Category: Regulation

Within and tech M&A

Lina Khan, the head of the FTC, first became known for a law school paper arguing that US antitrust policy in recent decades has become far too narrowly focused on low consumer prices as the only test for harm, ignoring choice, competition and innovation, and that Amazon was an exemplar of this, since it uses its market power in ecommerce to push prices down, not up.

The paper was somewhat flawed by its unquestioning acceptance of the myth that Amazon sells a loss and is subsidised by investors, neither of which have been true for some 20 years, but the general analysis of US policy is perfectly valid, and while it wasn't really a new observation, the paper probably catalysed a shift in conversation about antitrust policy in the USA.

Of course, one could argue that this shift has also been driven by how much bigger leading tech companies have become in the last decade (simply because tech has become so much bigger), and how much more central to our lives (and politics) tech has become. There are plenty of US industries that look a lot less competitive than tech (meat-packing, for example), but tech is new and different and much more visible, and politically friendless. So it’s in the crosshairs, and Biden appointed Khan to the FTC with that mandate.

A second strand, meanwhile, is that this general shift in attitude towards companies with large market shares, particularly in tech, is accompanied by a new degree of attention paid (Read more...)

There’s no such thing as data

Technology is full of narratives, but one of the loudest is around something called ‘data’. AI is the future, and it’s all about data, and data is the future, and we should own it and maybe be paid for it, and countries need data strategies and data sovereignty. Data is the new oil!

This is mostly nonsense. There is no such thing as ‘data’, it isn’t worth anything, and it doesn’t really belong to you anyway.

Most obviously, ‘data’ is not one thing, but innumerable different collections of information, each of them specific to a particular application, that aren’t interchangeable. Siemens has wind turbine telemetry and Transport for London has ticket swipes, and you can’t use the turbine telemetry to plan a new bus route. If you gave both sets of data to Google or Tencent, that wouldn’t help them build a better image recognition system.

This might seem trivial put so bluntly, but it points to the uselessness of very common assertions, especially from people outside tech, on the lines of ’China has more data’ or ‘America will have more data’ - more of what data? Meituan delivers 50m restaurant orders a day, and that lets it build a more efficient routing algorithm, but you can’t use that for a missile guidance system. You might not even be able to use it to build restaurant delivery in London. ‘Data’ does not exist as one, single, unified thing, where you can add every row and table of every different kind (Read more...)

Cultured Meat 101: The Next Generation of Food

The following content is sponsored by CULT Food Science (CSE: CULT)


Cultured Meat 101: The Next Generation of Food

Investors are injecting the cellular agriculture market with billions of dollars and making big bets on the future of cultured foods—otherwise known as cell-based, or lab-grown foods.

With more countries now evaluating the regulation of these products, could this be the year consumers embrace cultured meat products with open arms?

To answer your burning questions about investing in this nascent space, here’s everything you need to know from our sponsor CULT Food Science.

What is Cultured Meat?

Cultured meat is genuine animal meat that is produced by cultivating animal cells in a controlled environment—eliminating the need to farm animals for food. Here is a step-by-step guide showing how cultured meat (also known as clean meat) is made:

Step 1:
Tissue is taken from the animal, for the purpose of extracting stem cells and creating cell lines.

Step 2:
The extracted stem cell lines are cultivated in a nutrient-rich environment, mimicking in-animal tissue growth and producing muscle fibers inside a bioreactor.

Step 3:
The muscle fibers are processed and mixed with additional fats and ingredients to assemble the finished meat product.

Because cultured meat is made of the same cell types and structure found in animal tissue, the sensory and nutritional profiles are like-for-like.

What are the Benefits?

The benefits of cultured meat are three-pronged, in that there are a wide range of benefits for the planet, for people, and for (Read more...)

Tech questions for 2022

Sometimes the centre of gravity in tech is very clear - everything is about PCs, or the web, or smartphones. But at other times, there are lots of things going on and none of them are The Thing, and all of them are full of questions. Of course, for some crypto people crypto is the only question and the only answer, but as we enter 2022 there are lots of areas where trillion dollar questions are wide open. These are the questions I wonder about at the moment - there are others.


Crypto is so big and potentially important, and yet so vague and so early, that we can’t even agree what to call it, and at times the noise of both irrational, religious hype and straw-man attacks can seem overwhelming. There is a set of ideas that could in principle be as central to tech as machine learning or open source, but after that, everything is a question. 

The tech itself is in a period of massively increasing sophistication and complexity, as everyone builds on an open canvas and builds capability on a simple idea - early PCs or indeed the early consumer internet looked like this. But the more layers, abstractions, building blocks and primitives are created, the harder it is to know which will resolve into things normal people can use, and, paradoxically, the more likely gatekeepers become. We’re imagining the metaverse while arguing about how TCP-IP should work and whether this new ‘WWW’ thing is (Read more...)

