I’m A Business, Man

Googling “Make It Stop”

With Texas as the lead, ten states sued Google alleging that they rigged ad auctions in an agreement with Facebook. The suit says that when Facebook became a true competitor in online advertising for Google, they entered into an agreement where Facebook would stop competing in exchange for preferential treatment in Google-run ad auctions. The hilarious part: this agreement was code named “Jedi Blue.” Why would they bring Star Wars into this? 

Google is a trillion-dollar monopoly brazenly abusing its monopolistic power, going so far as to induce senior Facebook executives to agree to a contractual scheme that undermines the heart of [the] competitive process.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

But this is not Google’s only lawsuit. In October, the Justice Department alleged that to maintain its search engine, Google used unlawful exclusionary and interlocking business agreements that shut out competitors. Then yesterday, Google got hit again. This time 35 states and D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico filed suit in Colorado. These lawsuits will likely be combined with the  Justice Department suit.

Most of the allegations say Google’s ad-tech software, which is used to buy and sell ads across the web, was used to force advertisers to use Google-owned tools. Google owns every link in the chain between online publishers and advertisers. They are being accused of tying the products together and forcing advertisers to shuffle between Google products. 

The remedies sought are money, restraining Google’s behavior including possible structural changes, i.e. breaking up that chain.

It is definitely open season for tech giants. 2021 will be interesting. 

Roku, HBO Max, and Wonder Woman

If you are anything like me, you have been wondering why Roku didn’t have HBO Max. Up until this week, the $40 Billion Roku had not reached a deal with HBO Max and was in an eight month “standoff” with WarnerMedia. The push: Wonder Woman 1984. The Wonder Woman movie premieres in theaters and on HBO Max December 25, so both parties were motivated to close the deal. 

The eight month long battle has now ended. What was the problem? How to divide money from video streams. In recent months, Roku has had tough negotiations with Fox, Comcast, and Peacock. Roku makes its profits from selling ads in the streaming apps and it gets a percentage of subscription revenue from partners. 

With WarnerMedia, a hard sell has been the Roku Channel. Roku typically adds in its contracts that the partner will share some content with The Roku Channel. Initially, Roku paid to license this content, but once they got big, they started demanding content for putting a company’s app on its service. WarnerMedia had a problem with this. They didn’t want to give up programming just to have the app on Roku. 

According to the WSJ, in the end, WarnerMedia didn’t supply content for The Roku Channel, but did give up a share of ad space.  Either way, I can now watch HBO Max on my Roku.

Ring the Alarm

News on the recent government cyber attack continues. Brad Smith, President of Microsoft said the SolarWinds’ software hack is not over. He said that investigations show “an attack that is remarkable for its scope, sophistication and impact.” The hack is thought, though not confirmed, to be the work of Russian hackers. They targeted many government agencies, the latest of which is the Department of Energy, who is in charge of the nuclear weapon stockpile. Nice. 

The map above shows how far the hack went. Customers located in the US, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Israel and the UAE were affected. The FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are coordinating an effort to further investigate these cyber attacks. 

Let’s hope they get this under control and strengthen their security.

Vaccine Corner

Amazon lobbies for its workers. In a letter to the CDC, Amazon made a play for its front-line workers at its warehouses, data centers, and Whole Foods grocery stores to be at the front of the vaccine line. Executives in the food, restaurant, aviation, and utilities industries have made similar request arguing that their employees are critical to economic function.

Europe. The E.U. is paying less than the US for COVID-19 vaccines. Who told? A Belgian official tweeted, then deleted the information last night. The E.U. is paying $14.76 per dose compared to $19.50 in the United States, which could be because the E.U. subsided the vaccine’s development. They are also paying 45% less for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine under development, and 20% less for the Moderna vaccine. So, not America First? Interesting.

Debate continues on who’s next. This weekend, a federal panel of vaccine experts, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will make decisions about the order of vaccinations in the coming months. However, none of it really matters, because states can do what they want. I am assuming the hope is guidance from experts will be taken into consideration, but as history has shown this is hit-or-miss. Word on the street is that they are looking at putting essential workers up front. The issue, however, is that the definition of essential also varies by state.

Moderna approval. Last night, the FDA said the agency will move quickly to approve the Moderna-NIH vaccine. FDA Commissioner Hahn contacted Moderna after the advisory panel voted 20-0 that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk for adults. Looks like that vaccine is a go.