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timschochet

Elizabeth Warren wants to break up the “big tech” companies: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Instagram. Is this a good idea?

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I think there is a case to be made that the government shouldn’t have allowed some of their acquisitions.  I don’t know the specifics on how that can be undone though.

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Putting aside whether or not this is a good idea, if it were to become a serious proposal in time for the next election, with the Democratic candidate supporting it and President Trump opposing it, it would be weird and ironic to see Amazon forced to ally themselves with Trump...

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It's certainly something that needs to be looked at with all these companies being such a huge part of our daily lives now.

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Just now, jonessed said:

I think there is a case to be made that the government shouldn’t have allowed some of their acquisitions.  I don’t know the specifics on how that can be undone though.

Pet the article she’s got two proposals: the first is simply to undo them, and not allow new ones in the future. The second is to create what she calls “platform utilities”, which would effectively involve heavily regulation, supposedly on behalf of consumers. 

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adonis just had a thread on roughly this topic.  Maybe there's an economic case to be made for disallowing particular mergers (I haven't followed them and don't have an opinion either way), but the underlying animus toward these firms still strikes me as really strange.

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Just now, timschochet said:

Pet the article she’s got two proposals: the first is simply to undo them, and not allow new ones in the future. The second is to create what she calls “platform utilities”, which would effectively involve heavily regulation, supposedly on behalf of consumers. 

I’m not big on the second.  The first is feasible.  I think the government is still trying to understand how to deal with monopolies in the Internet age.  I suspect if they were to go after anyone it would be Facebook.

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4 minutes ago, timschochet said:

Pet the article she’s got two proposals: the first is simply to undo them, and not allow new ones in the future. The second is to create what she calls “platform utilities”, which would effectively involve heavily regulation, supposedly on behalf of consumers. 

I'm not sure if you can come up with a better example of a pro-consumer business in the past 20 years than Amazon.  Not coincidentally, you would have to go back to Wal-Mart's golden era for the next most recent example.

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I don't buy the argument that those companies stifle innovation and start ups.  It seems to me that a number of start up tech companies do so with the goal of being bought out by Google or Amazon. :shrug:

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1 hour ago, Tom Hagen said:

I don't buy the argument that those companies stifle innovation and start ups.  It seems to me that a number of start up tech companies do so with the goal of being bought out by Google or Amazon. :shrug:

Heard that argument on Shark Tank.  Big companies aren't stifling start ups, they are focusing on execution and ignoring innovation since they can just buy up the start ups once proof of concept has been completed.  The Sharks felt the startups had a shot in the space occupied by the behemoths as long as they were doing something different.

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2 hours ago, IvanKaramazov said:

I'm not sure if you can come up with a better example of a pro-consumer business in the past 20 years than Amazon.  Not coincidentally, you would have to go back to Wal-Mart's golden era for the next most recent example.

I think Facebook is different.  Acquisitions like WhatsApp and Instagram were largely horizontal mergers that will end up just being a part of a universal Facebook messaging system.  They should have triggered much more scrutiny.

Facebook also went through a long period of buying competing companies so they could shut down their products and scoop up the talent.

They really are the only one of these three tech giants where a case can be made that their business practices have hurt the consumer.

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I like Elizabeth Warren a lot. 

I don't think this is a good idea, though I do think any company of that size should be scrutinized thoroughly. 

I don't think this is a great platform for a campaign either, but she's got people who are a lot smarter than me working for her. 

We'll see what happens. 

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I'll say, in general, I'm not a big fan of this sort of scrutiny.  However, there is one instance where I think she's right.  There is a realistic chance that a trainwreck ensues where a company like Amazon blur's the line between supplier of goods on behalf of a market and them also being producers in the very same market.  They hold all the cards in a situation like that and if they wanted, they could destroy anyone in their path.

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It depends on how you do it.  It’s never good to have too much power in the hands of too few, so we should be looking into what this looks like...

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On 3/8/2019 at 2:15 PM, The Narrator said:

I like Elizabeth Warren a lot. 

I don't think this is a good idea, though I do think any company of that size should be scrutinized thoroughly. 

I don't think this is a great platform for a campaign either, but she's got people who are a lot smarter than me working for her. 

We'll see what happens. 

This matches my initial thoughts.

As right as this idea may be it's not going to play well with a lot of people.

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I think net neutrality was the best regulatory weapon on this front. 

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She's just trying to tap into some votes. She really could care less about attempting such a bad idea.

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20 hours ago, The General said:

This matches my initial thoughts.

