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Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Apple too

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t just coming for Google, Facebook, and Amazon — she wants to break up Apple too.

On Friday, the Massachusetts Democrat laid out an ambitious plan aimed at promoting competition in the tech industry and proposing to break up some of the biggest names in the sector. Over the weekend, she discussed the proposal with Nilay Patel at The Verge and confirmed that beyond the three companies she initially named to split up, she would also focus on Apple. She said it would have to choose between running the App Store and distributing the apps in it.

“Apple, you’ve got to break it apart from their App Store. It’s got to be one or the other. Either they run the platform or they play in the store,” she said. “They don’t get to do both at the same time.”

Her issue with Apple lines up with the same problem she’s raised with Google and Amazon: These companies get a competitive advantage in search results on their platforms. Right now, Google, for example, can prioritize its restaurant rating results over Yelp’s. Amazon can identify which products are doing well on its platform, start making them, and then push them to consumers over other brands.

“If you run a platform where others come to sell, then you don’t get to sell your own items on the platform because you have two comparative advantages. One, you’ve sucked up information about every buyer and every seller before you’ve made a decision about what you’re going to sell,” Warren said. “And second, you have the capacity — because you run the platform — to prefer your product over anyone else’s product. It gives an enormous comparative advantage to the platform.”

Warren also said she would seek to appoint regulators who would break up NBCUniversal and Comcast, which completed their merger in 2011 after agreeing to dozens of behavioral conditions with regulators. But that’s proven difficult to enforce in practice — for example, Bloomberg TV has repeatedly complained that it is exiled in the channel guide from other business channels, including CNBC.

Warren’s rollout of her plan to take on big tech has made a splash. Beyond breaking up big tech companies, she also proposed passing legislation that would make companies “platform utilities” if they have an annual global revenue of $25 billion or more and offer an online marketplace, exchange, or some other way to connect third parties. They wouldn’t be able to own both the platform utility and the participants on the platform or be able to share data with third parties. For Apple, that translates to the App Store and app distribution being split up.

Apple did not return a request for comment on Warren’s proposal.

Apple — and the App Store — has come under antitrust scrutiny before

This isn’t the first time Apple has come under scrutiny for possible anticompetitive practices, including with regard to the App Store specifically. The Supreme Court is currently weighing Apple v. Pepper, which originated in 2011 after a group of iPhone owners claimed that Apple keeping third-party apps out of its App Store was driving up prices and hurting competition.

The Verge’s Adi Robertson laid out the case last year:

The central dispute is relatively simple: Apple only allows iOS users to install apps through its App Store. Any third-party stores require jailbreaking your phone and voiding the warranty. Apple also takes a 30 percent commission on apps that are sold through the App Store. Pepper’s complaint concludes that developers are logically passing that cost along to consumers.

Apple says its closed ecosystem isn’t a monopoly.

The case has played out a bit differently in court, because instead of focusing on whether Apple’s practices are legal, the courts have instead paid more attention to whether iPhone users are allowed to sue Apple. The Supreme Court last year heard arguments on that matter.

What to do about big tech will definitely be on the agenda in 2020

Tech giants have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Facebook has seen a cascade of scandals related to areas such as data privacy and misinformation, and the size and reach of companies such as Google and Facebook have become a source of growing unease.

A recent Axios/Harris Poll survey that asked respondents to rank the 100 most visible companies in the United States found that Facebook, Google, and Comcast all saw their brand reputations decline last year. Calls to regulate tech companies in the US have grown louder.

Some 2020 candidates are picking up on the sentiment and folding reining in big tech into their campaign platforms. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has a long history of focusing on tech and antitrust issues throughout her time in Congress. She, along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would force platforms like Facebook to disclose political ad purchasers. And she is widely viewed as a Democratic leader on antitrust.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has zeroed in on Amazon. Last year, he introduced the Stop BEZOS Act, named after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, that would punish large corporations with low-wage employees. Amazon subsequently raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

As the campaign continues, other candidates are likely to talk more about how they would approach the tech industry as well.


The news moves fast. Catch up at the end of the day: Subscribe to Today, Explained, Vox’s daily news podcast, or sign up for our evening email newsletter, Vox Sentences.

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Look at How Much “Game of Thrones” Characters Have Changed Over 8 Seasons

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During the summer of 2019, the final season of Game of Thrones aired. The show had gone on for almost 10 years which is a long time not only for the characters but also for the actors who portrayed them.

Bright Side is remembering what characters looked like in the very first episodes of the groundbreaking series and is comparing them to what they look like in the final season of the show.

1. Cersei Lannister

2. Jon Snow

3. Tyrion Lannister

4. Daenerys Targaryen

5. Sansa Stark

6. Arya Stark

7. Jorah Mormont

8. Varys

9. Jaime Lannister

10. Sandor Clegane

11. Brienne of Tarth

12. Samwell Tarly

13. Davos Seaworth

14. Theon Greyjoy

15. Brandon Stark

Did you watch Game of Thrones? Did you enjoy season 8? Tell us in the comment section below.

