Business Updates: Companies Complain to Senators About Apple’s and Google’s App Stores
Tile said Apple boxed out its products and then copied them. Spotify said Apple blocked it from telling customers that they could find cheaper prices outside its iPhone app. And Match Group testified that it now paid nearly $500 million a year to Apple and Google in app store fees, the dating company’s single largest expense.
That testimony came Wednesday at a Senate hearing on Apple’s and Google’s control over their app stores, held by the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. The hearing was the latest example of the growing scrutiny of Big Tech and the increasing agreement among Democrats, Republicans and smaller companies that the world’s biggest tech companies have become too powerful.
At the hearing, representatives from Apple and Google defended their companies’ practices, saying that they don’t copy competitors, that few apps pay their commissions and that they charge the commissions to fund the security of their app stores.
Both Democratic and Republican senators were skeptical of those explanations. “Google and Apple are here to defend the patently indefensible,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. “If you presented this fact pattern in a law school antitrust exam, the students would laugh the professor out of the classroom, because it is such an obvious violation of our antitrust laws.”
Apple and Google have long had a stranglehold on the business of mobile apps. But that position, which has earned them hundreds of billions of dollars, has increasingly led to regulatory, legal and public-relations headaches.
Federal and state lawmakers are holding hearings and considering legislation to weaken the companies’ app-store controls. The Justice Department is investigating the issue. And in a trial next month, Apple is set to face off against Epic Games, the Fortnite maker, which is suing Apple for forcing it to use Apple’s payment system in its iPhone app.
Jared Sine, the chief legal officer at Match Group, said on Wednesday that Google had called his company the previous night when his planned testimony became public. He said Google wondered why his testimony appeared to be tougher than what Match had said on a recent earnings call.
Mr. Blumenthal called that intimidation, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who is the subcommittee’s chairwoman, suggested that the senators would investigate.
Wilson White, a government affairs official at Google, said that Match was an important partner and that Google would never aim to intimidate the company.
“There are many, many ways they could hurt our business,” Mr. Sine said. “We’re all afraid, is the reality, Senator. We’re fortunate you’re listening to us today.”
“Well,” Ms. Klobuchar replied, “I hope the Justice Department is, too.”
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Wednesday that the private sector will need to shoulder much of the cost of greening the United States economy over the next decade and that the Biden administration is working on a new financial reporting framework to make the climate sector more appealing to investors.
Ms. Yellen, speaking at an Institute of International Finance event, called climate change an “existential risk to our future economy and way of life,” and said that she is working on a “whole of economy” approach to addressing it. The comments come as President Biden prepares to convene a virtual summit this week to show that the United States is ready to reassert itself as a global leader in combating climate change.
Ms. Yellen said that investor demand for green bonds and sustainable assets is on the rise but that climate-aligned investments continue to face obstacles from inconsistent disclosure requirements that make it difficult for investors to assess opportunities and risks. She said the Treasury Department is working with the Securities and Exchange Commission to create new climate-related disclosure requirements.
The Biden administration’s infrastructure and jobs plan that it proposed recently provides tax credits to encourage and direct investments in reducing carbon emissions, overhauling the transportation sector and retrofitting buildings. But Ms. Yellen said that government cannot meet the nation’s climate goals alone. She pointed to an estimate that suggests the United States needs more than $2.5 trillion in climate investments over the next 10 years to meet its emissions goals.
“Private capital will need to fill most of that gap,” Ms. Yellen said.
This week, Ms. Yellen announced the creation of a climate “hub” within the Treasury Department and appointed a senior official, John E. Morton, to oversee its work.
In her speech on Wednesday, she noted that the United States is taking a dramatically different approach to climate change under Mr. Biden than it did under former President Donald J. Trump.
“After sitting on the sidelines for four years, the U.S. government is fully committed to rejoin the fight against climate change,” Ms. Yellen said.
Lina Khan, a Democratic nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, outlined strong concerns over competition in the tech industry during her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Ms. Khan, a law professor and a former staffer at the F.T.C. who President Biden nominated to the agency in March, warned of the cascading power of tech companies that has allowed them to easily expand their reach across markets.
