Mr. DHH Goes to Washington
Basecamp co-founder and Chief Technology Officer David Heinemeier Hansson has been ranting on Twitter about monopolistic practices in Big Tech for a while, and he recently got an unexpected opportunity to air his grievances about Google, Apple, and Facebook in front of a congressional subcommittee. In this episode, David debriefs on his experience and Basecamp’s data analyst, Jane Yang, talks about her work helping David prepare for his appearance.
- Judiciary Committee page about the hearing, including a video of the event - 1:37
- "Pick A Fight," our episode about why David enjoys arguing on Twitter - 2:38
- "Open Source Beyond the Market," David's 2019 RailsConf keynote - 4:59
- "The Google Ads Shakedown," our episode about our displeasure with the way Google handles ads in search results - 5:51
- "100% Facebook-Free," our episode about pulling Basecamp from Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp - 6:42
- Previous subcommittee hearings on "Online Platforms and Market Power" - 8:01
- David's prepared remarks - 8:35
- Congressman Ken Buck - 11:25
- The other witnesses were Patrick Spence of Sonos, David Barnett of PopSockets, and Kirsten Daru of Tile - 12:13
- "PopSockets CEO says Amazon uses 'bullying with a smile' to press for lower prices" (CNBC) - 13:02
- "Everything we know about Apple's Tile-like item tracking device" (9to5Mac) - 19:22
- "Apple's Flashlight Is Why We Can't Fund Nice Dumb Things" (TechCrunch) - 19:40
- The story of Steve Jobs calling Dropbox a "feature" is recounted in this 2011 Fortune article - 20:23
- "Here's how we can break up Big Tech" (Elizabeth Warren) - 26:29
- Goldman Sachs estimated that Google paid Apple $9.46 billion in 2018 to be the default search engine - 26:50
- The European Union's landmark antitrust case against Microsoft required it to offer a choice of browsers to Windows users - 27:08
- NerdWallet's explainer of the Glass-Steagall Act - 27:24
- A New York Times explainer of the Overton window - 31:13
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Anyone You Meet Normcore Remix by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:00:02] Rework is brought to you by Basecamp. Ever had a group working on something where some people were using text messages, some people were sending out email after email and some people were even dropping sticky notes on your desk with tasks on them? It’s a mess, easy to get lost in it all. Basecamp takes all of that work and puts it in one place for everyone. Learn more and sign up at basecamp.com.
David Cicilline [00:00:28] Our third witness is David Heinemeier Hansson. Mr. Hansson is a chief technology officer and cofounder of Basecamp LLC, a project management and communications software used by hundreds of organizations like Shopify, NASA, and the University of Miami. He is also the creator of Ruby on Rails an Open Source web framework used by programmers at GitHub, AirBNB, Kickstarter and Goodreads.
[00:00:55] Mr. Hansson is also the author of multiple books about successful business management, including It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work and the New York Times bestseller Rework. Mr. Hanson received his bachelor’s degree from the Copenhagen Business School. We welcome all of our very distinguished witnesses and really thank you for participating in today’s hearing. Now, if you would please rise, I will begin by swearing you in.
[00:01:17] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:01:19] Welcome to Rework, a podcast about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.
Wailin: [00:01:25] And I’m Wailin Wong. Just over a week ago, Basecamp cofounder and CTO, David Heinemeier Hansson, got a unique opportunity. He was invited along with some other tech executives to testify before a congressional antitrust subcommittee about competition in the digital economy. And instead of holding the hearing in Washington DC they took the show on the road and went to Boulder, Colorado.
Shaun: [00:01:48] David had to submit written testimony, give five minutes of prepared remarks and answer questions from committee members. He focused his testimony on three tech giants, Google, Apple, and Facebook. I sat down with both David and Basecamp’s data analyst, Jane Yang to talk about the experience of going before Congress and what might come of it.
[00:02:08] Welcome back to an episode of Rework, David.
David: [00:02:10] Well, thank you for having me back. It’s such an honor to be able to appear.