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Baltimore’s ransomware attack, explained – Vox

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Thirteen bitcoins are standing between the city of Baltimore and many of the services and processes its citizens rely on after hackers seized thousands of government computers at the start of the month. The ordeal has been going on for two weeks, and there’s no clear end in sight.

Here’s what’s happening: On May 7, hackers digitally seized about 10,000 Baltimore government computers and demanded around $100,000 worth in bitcoins to free them back up. It’s a so-called “ransomware” attack, where hackers deploy malicious software to block access to or take over a computer system until the owner of that system pays a ransom.

Baltimore, like several other cities that have been hit by such attacks over the past two years, is refusing to pay up. As a result, for two weeks, city employees have been locked out of their email accounts and citizens have been unable to access essential services, including websites where they pay their water bills, property taxes, and parking tickets. This is Baltimore’s second ransomware attack in about 15 months: Last year, a separate attack shut down the city’s 911 system for about a day. Baltimore has come under scrutiny for its handling of both attacks.

The ransomware attacks in Baltimore and other local governments across the US demonstrate that as ransomware attacks spread, and as common targets such as hospitals and schools beef up their online systems’ security, there are still plenty targets vulnerable to this kind of hack. It also exemplifies the conundrum that ransomware victims face: pay up and get your access back, or refuse — potentially costing much more in the long run.

What’s going on in Baltimore, briefly explained

Hackers targeted the city of Baltimore on May 7 using a ransomware called RobbinHood, which, as NPR explains, makes it impossible to access a server without a digital key that only the hackers have.

The Baltimore hackers’ ransom note, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, demanded payment of three bitcoins per system to be unlocked, which amounts to 13 bitcoins to unlock all the seized systems. The note threatened to increase the ransom if it wasn’t paid in four days, and said the information would be lost forever if it wasn’t paid in 10 days. Both deadlines have now passed.

“We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up! Tik Tak, Tik Tak, Tik Tak!” the note said.

The city government is refusing to pay, meaning that the government email systems and payment platforms the attack took down remain offline. The attack has also harmed Baltimore’s property market, because officials weren’t able to access systems needed to complete real estate sales. (The city said transactions resumed on Monday.)

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, who’s officially been in his office less than a month, said in a statement on Friday that city officials are “well into the restorative process” and have “engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts who are on-site 24-7 working with us.” The FBI is also involved in the investigation.

“Some of the restoration efforts also require that we rebuild certain systems to make sure that when we restore business functions, we are doing so in a secure manner,” Young said. He did not offer a timeline for when all systems will come back online.

The Baltimore City Council president also plans to form a special committee to investigate this latest attack and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

A similar attack using RobbinHood hit government computers in Greenville, North Carolina, in April. A spokesperson for Greenville told the Wall Street Journal that the city never wound up paying, and that while its systems aren’t entirely restored, “all of our major technology needs are now being met.”

More than 20 municipalities in the US have been hit by cyberattacks this year alone. And such attacks can be expensive, perhaps especially if targets say they won’t pay. In 2018, hackers demanded that Atlanta pay about $50,000 in bitcoins as part of a ransomware attack. The city refused, and according to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, the attack wound up costing the city $17 million to fix.

Ransomware attacks aren’t new — but we’re still figuring out how to deal with them

In 2017, a ransomware called WannaCry targeted tens of thousands of computers using Microsoft Windows operating systems in more than 100 countries. Officials in the US and the United Kingdom eventually blamed North Korea for the attack. Also in 2017, corporations in the UK, France, Russia, Israel, and Ukraine experienced ransomware attacks. US hospitals were also targeted.

Here’s how Timothy Lee explained for Vox what was going on and how ransomware had become more prolific:

The basic idea behind ransomware is simple: A criminal hacks into your computer, scrambles your files with unbreakable encryption, and then demands that you pay for the encryption key needed to unscramble the files. If you have important files on your computer, you might be willing to pay a lot to avoid losing them.

Ransomware schemes have become a lot more effective since the invention of Bitcoin in 2009. Conventional payment networks like Visa and Mastercard make it difficult to accept payments without revealing your identity. Bitcoin makes that a lot easier. So the past four years have seen a surge in ransomware schemes striking unsuspecting PC users.

Some ransomware schemes are so sophisticated that they even invest in customer service, helping victims who want to pay their ransoms navigate the complexities of obtaining bitcoins and making bitcoin payments.

Since then, a number of sectors and organizations have made improvements to their security practices to protect against ransomware. But the latest Baltimore attack exemplifies what a whack-a-mole game this is: One area improves its practices and hackers just go looking for another.


Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

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Cameron Russell for ELLE

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A film by Kai Z Feng of our February 2014 cover.

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