A Computer Company | tyler.io

Things I want a computer company to be

  • Hardware manufacturer
  • Operating system vendor
  • Model for how to build the best software for their platform
  • Good corporate citizen
  • Inspiration

Things I don’t want a computer company to be

  • Music store
  • Music streaming service
  • Television studio
  • Movie studio
  • News aggregator
  • Fitness studio
  • Advertisement company
  • Bank
  • Credit card company
  • Bookstore
  • Subscription podcast service
  • Messaging platform
  • Video game distributor
  • Cloud storage service
  • Online meetings host
  • Email service
  • Health platform
  • Internet proxy
  • Software gatekeeper
  • Arbiter of other company’s business models
  • The entire amount of commerce
  • Monopoly
  • The Police

Source: A Computer Company | tyler.io

I self-hosted my “cloud” applications on my home network for years and years. It was a LOT of work. I finally gave up and gave my digital life to Google. Then I recanted Google, and gave it all to Apple, and then doubled down. When I look at the list like this, I get really unnerved about how much of my life would be lost if my Apple account got blocked, deleted, or stolen. My fallback position is that I ran Linux on the desktop for 19 years, and it works even better for the kind of work I do than macOS. I could switch back, and leave a lot of this list behind.

This is half the reason I haven’t given up on 1Password, and let Apple’s keychain have all my passwords. At least, if I lose my Apple account, I would still have my credentials to get into everything else.

I’ve been using my Apple email for my account name on web sites for several years now. I should probably go back to using my actual address, which I can forward however I like…

Cory Doctorow: Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability – Locus Online

The story of how this came to pass is tawdry and oft-told: it’s the tale of how switching competition law’s enforcement to focus on “consumer welfare” (low prices) destroyed labor markets, national resiliency, and the credibility of democratic institutions. It’s the story of how control over industries dwindled to a handful of powerful people who captured their regulators and got themselves deputized as arms of the government.

Source: Cory Doctorow: Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability – Locus Online

Bingo.

Public sentiment is more alive to the problems of monopoly than at any time in decades, but still most voters don’t see monopolism as a great evil. They may worry that all their beer comes from two companies or that the internet has turned into five giant websites filled with screenshots of text from the other four.

I love this take, and I’m glad to see it being repeated.

The REAL Reason McDonalds Ice Cream Machines Are Always Broken – YouTube

TL;DW: The McDonald’s corporation forces franchisees to purchase a particular model of Taylor ice cream machines. These ice cream machines are finicky, prone to error, and hard to diagnose, which makes franchisees call someone to repair them. By contract, only Taylor’s repair department is allowed to work on Taylor ice cream machines. It’s expensive. Service makes up 25% of their yearly revenue. There is a secret system to diagnose and repair these machines that most people don’t know about. Someone else made a device to attach to the machine, and an app to read what it detected, and started having some success at bypassing this slow and expensive repair process. McDonald’s told licensees that they could not use this system or they would void their warranty and breach their contract. Taylor is implementing a similar system, but which will continue to keep the franchisees dependent on them to fix the machines.

Gee… This sounds an awful lot like John Deere, huh? This is another good case study for the right to repair.

This is just another naked play to unethically and forcefully create a monopoly on some vertical slice of economic activity, which a perfectly-competitive version of capitalism would have fixed on its own. It’s what all companies strive for now.

Peter Thiel: Competition Is for Losers – WSJ

I am woefully late in coming to this understanding that monopoly is the goal of all venture capital. Peter Thiel, of Paypal, Palantir, Facebook “fame,” literally said this was the goal, in front of God and everyone, in a WSJ op-ed, seven years ago. Like the PG article from the other day, Thiel tells some whoppers to try to make everyone feel better about monopolies.

Even the government knows this: That is why one of its departments works hard to create monopolies (by granting patents to new inventions) even though another part hunts them down (by prosecuting antitrust cases). Source: Peter Thiel: Competition Is for Losers – WSJ

If this isn’t the most-lopsided statement I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what would beat it. First of all, the patent office does not “work hard.” An awful lot of patents are given out like candy for trivial things. Further, software patents — which I’m sure Thiel loves — have been one of the most business-stifling things to ever happen in modern history.

Second of all, the government has only ever stopped the very biggest deals. It would seem that the current “gentleman’s agreement” is that anything under about $30B isn’t worth talking about. So Microsoft buys LinkedIn and Skype and GitHub, when it doesn’t really make much sense for them to own any of them. All the FAANG companies run around, picking up interesting toys in the flea-market bins marked “less than $1B,” and the government doesn’t even bat an eye.

And the government certainly hasn’t broken up any monopolies since AT&T. Given that the “baby Bells” have all since re-merged into the duopoly of Verizon and AT&T — which, mysteriously, line up almost perfectly in their cell phone contract terms — I’m not sure that even this was worth the hassle for the customer. What I am sure of, is that lots and lots of executives pocketed lots and lots of money for all that M&A activity.

