Technology policy

Congress Used the Antitrust Hearing To Peddle Petty Grievances Against Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google

The scary monopoly power on display Wednesday was the federal government's.

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The top executives of four major tech companies—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google—were hauled before Congress on Wednesday; each accused of being an online monopoly that may require government action.

Math, as the $26 trillion national debt might suggest, is not exactly Congress' strong suit.

One thing Congress is quite good at, however, is putting on a show—and Wednesday's hearing of the House Judiciary Committee was more about theatrics than seriously considering the use of antitrust law. Perhaps that's because it's somewhat ridiculous to argue with a straight face that Google or Amazon are actually monopolies, or because it's quite obvious that consumers who dislike Apple's or Facebook's products are perfectly free to give their time, money, and business to competitors on or off the web.

If lawmakers were serious about applying antitrust powers to big tech companies, they'd have to demonstrate that consumers are being actively harmed by anti-competitive behavior. Instead, it quickly became apparent that the real purpose of the hearing was political power.

"I'll just cut to the chase: Big Tech is out to get conservatives," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. He accused Amazon, Google, and Facebook (and Twitter, which wasn't even represented at Wednesday's hearing) of taking political actions that he disliked. "The power these companies have to impact what happens during an election, what American citizens get to see before voting is pretty darn important," he said, "That's why this committee hearing is important."

That criticism went both ways. A short while later, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D–Md.), who labeled the four CEOs "cyber barons" at one point, complained about Facebook supposedly helping Republicans win elections.

It's almost as if partisans are using the threat of antitrust action to try to force tech firms to take sides. Antitrust laws, it's important to note, do not allow Congress to break up a company because some lawmakers disagree with its politics.

But the clown show masquerading as a serious investigation was only getting started. Granted five minutes to question some of the most important CEOs in the county, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R–Wis.) chose instead to spar with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg about whether Donald Trump Jr.'s tweets about the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine had been unfairly deleted.

"I think you might be referring to what happened on Twitter," Zuckerberg noted.

One of the few lawmakers who tried to maintain the pretense that Wednesday's affair was about antitrust laws rather than airing random grievances was Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–N.Y.), the committee's chairman. In his opening remarks, Nadler compared the market share and influence of the four tech companies to that of railroads and other heavy industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"It's is effectively impossible to use the internet," Nadler said, without relying on services provided by one of the "big four" firms hauled in front of the committee.

The analogy is a bad one. If you were a farmer in a small town in Ohio in 1897 and there was only one railroad serving the town, you were in some ways at the mercy of the railroad—and whatever prices or services it offered. That's not at all how the internet works. If anything, the marketplace created by Amazon or the "app store" created by Apple have increased online competition by giving millions of small businesses and web developers a place to sell their digital goods.

And once you look beyond the digital world, it becomes even more apparent that the antitrust argument against Big Tech is hollow. Amazon isn't just competing with Google for ad revenue online, it's competing against everything from booksellers to grocery stores in the real world. Facebook competes not only against other social networks, but it's messaging service competes against telecom companies. Apple isn't the only, or even the biggest, smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Congress' case against the "big four" tech firms is so flimsy that it's no wonder lawmakers wasted everyone's time on Wednesday by speculating randomly about Google's connections to the Chinese military, accusing Facebook of not doing enough to combat hate speech, or complaining about the companies' algorithms. Rep. Greg Steube (R–Fla.), for example, complained that Gmail, Google's email application, is filing his campaign emails into the "spam" folder. That's the kind of serious issue Wednesday's hearing grappled with.

On the rare occasions that more serious issues were raised, they rarely had anything to do with antitrust law. Raskin, for example, complained that Amazon sometimes puts its own products on sale to undercut competitors—a common business practice, and one that, by definition, wouldn't happen in a monopoly market. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, once a major competitor, as if it were proof that Zuckerberg's company was a monopoly.

Tech firms should not be immune to criticism, of course, and that's particularly true if they boost or suppress particular businesses or viewpoints. But those are not remotely close to being antitrust issues—and, in most cases, they aren't issues that require government action at all.

