Digital Privacy Is Making Antitrust Exciting Again


A COUPLE WEEKS ago, during an unassuming antitrust conference at Oxford University, a German bureaucrat uttered a few words that should send a chill through Silicon Valley. In front of a crowd of nearly 200 competition law experts—including enforcement agents, scholars, and economic policy-makers from the United States and Europe—Andreas Mundt, president of Germany’s antitrust agency, Bundeskartellamt, said he was “deeply convinced privacy is a competition issue.”

It’s a conviction major tech platforms are listening to closely, especially since Mundt’s agency is in the midst of a high-profile investigation into whether Facebook abused its dominance as a social network by forcing customers to agree to unfair terms about the way the company uses their data. Mundt’s words may have sounded mundane, but his implication was anything but: the world’s foremost antitrust regulators were publicly discussing whether they should intervene if a transaction weakens consumer privacy protections, a pervasive concern in the era of big data.

A few years ago, to suggest that enforcement agents should act based on privacy would have be heretical to accepted antitrust dogma, particularly as it’s been practiced in the US. The underlying aim of antitrust regulation is to keep the market humming by promoting competition and limiting barriers to entry (this is why the field is known as competition law outside of the US).

For decades, antitrust philosophy in America, and to some extent in Europe, has been shaped by the Chicago School, a highly influential conservative framework that favored big business. Its proponents argued that intervention was only necessary if a business deal hurt consumer welfare, not, for example, smaller competitors. The scope was narrowed further by measuring consumer welfare primarily by whether people had to pay higher prices.

This anti-interventionist approach has led to consolidation across the board, from healthcare to pharmaceuticals to telecom. But the fixation on price has been a boon for tech platforms, which have mastered the art of making money off of free products. An intellectual shift among antitrust experts could ultimately pose an existential threat to Silicon Valley—especially to the idea that its companies are simply scrappy, innovative upstarts that won out rather than heavyweight incumbents using valuable data troves and network effects to dominate one niche after the other.

My emphasis.  A very interesting new angle of attack.

Notes From An Emergency

Via Charles Arthur, another great observation from Maciej Cieglowski in Idle Words:

Facebook is the dominant social network in Europe, with 349 million monthly active users. Google has something like 94% of market share for search in Germany. The servers of Europe are littered with the bodies of dead and dying social media sites. The few holdouts that still exist, like Xing, are being crushed by their American rivals.

In their online life, Europeans have become completely dependent on companies headquartered in the United States.

And so Trump is in charge in America, and America has all your data. This leaves you in a very exposed position. US residents enjoy some measure of legal protection against the American government. Even if you think our intelligence agencies are evil, they’re a lawful evil. They have to follow laws and procedures, and the people in those agencies take them seriously.

But there are no such protections for non-Americans outside the United States. The NSA would have to go to court to spy on me; they can spy on you anytime they feel like it.

This is an astonishing state of affairs. I can’t imagine a world where Europe would let itself become reliant on American cheese, or where Germans could only drink Coors Light.

In the past, Europe has shown that it’s capable of identifying a vital interest and moving to protect it. When American aerospace companies were on the point of driving foreign rivals out of business, European governments formed the Airbus consortium, which now successfully competes with Boeing.

A giant part of the EU budget goes to subsidize farming, not because farming is the best use of resources in a first-world economy, but because farms are important to national security, to the landscape, to national identity, social stability, and a shared sense of who we are.

But when it comes to the Internet, Europe doesn’t put up a fight. It has ceded the ground entirely to American corporations. And now those corporations have to deal with Trump. How hard do you think they’ll work to defend European interests?



A Grand New Theory of Life’s Evolution on Earth

The Atlantic:

In “The Energy Expansions of Evolution,” an extraordinary new essay in Nature Ecology and Evolution, Olivia Judson sets out a theory of successive energy revolutions that purports to explain how our planet came to have such a diversity of environments that support such a rich array of life, from the cyanobacteria to daisies to humans.

Judson divides the history of the life on Earth into five energetic epochs, a novel schema that you will not find in geology or biology textbooks. In order, the energetic epochs are: geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh, and fire. Each epoch represents the unlocking of a new source of energy, coinciding with new organisms able to exploit that source and alter their planet. The previous sources of energy stay around, so environments and life on Earth become ever more diverse. Judson calls it a “step-wise construction of a life-planet system.”

In the epoch of geochemical energy 3.7 billion years ago, the first living organisms “fed” on molecules like hydrogen and methane that formed in reaction between water and rocks. They wrung energy out of chemical bonds. It was not very efficient—the biosphere’s productivity then was an estimated a thousand to a million times less than it is today.

Sunlight, of course, was shining on Earth all along. When microbes that can harness sunlight finally evolve, the productivity and diversity of the biosphere leveled up. One particular type of bacteria, called cyanobacteria, hits upon a way of harnessing the sun’s energy that makes oxygen (O2) as a byproduct, and with profound consequences: The planet gets an ozone (O3) layer that blocks UV radiation, new minerals through oxygen reactions, and an atmosphere full of highly reactive O2.

Which brings us to the epoch of oxygen. Given an opportunity, oxygen will steal electrons from anything it finds. New oxygen-resistant organisms evolve with enzymes to protect them from oxygen. They have advantages too: Because oxygen is so reactive, it makes the metabolism of these organisms much more efficient. In some conditions, organisms can get 16 times as much energy out of a glucose molecule with the presence of oxygen than without.

With more energy, you can have motion and so in the epoch of flesh, highly mobile animals become abundant. They can fly, swim, ran to catch prey. “Flesh” is source of concentrated energy, rich in fats and protein and carbon.

Then one particular type of animal—those of the genus Homo—figure out fire. Fire lets us cook, which may have allowed us to get more nutrition out of the same food. It lets us forge labor-saving metal tools. It lets us create fertilizer through the Haber-Bosch process to grow food on industrial scales. It lets us burn fossils fuels for energy.


Plykea manufactures premium quality doors, drawer fronts, cover panels and worktops, specifically designed to fit IKEA’s latest range of Metod kitchen cabinets.  If they could use a CNC machine to reduce the door front centre by say 7mm, they could sell Shaker style doors.  That would have saved me a lot of money.