Shaun: [00:02:17] So last week was pretty exciting for you and for everyone here at Basecamp. You were invited to testify before Congress as part of a series of hearings on online platforms and market power. Can we just start with how did you get this invite?
David: [00:02:31] I’m even kind of confused how I got this invite. I think I got this invite because I’m a loudmouth on Twitter. Because they never really fully clarified in detail why me. I got this note, an email from someone who works for the committee who just said, “Hey, are you interested in coming to testify at this hearing?”
[00:02:55] It was a funny process in part because there were multiple people involved and I never fully really understood who was actually inviting me. Like, how did this come to be? In part because it happened really fast. So I gave testimony last Friday and I only really got the invitation to testify a week in advance.
Shaun: [00:03:15] Oh, wow.
David: [00:03:15] And I had to turn in written testimony like that Wednesday. So I had about two business days or something to put together the written testimony, which was fine, because the written testimony and my testimony in general wasn’t exactly novel territory. I’ve been ranting and raving about this on Twitter and elsewhere for years and years. But it was just still, it was a funky process. I was kind of suspecting the whole way that like someone else was supposed to have the seat and I just, they dropped out at the last minute and someone went like, shit, who can we get the set? How about that guy? He talks a big game, let’s get him.
[00:03:53] So that was pretty much just how it came about. Like they said, Hey, do you want to come testify? And I said, fuck yeah, this sounds great. Like I’ve been ranting about the main problem with monopolies and antitrust is that there’s only so much you can do as a consumer. There’s only so much you can do as a small tech company, but there’s certainly a lot that the government can do. There’s certainly a lot that an antitrust subcommittee of Congress., literally the people in trusted to keep an eye on this stuff, can do. It’s one of those areas where Google, Apple, Facebook, whatever, they don’t really care what I have to say. What they do care about is they care about people who actually have the power to enforce or put in place new regulations.
[00:04:38] So this is really the source of power that we need to petition. These are the people who can do something, truly, about this. So absolute honor to appear there and hopefully something comes of it.
Shaun: [00:04:55] How was preparation for something like this different than say, preparing for a Rails Conf keynote?
David: [00:04:59] In some ways it was easier because I wasn’t compiling new material, so to speak. I was essentially just collecting the greatest hits of the material that I already had. So that plus the fact that the testimony that I was giving in person was capped at five minutes. So it just needed to be a tight five minutes and then I could submit written testimony. And I also didn’t want that to be too long. In the end it ended up being 13 pages. So it was a little longer than I originally had in mind, but still sort of pretty, pretty short.
[00:05:35] I sort of decided early on, hey, here are three main topics that we should focus on. We should focus on the way Google is abusing its monopoly in search, particularly how it uses that monopoly to shake down businesses. And, I mean we’ve ranted about this before. We’ve done a podcast episode, I believe Jason was on to talk about how Google forces us to buy ads on our own keywords. And then there was the case about Apple and their sort of draconian policies for the app store and their outrageous fees for using their payment services. The 30% that felt like an easy slam dunk.
[00:06:12] And then actually at first I had only intended to focus on those two arguments and then I had a conversation with counsel for the for the committee and they were quite clearly also interested in hearing my thoughts on Facebook. And I have many thoughts on Facebook. So it wasn’t exactly like they had to twist my arm, but that was how the third point about the terrifying targeted ad engine that Facebook has, how if you choose to opt out of that as we have at Basecamp with our Facebook-free pledge, you’re at a grave disadvantage and there’s just something rotten about the fact that the marketplace is being set by lowest ethical marketplace. And that Facebook, in essence, is twisting the arms of businesses to use these services that are violating people’s privacy on a mass industrial scale. Because if they don’t, their competitors are going to do so and they’re going to be at a big disadvantage.
[00:07:09] So that became the three prongs of the attack. And I also worked together with the Jane on this. I had asked her on the Friday there, hey, can you help me with some of the statistics around, for example, Google’s market share of our marketing traffic? And she was like, yeah, sure.