As right as this idea may be it's not going to play well with a lot of people.

I'm not totally sure.  For me it's one of the issues that if she did win the primary that she could pick up additional voters in the general election on.  I'm pretty conservative on economics but the almost monopolistic power of some of these companies is stifling to competition and the consumer.

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Posted (edited)

Facebook’s initial reaction to this was to remove Elizabeth Warren ads calling for the breakup of Facebook. (It’s almost comical)

They have since backtracked, but they still demonstrated their ability and willingness to abuse power

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/11/facebook-removes-elizabeth-warren-ads-1216757

Edited by Rove!
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4 hours ago, lod001 said:

She's just trying to tap into some votes. She really could care less about attempting such a bad idea.

How much less do you think she could care? A little less? A whole lot less?

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7 hours ago, Rove! said:

Facebook’s initial reaction to this was to remove Elizabeth Warren ads calling for the breakup of Facebook. (It’s almost comical)

They have since backtracked, but they still demonstrated their ability and willingness to abuse power

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/11/facebook-removes-elizabeth-warren-ads-1216757

Willingness to abuse power? Come on. 

People cant blame facebook for allowing advertising and also criticize facebook for taking down advertising. 

Either we want them to function as a moderator or we dont.

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42 minutes ago, parasaurolophus said:

Willingness to abuse power? Come on. 

People cant blame facebook for allowing advertising and also criticize facebook for taking down advertising. 

Either we want them to function as a moderator or we dont.

Of course people can.  The expectation is they moderate in an unbiased manner.  

I’m actually pretty shocked they couldn’t figure out how moronic it was to take down Warren’s advertising.

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13 hours ago, lod001 said:

She's just trying to tap into some votes. She really could care less about attempting such a bad idea.

Warren is out of it already.  Generating very low interest among voters in polls.

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11 minutes ago, jonessed said:

Of course people can.  The expectation is they moderate in an unbiased manner.  

I’m actually pretty shocked they couldn’t figure out how moronic it was to take down Warren’s advertising.

If trump tried to take out a full page ad in Wapo criticizing wapo and bezos do you think anybody would be upset if they refused to run it? 

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41 minutes ago, parasaurolophus said:

If trump tried to take out a full page ad in Wapo criticizing wapo and bezos do you think anybody would be upset if they refused to run it? 

Yes, but what FaceBook did was even worse.  These weren’t just ads that said “FaceBook sucks,”. These were ads that raised a specific issue in a Presidential campaign ad FaceBook said “nope, we can’t allow that issue” primarily due to their own self interest.   That is really problematic.  

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How about we get net neutrality back and start the conversation from there. 

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On 3/11/2019 at 12:05 AM, Henry Ford said:

I think net neutrality was the best regulatory weapon on this front. 

:hifive:

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On 3/11/2019 at 1:05 AM, Henry Ford said:

I think net neutrality was the best regulatory weapon on this front. 

Net Neutrality impacts ISPs and how they prioritize traffic.  FaceBook et al are not ISPs...

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2 minutes ago, Rove! said:

Net Neutrality impacts ISPs and how they prioritize traffic.  FaceBook et al are not ISPs...

Yes. What does prioritizing traffic on Facebook over fledgling social media companies do? 

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Posted (edited)
On 3/8/2019 at 1:06 PM, IvanKaramazov said:

adonis just had a thread on roughly this topic.  Maybe there's an economic case to be made for disallowing particular mergers (I haven't followed them and don't have an opinion either way), but the underlying animus toward these firms still strikes me as really strange.

I'm not sure "animus" is the appropriate word, but it's undeniable that certain companies have an astonishing amount of power within our country.

Anti-trust laws were put in place to prevent large companies from restricting competition through consolidation and cornering the market.  It was in an age where this was done by cornering physical goods.  It's hard to argue that a similar thing isn't being done today in terms of virtual goods, or data in our case. (And in the case of Amazon, vast data and AI is being used to corner physical markets - virtual marketplaces - by routing traffic through their stores, and for popular products, they actually start producing them themselves via suppliers from china, effectively cutting out suppliers in their marketplace.)

Only a handful of companies possess inordinate control over consumer data, and are using it to drive business to themselves at the expense of others.  Amazon is doing this in many areas of their business.  Google consumes our data to provide better services which allow them to get more data, and at some point it becomes a situation where barrier to entry to get good data and good AI just simply isn't possible because google has such a lead.  Facebook...well, we know what facebook has done with personal data, targetted ads, tracking across platforms.  And Apple...man, I love me some Apple, but they take a 30% cut of every app in the app store...which I can understand...and they're supposedly coming out with a new news app, aggregating sources across the world, for a flat subscription rate of like $10...$5 of which they'll keep for themselves.  Why? Because they control the ecosystem where news is delivered.