Indeed, the fact that Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have become successful is an indication that consumers find value in those businesses. Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that customers give the iPhone a 99 percent satisfaction rating. What was the last government program to be nearly as beloved?

More importantly to the antitrust argument, Cook pointed out that Apple built the first "app store" and allows most developers to list their apps for free. "If Apple is a gate-keeper, what we've done is open the gate wider," he said.

"You earn trust slowly, over time, by doing hard things well," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said during his opening statement. "And by making principled decisions, even when they are unpopular."

Instead of trying to break up big tech firms on specious antitrust grounds, maybe Congress should learn from them.

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  1. Sure reason lies and shills for BLM and Antifa every day. But they make up for it by being mouthpieces for the social media platforms.

    1. If you can’t lie and shill for people committing violence openly and explicitly in the name of Communism, an ideology that murdered 100 million people in the previous century, who can a good libertarian lie and shill for?

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  2. Everything in my gmail spam folder is GOP election advertising. Democratic campaign emails don’t seem to get filtered nearly as much. I never marked any of it as spam ever. The only possibility is Google ranks GOP emails higher on the spam scale deliberately.

    1. Even assuming that your single anecdote counted as statistically significant data, there are still several alternative hypotheses that must be eliminated before you can assume your preferred conspiracy theory.
      1 – Maybe GOP election material writers are using phrases and styles that look more like spam than Dem election material writers.
      2 – Maybe spammers think that typical recipients of R election materials are better targets for spam (more affluent, more gullible, older, other) so they deliberately mimic the R election materials.
      3 – Maybe there is a tranche of D election materials that are so spammy that they don’t even get to your ‘maybe’ folder. (Remember that there are multiple spam layers in modern email systems. What shows in your spam folder is typically the stuff that ranked 20-50% likely to be non-spam. Stuff that’s less than 20% likely to be non-spam doesn’t even get delivered.)
      4 and most likely – The automated spam filter relies on lots of other humans tagging messages as spam or not. The automated filter “learns” from those taggings and applies them to future messages. If those other humans who bother tagging messages as spam are correlated with D voters, they would be more likely tag R election materials as spam. Their aggregate behaviors get incorporated by the automated spam filters. In other words, unconscious rather than intentional bias.

      1. You’re excuses are hilarious.

        1. Well, as someone involved in our email protection gateways at a fortune 150, I would say he actually has a pretty good handle about how spam rules work.

          1. Lol.

            Please. Give an example of number 1. Please.

            1. “Vote Republican and you can grab women by the pussy too! Also it enlarges your penis.” – Official Donald Trump Campaign Email

              1. vs… “Vote Democrat and you can grab women by the pussy too! Also turn your penis into a vagina surgically or using your imagination!” – Official Joe Biden Campaign Email

        2. Gotta agree with Rossami and Curmudgeoned here, I’m in sales for a tech company and these are legit reasons why emails might get blocked. That’s not to say that Google might be putting their finger on the scale as well, they’re definitely extremely biased, however if they did so this would definitely be breaking the law with election interference, whereas everything else they do is more of a grey area for Section 230.

          1. “If those other humans who bother tagging messages as spam are correlated with D voters, ..”

            Vindictive, intolerant, complaining rats does not fit the mold of the average democrat.

      2. I’m going to have to go with #2. In addition, Art complaining about (R) shit going to his spam folder is pathetic! I mean, he’s still receiving the emails on his Gmail? He’s just upset that it’s not showing up in the folder of his choosing.

    2. The only possibility is Google ranks GOP emails higher on the spam scale deliberately.

      Sure. That’s the “only possibility”.

      1. To be fair, while I’m a Trump supporter, and I find a lot of his fund raising appeals ending up in my spam folder, his fund raising appeals ARE pretty spammy.

        1. I’ve yet to see any political communication on any medium that isn’t spamming.

    3. “I don’t understand how it works, so it must work in a way that’s consistent with all my pre-existing beliefs.”