If your industry is in a competitive equilibrium, the death of your business won’t matter to the world; some other undifferentiated competitor will always be ready to take your place.

This reveals Thiel’s cognitive bias. These “undifferentiated competitors” — in his terminology — are small businesses that would make their owners a comfortable living, and provide good job opportunities in their local market. Yes, if it folds, someone else may come along and take your place. I feel that’s a humane cycle of life. Thiel thinks this is a tragic notion, when he can be the guy who provides the capital to corner a market, and then extract all the profits that would have gone to those smaller businesses.

Monopoly is therefore not a pathology or an exception. Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.

Bullcrap. Utter VC narrative-spinning bullcrap. There are millions of small businesses being run out of business or bought up to further fuel multi-national corporate behemoths, who were too big decades ago, in this twisted game to become the largest companies in the world.

History is going to judge this period in human development as the time where we either decide how big is “big enough,” or whether we become a planet of corporations instead of governments. We’re running out of time to make the call, and if we don’t, we will eventually get the latter.

You can say that it’s unethical to tell Peter Thiel, “No, you can’t have any more,” but if we find the collective will to start doing that to the billionaires of the world, in another generation, it will matter more which company you work for, than what nation you are a citizen of. It already does in China, where working for Apple — as detestable as the working conditions are to Americans — it’s still one of the best jobs in the country. It already does in Alabama, where working for Amazon was seen to be so good — despite all the press to the contrary — that they overwhelmingly rejected the call to unionize. Those people would work for Apple or Amazon no matter what country they had to do it from.

(Makes you wonder who was running all the pro-union stuff in social media, huh?)

jwz: ENGAGEMENT!

Every time we post to our Facebook account, it immediately gets 2-5 one-word comments from random Indian dudes with locked accounts that are years old and have thousands of friends:

Source: jwz: ENGAGEMENT!

There’s never post about Facebook on “Hacker” “News” where the comment thread isn’t filled with people saying, “I hate it too, but what do you want me to do? Never know anything that’s going on around me? There’s literally no other option.” Even JWZ himself, who abhors Facebook, still uses the platform to promote is nightclub in San Francisco. That’s how deeply ingrained the service has become to society, and how irreplaceable it is to local businesses.

This is a pitch-perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post. This irreplaceability is precisely what all tech investment is gunning for: total control of a channel. Eliminating all competitors in the space, and establishing a monopoly. If you want to advertise some local social event, at this point, Facebook is your de facto only choice.

Right now, Uber seems like a good idea. Door Dash seems pretty nifty. WeWork sounds great. But make no mistake, once those platforms have removed all the competition in their spaces, their services will start to experience the same sort of corruption that is being described here. Scammers will flourish, as they focus their efforts. All of these services will come to feel like shopping at Amazon, where you used to be able to trust the reviews and delivery times, and now it’s just a roll of the dice on both.

How People Get Rich Now

The tech companies behind the top 100 fortunes also form a well-differentiated group in the sense that they’re all companies that venture capitalists would readily invest in, and the others mostly not. And there’s a reason why: these are mostly companies that win by having better technology, rather than just a CEO who’s really driven and good at making deals.

Source: How People Get Rich Now

I’m sorry, but this is pure fiction, told to one’s self to feel better about the real facts on the ground. What we’re seeing in “tech,” over and over, is not an effort to come up with “better technology,” but the play to capitalize on some particular niche, and then monopolize it. This is key.

It’s not good enough to provide nice co-working spaces; the goal is to own every rentable building in a city. It’s not good enough to provide a ride sharing solution; the goal is to run taxis out of business, and be the only ride share in town. It’s not good enough to run a respectable social media site; you have to be the only one that people use for a particular purpose. It’s not good enough to provide a food delivery service, you have to be deliver all the food in a metro area.

VC’s are not looking for the next “better mousetrap;” they’re looking for the next monopoly. That’s where all their money is going. Don’t go to Y Combinator with an idea that you think can make “X” millions of dollars per year. Go to Y Combinator with an idea to corner the market on some product or service, and make all the money for it. Established companies (like the latest $20 billion Microsoft gobble) are scrambling to own a monopoly vertical workflow stacks of their own, but it’s all the same idea at play. The only people left standing at the end of this century will be monstrous, global companies which control an entire end-to-end chains of a particular thing, or entire walled gardens that provide so much of what you want that you never step outside of them, and the only people who will be able to pull their strings are billionaires who fund them.

Unless the governments of this world suddenly find their spines, and learn how to tell a billionaire “no,” we’re heading directly for the cyberpunk, citizens-of-global-corporations future that people have been writing about for decades.