From Google, to Apple, to Facebook, to Amazon...these guys are in nearly monopolistic control of the virtual world.  We love their services, we're happy with the conveniences they offer, and yeah we get upset when the facebooks turn out to be free and loose with our info to the detriment of democracy, but step back and look at the ultimate power these companies have...all in the hands of a few people, with the ability to control what we see, what we watch, where we shop, groceries, apps, news.  I mean...it's rather unbelievable the sheer amount of power these few companies have consolidated over the past few years.

The best explanation on why this isn't a bigger deal is that on the whole, they tend to make our lives easier, not harder...and facebook aside (maybe included) we're generally happy with the tradeoffs.  The systemic risk still remains with so vast an amount of power consolidated in the hands of so few companies (and in truth, so few people making decisions within these few companies).

If the boards of these companies met regularly, and steered the course of their investments and what they wanted to see happen...they'd be undoubtedly the most powerful people on earth, in terms of their influence.  Cross borders, cross continents...they can steer international events with their decisions, with their strategies.  

All that said, I'd have to hear more discussion about the pros and cons of breaking them up, but certainly there's a HUGE risk there that few people are talking about.

Edited by adonis
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26 minutes ago, adonis said:

I'm not sure "animus" is the appropriate word, but it's undeniable that certain companies have an astonishing amount of power within our country.

Anti-trust laws were put in place to prevent large companies from restricting competition through consolidation and cornering the market.  It was in an age where this was done by cornering physical goods.  It's hard to argue that a similar thing isn't being done today in terms of virtual goods, or data in our case. (And in the case of Amazon, vast data and AI is being used to corner physical markets - virtual marketplaces - by routing traffic through their stores, and for popular products, they actually start producing them themselves via suppliers from china, effectively cutting out suppliers in their marketplace.)

Only a handful of companies possess inordinate control over consumer data, and are using it to drive business to themselves at the expense of others.  Amazon is doing this in many areas of their business.  Google consumes our data to provide better services which allow them to get more data, and at some point it becomes a situation where barrier to entry to get good data and good AI just simply isn't possible because google has such a lead.  Facebook...well, we know what facebook has done with personal data, targetted ads, tracking across platforms.  And Apple...man, I love me some Apple, but they take a 30% cut of every app in the app store...which I can understand...and they're supposedly coming out with a new news app, aggregating sources across the world, for a flat subscription rate of like $10...$5 of which they'll keep for themselves.  Why? Because they control the ecosystem where news is delivered.

From Google, to Apple, to Facebook, to Amazon...these guys are in nearly monopolistic control of the virtual world.  We love their services, we're happy with the conveniences they offer, and yeah we get upset when the facebooks turn out to be free and loose with our info to the detriment of democracy, but step back and look at the ultimate power these companies have...all in the hands of a few people, with the ability to control what we see, what we watch, where we shop, groceries, apps, news.  I mean...it's rather unbelievable the sheer amount of power these few companies have consolidated over the past few years.

The best explanation on why this isn't a bigger deal is that on the whole, they tend to make our lives easier, not harder...and facebook aside (maybe included) we're generally happy with the tradeoffs.  The systemic risk still remains with so vast an amount of power consolidated in the hands of so few companies (and in truth, so few people making decisions within these few companies).

If the boards of these companies met regularly, and steered the course of their investments and what they wanted to see happen...they'd be undoubtedly the most powerful people on earth, in terms of their influence.  Cross borders, cross continents...they can steer international events with their decisions, with their strategies.  

All that said, I'd have to hear more discussion about the pros and cons of breaking them up, but certainly there's a HUGE risk there that few people are talking about.

Great post.

Its a crazy phenomenon.  In a very short timeframe, (like one decade) google, Facebook, Twitter and amazon have essentially taken over and become the most powerful espionage forces on the planet.  

I doubt anyone in Washington has any idea what to do about it either.

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2 hours ago, adonis said:

Anti-trust laws were put in place to prevent large companies from restricting competition through consolidation and cornering the market. 

Right. We want to encourage business behaviors that are pro-competitive while discouraging business behaviors that are anti-competitive.