  3. >>Tech firms should not be immune to criticism, of course

    people in general are stupid for giving them so much power

    1. But it’s freely given, and that power can be lost when a better alternative comes along.

  4. Congress Used the Antitrust Hearing To Peddle Petty Grievances Against Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google

    .3/10

    1. Can you give an example of what would get a really high rating? I’m just curious.

      1. He must have deducted style points. That headline does well in the compulsory Outrage, but it’s not that Performative.

  5. Wednesday’s affair was about antitrust laws rather than airing random grievances was Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–N.Y.)

    Perhaps the big four tech giants should join Antifa and then Nadler would pretend they don’t exist.

    1. What about feats of strength?

      1. Apparently it’s not over until someone can pin Feinstein. In other words, it will never be over.

  6. also when both sides are united look out.

    also “facebook won’t let us put our conservative message out” sounds like Lucy-level whining.

    1. And if radio and tv stations refused to air republican ads you would say what?

  7. “Congress Used the Antitrust Hearing To Peddle Petty Grievances Against Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google”

    Almost like an election year.

  8. Now do the Bill Barr hearing.

    1. They started to but then democrats reclaimed their time.

      1. My personal favorite was Sheila Jackson Lee.

        Lee: “Do you understand the talk that black mothers-black parents have with their children? Do you know what that is?”

        Barr: “I believe I do.”

        Lee: “I don’t believe you do….Is your department committed to combatting systemic racism in the criminal justice system? Please answer yes or no.”

        Barr: “To the extent that there is racism, of course the administration is going to enf-”

        Lee: “So you admit that there is systemic racism?!”

        Barr: “No, I do not believe that our system is weight-”

        Lee: “I reclaim my time. I reclaim my time.” Proceeds to finish up with a rant condemning everything Barr has done before her time ends.

        1. Reason wont cover that, it’s just local news

        2. This outburst really needs the Judge of Performative Outrage. I think it will be the first time we see someone break a 5/10.

  9. One of the Congressmen asserted that Apple was a monopoly and expressed shock that they exercised editorial control over the Apple App store. As if you can’t buy a Samsung phone or one of any numerous Android options and use a different app store.

    1. Pretty sure he said monopoly of apps for iPhone. No need to distort what he said.

      1. That congressman is going to shit themselves if they ever go into a Trader Joes. The whole goddamn thing is a food monopoly!!!

    2. By the way, Apple claimed they were always equal. When asked about the discount for Netflix they claimed any app developer could reduce their 30% rate. They must all be voluntarily donating so much of their proceeds.

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  11. Considering that Facebook has basically become Ben Shapiro’s little playground, and Youtube is overrun with right-wing content, what exactly is the argument about Big Tech censoring conservatives again?

    1. Wow! Seriously?
      If they ever gave Jeff an enema he could be buried in a matchbox

      1. https://twitter.com/FacebooksTop10

        Worth taking a look.

        Every day, Ben Shapiro has at least 2 of the top spots. Some days it’s 4/10. Pretty good for one guy.

        1. A site with 3k followers and a week’s worth of posting. Lol.

        2. Here. Real actual data. Data explained. More than a week

          https://howsociable.com/charts-facebook-top-pages/

        3. More.

          It is also true that these tweets have been driving people at Facebook absolutely crazy. And the reason is that the way CrowdTangle measures the popularity of partisan links is not the way that Facebook, which owns the tool, thinks that we ought to be measuring popularity.

          Way to lie about shit Jeff.

          https://www.theverge.com/interface/2020/7/22/21332774/facebook-crowdtangle-kevin-roose-nyt-tweets-interactions-reach-engagement

          1. “While some link posts get a lot of interactions, likes or comments, this content is a tiny % of what most people see on FB,” Hegeman tweeted. “News from these pages don’t represent the most viewed news stories on FB, either.”

            God. It really is Shapiros playground. Lol.

          2. Fuck. It gets worse for you.

            They worried the CrowdTangle data painted an inaccurate picture of what most people see in the News Feed, and some fumed that Roose only seemed to tweet on days when right-wing pages were atop the leaderboard.

