Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Apple’s Problem With Lina Khan

Matt Stoller (ArsTechnica):

As part of the claim outside of the smartphone, the Antitrust Division asserted that “Apple’s conduct extends beyond just monopoly profits and even affects the flow of speech. For example, Apple is rapidly expanding its role as a TV and movie producer and has exercised that role to control content.” Some economists mocked the suit, suggesting, among other things, that political power should have no role in analysis of how monopolies function.

A recent incident should have disabused us all of that naive illusion. Last night, Jon Stewart interviewed Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan on the Daily Show. Stewart, after a long hiatus, which included a stint doing a podcast for Apple TV+, resumed hosting the show he made famous, even if only one night a week. During the interview with Khan, he said that Apple had blocked him from interviewing her while he was at Apple. “They literally said, please don’t talk to her,” he offered. Stewart also noted that Apple had told him not to do segments on artificial intelligence, adding to his earlier complaints about Apple’s refusal to sanction discussions of China.

Note that Stewart was trying to interview Khan for his podcast, not for his actual Apple TV+ show.


Update (2024-04-24): John Gruber:

The thing I don’t understand about this is why Apple ever hired Stewart to do that show, or why Stewart agreed to do that show with Apple. Based on, you know, the entire body of Stewart’s work, it’s obvious that Lina Khan is exactly the sort of person he’d want to interview. It’s not like something changed. My only guess is that the part of Apple that agreed to host The Problem With Jon Stewart didn’t get buy-in from the top of the company. But I find that hard to believe. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like hiring Martha Stewart to do a show and then asking her not to do any cooking segments.

Personally, I think Apple should put its big boy pants on and gladly host a topical news show that is free to criticize the company or the technology industry as a whole.

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Apple… decades of love & hate for me.

Power corrupts.

Kevin Schumacher

> Note that Stewart was trying to interview Khan for his podcast, not for his actual Apple TV+ show.

Given that the podcast was a tie-in with the show and also produced by Apple, I'm not sure this is actually a distinction.

That being said, the whole "control[ling] content" aspect of DoJ's suit is probably one of the weakest. Sure, don't be happy they didn't let Stewart interview Khan--though TBH I would have imagined Stewart being smarter than to sign on with Apple in the first place, given its history of self-censorship in controversial areas, such as pornography in the App Store.

But don't act like Apple is either a) unique in exercising editorial control over its output (see e.g. Warner Bros killing Coyote vs. Acme or any of the other finished projects they have outright cancelled before release or removed from streaming after a short time) or b) a large enough player in that space that their actions ultimately suppress speech that has no other outlet. They sure as hell aren't a monopoly in the film and TV market, nor in the media streaming app market, nor even in the iOS media streaming app market, the latter of which you'd expect them to have the best chance at being. And Stewart is expressing this opinion of Apple literally on the television program he founded and has now returned to as an intermittent anchor, while interviewing the person Apple didn't want him to, so he certainly hasn't lost anything.

To be clear--it's not that Apple doesn't have problems, it's that these mostly imagined problems are a giant distraction from fixing the actual bugs.

@Kevin Well, I would argue that the entire TV+ endeavor is a giant distraction from fixing the actual bugs. :-)

I think I mostly agree with you, but this is interesting in light of Apple’s previous comments that it doesn’t tell the content people what to do, and also in that they run and curate Apple News.

@Michael Tsai
Wait, has Apple said they don't dictate content? Because from the start, the story was Tim Cook and people of his ilk were in fact dictating content. The Dr Dre Biopic, the censoring of M. Night Shyamalan, and the show about Gawker apparently.

My opinion of Apple for the last decade plus is pretty low, they have been as awful as pretty much every other tech company and it saddens me as a former heavy user of their products that I can't bring myself to use them anymore, but heavy handed dealings with, well everyone who partners with Apple is par for the course. Remember the illegal non poaching, salary deflation scheme that kind of was never really punished? That was shitty and directly at the behest of Steve Jobs, so I can't even be mad solely at Tim Cook at this point.

@Nathan I was thinking about comments made when Apple TV+ was introduced, as well as articles like this. But I agree that the reality seems to be that the executives have been heavily involved.

Here's the quote where Eddy Cue says they don't write notes:
“I saw the comments that myself and Tim were writing notes on the scripts and whatever,” says Cue. “There’s never been one note passed from us on scripts, that I can assure you. We leave the folks [alone] who know they’re doing.”

The obvious excuse being "Telling someone they can't do something isn't giving notes on scripts!"

As it stands, I would say Apple's behavior regarding TV+ / Jon Stewart (if true) is petty, and a bit of a PR own goal, but nothing antitrust-relevant.

But they're inching towards it. The sidebar now has Apple TV+ and MLS Season Pass items. IIRC, when I was subscribed to Paramount+, that channel did _not_ show up as an item. "Home" also increasingly serves as an ad for Apple TV+.

Imagine if Bezos stopped WaPo from writing about the climate impact of same day deliveries. (He probably is)

That is on par with Apple not letting Jon Stewart from doing his puppy-look into the camera after saying something silly about AI.

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