Jane: [00:07:26] My name is Jane Yang and technically I am Basecamp’s data analyst. It was not something I’ve had experience with doing before, but I was really excited at the chance to help them out. Initially, I think his thought was, well, we want to get some numbers to support this argument. That included things that were specific to Basecamp, but also just industry-wide, what are some numbers around the scope and scale of Google and Apple and Facebook and Amazon’s reach? And so that falls clearly under the data analyst purview.
[00:07:56] But as I was doing some background research, there were four proceeding hearings and I wanted to make sure that we had a sense of what included. So I watched all 12 hours of this board proceedings hearing.
Shaun: [00:08:07] How exciting.
Jane: [00:08:06] Yes, indeed. I realized, I don’t think it’s the numbers that are really going to be what we can contribute and really meaningfully share that’s different from what mountains of experts have already shared in these testimonies. And so I gave some numbers and then I also told him, I think we should just talk about our lived experiences.
David: [00:08:26] She drew up some of the outlines and I helped fill it in with a flowery, colorful language.
[00:08:34] (clip from the hearing) Every application maker using Apple’s app store live in fear that their next update is denied or their application is entirely removed. All it takes is being assigned the wrong review clerk who chooses to interpret the often vague and confusing rules different than the last. Then you’ll be stuck in an appeals process that would make Kafka blush.
Jane: [00:08:55] It’s a totally different kind of writing than I’d done before. And so there was a moment of studying and thinking, huh, well we don’t want to be super legalese and we don’t want just surface level platonics. So how do you strike this right balance between this really persuasive storytelling that also clearly drives an argument.
David: [00:09:16] (clip from hearing) And I didn’t even touch at the misery that is to attempt direct head on competition with any of these conglomerates. But at some point, all companies will be competing against big tech simply because big tech is bent on expanding until it does absolutely everything. The aforementioned companies already do payment processing, credit card issuing, music distribution, TV producing, advertising networks, map making, navigation services, alarm systems, cameras, computers, medical devices, and about a billion other things. Help us, Congress. You’re our only hope.
Shaun: [00:09:48] Did the Star Wars quotes come from you or David?
Jane: [00:09:50] That was all David. I have to confess that I actually haven’t watched any of the Star Wars movies.
Shaun: [00:09:57] Well, that’ll end this interview, so, thank you listeners.
[00:10:03] Were you also surprised as everyone else that David managed to not swear in front of Congress?
Jane: [00:10:10] I’m not surprised. I think when he made the decision to wear the blazer, he probably was making the decision to adjust some aspects of how he typically presents himself.
David: [00:10:23] I did not swear. I think some people were actually disappointed about that.
Shaun: [00:10:27] We had a bet going at work, yeah. I mean I had already capitulated by bringing a sport coat. No, not just bringing a sport coat. I bought a sport coat like on that Friday, in advance. I was like, shit, I don’t own a suit. The last suit I owned, I wore, I don’t know, 10 years ago and I gave it away three years ago. And then I had one sport coat that I had worn for some event in like 2014 and it no longer fit. So I was like, oh shit. I gotta be presentable.
[00:10:56] I had also bought like a very presentable plain T-shirt and then that morning of the hearing I put the outfit on and I’m like, Jesus, I look like someone who sells toners for photocopiers right now. I just can’t do that. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that, that’s just not, that didn’t feel like me. So I was like, no, fuck that. I’m just going to put on my regular t-shirt and my one concession is going to be the sport coat. So it was kind of funny to see Congressman Ken Buck call that out.
Ken Buck: [00:11:26] I first want to say, Mr. Hansson, thank you for dressing the way you did. That’s the way I’d like to dress. I don’t want to wear a tie, either. And you sort of have the image of a tech person, a tech executive in my mind. So I, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.
David: [00:11:41] hat was funny, it was sort of after the fact we were standing and people were like, how did you, how did you get to, how did you get out of wearing a tie? And I was like, well I don’t own a tie. So that was step one. Anyway, I mean, I want to be respectful of the sort of gravity of the institution here. I think it’s wonderful what they’re doing and I wanted to be presentable and not swear for once. And dress up at least partly for the part.
