You should be suspicious of benevolent big business

When companies weigh in on politics, they’re often seeing dollar signs. | Getty Images

When a company weighs in on politics, look at its bottom line.

We’re living in an age of benevolent corporations, or at least corporations that want to be perceived as such.

In early April, outgoing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tossed off a curious parenthetical in his response to the White House’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan. If you didn’t look closely, you might not have noticed it: “(we’re supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate).”

Considering Amazon has often managed to avoid paying taxes, this is a big deal — or maybe a medium deal. The way Amazon and Bezos himself often get around big federal tax bills has little to do with the corporate rate, and if it were serious, Amazon could do more to push the issue than stick a few words … Read the rest

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Here’s who owns everything in Big Media today

With its $8.45 billion purchase of MGM, which owns the James Bond franchise, Amazon is becoming a bigger player in the movie business. | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

It probably won’t look like this for long.

The media landscape used to be straightforward: Content companies (studios) made stuff (TV shows and movies) and sold it to pay TV distributors, who sold it to consumers.

Now things are up for grabs: Netflix buys stuff from the studios, but it’s making its own stuff, too, and it’s selling it directly to consumers. That’s one of the reasons older media companies are trying to compete by consolidating. Disney, for example, bought much of 21st Century Fox — though much of the early success of its Disney+ streaming service looks like it’s a result of earlier purchases of Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar. Meanwhile, distributors like AT&T, which bought Time Warner, and Verizon, which bought AOL … Read the rest

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Who wins Instagram giveaways? An investigation.

Who is actually winning cash and prizes from Instagram giveaways? | Getty Images/fStop

Influencers and marketing firms keep teaming up to give you cars, cash, and more. No one ever seems to win.

In 1851, the inventor and entrepreneur Benjamin T. Babbitt began traveling around the United States in a wagon, offering consumers free lithographic prints with the purchase of baking soda. According to historian Wendy A. Woloson, this new mode of marketing inspired enterprising salesmen to launch their own prize giveaways, many of which ended up being scams. We can trace the history of the giveaway from the 1850s right up through March 23, 2021, when Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian family known fondly for working harder than Satan, posted a photograph of herself on her Instagram page sitting on a grand staircase surrounded by thousands of dollars’ worth of Louis Vuitton luggage.

“Who wants a 20k … Read the rest

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The bipartisan consensus on broadband is a mirage 

Members of Congress are focused on funding broadband connection through the infrastructure package. | T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Biden wants more publicly funded internet. Cable companies and Republicans, not so much.

There’s a tense fight in Washington between Republicans and Democrats over President Biden’s infrastructure plan, from the amount of funding in it to the very definition of infrastructure. But on the question of addressing the internet and bridging the digital divide, there appears to be resounding agreement that broadband is very, very important and very, very bipartisan. This is a mirage.

Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of Congress from both parties to hammer out the logistics of funding broadband through the infrastructure package, saying the subject is one Americans see as nonpartisan. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told local media in Minnesota that discussion was just focused on “nuts and bolts.”

While … Read the rest

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A disturbing, viral Twitter thread reveals how AI-powered insurance can go wrong

Lemonade wants you to forget everything you know about insurance. | Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lemonade tweeted about what it means to be an AI-first insurance company. It left a sour taste in many customers’ mouths.

Lemonade, the fast-growing, machine learning-powered insurance app, put out a real lemon of a Twitter thread on Monday with a proud declaration that its AI analyzes videos of customers when determining if their claims are fraudulent. The company has been trying to explain itself and its business model — and fend off serious accusations of bias, discrimination, and general creepiness — ever since.

The prospect of being judged by AI for something as important as an insurance claim was alarming to many who saw the thread, and it should be. We’ve seen how AI can discriminate against certain races, genders, economic classes, and disabilities, among other categories, leading to those people being denied … Read the rest

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Facebook’s empty promise of hiding “Likes”

Instagram and Facebook are providing users a choice to hide “Like” counts. | Contributor/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Users will make the final choice on seeing “Likes” in their feeds.

Facebook and Instagram will give users the choice to hide “Like” counts on their own posts as well as others’ posts that appear in their feeds, the company announced on Wednesday.

The move comes after years of criticism that Facebook’s platforms — and particularly Instagram, which Facebook owns — fuel a pressurized and toxic social media environment that damages peoples’ mental health and body image. Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a call with reporters that surveys showed the well-being of users didn’t change when “Like” counts were removed and that people didn’t use the app less or more. “I think we had a sense that we were going to lose users,” Mosseri explained. “It doesn’t look like we are … Read the rest

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How a small antitrust lawsuit against Amazon could mean big things for Big Tech

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on July 29, 2020. | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

DC’s attorney general is suing Amazon over a controversial policy.

Another attorney general is boarding the Big Tech antitrust lawsuit train: Washington, DC, Attorney General Karl Racine is suing Amazon for engaging in anticompetitive acts that he says have raised prices and stifled innovation.

The complaint accuses Amazon of abusing its market position by requiring, in practice, that third-party sellers offer their products for the same price that they sell them elsewhere. This has raised the price of goods overall, the complaint says, which means DC residents are paying more than they otherwise would.

While we’ve seen a few antitrust suits from state attorneys general and federal agencies targeting Google and Facebook over the last year, this appears to be the first government antitrust … Read the rest

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Why Amazon is paying $9 billion for MGM and James Bond

Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time to Die, due out in October 2021. | MGM

Amazon isn’t competing with Netflix, but it is spending billions trying to figure out Hollywood. Maybe 007 can help.

Big tech companies have been eyeing big media companies for years — but they’ve never gotten together before. Now it’s finally, probably happening: Amazon is getting ready to pay $9 billion for MGM Holdings, the Hollywood studio that brings you James Bond and a smattering of other stuff, like the Pink Panther movies and The Handmaid’s Tale TV show.

Which leads to some questions. Why now? Why Amazon? Why MGM? And, just as important: Will regulators let it happen?

Short answers here: The media world is consolidating and there aren’t many targets left for a would-be acquirer. Amazon has spent many billions on video without much to show for it, and thinks owning … Read the rest

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Amazon internal messages show the FTC is prodding the tech giant to punish fake-review schemers

Jeramey Lende/

One of the takedowns involves the large Chinese electronics brand Mpow.

Amazon recently banned some sellers of large Chinese electronics brands like Aukey and Mpow that reportedly do hundreds of millions in sales on the shopping site each year. The bans followed a database leak that appeared to tie some of the brands to paid-review schemes, which Amazon prohibits and says it strictly polices.

But while some press coverage implied that Amazon took these actions in response to the database leak, internal employee messages viewed by Recode show that pressure from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) led to at least one of the notable bans. Communications between Amazon employees viewed by Recode also appear to expose an inconsistent punishment system in which employees need special approval for suspending certain sellers because of their sales numbers, while some merchants are able to keep selling products to Amazon customers despite … Read the rest

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Tech billionaires kick-start the recall fight over Gavin Newsom

Reed Hastings is the biggest donor in the California recall election — by far. | Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images/Netflix

Reed Hastings is spending $3 million to back Newsom. There could be much more to come.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is staring down a recall election over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic — and tech billionaires are preparing to deploy their war chests.

Netflix founder Reed Hastings has unofficially kick-started the fight by making a $3 million donation to back Newsom, according to a new disclosure filed on Thursday evening. That massive sum — by far the largest of any donation to date on either side of the recall fight — is likely just the first in what’s expected to be a big-money brawl among Silicon Valley billionaires, who are somewhat divided on Newsom.

The recall, likely held this fall, will be 2021’s marquee election, with an expected price tag … Read the rest

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