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The network effect is anti-competitive

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A U.S. federal judge last week struck down Apple rules restricting app developers from selling directly to customers outside the App Store.

Apple’s stock fell 3% on the news, which is being regarded as a win for small and midsize app developers because they’ll be able to build direct billing relationships with their customers. But Apple is just one of many Big Tech companies that dominate their sector.

The larger issue is how this development will impact Amazon, Facebook, Grubhub and other tech giants with online marketplaces that use draconian terms of service to keep their resellers subservient. The skirmish between Apple and small and midsize app developers is just a smaller battle in a much larger war.

App makers pay up to 30% on every sale they make on the Apple App Store. Resellers on Amazon pay a monthly subscription fee, a sales commission of 8% to 15%, fulfillment fees and other miscellaneous charges. Grubhub charges restaurants 15% of every order, a credit card processing fee, an order processing fee and a 10% delivery commission.

Like app developers, online resellers and social media influencers are all falling for the same big lie: that they can build a sustainable business with healthy margins on someone else’s platform. The reality is the App Store, online marketplaces and even social networks that dominate their sectors have the unilateral power to selectively deplatform and squeeze their users, and there’s not much anyone can do about it.

Healthy competition exists inside the App Store and among marketplace resellers and aspiring social media influencers. But no one seems to be talking about the real elephants in the room, which are the social networks and online marketplace providers themselves. In some respects, they’ve become almost like digital dictators with complete control over their territories.

It’s something every small and midsize business that gets excited about some new online service catering to their industry should be aware of because it directly impacts their ability to grow a stable business. The federal judge’s decision suggests the real goal in digital business is a direct billing relationship with the end user.

On the internet, those who are able to lead a horse to water and make them drink — outside the walled gardens of digital marketplace operators like Uber, Airbnb and Udemy — are the true contenders. In content and e-commerce, this is what most small and midsize companies don’t realize. Your own website or owned media, at a top-level domain that you control, is the only unfettered way to sell direct to end users.

Mobile app makers on Apple’s App Store, resellers on Amazon and aspiring content creators on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are all subject to the absolute control of digital titans who are free to govern by their own rules with unchecked power.

For access to online marketplaces and social networks, we got a raw deal. We’re basically plowing their fields like digital sharecroppers. Resellers on Amazon are forced to split their harvest with a landlord who takes a gross percentage with no caps. Amassing followers on TikTok is building an audience that’s locked inside their venue.

These tech giants — all former startups that built their audiences from scratch — are free to impose and selectively enforce oppressive rules. If you’re a small fry, they can prohibit you from asking for your customer’s email address and deplatform you for skimming, but look the other way when Spotify and The New York Times do the same thing. Both were already selling direct and through the App Store prior to Friday’s ruling.

How is that competitive? Even after the ruling, Big Tech still gets to decide who they let violate their terms of service and who they deplatform. It’s not just their audience. It’s their universe, their governance, their rules and their enforcement.

In the 1948 court case United States v. Paramount Pictures, the Supreme Court ruled that film studios couldn’t own their own theaters because that meant they could exclusively control what movies were screened. They stifled competition by controlling what films made it to the marquee, so SCOTUS broke them up.

Today, social networks control what gets seen on their platforms, and with the push of a button, they can give the hook to whoever they want, whenever they want. The big challenge that the internet poses to capitalism is that the network effect is fundamentally anti-competitive. Winner-take-all markets dominated by tech giants look more like government-controlled than free-market economies.

On the one hand, the web gives us access to a global marketplace of buyers and sellers. On the other, a few major providers control the services that most people use to do business, because they don’t have the knowledge or resources to stand up a competitive website. But unless you have your own domain and good search visibility, you’re always in danger of being deplatformed and losing access to your customers or audience members with no practical recourse.

The network effect is such that once an online marketplace becomes dominant, it neutralizes the competitive market, because everyone gravitates to the dominant service to get the best deal. There’s an inherent conflict between the goals of a winner-takes-all tech company and the goals of a free market.

Dominant online marketplaces are only competitive for users. Meanwhile, marketplace providers operate with impunity. If they decide they want to use half-baked AI or offshore contractors to police their terms of service and shore up false positives, there’s no practical way for users to contest. How can Facebook possibly govern nearly 3 billion users judiciously with around 60,000 employees? As we’ve seen, it can’t.

For app makers, online resellers and creators, the only smart option is open source on the open web. Instead of relying on someone else’s audience (or software for that matter), you own your online destination powered by software like WordPress or Discord, and you never have to worry about getting squeezed when the founders go public or their platform gets bought by profit-hungry investment bankers. Only then can you protect your profit margins. And only then are the terms of service the laws of the land.

Politics aside, as former President Donald Trump’s deplatforming demonstrated, if you get kicked off Facebook and Twitter, there’s really nowhere else to go. If they want you out, it’s game over. It’s no coincidence Trump lost his Facebook and Twitter accounts on the same day the Republicans lost the Senate. If the GOP takes back the Senate, watch Trump get his social media accounts back. Social networks ward off regulators by appeasing the legislative majority.