Shaun: [00:12:10] So you are on a panel with, let’s see. Patrick Spence of Sonos, David Barnett of PopSockets and Kirsten Daru of Tile. And one of the things I thought was really interesting was that the committee made a big deal about saying how brave all of you were for coming. Did you feel that you were ever under threat from big tech?
David: [00:12:29] Not directly. I think it was more true of the other three because I was sort of the odd one out. We don’t compete as directly against any of these big tech companies. We’re more just sort of the users of the platforms, or the abused on the platforms. Whereas all the others had, well, I suppose PopSockets was a little bit different. But they were really dependent on that relationship with, and are dependent on that relationship with Amazon. And Amazon had already shown a willingness to abuse that relationship directly.
[00:13:03] So I could totally see how all the other three had a credible reason to think that they were going to face retaliation or that business was going to be difficult for them. Whereas with us, it’s true. Like they certainly could have. One of these statistics I quoted was the fact that, 40% of our marketing traffic comes from some Google search. So let’s say Google goes like, well, that was an uppity testimony. We’re going to retaliate and we’re essentially going to delist you from the search engine or something like that. That would have a pretty severe impact on our business.
[00:13:37] In some ways actually, bizarrely enough, testifying in front of Congress, at least in my opinion, felt like a shield. Like imagine how brazen you’d have to be to retaliate now. Right?
Shaun: [00:13:48] Right.
David: [00:13:48] And how bad that would look. The chairman of the committee explicitly said both in the hearing and afterwards, hey if there’s any retaliation that comes of this, we are extremely keen to hear about it.
[00:14:00] So I kind of feel like I would be surprised if anything was going to come of it and also I was like, well fuck it. I don’t care. Like if you want to come out swinging because we stand in front of Congress to tell our experiences of how we’ve been abused by these platforms. Do it, show everyone exactly how you act, right? While the spotlight is on. And so I ranked the likelihood of that happening is low and then if it was going to happen, if anything, it would help the cause even if it would be at some detriment to our business in the short term.
Shaun: [00:14:31] In talking to some of the other panelists, did you get the sense that there was some fear there of repercussions?
David: [00:14:36] Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Particularly some of these companies that are just so dependent on whatever tiny amount of benevolence that’s left with these platforms. Like Sonos, if Google and Amazon both said, hey, you can’t provide our voice assistant on your devices anymore because we don’t like whatever, they would come up with some excuse. They wouldn’t of course say, Oh, it’s because she testified against us in front of Congress. They would say some other bullshit reason. But if that was to happen, that would be a material impact on Sonos’s business.
[00:15:09] And they also rely on these platforms and all sorts of other ways. I believe they set that they use Amazon Web Services and they obviously rely on Google for customers to be able to find them. And I think that was one of the complications here is that these companies are all conglomerates. You’re not just competing on one angle. It’s just not like the one product against the one thing. It’s often you competing against the particular product as Sonos is with these smart speakers. But you’re also reliant on all the platforms in all these different ways. So it’s not that hard to imagine all the ways these companies could make your life and your business very painful.
[00:15:43] Particularly when you hear direct testimony that that is exactly what they’re willing to do. I thought the PopSockets testimony about how Amazon would enter into a written agreement with the company and then they would basically just renege on the phone. So there’s direct testimony to the fact that these companies absolutely do that, either through sort of specific malice as the case of Amazon or just sort of bureaucratic oppression as the case with Apple.
[00:16:11] I think, for example, the issues that we’ve had at Basecamp at times getting our updates approved through the Apple app store. I don’t think it’s because there’s some executive at Apple that sits up high and says we’re going to make life hard for these people. No, this is just a banality of their brutal regime. The banality of a bureaucracy that goes like, of course it is our right to mandate a 30% fee and payment services and anyone who dares to object to that, we’re going to find that link to your help page that’s buried five screens deep and we’re going to call that out and we’re going to say it’s a violation and we’re going to reject your app.