When big tech buys small tech

A big part of the discussion around competition in tech today is how to think about acquisitions. It’s easy to say that we wouldn’t let Amazon buy Zappos or Google buy DoubleClick, but everyone’s favourite puzzle is Instagram. Facebook bought a pre-revenue startup with 13 staff, and it’s now commonplace to say that this was anti-competitive, and a failure of regulation, but at the time a lot of people thought that buying this thing for a billion dollars of money was insane.

The Instagram acquisition was at least reviewed by regulators, but a frequent talking point now is that in recent years there have been hundreds and hundred of other acquisitions by giant tech companies that didn’t get any scrutiny at all, far less get blocked, and that this represents a systemic regulatory failure. Responding to this, earlier this year the US FTC ordered Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft to provide data on every single acquisition they made from 2010 to 2019, and published some aggregate data as a report in September. You can read it here.

The headline number is that there were 616 qualifying acquisitions of more than $1m in those 10 years, an average of 12 per company per year. Indeed ‘hundreds of acquisitions’ - but what were they, and what does that tell us?

A first observation: the vast majority of these companies were very small: 40% were bought for less than $10m and 80% for less than $50m, and most had less (Read more...)

Ranked: Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During the First Half of 2021

This post is by Aran Ali from Visual Capitalist

Ranked: Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During the First Half of 2021

Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During The First Half of 2021

When CEOs of major companies are selling their shares, investors can’t help but notice.

After all, these decisions have a direct effect on the personal wealth of these insiders, which can say plenty about their convictions with respect to the future direction of the companies they run.

Considering that Big Tech stocks are some of the most popular holdings in today’s portfolios, and are backed by a collective $5.3 trillion in institutional investment, how do the CEOs of these organizations rank by their insider selling?

CEOStockShares Sold H1 2021Value of Shares ($M)
Jeff BezosAmazon (AMZN)2.0 million$6,600
Mark ZuckerbergFacebook (FB)7.1 million$2,200
Satya NadellaMicrosoft (MSFT)278,694
Sundar PichaiGoogle (GOOGL)27,000$62
Tim CookApple (AAPL)0$0

Breaking Down Insider Trading, by CEO

Let’s dive into the insider trading activity of each Big Tech CEO:

Jeff Bezos

During the first half of 2021, Jeff Bezos sold 2 million shares of Amazon worth $6.6 billion.

This activity was spread across 15 different transactions, representing an average of $440 million per transaction. Altogether, this ranks him first by CEO insider selling, by total dollar proceeds. Bezos’s time as CEO of Amazon came to an end shortly after the half way mark for the year.

Mark Zuckerberg

In second place is Mark Zuckerberg, who has been significantly busier selling than the rest.

In the first half of 2021, he unloaded (Read more...)

Ads, privacy and confusion

The consumer internet industry spent two decades building a huge, complex, chaotic pile of tools and systems to track and analyse what people do on the internet, and we’ve spent the last half-decade arguing about that, sometimes for very good reasons, and sometimes with strong doses of panic and opportunism. Now that’s mostly going to change, between unilateral decisions by some big tech platforms and waves of regulation from all around the world. But we don’t have any clarity on what that would mean, or even quite what we’re trying to achieve, and there are lots of unresolved questions. We are confused.

First, can we achieve the underlying economic aims of online advertising in a private way? Advertisers don’t necessarily want (or at least need) to know who you are as an individual. As Tim O’Reilly put it, data is sand, not oil - all this personal data actually only has value in the aggregate of millions. Advertisers don’t really want to know who you are - they want to show diaper ads to people who have babies, not to show them to people who don’t, and to have some sense of which ads drove half a million sales and which ads drove a million sales. Targeting ads per se doesn’t seem fundamentally evil, unless you think putting car ads in car magazines is also evil. But the internet became able to show car ads to people who read about cars yesterday, somewhere else - to target based on (Read more...)

Crypto: Parallels to Packet Switching

There is an interesting objection to crypto that goes something like: crypto is all a rip-off because nobody actually needs decentralization which makes things slow and inefficient (“decentralization is a bug, not a feature”). I was somewhat surprised to see this objection from Michael Seemann, a German author, whose criticism of the power of the big platform companies I respect. In a Twitter exchange (in German) he pointed me to something he wrote a couple of years ago as predictions about the recentralization of the internet. Clearly Twitter doesn’t lend itself to differentiated answers, so I am writing this blog post instead.

First, a bit of history. Before today’s packet-switched world we had circuit-switched networks. For quite a long time the telcos, which were operating those networks, insisted that they were more efficient and that their centralized control was necessary to maintain this efficiency and cope with the demands of high bandwidth applications such as voice and video. I am sure that some of the telco people who made that argument genuinely believed in the superiority of their networks but others engaged in propaganda and lobbying solely to maintain power. Incidentally, that hasn’t gone away as can be seen in the ongoing contentious debate around net neutrality, where – to nobody’s actual surprise – it was revealed that the telcos had flooded the comment process.

In his post, Michael Seemann points out that there has been some degree of recentralization of the internet, through companies such as Level 3. (Read more...)