My antitrust professor identified a very simple and effective way to tell which is which: in any given case, look at who’s doing the complaining. The consumers or customers of a business tend to complain about anti-competitive behavior. The competitors of a business tend to complain about pro-competitive bahavior.

I don’t hear too many consumers complaining about Amazon.

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12 hours ago, Maurile Tremblay said:

Right. We want to encourage business behaviors that are pro-competitive while discouraging business behaviors that are anti-competitive.

My antitrust professor identified a very simple and effective way to tell which is which: in any given case, look at who’s doing the complaining. The consumers or customers of a business tend to complain about anti-competitive behavior. The competitors of a business tend to complain about pro-competitive bahavior.

I don’t hear too many consumers complaining about Amazon.

I think that works well when folks can see what's being done, or if the business goals result in adverse immediate conditions for consumers.

But for things like the power consolidation of these companies, as well as for things that lead up to the 2008 financial crisis, consumers are ill-equipped/informed to actually have an opinion on the negative aspects of such consolidation of power until things go terribly wrong.  At that point, it's too late to be proactive and you end up cleaning up a big mess. 

While it may be hard to project what big mess can come from consolidation of power that these tech giants have going on, the risks of so much power being concentrated in the board rooms of so few companies has to be taken seriously.

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23 hours ago, shader said:

I doubt anyone in Washington has any idea what to do about it either.

The problem with people in Washington is that they're not there because they have a great understanding of how technology works.

Have you sat through and watched many of the "grillings" congress gives to tech leaders?  It's downright embarrassing that these are the folks in charge on this topic.  We have a group of leaders in our country who barely understand the technologies they're in charge of regulating.

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If you couldn't figure out the geezers in DC have no idea about technology and how it works after watching the Clinton server fiasco, I can't help you.  It's probably the largest weak spot in all of them and will be the most important topic from a national security perspective going forward.  It's quite frightening IMO.

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Posted (edited)
12 hours ago, adonis said:

The problem with people in Washington is that they're not there because they have a great understanding of how technology works.

Have you sat through and watched many of the "grillings" congress gives to tech leaders?  It's downright embarrassing that these are the folks in charge on this topic.  We have a group of leaders in our country who barely understand the technologies they're in charge of regulating.

And this shouldn't be surprising because so many members of Congress are so old.  Very few people in their 60's "get" social media. 

Edited by shader

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Just now, shader said:

And this shouldn't be surprising because so many Congressmen are so old.  

Along with most of the voting public.  Which is why, in my opinion, consumers are ill-informed to sufficiently be upset at how these tech giants are operating.  If more folks understood and knew what was going on, in terms of consolidation of power, data gathering, data analysis, tracking, information sharing, and predictive analytics used to guide consumer behavior, more folks would be concerned.

We can't rely on people being upset by their business practices to serve as a warning sign that these companies are too powerful.  The tech giants are operating in a void where those in power don't understand their businesses well enough to effectively regulate and/or be concerned about their growing power, and the electorate is largely uninformed about what's going on as well. 

Within this vacuum of information, understanding, and knowledge these tech giants have accumulated unbelievable amounts of power.  Like an iceberg, what most consumers see is only what's on the surface.  They see speedy deliveries, increased selection, lower prices, and lots of convenience.  What they don't see is what is under the surface.

And all that being said, I absolutely love what the tech companies are doing.  Huge AAPL fan.  Appreciate amazon and google as well.  But man, it makes me incredibly nervous the more I learn about the sheer power these guys have accumulated, and the true barrier to entry for any other competitor who would want to challenge them.  In the present and the future, it's all about the data - who has it, and what they do with it.  Only a (literal) handful of players control almost all of the data, and are steadily expanding their reach, and consolidating other folks access to it.

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4 hours ago, The Commish said:

If you couldn't figure out the geezers in DC have no idea about technology and how it works after watching the Clinton server fiasco, I can't help you.  It's probably the largest weak spot in all of them and will be the most important topic from a national security perspective going forward.  It's quite frightening IMO.

 

15 minutes ago, shader said:

And this shouldn't be surprising because so many members of Congress are so old.  Very few people in their 60's "get" social media. 

Congress is like an aging football team. We desperately need to clear out the Eli Mannings and get an influx of youth. 

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18 minutes ago, shader said:

And this shouldn't be surprising because so many members of Congress are so old.  Very few people in their 60's "get" social media. 

These people don't even "get" computers in general.  It's terrifying if you understand that the next major world spat is likely to come in the digital realm where our missiles are of no use.

