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Amazon and Google’s True Advantage

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.My colleagues wrote about the eye-popping sales numbers coming from America’s technology superstars, including Google, Facebook and Amazon. Their sales and profits this year, in the middle of a pandemic, are truly hard to fathom. It’s so much money, you guys.But these companies also spend gobs of money, which in turn helps them make more money.The ability to spend like crazy — because Big Tech has money and hardly anyone questions how the companies spend it — is one of the secrets to why the tech industry giants are so difficult to unseat.A few examples: Amazon hired 250,000 full- and part-time employees — on average roughly 2,800 each day in the 90 days that ended in September — and then about 1...

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Sports

You (YOU!) Can Stop Election Rumors

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.Americans are voting in a highly unusual election, during a highly polarized time, and mistrust in authority figures is in overdrive. Misleading information about election tampering and voter suppression is now everywhere.I spoke about the prevalence of election-related rumors and confusion with my colleagues Kellen Browning and Davey Alba, who wrote on Thursday about the local election officials who are trying to counter bad information:Shira: How does false information or misunderstandings about the election start? Is it just made-up lies? Kellen: It often starts with a grain of truth that gets spun out of proportion.The lead attorney of Henrico County, Va., told me about two recent instances t...

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Technology

We Need Policy, Not WrestleMania

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.One of the central questions for our elected representatives is how to exercise effective oversight over technology.Some days, like when lawmakers ask whether the tech giants have become too powerful, I feel hopeful about government officials’ ability to do this. Right now … I’m not so sure.The Senate on Wednesday is holding a hearing ostensibly about whether to revise or undo a bedrock law of the internet that made possible sites like Facebook and YouTube by providing a limited legal shield for what users post. It is in principle a worthwhile debate about how U.S. laws should balance protecting people from online horrors with providing room for expression online.But the hearing is mostly a point...

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Sports

Don’t Even Try Paying Cash in China

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.It’s hard for those of us who live outside of China to grasp how paying for everything has gone digital in the country.Most businesses there, from the fanciest hotels to roadside fruit stands, display a QR code — a type of bar code — that people scan with a smartphone camera to pay with China’s dominant digital payment apps, Alipay and WeChat. Paying by app is so much the norm that taxi drivers might curse at you for handing them cash.My colleague Ray Zhong, who used to live in Beijing and wrote about Alipay’s parent company selling stock to the public for the first time, spoke with me about how China’s digital payment apps created new kinds of commerce, and whether China offers a glimpse at a ca...

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Sports

Driverless Cars Go Humble to Get Real

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.The dream of computer-driven cars taking over the roads remains a fantasy. But slowly, and maybe more modestly than tech idealists imagined, driverless vehicles are getting real.After a period of funk that included a pandemic-related freeze on road tests, driverless car developments have been coming thick and fast in the last few weeks.Waymo, which is part of the same company as Google, recently expanded its driverless taxi service in Phoenix — and without a person in the driver’s seat in case something goes wrong. General Motors’ driverless car company will also soon remove human minders from its self-driving test cars in San Francisco. Tesla has said it will soon turn on software features that ...

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Sports

Why Washington Hates Big Tech

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.American politicians from opposite parties don’t agree on much — except that technology superpowers are too powerful.Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans applauded the Justice Department’s lawsuit this week accusing Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising. And members of a House committee on both sides mostly agreed that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple had grown too muscular and were abusing their power.To find out how America’s tech giants became bipartisan punching bags, I spoke with my colleague Cecilia Kang, who has written about technology companies and Washington policy for nearly 15 years.Shira: For years, Washington politicians tended to...

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Sports

Why the 5G Pushiness? Because $$$.

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.I find it helpful to look for the profit motives behind what’s happening in our shopping lives.So why does it feel as if every other commercial you see on TV or online is a phone company blaring “5G! 5G! 5G!” into your ear holes? Because each once-in-a-decade changeover in wireless technology is a shot for companies like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to pad our cellphone bills without us going nuts and to steal customers from one another.That’s not necessarily bad for us, but it does mean that the next time you’re buying a new phone or staring at a marketing message from a phone company, you should watch your wallet. You want to make sure you’re making a purchase that is good for you, and not ju...

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Sports

Police Can Open Your Phone. It’s OK

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.Technology that makes our smartphones hard to break into without a password makes us safer from hackers and other unwanted intruders. But it also makes it tougher for the police to do their job.American law enforcement officials for years have said companies like Apple and Google should make it easier to break phone passcodes so they can better investigate crimes. Most technology experts say it’s impossible to make a phone that good guys can easily get into without bad guys exploiting it.My colleague Jack Nicas, who wrote on Wednesday about this standoff between cops and techies, talked to me about a big revelation: Law enforcement officials are able to get into phones far more often than previou...

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Sports

Why the Government Is Suing Google

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.The U.S. government sued Google on Tuesday claiming that the company is an illegal monopoly. My colleagues called it “the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.”This legal case is going to be loud, confusing and will most likely drag on for years. More confusing lawsuits against Google from U.S. states are probably coming, too. What will be most important to remember are the big questions at the heart of this: Does Google break the rules to stay on top? And if so, does that hurt all of us?So, yes, this is about politics and legal minutiae, but ultimately this case boils down to whether the technology that we use could be better, and whether...

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Technology

Why the Government Is Suing Google

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.The U.S. government sued Google on Tuesday claiming that the company is an illegal monopoly. My colleagues called it “the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.”This legal case is going to be loud, confusing and will most likely drag on for years. More confusing lawsuits against Google from U.S. states are probably coming, too. What will be most important to remember are the big questions at the heart of this: Does Google break the rules to stay on top? And if so, does that hurt all of us?So, yes, this is about politics and legal minutiae, but ultimately this case boils down to whether the technology that we use could be better, and whether...

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