👎 Cheap & Invisible

Google Cloud has fired staff from Looker and replaced them with contractors | Why was the Amazon MGM acquisition not challenged by the FTC?

👎 Cheap & Invisible

Oh well hello. I hope you’ve all updated your passwords following the very troubling Okta attack. Just kidding, it really makes no difference at all — like most things in the digital space, you have no control over what companies get compromised (but you should probably still update your passwords). I’m writing about this for my next piece of paid content, so if you want access you better start paying.

This week was something I could have done without 👎. Why? Just two reasons this week:

  • A little story about Google firing Looker staff and replacing them with invisible labour: the last thing they want is employees they can SEE
  • The Amazon MGM acquisition and why it wasn’t challenged by the FTC (spoiler: the problem is systemic, lol who knew)

❤️‍🔥 Welcome to the department of customer love

A couple of years ago, Google did some ‘innovating’ and acquired Looker, a startup who do [insert thing that Google couldn’t be bothered to build themselves here]. The story here isn’t the acquisition — we all know that those happen all the time while regulators watch and do almost nothing.

What concerns us this week is the sudden layoffs. Looker’s customer support department is called the, uh, Department of Customer Love (because the world of SaaS is a cringe-heavy hellscape), and most of the American team has now been fired.

Shocking: these workers have been replaced with contractors from an IT staffing company based in India. This process took a year. The legacy staff had to train the contractors first. They spent months doing this, all the while being reassured that their jobs were perfectly safe.

Like most things I write about, this is both hilarious and terrible. The hilarious part is that these workers spent a year training their own replacements. The hilarious part is also within this quote from the VP of Google Cloud support:

“Looker has a Department of Customer Love, which is more than just a department name and sets the culture—it’s the secret sauce, it’s the DNA [...] With every acquisition, there’s an evolution process we go through, and sometimes these innovation processes can be difficult. In this case, for Looker, we needed to bring Looker into alignment for the rest of GCP [Google Cloud Platform]. And I am hoping that we can do our very best to preserve that culture of DCL, which is just admirable, to say the least.”

Essentially she’s saying that the workers who were fired were special, cool, and unique... but somehow still completely replaceable and replicable. This leads us to the terrible part: my Very Educated guess says that the contractors are cheaper than the legacy staff; they also won’t have employment rights so can be replaced with other contractors at the drop of the hat;

The customer support department still exists only because it has to  — a piece of b2b SaaS needs to have at least one person constantly saying ‘thank you for reporting that bug, we’ll get right on it’. In actuality, this department has been transformed into something that only benefits Google. The labour is now both cheap and invisible, Big Tech’s two most favourite worker characteristics.

In the above quote, the VP literally referred to the acquisition as an ‘innovation process’. It’s pretty clear that Big Tech firms have no interest in building new things, celebrating talent, or maintaining good services. They are now simply in the business of Business; they exist only to keep on existing; every decision is about remaining relevant and profitable. God, it’s BORING.

🤦‍♀️ Lina Khan has already managed to disappoint me

I guess she’s doing the best she can under the circumstances, but still: Amazon should simply not be allowed to buy an entire production studio. What world are we living in??

Next question: What the hell am I talking about? Last May, Amazon announced it was going to acquire MGM — they’re the ones who like to put a big roaring lion before/after movies (they also make the movies I think?). The FTC, as part of what is supposed to be their job, was considering blocking this acquisition because — this may not come as a surprise — it’s very much something a monopoly would do...

Lina Khan, the newish chair of the FTC; the one who is meant to be really making waves in the Big Tech antitrust arena — THAT Lina Khan — has failed at blocking this acquisition, and so it will go forward.

☝️ Problem one: Lina Khan is a woman... are we to assume that people are just going to listen to her?

✌️ Problem two (this one is actually real, I promise): Khan didn’t even call a vote on this because she knew she’d lose. There are two republican members of the FTC who would vote against her and the one other democrat, and therefore there would be no majority.

🤟 Problem three: the silly nasty mean Senate have been blocking all of Biden’s nominations for the fifth, currently empty, spot on the FTC. There are supposed to be five people so that problem two doesn’t keep happening... but there are only four. So. Lina doesn’t have much to work with ngl.

Result: we now have to endure Amazon having a hand in yet another industry. Sure, they were already churning out ‘Amazon Originals’ that literally no one liked, but now they will have all the resources of a real studio — and everything the studio has already made (e.g. stuff you actually want to watch).

I would say that another much harder to solve problem is the fact that antitrust laws are skewed and out of date. The FTC would have trouble justifying their complaint because Amazon and MGM are not direct competitors. The thing is... that literally does not matter anymore. The world has changed. Amazon do not care about competitors, the only care about what areas they haven’t stuck their greasy tentacles into yet.

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