Amazon, Google Antitrust Probes – Spotlight #296

Good Monday morning. It’s June 3rd. The week-long Apple WWDC Developer Conference starts today. That’s when we expect confirmation of breaking news all weekend that Apple will discontinue once-dominant music retailer iTunes.

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read

1. News to Know Now

  • Google and sister site YouTube were among the high profile websites and services that came to a screeching halt Sunday afternoon. Google Cloud customers like PayPal, Target, and Apple also reported outages that lasted several hours.
  • Facebook attorney Orin Snyder argued that the company can’t violate a user’s privacy rights because no “reasonable expectation of privacy” exists on social media according to reporting from Law360.
  • Amazon and Google antitrust investigations are reportedly being launched by the FTC and Justice Department respectively according to the New York Times. We’re doing a deep dive for readers on new initiatives at both companies so that you’re up-to-speed if the government probes are launched. This week: Google with an in-depth analysis of Amazon next week.

2. Google’s Mobile World Has New Goodies

Google pivoted to mobile perhaps better than any tech company not named Apple. Blackberry maker RIM generated $20 billion in revenue just eight years ago and still brings in about a billion in revenue each year. But the near-ubiquitous devices have been replaced by devices running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. 

Google launched Android as an operating system in 2008, which coincidentally or not, is the year that Blackberry revenue doubled to $6 billion. Even today, it’s Android devices that give Google parent Alphabet a significant growth engine for the future

The search engine division is paying attention. Last month the company confirmed that all new website domains would have their mobile pages indexed beginning July 1. That’s a big change for all new websites. Simply put: the search engine will care what your website looks like on mobile devices instead of desktop computers. The statement is a clarion call that the company cares most about mobile and why Google antitrust violations seem like a familiar refrain to anyone who lived through Microsoft’s similar problems twenty years ago.

Google effectively dragged the entire tech community to mobile by first rewarding, then suggesting, and now mandating that how companies display information on mobile will affect their performance in the search engine.

Two weeks ago, Google changed the look of its mobile search results, a change they referred to as “a mobile refresh”. Website names and icons are emphasized, the actual URL (address) is de-emphasized. Ads have bigger, darker labels, and there are more ways to interact on search without going to websites. That’s probably a thing that most users intuitively want.

There are also times that Google takes action that users may not want.  Google announced this week that free (non-paying) customers of its Google Chrome browser will not be able to use third-party ad blocking extensions in the future.Their own blocking software will handle the tasks, says the company, and they’ll work with developers to “get feedback”. 

Google Home products known now as Google Nest were also slated to stop working with third-party devices and programs. The company retreated from that decision after blowback from consumers, the tech community, and retail partners.

Our view: Alphabet and Google offer a lot of consumer products at no cost and have destroyed the consumer market’s ability to charge for browser software, email, and basic office suite software. We expect that the search engine and advertising divisions will get the most antitrust attention. The company also has burgeoning products in home and commercial devices, cloud services, and operating systems that will undoubtedly interest regulatory officials. 

3. In the Spotlight

  • Flipboard and Canva announced security breaches this week. Flipboard is a popular mobile app that provides news coverage in visual form. Canva provides photo and image tools. (Flipboard announcement and Canva announcement)
  • We told you about Microsoft Windows upgrade issues last issue. If you use any Windows operating system other than Windows 8.x or 10.x, you need to read the official announcement that was posted Thursday. Key sentence: “Microsoft is confident that an exploit exists for this vulnerability.”  Read the whole thing. 
  • Twitter will now allow users to livestream videos with up to three different participating accounts. Someone at Twitter apparently saw Facebook and YouTube excoriated for live videos on their sites and thought joining the non-revenue generating fun was sound strategy. Meanwhile, streaming service and Amazon subsidiary Twitch removed the ability to stream live video for all new accounts for a three day period after abuses on that site.

4. Protip: Stopping Website Notifications in Chrome

“Can We Send You Notices About This Stuff” is what some websites ask of all users. The acceptance rate is small, the churn rate is through the roof and the entire process slows down your browser.

The lovely folks at ZDNet have posted a simple step-by-step primer for stopping all sites from sending notification requests when you’re using Google Chrome as your browser (60% worldwide says the most recent data).

Block those popups.

5. Great Data

Ever have so much data to share but had to send multiple charts or tables to make it all understandable?  In “Household Middle Income in Each State”, Dr. Nathan Yau allows users to select the number of people in a household and then sorts the chart data onscreen based on the results. 

The visualization is effective and allows viewers to settle in and understand the data. Don’t shrug it off. He took a big range for each state and D.C., graphed it, sorted it, and then does it again without the user doing anything more than clicking a button to change the household size. That’s 255 data ranges, neatly shown and understandable.

Storytelling with Numbers done well.

6. Coffee Break

You know those blazing-fast scenes in movies and on TV when the hacker hero types with clack-clack-clacks and the screen fills with what looks like gibberish?  Well, it often is gibberish. Just point your web browser to and smash away on your keyboard to look like you’re doing the same. (Hint: the ads along the bottom of the screen are real.)

If we can just change the trajectory in time…

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