Also, this guy has a great deconstruction on the actual wealth inequality fiction Graham was spinning here. It shows how the middle class is being decimated by increasing disparity.

Paul paints a rosy picture but doesn’t mention that incomes for lower and middle-class families have fallen since the 80s. This golden age of entrepreneurship hasn’t benefitted the vast majority of people and the increase in the Gini coefficient isn’t simply that more companies are being started. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

 

Google eyes privacy-friendly substitute to cookies – Axios

Tests show advertisers can expect at least 95% of conversions per dollar spent on ads, compared to cookie-based advertising, Google said.

Source: Google eyes privacy-friendly substitute to cookies – Axios

I don’t even need to read the article to know this is utter BS. If Google is advocating for it, it will not do anything like it is purported to do. It will aid Google’s efforts to serve you ads, and hinder other advertiser’s efforts. And Google won’t knowingly give up any tracking, in any way, shape, or form, so don’t pretend that this is helping privacy. All this will do is more-solidly cement the fact that if you want to advertise on the internet, you’ll have to go through Google to do it. Any effort they expend in this area will have that goal, no matter what color of lipstick they apply to the pig.

… given that the entire digital ad ecosystem, worth $330 billion USD globally…

Yeah, and according to some reports, it’s about 80% fraudulent. I’m just glad I don’t need to be involved in that world whatsoever.

Take the Profit Out of Political Violence – BIG by Matt Stoller

Repealing Section 230 or reforming it so platforms who profit via advertising are not covered, would reduce the incentive for social media to enable illegal behavior. If we did so, a whole range of legal claims, from incitement to intentional infliction of emotional distress to harassment to defamation to fraud to negligence, would hit the court system, and platforms would have to alter their products to make them less harmful. There are other paths to taking on targeted advertising, like barring it through privacy legislation, a law for a real Do Not Track List, or using unfair methods of competition authority of the Federal Trade Commission. But the point is, we need to stop immunizing platforms who enable illegal behavior from offloading the costs of what they inflict.

Source: Take the Profit Out of Political Violence – BIG by Matt Stoller

These “platforms” driving all discussion and conversation today are, by definition, common carriers. The phone company was a common carrier. They couldn’t discriminate against anyone. They had to provide service to everyone, because they were 1) essential to modern society, and 2) had a monopoly on the service. In the same way, Twitter and Facebook are essential, and monopolies in their respective spaces. Like the phone company, they should be required to just carry everything that’s not clearly and always illegal, and let the court system sort out behavior that requires any sort of legal interpretation.

I could see making exception for blocking groups or people identified by the government as terrorists or criminals, but that’s the point. The government — i.e., our system of laws — would be making that determination, not a bunch of un-elected modern day kings and princes of our neo-feudalistic capitalism.

I don’t trust them. Their influence over our country, news cycle, and opinions is too great to leave to profit motive. It’s already been credibly demonstrated that Russia (at least) interfered in the 2016 election through these two platforms, because it aligned with this profit-seeking motivation. What guarantee do we have that this is not ongoing? There’s no accountability, and no visibility into their systems, hidden behind trade secrets for the banal purpose of making obscene profits.

Facebook is making $20 billion dollars a year, and paying about 8% tax. The older I get, the more liberal I get, and the more I resent the squandered opportunity cost of another round of tens-of-millions-of-dollars bonuses for a bunch of execs, while human beings pile up on the sidewalks in the city which hosts the company’s headquarters. It’s immoral. I don’t know when the line was crossed, but the whole thing is simply immoral, at this point.

Twitter doesn’t make nearly the money that Facebook does, but they are arguably more directly important. It seems that half the news articles I read these days are about a tweet, or reference tweets as part of the story. Their influence is overarching all news organizations now. That’s a dangerous situation for a democracy. These companies are ruining the world by — dare I say it: “inciting violence” — through driving everyone crazy with anger and division about every issue, no matter how big or small, evading meaningful oversight, and not giving back commensurately. I tire of it.

UPDATE: Right after posting this, I read Continuations by Albert Wenger : Welcome to the Government-IT Infrastructure…

I believe there is a high likelihood that we are witnessing the visible emergence of the government-IT infrastructure complex. Government will be even less inclined to try and generate competition in this space. It is so much more convenient to have just a few large entities that an executive agency can influence behind the scenes rather than having to bother with the rule of law. We have already had this in the payments space for a while where instead of targeted interventions against actual abuses payment providers withdraw wholesale support for companies in certain categories (most prominently anything related to sexwork).