            LOL.

          3. Maybe we could have an intelligent conversation on the matter?

            The difference is between “interactions” and “impressions”. What the “Facebook Top 10” and Kevin Roose measure is “interactions”, and even Hegeman admits that the data there is accurate. Those skew heavily to the right. But it’s not the “most popular” as measured by “impressions” which I guess is what every person views in their Facebook feed. According to Hegeman the “impressions” is more balanced. But *either way*, what is the evidence of conservative censorship here? It is somewhere between “balanced” (according to Hegeman, using impressions) and “right-wing” (using Roose, and interactions). Neither one is claiming “left-wing”.

            1. The only way to have an intelligent conversation is by excluding you from it.

              1. How intelligent of you, Mr. “Smawley”

              2. Bingo, Hoot. Flag his shit early and often. If he can’t get his audience, maybe he’ll grow a brain cell and fuck off to someplace where his bullshit is appreciated.

                For cryin’ out loud, he got soldiermedic pissed off at him, and that guy’s one of the more agreeable posters here.

              3. Thank you, sir, you made my day.

    2. This is literally your dumbest comment ever. And that is a hard accomplishment.

      1. Fine, then present to us the statistically significant evidence of conservative censorship by Big Tech, where “conservative censorship” is defined as “censoring conservative views for no other reason than the inoffensive presentation of a traditional conservative viewpoint”.

        I submit that about 90% of what conservatives whine about when they complain about “conservative censorship” is when the “censored” person is either being a complete asshole, who is then censored for being an asshole, not for his/her views; or for violating the TOS in a non-partisan way.

        There is no logical reason for Big Tech to censor conservative views per se. They know as well as everyone else that a good chunk of their profit margin comes from conservative individuals. And this idea that Big Tech CEOs are all hyper-woke progressives who hate Republicans is refuted by the prevalence of a plethora of right-wing content on every major social media platform. Instead it comes from the victimhood complex that Republicans have built for themselves.

        1. It isn’t just conservatives. Megan Murphy was banned from twitter for saying “men aren’t woman tho” and for using a female identifying person’s male name, which was still his legal name, AND THE NAME ON HIS TWITTER PROFILE at the time she sent the tweet. https://thehill.com/hilltv/rising/420033-self-described-feminist-banned-from-twitter-says-platform-is-setting-a

          For more about the trans “woman” in question, this was the guy who claimed that he identified as a woman and would go around to brazilian wax places to have his genitals waxed and would then sue those places that wouldn’t provide him service because he was a man: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/rights-centre-says-trans-activist-jessica-yaniv-has-filed-new-suit-against-b-c-salon-over-waxing-refusal

          This “woman” is a real piece of work: https://thepostmillennial.com/lgbtq-advocate-jessica-yaniv-demands-topless-swim-session-for-ages-12-no-parents-allowed

          Twitter seems to have it in even more for people who say things they don’t like regarding basic biological facts than it does for conservatives, horribly offensive things like “the penis is a male sexual organ” or “men aren’t women tho” or “how are transwomen not men?”

          https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-44288431

        2. ““censoring conservative views for no other reason than the inoffensive presentation of a traditional conservative viewpoint”. ”

          That’s kind of begging the question, since liberals consider presentation of a traditional conservative viewpoint to be inherently offensive regardless of manner. The left is not all “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”, they’re “speech is violence!”

    3. oh hey, you’re still alive! And here I was with money on you being Garrett Foster.

  12. This is bullshit. Anti trust laws should be supported by libertarians. They ensure freer markets, competition, and innovation. Time for these companies to be broken up.

    1. Antitrust laws violate the nonaggression principle.

      1. People conspiring to deprive you of your rights are already well across that line.

    2. This is bullshit. Anti trust laws should be supported by libertarians. They ensure freer markets, competition, and innovation. Time for these companies to be broken up.

      No, THIS is bullshit.