[00:16:48] And I think that this is one of those things where these companies, they’re so big that what happens at the front levels of the clerks is mainly just informed by the overall incentives and ethos and perceptions of power that emanate through the organization. There’s some clerk sitting down on the front lines of Apple’s review that sort of have internalized that this is a pivot to services. Apple makes money off payment services. They make a ton of money off payment services. I’m doing right for the company by rejecting applications that dare to refuse that offer. It doesn’t have to be that it’s Tim Cook telling someone, hey, reject that app. Because that just not how power is dispersed or used in large organizations. It’s all done through the permeation of culture.
Shaun: [00:17:35] Were there any other testimonies that weren’t yours, obviously, that surprised you or you felt were very effective?
David: [00:17:42] I thought they were all effective in their own way. In fact, I was even a little taken aback by some of the testimony. And I mean I’m a pretty cynical person when it comes to these big tech companies. I already have a beef, I already have a bias, but yet, hearing the story from PopSockets of just how brazen Amazon would be, I was like, wow. To hear it sort of that concretely on the record under oath was powerful and it was like, this sounds like a criminal enterprise. It’s never like, hey, give us money or we’re going to burn down your shop. It’s very much the euphemisms that the mafia would use, like, hey, that’s a nice product you got there. Be a real shame if uh, no one could buy it, huh? Maybe you should do a contribution to our marketing campaign here. I think that would really benefit you. Right?
[00:18:37] You just go like, holy shit. And you just go like, it’s almost even more terrifying when they speak in euphemisms like that rather than just come out and say it. And I also just thought that the case with Tile… Which perhaps the testimony from Tile was the one where I had the most, I don’t know, objections of some sort there. They raised some points where it was like, hmm, I don’t really agree with all of that. But I did find the fact that Apple has just such an unfair advantage. Here’s Tile. They built this business up over a long period of time. They sell through the Apple store. Then Apple, at some, I mean the physical Apple store, you could buy the Tile product in there. They required the same kind of disclosure from Tile in terms of knowing all the data about the business and so forth and upcoming products. And then they’d just go like, actually that’s a nice business. Let’s just take it. And you go like, fuck, that’s terrifying.
[00:19:32] And I get some of it because one of the Congressman brought up the case of the what was it, flashlight apps. That flashlight did not use to be built into the OS and there was a thriving ecosystem of flashlight apps, right? And Apple essentially killed that. And there is some line there where you go, as a consumer at least. Do you know what? It’s pretty convenient that the flash is just built in to the OS and it’s actually one of the buttons when you just wake your iPhone. It’s one of the buttons right next to the camera. It’s very accessible and so on.
[00:20:03] So you sort of get like, actually I like that. But then you also go like, oh man. Actually how unfair is that that Apple in that way, they owned the entire marketplace. They have this duopoly with Google on mobile application stores and on mobile operating systems and they could just at any moment take any feature and put it into the thing.
[00:20:20] It reminds me of this anecdote from when Steve Jobs met with Dropbox and Steve Jobs wanted to buy Dropbox and the threat was essentially the same thing, right? Hey, just remember you’re a feature. We could make your product or service or business into just a feature of the OS. Thankfully, in that case it didn’t actually work, right?
[00:20:43] In the case of Tile that you have this small business, a hundred people and Apple can just say, yeah, I like that. I’m going to take it. As a whole picture. As all of the testimonies delivered to me, it seemed like no reasonable third party would listen to that testimony and go, actually, everything’s great. Big tech companies, they’re just great. Everything is working as it’s supposed to be. There’s no need for regulation here. Nothing to see, carry on. No reasonable person who doesn’t have a vested interest is likely to draw that conclusion.
Anyone You Meet Normcore Remix by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:21:16] After the break, David and Jane talk about what they hope may come of hearings like this, but first Wailin, I hear you’re using Basecamp for some sort of book fair.