Matt Stoller thinks that there’s a shot at doing some serious anti-monopoly regulation under a Biden administration, but Albert Wenger makes me realize that Facebook and Twitter don’t just have government “cover” because of campaign contributions. They also are manipulating their systems in subtle ways for the government’s benefit (besides giving them access to all the personal data they want, of course). I realize now that the relationship goes deeper than I have previously, cynically concluded. There’s not going to be some sort of noble, united urge from Congress to reign these companies in and hold them accountable for their influence on our democracy. A few of the “radicals” may make some noise, but only because they haven’t been briefed on the whole dynamic. And they won’t be. Their political theater is useful to those actually in power. Or, cynically, maybe they do know the real situation, and they just volunteer to be the token voices against these companies, to string along the public’s desire that they do “something” about them.

Big Tech to face its Ma Bell moment? US House Dems demand break-up of ‘monopolists’ Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google • The Register

Of course, there is still a long way to go before any of the report’s recommendations become a reality. Even within the committee, there is not unanimity, with some Republican members expressing concerns over breaking up companies in particular. Republicans will also be more ideologically opposed to adding regulations or removing companies’ ability to arbitrate disputes themselves, rather than through the courts.

And then of course there is the enormous collective power of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google – some of the world’s largest and richest corporations – who will be willing and able to do anything to protect their markets and profits.

Source: Big Tech to face its Ma Bell moment? US House Dems demand break-up of ‘monopolists’ Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google • The Register

I note, for the record, that AT&T was broken up long before Citizen’s United was decided, when our government still worked, because both sides actually  compromised on legislation. I also remind everyone the the Supreme Court is NOT, in fact, the final say in our laws. If Congress doesn’t like the way a decision went, they can write a new law in light of what was decided.

But do you really think that a bunch of Congress-people are going to forego campaign funding from Silicon Valley by voting to break up four of the biggest corporations in the world? Even if they weren’t getting money from those companies before, you can bet their primary challengers would, the next time around. You can’t fix our corporatocracy until you get rid of Citizen’s United, and we will never be free of it now. As if we didn’t have a big enough problem with it before, the decision guarantees regulatory capture forever. Campaign funding and the life-and-death polarization of our two-party system will never allow for reversing it.

There’s no public interest in these hearings. There is literally zero chance that anything will substantively change. Even if they do break Instagram out of Facebook, or YouTube out of Google, what will that really do? Nothing. If this is really about the advertising market, then all you’re going to do is split your existing spend, and if there are just 4 entities involved in the market instead of 2, they’ll collude on pricing, as a middle finger to the government. And, like AT&T before it, they will eventually just reassemble themselves into something even more monstrous than before.

This is about money. It’s always about money. Congress thinks that these companies should be giving more of their money to their campaigns, and this is how they go about getting that done. Watch campaign contributions rise in the wake of these hearings, note that nothing effectively changes, and then remember I was right. This isn’t rocket surgery. We’ve seen this before from the Microsoft trial.

Sacrifice for Thee, Vast Wealth for Me | Epsilon Theory

From 2014 – 2019, the same years that CEO and Chairman Doug pocketed $200 million in real money stock-based comp, American Airlines had *negative* free cash flow of $3.2 billion.

And took on an additional $14 billion in debt.

And bought back $13 billion of its stock. How did all this work out for American Airlines shareholders from 2014 – 2019?

Over this six year period, AAL stock was up 13%. Not 13% per year, but 13% over SIX YEARS of the best bull market in history.

Barf.

Source: Sacrifice for Thee, Vast Wealth for Me | Epsilon Theory

This kind of thing is happening all the time. The system of government we have is no longer a democratic republic. It’s a corporatocracy. It’s a return to a modern version of feudalism. The C-levels of our largest corporations are the land-owning royalty, and “employees” work their “land” to be protected from our profit-seeking health care system. Whatever these executives want to do to increase their personal wealth and standing, no matter the harm to the company’s long-term prospects, or its employees and their long-term prospects, is fair game.

Meanwhile, the government has become a modern version of the Catholic Church, weaving their cross-“country” influence to help pick and choose their preferred benefactors in this version of clashing medieval kingdoms. The “priests” of this “church,” blessing the armies of these border skirmishes, are mostly geriatrics, who tend towards narcissism, and have a hard time connecting with the concept of what these battles will leave the field looking like for the next generation.

The American experiment in democracy has ended. Corporate power and political influence, expanded by the Citizens United ruling, has officially killed it. Right now, Congress is holding hearings on anti-trust against companies like Facebook and Google, but we all know how this circus will turn out. If penalties are applied, it will amount to a slap on the back of the hand. If actual regulation is enacted, it will be written by the lobbyists, and actually help the company is was supposed to limit, by hurting their competitors more. And the fact that we can know both of these things with perfect certainty, based on lots of previous (in)action, tells you everything you need to know about regulatory capture.

And all the time this is playing out, the emperors of our “free” press have us arguing about personal political and religious differences. They took the turkey while we were pulling on the wishbone.