      1. Exactly.

        Can you guess which big government dumbfuck said the following

        ““Today’s big tech companies have too much power—too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”

  13. Ok… you four companies that compete against each other… you are a monopoly!

    1. ^What you say when you ignore the repeated occasions when they act not just in concerted fashion but virtual unison.

      You must be one of the Reason fans who uses the ‘mostly peaceful’ principles that effect arguments along the lines of; by virtue of the fact that Hitler personally killed no besides himself and Eva Braun with absolute certainty his life was mostly peaceful.

  14. How about these monopolies on gas, water, electricity, etc. The things we can live without. I’ve survived without Facebook or Twitter.

    1. How about these monopolies on gas, water, electricity, etc. The things we can live without.

      Got any documented proof of the gas, water, and electricity companies turning off service to someone at the same time overtly because of their disagreeable social position?

      It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that even Jeffry Dahlmer’s electricity didn’t get turned off until mos. after the first past due notice was delivered to his empty house.

  15. I watched a bit of the hearing and came away wondering how these politicians get any votes. One congresswoman asked Bezos to commit to reporting any sales of counterfeit or stolen goods whether he was aware of it or not aware of the sale. So, I guess Bezos is supposed to be psychic.

    1. They get votes because Congressional power works on seniority, and the individual voter can’t cast an at-large vote.

      If you could cast your one House of Representatives vote in any district of your choosing, most of the chief shitheads would be out in November.

      The Constitution got a lot of things right, but not everything.

    2. To be fair, they’ve been set up with the expectation that Bezos et al. are to conform to the current Congress’ conception of good faith moderation by Congressperson’s who quit serving at a time when Amazon was still just a bookstore.

  16. It’s about time that every website be required to post a disclaimer page before access.

    THIS IS A NON PUBLIC BIASED MEDIA WEBSITE.

    ANY POST NOT CONFORMING TO OUR NARRATIVE MAY BE DELETED AT ANY TIME.

    YOU MAY BE BANNED FROM PARTICIPATION WITHOUT EXPLANATION.

    How would this affect the income of Facebook and Twitter? Especially when new communication websites have this disclaimer.

    THIS IS A PUBLIC MEDIA WEBSITE. FREE SPEECH IS VALUED HERE.

    YOU ARE LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONTENT YOU POST.

    I know which sites bigoted cancel culture dipshits would prefer and the rest of us wouldn’t have to suffer them.

  17. So were any questions directed at Google’s CEO for making The Federalist remove its comments section by threatening to demonetize them in collusion with a division of NBC?

    Might be something a opinion magazine with an online presence could take an interest in.

    1. Might be something a opinion magazine with an online presence could take an interest in.

      Unless they overtly operate on clicks, checks, and cheques.

  18. “A short while later, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D–Md.), who labeled the four CEOs “cyber barons” at one point, complained about Facebook supposedly helping Republicans win elections.”

    Note that, while both Democrats and Republicans claim that Facebook et all are biased in favor of their opposition, Republicans are complaining that they’re being censored, and Democrats are complaining that Republicans aren’t being censored enough.

    So it’s not exactly like they disagree about who’s being censored.

    There isn’t really any serious argument here, the major tech platforms are biased. And, sure, they’ve got a right to be biased. And Republicans were major league stupid to rely on platforms run by their ideological enemies.

    But….

    It appears to me there has, in fact, been some collective action among the tech giants to prevent Republicans from doing this, of the sort that qualifies for anti-trust action.

    And I really do think the platforms are violating the terms of Section 230 by engaging in bad faith moderation, and by editorializing with content they originate themselves. (Like supposed “fact checks”.)

    This is not to say that they don’t have a legal right to do so, but it does imply that they have forfeited the legal privileges Section 230 gave them, and deserve to be treated as publishers, not neutral platforms.

    1. Exactly.

      Why is so hard for Reason to acknowledge that these partisan, ideologically driven Big Tech platforms are clearly violating the fundamental spirit of Section 230 by seeking to suppress and restrict legitimate political speech and discussion? That’s the exact opposite outcome from what the 1990s-era law was supposedly written to achieve.