Wailin: [00:21:25] Yes. So for listeners who don’t know about this hallowed American tradition. The book fair is a week-long book sale that raises money for schools. I am the new co-chair of the book fair at my kid’s elementary school and I’m running it with another mom. And we’re taking over from a parent who’s been single-handedly running the fair for most of the last decade. She has all of the planning materials in a huge white binder with a table of contents and all these printed out emails and spreadsheets that are in those clear plastic protector sheets. It’s actually a marvel of organization, but it doesn’t work for me because I cannot deal with all these printouts and handwritten notes. Also, I have a co-chair now and there’s only one binder so it doesn’t make sense to pass it back and forth. So what I did is put the book fair on Basecamp.
[00:22:15] There is a pretty specific timeline of tasks that have to get done, you know, six weeks out, five weeks out, all the way until the day the fair starts and then some wrap up. I created a project template in Basecamp with all the to-dos. We have two book fairs per school year and I can just create a new project from the template and edit the dates on the to do items. So I know when it’s time to, for example, order books and recruit volunteers and print out flyers.
[00:22:44] I see when my co-chair has completed it to do and vice versa. So we don’t have to constantly check in with each other to see what’s been done. So Basecamp has become the binder.
[00:22:51] Anyone You Meet Normcore Remix by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:22:51] Basecamp is software that helps you organize the work you need to do, the work you want to do, and the people you’re working with no matter what sort of project you’re working on, check it out at basecamp.com.
Jane: [00:23:05] My perspective is that none of these companies are inherently evil and all of them have far too much power. And from a consumer standpoint, I am very worried about simply the amount of information they have about me and the extent to which their decisions can have such huge impact on industries across the board. So I’m glad that it’s a conversation that seems to have some bipartisan support behind it. That was also very refreshing to sort of watch the hearings and realize, oh, you know, everyone is asking intelligent, thoughtful questions about this topic.
[00:23:44] With the backdrop of the impeachment, that’s definitely a nice change.
David: [00:23:50] And I thought that was what was interesting about the hearing, too, is this was a bipartisan panel and I could not actually tell who was from what party, right. I actually just sort of looked it up afterwards was a oh, Ken Buck, he’s a Republican. They were all equally interested in hearing the testimony, shared equal disgust with the information being shared and had an equal appreciation that this is a real problem that we need to do something about. And I think that in and of itself is just incredible testimony to the fact that big tech is out of fucking control.
[00:24:27] When you can have, in this political climate, a bipartisan committee like that fully agree on the problems here, I think, you have a real problem. Big tech have managed somehow to piss off both sides at the same time.
[00:24:44] I mean, what a gift to democracy that this is the case, right? And that there’s such an interest in not just the diagnosis of the problem, but also to hear what should we do about it? I mean, a lot of the questions from Buck and elsewhere were, okay, what do you want done?
Shaun: [00:25:00] So what do you think will come of hearings like this and what would you like to come up hearings like this?
David: [00:25:07] I think the magic of the democratic political process here is you just don’t know, right? It’s not like this is a given and it shouldn’t be a given. We have elected officials that are being held accountable by voters who are trying to act on behalf of the good of society. At least that’s the idealized version. So you would think that what’s going to happen is that after these hearings, they’re going to write up some big report that basically states that there is a huge problem. That monopoly is absolutely rampant within the technology industry and that big tech in particular is out of control and needs to be reined in.
[00:25:45] So that would kind of be a first victory right there. Just that you have an official conclusion to a series of hearings on this topic that will assert, essentially, that we have a real problem, we need to do something. So then the second part would be like, what kind of legislation is bound to come out of this?
[00:26:06] I talked to one of the Congressman afterwards and he was like, isn’t the real problem that we have monopolies? Would these abuses exist if there wasn’t just one or two players dominating these huge industries? And like, no, they wouldn’t. Oh well, shouldn’t we just address that? And I was like, yeah, absolutely. Which is really the Warren argument, right? These companies are simply too big. They need to be broken up. They need to be made smaller and we need to make these markets competitive again and we need to ensure that companies like Google can’t just bribe companies like Apple to maintain their monopoly in search.