So don’t get too excited about the new Amazon Influencer Program. If you want to build a sustainable digital business, you need an owned media presence powered by software that doesn’t rake commissions, have access to your customer contact information and has an audience that can’t be commandeered with an algorithm tweak.

TechCrunch

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Binance’s BNB Chain to Offer New Decentralized Storage System

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Binance’s BNB Chain to Offer New Decentralized Storage System

The release of the decentralized storage system’s white paper was having a modest effect on the price of other storage tokens on Wednesday. Filecoin (FIL), storj (STORJ), and arweave (AR) are now trading 2%, 5% and 6%, respectively, above their pre-announcement prices.

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Set Sounds Absolutely Delightful, Thanks To Rachel Brosnahan’s Adorable Pig Story

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Rachel Brosnahan playing Midge in the Season 4 trailer for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Over the course of four seasons, and soon a fifth installment, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has managed to one-up themselves and make the scale bigger, the set pieces more extravagant and the monologues snappier. While all of this has been amazing for us viewers, one-upping yourself every time must be quite stressful, and it has been according to Rachel Brosnahan. However, she also came up with an adorable way to de-stress and help the cast and crew by hiring therapy pigs. This also goes to show just how delightful the set of this Prime Video show seems, even during stressful moments. 

Filming Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which went on to win many Emmys in 2019, the cast and crew had taken on a much bigger challenge than they did in Season 1. By traveling around the world, and upping the ante overall the stress levels were high. However, Rachel Brosnahan revealed that she had a “delightful” stress relief activity planned involving therapy pigs, truly showing how wonderful this set seems. The actress behind Midge Maisel started her story about therapy pigs by setting the scene on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, saying:  

So this is actually from our second season, we shot ten episodes during our second season, that’s the only time we ever did that, we never tried it again. We started the season in Paris, we traveled to the Catskills, we were on the move a lot. It was a really, really tough season. The crew was really tired. And toward the end of the season, someone had told me about this service in New York, where you can order therapy pigs to come to your workplace and make you feel better. And so, I brought therapy pigs to set and it was kind of incredible.



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Amazon’s renewable energy portfolio swells to over 20 GW

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Amazon's renewable energy portfolio swells to over 20 GW

Amazon increased its renewable energy capacity by 8.3 GW in 2022, bringing its total portfolio to over 20 GW, enough to power millions of US homes.

Growing to become one of the largest global companies by market cap comes with great responsibility. The bigger the operations, the more damaging they can be to the environment with more energy use, carbon emissions, etc.

After the pandemic shuttered most people inside their homes, online shopping became a go-to for many.

As a result, e-commerce giant Amazon saw its business surge, with an over 200% rise in profits as shopping habits turned digital. To offset the company’s explosive growth, it has been investing in renewable energy projects and other sustainable activities to reduce its environmental impact.

Since 2014 Amazon has been on a mission to decarbonize its business globally by adding renewable energy capacity and electric vehicles to its fleet while striving to make packaging more efficient.

The e-commerce giant committed to rolling out over 100,000 EDVs from Rivian by 2030 as part of its Climate Pledge. According to Amazon’s latest update, over 1,000 Rivian EDVs debuted this past holiday season to make zero-emission deliveries.

Amazon-renewable-energy
Amazon Rivian EDV (Source: Amazon)

Amazon’s renewable energy portfolio expanded in 2022

Meanwhile, the company added significant clean energy capacity last year to help it reach its goal of powering operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, five years ahead of its goal.

Amazon announced today it set a new record for the most renewable energy purchased in 2022, adding an additional 8.3 GW through 133 new projects in 11 countries.

Altogether, Amazon now has over 20 GW, enough to power 5.3 million US homes. The clean energy capacity is spread throughout 401 projects (164 wind farms and 237 rooftop solar projects) in 22 different countries. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Amazon remains the most prominent corporate buyer of renewable energy, maintaining the position since 2020.

Once complete and operational, Amazon expects to generate 56,881 GWh of clean energy annually.

Head of sustainability research at BloombergNEF, Kyle Harris, says Amazon’s clean energy portfolio is now among the leading utilities globally, adding:

The fact that it announced a new annual record of clean energy in a year mired by a global energy crisis, supply chain bottlenecks, and high interest rates speaks to its forward planning and expertise in navigating power markets and executing long-term contracts.

Despite economic uncertainty, Amazon stood by its commitment last year, doubling down on its renewable energy efforts.

Electrek’s Take

You have to give credit where credit is due. Amazon is doing its part by deploying hundreds of clean energy projects across the globe.

Amazon says renewable energy reached 85% of its business in 2021. By doubling down this past year, the e-commerce giant is now on track to hit its goal of powering business operations with 100% renewable five years ahead of schedule.

However, the company still has a lot of work to do to lessen its environmental impact. According to research from Statista, packaging accounts for the most significant share of greenhouse gas emissions in the e-commerce industry, accounting for 45% of total emissions.

Amazon has also made strides in reducing emissions by reducing per-shipment packaging weight by 38% (eliminating over 1.5 million tons of packaging), optimizing materials, and offering vendors incentives to use fully recyclable materials.

The e-commerce giant is making significant progress in its renewable energy goals, yet there’s still a long way to go in reducing packaging waste and energy usage overall.

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