      This is not about taking away the precious constitutional rights of Reason’s beloved billionaires to propagandize and deceive in the name of promoting new directions in socialism or advancing a totalitarian cultural revolution. It is about rolling back the special government legal protections these crony corporatists enjoy that allow them to maintain state-backed dominance in the marketplace of ideas.

      Without viable, robust and unrestricted free markets in ideas, you can forget about sustainably cultivating free minds.

      1. And just to be clear — it isn’t so much about the need to roll Sec. 230 back as it is to actually enforce it and revoke its protections for bad faith actors that refuse to abide by the full terms of the contract, as it were.

        1. Yes, the problem with 230 is not black letter, it is lack of proper enforcement of the letter.

          But, as that does not seem possible give the state of the judiciary, the next best thing is to roll it back.

          Take away their toys if they cannot play nice.

          1. The First Amendment is the internet’s First Amendment.

            Nobody has an inherent right to a Section 230, or any of the provisions therein. The whole thing is government granted license and as such can be modified or removed if it is detrimental to liberty.

            1. The whole thing is government granted license and as such can be modified or removed if it is detrimental to liberty.

              Some libertarian minded folks would say that it modification is a one-way ratchet and the only real solution is removal but Reason chased most all of them off long ago.

  19. There better be a Heaton/Bragg video about this one!!!!

  20. Wrong again reason. What happened?

  21. Oh for F@#K’s sake, these kinds of articles make me wonder why I subscribed. We’ve effectively outsourced censorship and tyranny from the government to a handful of bloodless woke technocrat asshole oligarchs. But if it’s a supposed “private company” doing the censorship (not to mention CIA seed funding in some of this) then it’s okay? I know, know….start a Google, Bill!

  22. None of these companies fits the description of a monopoly making them anti-trust targets. A monopoly only exists when competitors are prevented from entering the market. Anyone could develop a new social media platform and go big (remember MySpace?), or an online marketplace like Amazon, or a ride share service like Lyft or Uber (themselves competitors of taxi companies). Only when government steps in to regulate entrance into the competitive market in collusion with existing businesses (like taxi companies getting local governments to keep Lyft/Uber out) do you end up with a monopoly.

    1. Thank you for restoring my faith in the comment section. I’m waiting for the reply to your comment

      B-B-BUT ANTIFA!!!

  23. Hauling freight by rail is vastly cheaper than using trucks, as a couple of engines can pull so many cars. The railroads were, to some degree, regulated out of existence, therefore we pay more for hauling now. So it is interesting that the Congressmen bring up railroads.

  24. So blacklisting conservatives and manipulating your search engine is no big deal.

    Expunging views that you do not agree with is perfectly OK.

    I am seeing less and less how libertarians are any different from progressives.

  25. How about these monopolies on gas, water, electricity, etc. The things we can live without. I’ve survived without Facebook or Twitter.
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  27. What I saw was a bunch of tech executive who were completely out of their depth.

    These companies are about to get bu#$F#$ED and trust busted by Congress.

    As companies they violated the number one rule when dealing with vendors and competitors: don’t act like an asshole. You need to win and you have to be right, but acting like an ass pisses people off. They remember that and will come for you given the chance.

    I’m reminded of the hearings with Ma Bell before they got broken up. A bunch of conceited self-assured executives who absolutely didn’t see it coming.

    Truthfully, no one will feel bad for these jerks either. They’ll all walk away with a big bag of money and a sore anus. If you’ve ever had to deal with these companies on a business level you’d wish there was some blood involved on the anus though.

  28. “Petty grievances” you fucking mean like taking down posts that disagree with their control freak worldview, deplatforming people who go against them (you know, kind of like what they do to libertarians not fake ones like the ones at “Reason”) etc. This magazine has gone to hell, you take any government money like fuckbook, twatter etc. you don’t have a say on who gets on your platform anymore. If your partly tax payer subsidized you have to let everyone speak, sorry. If on the other hand your a platform that takes no money from the government then you can ban, deplatform etc. anybody you damn well please but these big tech people can’t say the same thing.

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