality streaming. It also saves huge amounts of energy.CDNs play a crucial security role by preventing so-called “distributed denial-of-service” attacks, where bad actors send tons of requests to access a website in an effort to overwhelm its systems and shut it down. “They’re indispensable infrastructure,” Merrill said. The catch is that so many websites — big and small — use CDNs as a layer between users and the servers where their content lives that when a CDN goes down, much of the internet can go with it. In Tuesday’s case, a software bug that appeared as part of a normal update briefly took out around 85% of Fastly’s network, the company said. And it’s not just CDNs. Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service that supports numerous popular websites, has also experienced outages that end up taking down large chunks of the internet. With any technology, occasional failures and outages are inevitable.”There is no error-free internet, so the measure of success is how quickly a major internet firm like Fastly can recover from a rare outage like this,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network analytics firm Kentik. Fastly detected Tuesday’s issue “within one minute,” and within less than an hour, 95% of its network was operating normally, senior vice president of engineering and infrastructure Nick Rockwell said in a blog post. The bigger problem with the internet’s huge reliance on just a few CDN’s is the possibility that they become the target of an attack, Merrill said. He also worries about a potential government order dictating what such companies can and can’t provide support for, which could amount to government censorship of the internet. Fastly is actually one of the smaller players in the CDN market. The largest is Cloudflare, which supports around 25 million internet properties including county websites, national ministries of health and corporate giants like IBM and Shopify. In 2019, Cloudflare was briefly in the spotlight after blocking support for 8Chan, making it difficult for the controversial online message board site to stay online.To be sure, CDNs have backup protections in place and websites can contract with more than one CDN operator in case of failures. Most of the time, an outage will be like Tuesday’s — a temporary inconvenience. And websites could still appear online without a CDN, they’d just load slowly and be more at risk of cyberattacks. But experts say there is still a risk that a bigger player like Cloudflare is targeted, or that multiple CDNs are hit at once. “Worst case, it’s going to be an attack on Cloudflare,” Merrill said. “The Russian government or the Chinese government is going to take down Cloudflare and it’s going to break the internet.” The solution, he said, could be antitrust regulation of the industry — similar to the regulatory pressure facing more consumer-facing tech companies — or promoting the growth of more CDN alternatives.”People are really concerned rightly about antitrust issues in the tech space” Merrill said. “I don’t think that CDNs are as visible to people, but they’re probably the most important part of the core internet infrastructure that’s been privatized and centralized.”

Spare ticket for spaceflight with Jeff Bezos auctioned for $28 million

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