[00:26:47] I thought one of the most damaging pieces of evidence that Google and Apple themselves provide that Google pays Apple like $10 billion or maybe it’s even more a year to be the default choice. So it clearly matters who’s the default choice and having that default choice be something else other then Google or at least giving consumers a real choice like restriction that Microsoft was put under back in the early 2000 that they had to offer users of Windows a choice in browser. That they couldn’t just pre-install Internet Explorer and extend their monopoly that way. That could be one of the outcomes. Some of the congressmen were talking about this in terms of Glass-Steagall, the prohibition mixing banking and investment banking together, right? That these shouldn’t be the same thing. That there are these structural restrictions we can put in these industries that have really powerful effect on the incentives and so on and so forth.
[00:27:38] So if Amazon, for example, runs the store, they can’t also stock it with all their own merchandise and prioritize that because they’re a monopoly, not just because like that’s not a thing to do. I hear the argument all the time, well my local store has a store brand. Yeah, and your local store is not a fucking monopoly. Right. So that would be, that would be sort of one thing, right? Like break them up or force separation between whether they can own the marketplace and be a participant in that. Forced choice.
[00:28:06] Imagine you set up your iPhone or your Android phone and as part of the setup, I mean they’re already asking you 25 questions, right? One of the questions is, which search engine would you like to use? Do you want to use Duck Duck Go? Do you want to use Bing? Do you want to use Google? Right there, you would crack open a window for someone else to actually have a chance.
Shaun: [00:28:25] So sort of the overarching question that the committee was trying to figure out is whether existing antitrust laws are not being applied or whether the existing at antitrust laws just don’t work for big tech and we need new laws. Do you come down on either side of that question?
David: [00:28:40] I think there’s a real issue where the current laws do not work or the current doctrine, I should say, does not work because some of this is established through particular rulings that then create a doctrine that is then followed. So for example, with antitrust, a lot of it right now goes on the consumer welfare model. This idea that unless consumers face higher prices, there’s not a monopoly problem. And that of course is completely and utterly outdated in the era of big tech where so much of the products are being given away monetarily for free while consumers are being charged outrageous cognitive sums in terms of having their privacy violated or being exposed to advertisement or misdirected into terms of using Google.
[00:29:29] There’s all these other ways that big tech is monetizing the monopolies that they have that are different than just the old idea of raising prices, right? These companies are making money off something else than charging consumers, so there is a need to update the laws in that regard. But there also needs to be just a change in the perspective that this is actually a problem. And I think this is why these hearings are so important is because they’re simply shining a light on the fact that these lax or rather non-existent antitrust enforcement that we’ve had for so long has led us to a place that’s really bad.
[00:30:08] So the first step that we have to take is recognizing the fact that the negligence of antitrust enforcement has led us to a terrible place that is full of monopolies.
Shaun: [00:30:19] I think I’d like to end on sort of what are your overall thoughts on the whole experience?
David: [00:30:23] I thought it was great. I thought it was obviously flattering to be invited. It was one of those cases where I like to dunk on Twitter as much as anyone. I mean it really is a cesspool a lot of the times. And then it’s also this amazing open forum where there is a flow of ideas and those ideas do flow to people who pay attention and actually have some power to do something about it, right? Because I think my appearance at that hearing, I would expect, is largely because of the advocacy that I’ve been doing on particularly Twitter. Everyone from journalists to lawmakers to to policy thinkers. They’re just on there, right?
[00:31:10] So there is this exchange of ideas and at times we can really change the conversation. We can change the Overton window about what is permissible to even address. And that’s satisfying. I mean, maybe I’m just, again, rationalizing the fact that I’ve spent way, way, way too much time on Twitter, particularly recently. It seems like we’re just going from one thing to the other.
[00:31:31] So it’s gratifying to sit with a feeling that maybe there’s a chance some of it could matter. And if we’re not changing right now, the laws, we’re at least changing minds in a way that has the potential to change laws. And I think that that’s the way advocacy should work, right? Like that’s really the core promise of advocacy. That you’re not just yelling in the wind even though that is what it feels like 99% of the time. But sometimes you’re part of something larger that actually changes society in some way. That really is the promise. That is the sort of golden carrot that keeps me interested in doing this kind of work and spending all this time on it and thinking about it and so forth.
