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October 2019
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Elizabeth Warren Wants Congress To Be Smarter About Tech... While Grossly Overstating Google & Facebook's Market Power

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So, this is good! Elizabeth Warren has announced that she supports bringing back the Office of Technology Assessment.

My anti-corruption plan reinstates and modernizes the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), strengthens congressional support agencies, and transitions congressional staffers to competitive salaries so that Congress can act based on the best expertise and information available.[....]Reinstate and modernize the Office of Technology Assessment. The OTA was originally led by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, with votes divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The new OTA should be led by a single, independent director to ensure that increased partisanship does not prevent members of Congress from receiving the information they need. The OTA should also have the authority to self-commission reports and be equipped to respond to short-term requests from Members, such as preparing for hearings, writing regulatory letters, and weighing in on agency rulemaking, rather than largely limiting its efforts to lengthy long-term reports. And the OTA should have in-house experts on interdisciplinary issue areas so that it can provide information and analysis on issues like climate change and technology consolidation that do not fit within a single issue area.
That all looks good. Indeed, we've been calling for Congress to reinstate and modernize the Office of Technology Assessment for many, many years, so it's good to see Warren apparently on board with this plan (though I'll note that she does not appear to be a co-sponsor of an existing bill to help modernize the OTA.She frames it, somewhat accurately, as a way to get beyond Congress relying on lobbyists and those with dodgy information. And that would be a good thing. But it does seem a bit ironic that the same day she puts out this plan about no longer having tech policy driven by dodgy one-sided information, Alec Stapp gave a detailed explanation of how Warren, herself, was basing a key claim for why Google and Facebook should be broken up on very, very dodgy information.A big part of Warren's argument was that Google and Facebook are so dominant on the internet today, that they basically control the flow of information. She claimed that 70% of all traffic went through those two companies.
More than 70% of all Internet traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook.
Stapp decided to dig into that number and found... that while the data is not clear, it's likely to actually be less than 20%. That's a pretty damn big difference. Like we've seen in other studies where "big" stats are extrapolated from a single report that doesn't cover what people pretend it covers and are limited by small sample sizes or not representative samples, the same thing seems to have happened here.And, like those other studies, this one involves a game of telephone as well. The number appears to come from a study from a web analytics company, Parse.ly, from 2015, looking at traffic sent to just 400 news publishers. This is not a random sample. That study showed that Facebook sent 39% of the traffic to the publishers in the sample while Google sent 34%. That was picked up on by a freelance blogger who posted a story on his own website claiming "GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic" which is not at all what the Parse.ly study meant or implied. From there, bastion of fact checking, Newsweek, wrote a piece about who controls the internet and cites the freelancer's blog. And that brings us back around to Warren, who cites the Newsweek piece.Voila. A fake statistic laundered through four sources.Stapp then uses Sandvine's much more thorough research to suggest that perhaps Google and Facebook drive a bit less than 20% of internet traffic.
As for Google and Facebook? The report found that Google-operated sites receive 12.00 percent of total internet traffic while Facebook-controlled sites receive 7.79 percent. In other words, less than 20 percent of all Internet traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook. While this statistic may be less eye-popping than the one trumpeted by Warren and other antitrust activists, it does have the virtue of being true.
So, yes, it would be good if tech policy was based on more realistic information -- and bringing back the OTA would be great. Then, perhaps, Elizabeth Warren wouldn't also be relying on dodgy stats passed around through bad reporting.

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Liverpool FC Denied 'Liverpool' Trademark Due To Its Geographic Significance

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Over the past couple of months, we have been discussing Liverpool FC, of the Premier League, attempting to get a trademark for "Liverpool" in a few soccer-related market designations. Despite the narrow scope of the application, the whole thing was still silly, given that "Liverpool" is purely geographic in nature, not to mention that there are several other independent Liverpool-area soccer clubs that would suddenly be infringing on Liverpool FC's trademark if granted. Interestingly, there was also a rather severe backlash from the public, including from Liverpool fans themselves, who organized a protest against the club.And now it turns out that all of that pain was for naught, as Liverpool FC has had its trademark application denied by the IPO.

Liverpool FC’s attempt to trademark the word “Liverpool” has been rejected by the government’s Intellectual Property Office due to the “geographical significance” of the city.In a statement, Liverpool FC said: “The club accepts the decision that has been taken by the Intellectual Property Office, due primarily to what the official judgement cites as ‘the geographical significance’ of Liverpool as a city in comparison to place names that have been trademarked by other football clubs in the UK. We will, however, continue to aggressively pursue those large-scale operations which seek to illegally exploit our intellectual property and would urge the relevant authorities to take decisive action against such criminal activity wherever it exists.”
It's a sane ruling and the statement from Liverpool FC outlines exactly why its attempt to trademark its own city's name to go after large-scale merch sellers that are infringing the club's intellectual property was so wholly unnecessary. After all, here is the club stating that it's going to go ahead and do that enforcement anyway. So what was the point?You get the sense from the public comments from the team's CEO that he, at least, understands what a total mess this all was.
Peter Moore, the club’s chief executive officer, said: “It should be stressed that our application was put forward in good faith and with the sole aim of protecting and furthering the best interests of the club and its supporters. Nevertheless, we accept the decision and the spirit in which it has been made.“I would also like to take the opportunity to reiterate our thanks to all those who engaged with us throughout this process, most notably independent traders and local football clubs.”
Uh huh. What actually happened is that those traders, clubs, and the public rallied against what was an intrusive move to lock up the name of a famous city. Still, Moore does have to be diplomatic, I suppose, especially given what a PR nightmare this has become.Let Liverpool FC serve as a warning, therefore, to any others that might want to apply for trademarks like this in the future.

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