Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Parler Competes Horizontally with Amazon, Apple, and Google?

Parler is a microblogging platform that was cut off from the internet by its web hosting service, Amazon.  Almost as drastic, Apple and Google took steps to prevent the use of Parler on their mobile operating systems.  Unlike Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Google do not describe themselves as microblogging platforms.  At first glance, these would seem to be vertical (i.e., supply chain) relationships with no potential to harm competition.  Wrong!

For brevity, I will not go into the competitive effects of vertical relationships; the recent guidelines jointly issued by DOJ and FTC are thought provoking.  I will also not go into dynamic effects, such as the possibility that Parler's success might ultimately prove to be complementary with "right wing"/"less woke" web hosting services that are obviously competing horizontally with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

My only point here is that an important market in the modern economy is the market for personal data.  Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter, and Facebook profit immensely in this market.  By now everyone knows that Parler's business model involves "free speech," but if you used the service (as I have) you would be equally exhorted by the platform's attitude toward personal data.  "We never share or sell data. Privacy is our #1 concern.  Your personal data is YOURS" Parler tells its members.

If too many internet users hear and buy into this rhetoric, the incumbent harvesters of personal data -- including especially Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter, and Facebook -- will pay more (perhaps in kind) and profit less.  From this perspective, AWS' action looks like McDonald's severing the electric lines going into Subway [sandwich] locations at a time when Subway was just gaining traction.

Whether Parler's data rhetoric is correct (I openly questioned it whereas Jaron Lanier predicted that the personal data conflict would flare up particularly among the middle class) is hardly relevant to its harms to big tech.  Analogy: How many employers would like to sponsor classes on Marxism?  Marxism, which paints employers as thieves, is wrong but it nonetheless could harm an employer if it were discussed too much.

The incumbent harvesters of personal data do not want even a slight ideological disturbance of their cash cow.  That looks like horizontal competition to me.

[update: Parler filed a reply today in Parler v. AWS.  The reply noted another type of competition between Parler and Amazon, which is related to the complementarity conditions noted in the vertical merger guidelines.  Specifically, Parler asserts that (a) Twitter is client of AWS and (b) AWS did mention termination of services, even on/after Jan 6, until it learned that Trump was banned from Twitter and thereby likely headed to Parler with millions of Twitter users.]

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