Jane: [00:32:14] I think that it takes a certain level of privilege to have the ability to stand up and put your face, you know, to a sort of statement like that. And I’m really thankful that those companies were willing to make a statement but also cognizant that there are a lot of voices that weren’t present.
[00:32:28] Thinking about myself personally, I pivoted to Basecamp from the nonprofit sector. I’d spent eight years working in international development and community development. And so it was, I think, a mutual leap of faith for Basecamp to hire me and for me to join a tech company. And it was just so heartening to see that this is a company that yes, is a for profit business and it really cares about what the internet means to society. It really cares about the roles of companies in society and the responsibilities that they hold to consumers. And to have our founder be willing to put his face and his name behind that and to make the forceful statements and stand up for folks who, some might feel comfortable publicly supporting and others might be privately supporting. That was just a really good feeling to know that you’re working for good people.
David: [00:33:24] I’m an ever more so increasingly so proponent of the fact that government really is the answer to a lot of things. Collective action really is the answer to a lot of things. And that collective action is most efficiently, well, I shouldn’t always say efficiently, effectively wielded by government, right? Like rules and regulations totally matter. If you have a law saying you can’t mix investment, banking with regular banking, that can have a huge and profound influence on the economy.
[00:33:57] Let me just take one of my dream outcomes here. The dream outcome being that targeted advertisement is banned, that companies are no longer allowed to use personal information to target advertisement. If that actually happened and it would profoundly shape our online experience, it would profoundly shape the protection of privacy on the internet. I mean that’s a possibility, right? Stranger things have surely happened than a regulation coming down, banning targeted ads. Being part of that process, it’s very satisfying and I will show up anytime, anywhere to continue to play a small part in that.
[00:34:35] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
David Cicilline [00:34:36] With that, I want to thank the esteemed panel of witnesses for joining us today. I also want to thank Subcommittee Vice Chair, Congressman Neguse.
Joe Neguse: [00:34:41] Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
David Cicilline: [00:34:43] And I particularly want to welcome and thank Congressman Ken Buck.
Ken Buck: [00:34:46] Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
David Cicilline: [00:34:47] Thank you, Mr. Buck.
Ken Buck: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much.
Joe Neguse: [00:34:50] First and foremost, thank you for hosting this hearing.
David Cicilline: [00:34:52] Thank you, Jim and I now recognize myself for five minutes.
Joe Neguse: [00:34:55] Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I couldn’t agree more.
Ken Buck: [00:34:57] Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
David Cicilline: [00:34:59] Thank you.
Joe Neguse: [00:34:59] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to say thank you to our Attorney General and Congressman Perlmutter.
David Cicilline: [00:35:03] And so again with deep thanks for the entire committee, this concludes today’s hearing.
Shaun: [00:35:08] I’d like to first thank my esteemed colleague from Illinois, Miss Wailin Wong for her work producing this show.
Wailin: [00:35:13] I would like to thank the gentleman from Montana, Mr. Shaun Hildner for his work producing this podcast. It truly is an honor. I’d like to thank the musical artist Clip Art for providing the fine music that accompanies our show and I’d like to thank our listeners for tuning in every week and subscribing to Rework.
Shaun: [00:35:30] You can find show notes and transcripts for our episodes at rework.fm and you can find us on Twitter at @reworkpodcast.
Wailin: [00:35:37] Rework is produced by Basecamp. Basecamp is a software tool for teams. It centralizes everything the team needs to know. Tasks, files and discussions in one easy to use place so nothing gets lost and nothing slips through the cracks.
[00:35:50] Learn more and sign up at basecamp.com.
Ken Buck: [00:35:55] You can really find my wallet, by the way.
Shaun: [00:35:56] What about Congressman Ken Buck’s wallet? Can you find that in Basecamp?