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Posted (edited)
17 minutes ago, adonis said:

Along with most of the voting public.  Which is why, in my opinion, consumers are ill-informed to sufficiently be upset at how these tech giants are operating.  If more folks understood and knew what was going on, in terms of consolidation of power, data gathering, data analysis, tracking, information sharing, and predictive analytics used to guide consumer behavior, more folks would be concerned.

We can't rely on people being upset by their business practices to serve as a warning sign that these companies are too powerful.  The tech giants are operating in a void where those in power don't understand their businesses well enough to effectively regulate and/or be concerned about their growing power, and the electorate is largely uninformed about what's going on as well. 

Within this vacuum of information, understanding, and knowledge these tech giants have accumulated unbelievable amounts of power.  Like an iceberg, what most consumers see is only what's on the surface.  They see speedy deliveries, increased selection, lower prices, and lots of convenience.  What they don't see is what is under the surface.

And all that being said, I absolutely love what the tech companies are doing.  Huge AAPL fan.  Appreciate amazon and google as well.  But man, it makes me incredibly nervous the more I learn about the sheer power these guys have accumulated, and the true barrier to entry for any other competitor who would want to challenge them.  In the present and the future, it's all about the data - who has it, and what they do with it.  Only a (literal) handful of players control almost all of the data, and are steadily expanding their reach, and consolidating other folks access to it.

I was thinking about some of your earlier comments a day or so ago. It's amazing how little this gets talked about, even in this thread.  A few years ago, there was an uproar with the Snowden revelations...Since then, the tech companies have gotten even stronger.  These tech companies have more info on citizens than every spy agency on earth.  They know where we go, when we go, what we buy, what we search for.....now we are inviting them into our homes with microphones (Alexa, etc) that are supposedly always off, but really aren't.

The amount of data is staggering.  That's a lot of power.  But of course, this has all been foreseen.  We've seen sci-fi movies for years and we know this kind of crap is coming down the pipe.  Not sure the solution as these companies don't see themselves as "US" companies.  They see themselves as global companies.  If the US tried to break up Google, Google could just move to another country.  Or if you are thinking a bit more nefariously, google knows all about the private lives/conversations of the people in Congress who would vote against them.  It just takes a little bit of imagination to get to a future where the top 5 tech companies literally run the world.

Edited by shader

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To further those comments, people get news from google/facebook/Apple/twitter/Amazon.  We often talk about CNN, Fox news, nbc, etc.  But the reality is that it's a major waste of time to be discussing this.  Most people get their news by swiping left on their iphones, or using twitter/facebook/google.

Ironically, Trump understood this and used twitter as a primary tool to reach out to his base.  Whoever wins the democratic nomination will probably be the person that gets twitter the most.  

But what happens if Twitter begins taking sides in elections?  They could literally decide that a specific candidate in a country is violent or racist or xenophobic or sexist..take your pick.  What if Trump made a terrible tweet and Twitter banned him because he broke their policies?  Many would agree that they have the right to do that, but in so doing they could totally take away his pulpit.  Same with politicians all across the world in any country.  At this point, these companies might not yet have enough power to do this....but perhaps in a few years they could!

I haven't even gotten into the manipulation that Russia did to affect the 2016 elections.  I don't know that there is a way to police that, and you can expect it to get worse.  But now as a response, companies like Facebook are going to begin implementing policies to "vet" stories.  Again...building their power.  Perhaps this will be a good thing for awhile.  It's obvious that blatantly false news stories being spread around millions of times is an issue.  But you've again given the power for deciding this into the hands of the big companies.

Incredible to watch.

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With two candidates on the opposite sides politically (Warren and Cruz) agreeing, it probably has some legs. I support the idea. Amazon shut our account down for a week last weekend giving us no reason except some "bot" produced response that we violated their terms and that their decision is final. Our account is back up as of last night.  So much for final decisions.

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This was brought up again at the debate tonight.  There were several different takes. Will this be a continued talking point for the 2020 election?  I did like Yang's answer to tax all the information these companies collect on us.  

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On 3/8/2019 at 2:08 PM, IvanKaramazov said:

I'm not sure if you can come up with a better example of a pro-consumer business in the past 20 years than Amazon.  Not coincidentally, you would have to go back to Wal-Mart's golden era for the next most recent example.

Have you read about Diapers.com?  There does come a certain point where these companies get to a certain size and dominate the market so much that they are essentially anti-competitive. I guess to your point, Amazon’s been mostly consumer friendly and competitor or even supplier unfriendly. But eventually, I think people worry they’ll use their pricing power when they run everyone else out of business. 

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