At the Senate Commerce committee hearing, Ms. Khan, 32, said she was “seeing whole range of potential risks. One that comes up across board is that the ability to dominate one market gives companies, in some instances, the ability to expand into adjacent markets.”
She also focused on the online advertising market and how the consumer data mining that fuels it poses potential harms for consumers. The business model, she said, incentivizes more and more data collection.
“In some cases, companies may think it’s worth the cost of doing business to risk violating privacy laws,” she said.
Ms. Khan is part of a progressive wing of the Democratic Party that has pushed for antitrust legal reform and the breakup of companies like Facebook and Google. In a 2017 Yale Law Journal article titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” she questioned the bias of antitrust experts toward consumer prices as the key metric for antitrust violation. Even though Amazon offers consumers lower prices in many cases, she argued the company could harm competition by squeezing out small-business rivals who rely on its marketplace.
President Biden’s nomination of Ms. Khan to one of three Democratic seats at the F.T.C. has been taken as a sign of how the White House plans to be tough on tech. Tim Wu, a progressive critic of Facebook and other big tech companies, was also recently named to a role in the White House.
Ms. Khan said in Wednesday’s hearing that approvals of tech mergers during the Obama administration were a “missed opportunity” to slow the growth of the companies.
Tech mergers approved during that time underestimated the particular economics of tech companies, she said. Regulators that approved the deals may have also assumed the dynamics of the tech market would allow for new entrants to go up against the bigger companies, she added.
“We need to be much more vigilant relating to these acquisitions,” she said.
Ms. Khan received little pushback from lawmakers from either party at the hearing. But Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah and the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, asked if she would recuse herself from investigations into Facebook, Google and Amazon because of her past work investigating the tech giants for the House antitrust subcommittee. The House released a report in October that found the digital platforms were monopolies.
Ms. Khan said she would follow ethics rules that prohibit her involvement in investigations into companies where she has financial and personal ties. She said she did not have those ties to any tech giants.
Ford Motor said Wednesday that it will keep several U.S. plants idle longer than expected because of the global shortage of computer chips.
The automaker said plants in Chicago, Flat Rock, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo., will remain closed through the first two weeks of May. The Kansas City factory, which makes the F-150 pickup truck, Ford’s most profitable vehicle, and the Transit van, has been idle since April 19.
“Our teams continue prioritizing key vehicle lines for production, making the most of our available semiconductor allocation and will continue finding unique solutions around the world so we can provide as many high-demand vehicles as possible to our customers as dealers,” the company said in a statement.
The Chicago plant produces the Ford Explorer and the Lincoln Aviator sport-utility vehicles, while the Mustang sports car is made in Flat Rock. Those plants have been idle since April 12.
Ford is also extending the production stoppage at a plant in Oakville, Ontario, through the week of May 3, and is limiting production at another plant in Ohio. The automaker is also cutting production at four plants in Europe and a joint venture in Turkey.
Ford has said the chip shortage would lower operating profit this year by $1 billion to $2.5 billion.
News of the extended plant closures was first reported by Automotive News.
A group of seven House Republicans said on Wednesday that they would no longer take donations from major tech companies or their top executives, a sign of the growing distance between some conservatives and big business.
The lawmakers said in a letter that the companies had limited the reach of conservative voices, citing bans on the chat app Parler after it was used by participants in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and had abused their market power.
“These monopolies have shown that personal liberty can be threatened by corporate tyranny just as much as by government tyranny,” they said in the letter. All but one of the lawmakers are members of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the antitrust questions confronting the tech companies.
The pledge was led by Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Mr. Buck said last month that he would not accept money from the tech giants’ political action committees.
For years, lawmakers on the right have attacked Google, Twitter and Facebook, accusing the companies of unfairly removing content posted by conservatives. The lawmakers have also accused Amazon and Apple of stifling competition. In recent weeks, some conservatives have turned on other major businesses — traditionally their allies in efforts to deregulate the economy — that have opposed their positions on voting rights and other issues.
Five of the lawmakers received donations from the corporate political action committees of Google, Facebook and Amazon in the last election cycle. Representatives Chip Roy of Texas, Gregory Steube of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona received a combined $3,500 in donations. Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina (not Oklahoma, as previously reported here) received $1,000 from Amazon’s political committee.
But it is also possible that some of the lawmakers who signed the pledge will not have to turn any donations down in the near future. Amazon and Google froze donations to lawmakers who voted against certifying the election results after the Jan. 6 attack. Facebook paused all of its political donations.
Mr. Steube and Mr. Norman, as well as Representatives Dan Bishop of North Carolina and Burgess Owens of Utah, objected to the results of the presidential election.
Mr. Bishop and Mr. Owens both signed the pledge even though they did not receive money from the firms’ political committees last election cycle.
More than 18 million people tuned in to cable and broadcast networks for the reading of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on Tuesday, a huge viewership total for a late afternoon, according to preliminary data from Nielsen.
An average of four million people watched CNN from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., more than double the number of viewers the network drew the previous day in the same time slot, according to Nielsen. Another four million watched on ABC, and 3.4 million saw it on Fox News. MSNBC and CBS each had about three million viewers.
NBC’s viewership totals were not yet available, which means the verdict was likely seen on television by an audience of more than 20 million. And because Nielsen’s numbers do not include people who watched the proceedings on their phones or laptops, the total number of people who watched was certainly even bigger than that.
Viewer interest was strong throughout the three-week trial of Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd last May. On several days, CNN had more viewers during key portions of the trial in the afternoon than it did in prime time, usually its most watched hours.
CNN’s sibling network, HLN, which covered the entirety of the trial, had its highest ratings since its coverage of the George Zimmerman trial in 2013. Mr. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.
On Tuesday, JPMorgan Chase’s co-heads of investment banking, Jim Casey and Viswas Raghavan, announced policies aimed at improving working conditions amid record deal volume and an industrywide debate about banker burnout, especially in the junior ranks.
The country’s largest bank has tried similar moves before. Mr. Casey spoke with the DealBook newsletter about the company’s latest plan — and whether this one will stick.
To help alleviate that level of exhaustion among its own ranks, JPMorgan is bringing on more workers to help cope with heavy deal volume, which generated $3 billion in investment banking fees in the first quarter, up nearly 60 percent from the previous year. It has already hired 65 analysts and 22 associates this year and plans to add another 100 junior bankers and support staff, “If we can find them, as quickly as we can,” Mr. Casey said.
It’s also focused on managing its bankers’ hours better. JPMorgan will tell associates not to do marketing work on weekends. It will encourage all bankers to go home by 7 p.m. on weekdays and add more flexibility for personal time. It will force bankers to take at least three weeks of vacation a year. It will require group heads to call two to three junior bankers every day to find out what is working.
Some of these actions are similar to what JPMorgan rolled out in 2016, but “it wasn’t stringently enforced,” Mr. Casey said. Why not? “Laziness.”
This time, junior bankers’ hours and feedback will figure in senior managers’ performance evaluations and — crucially — compensation.
One thing the bank won’t be doing: offering one-time checks or free Peloton exercise bikes to staff after a big rush, like at some other banks. “It’s not a money problem,” Mr. Casey said. “If we just cut the junior bankers a check now,” he said, “then that would be the excuse that everybody says, ‘Well, OK, the problem is fixed.’ No, it’s not.”
And some other things won’t change. Banking is a client-service job, so managers sometimes have limited control over workloads and hours. “You might do 100 deals a year, but that client only does one deal every three years,” Mr. Casey said.
As to how the bank will measure the success of these policies, “Ask me what our turnover ratio has gone to and I will tell you,” Mr. Casey said. What’s the target? “Lower.”
American Airlines plans to bring back all of its pilots by the end of summer and start hiring new ones this fall, reflecting optimism across the industry that widespread vaccinations will encourage more people to book flights.
The airline expects to hire about 300 pilots this year and twice as many next year, Chip Long, American’s vice president of flight operations, said in a note to pilots on Wednesday. He added the airline planned to honor offers it made to new pilots but didn’t fulfill last year when the pandemic crushed demand for tickets.
United Airlines also said this month that it would restart pilot hiring and expected to make about 300 offers this year.
“The return to flying of so many of our pilots and the addition of hundreds more, the resumption of many old routes and the introduction of new destinations are hopeful signs, opportunities to look beyond the immediate and into a brighter future,” Mr. Long said.
A spokesman for the union that represents American’s pilots, the Allied Pilots Association, welcomed the news but said it should come with more scheduling certainty for its members.
“We have faith that we can get it done, but we have to have the tools to do it,” said the spokesman, Dennis Tajer, who is also a pilot at American.
Airlines have been heartened by the increase in bookings over the past month and are optimistic that even more people will fly this summer. American has said it expects this summer to offer more than 90 percent of the seats on domestic flights as it did in 2019 and 80 percent of the seats on international flights.
Still, the airline is expected to report a large loss for the first three months of the year when it announces quarterly results on Thursday morning.
U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday, reversing two days of declines.
The S&P 500 rose 0.9 percent on Tuesday after falling 1.2 percent earlier in the week. The Nasdaq composite gained 1.2 percent.
The sentiment in stock markets earlier in the week had shifted from the optimism that had recently driven record highs to concern about coronavirus variants that are leading to new outbreaks. On Thursday, investors will get another look at the state of the American job market as the government releases its latest report on weekly unemployment claims.
Companies that stand to benefit the most from the recovery led Wednesday’s gains, with Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts among the best performers in the S&P 500.
Oil prices fell, with futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, declining 2.1 percent to $61.35 a barrel.
Netflix was the worst-performing stock in the S&P 500, with its shares dropping 7.4 percent after its latest earnings report. For the first quarter of 2021, Netflix said after markets closed on Tuesday that it added four million new customers, less than the six million it had forecast. It’s another sign that, although Netflix still dominates streaming, its rivals are starting to catch up.
As plans for a European Super League for soccer rapidly fell apart on Tuesday, shares in publicly traded football clubs that had joined the group dropped. Shares in Juventus, an Italian club, tumbled 13.7 percent.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.7 percent after plunging 1.9 percent on Tuesday, its biggest one-day decline since December.
Inflation in Britain rose less in March than economists predicted. The annual rate of price increases was 0.7 percent, data published Wednesday showed, up from 0.4 percent in February. The jump is notable, but it is less than the 0.8 percent analysts had predicted. As in the United States, policymakers and economists expect some of the increase to be temporary and explained by transitionary factors such as the steep drop in oil prices this time last year. Therefore, bets are that the central bank won’t reduce its monetary stimulus yet.
The European Union on Wednesday unveiled strict regulations to govern the use of artificial intelligence. The rules have far-reaching implications for major technology companies including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft that have poured resources into developing artificial intelligence. “With these landmark rules, the E.U. is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure A.I. can be trusted,” Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president who oversees digital policy for the 27-nation bloc, said in a statement.
Netflix reported the addition of four million new customers in the first quarter, below the six million it had forecast. The company expects to add only one million new customers for this current quarter ending in June. Netflix shares plummeted about 10 percent in after-hours trading.
Apple unveiled new products on Tuesday that showed how it continued to center its marketing pitch on consumer privacy, at the potential expense of other companies, while muscling into markets pioneered by much smaller competitors. Apple showed off a new high-end iPad and an iMac desktop computer based on new processors that Apple now makes itself. The company said it was redesigning its podcast app, which competes with companies like Spotify, to enable creators to charge for their shows. It revealed the AirTag, a $29 disc that attaches to key rings or wallets so they can be found if lost. And after its product show, Apple said that it planned to release iPhone software next week with a privacy feature that worries digital-advertising companies, most notably Facebook.
In today’s On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that big technology companies are still misdiagnosing why they have so many enemies.