Letters from CAMP

Letters: Banking on Monopoly

April 7, 2024

Welcome to Letters from CAMP, a newsletter on anti-monopoly activity in Canada and abroad, brought to you by the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project. In this installment we have:

  • CAMP and Fintechs Canada provide a blueprint for a more competition in banking
  • Independent publishers pushed out by Google’s traffic changes
  • The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart reveals Apple’s censorship efforts
  • CAMP appears on the Agenda to talk greenwashing

Let’s dive in.

A Blueprint for More Banking Competition

Canada’s banking sector desperately needs more competition to benefit consumers. The current cozy marketplace allows big banks to raise profits through higher fees and less generous interest rates rather than innovating. On the fee side of the house, Canadians pay some of the world’s highest banking fees at $694 per household annually. That’s a high price to just to keep our hard-earned savings safe.

A major roadblock is Canada’s outdated financial infrastructure and regulations that protect incumbent advantages in the name of stability. Simple processes like account transfers still require manual faxes and mail, deterring customers from switching institutions. Unlike other G7 nations, Canadian payments don’t settle in real-time, allowing banks to collect interest during delays. Regulatory uncertainty from split federal and provincial overseers, none of which include a mandate for competition, means no single body is empowered or accountable to make anti-monopoly reforms.

To turn the tide on competition in the banking space, CAMP and Fintechs Canada collaborated on a blueprint for a more competitive banking market. Pushing back on the idea that competition and stability must be traded off, the report recommends giving Canada’s banking regulators a mandate to promote competition, make it easier for new entrants to enter the banking and payments space, and tighten controls on mergers to avoid another RBC-HSBC Canada.

Delivering a truly competitive banking system requires balancing prudential oversight with a commitment to greater competition, and we believe Canada’s regulators are up to the task. But the process will not be easy, as Canada’s banks have a vested interest in protecting the world-leading profits they generate each quarter. Only sustained political will can overcome gatekeeper resistance to open up Canada’s ossified banking sector.

Google Punishes Indie Publishers

“We shouldn’t live in a world where only a few major companies dominate the entire search online ecosystem; Google needs to become a fairer search engine without bias,” wrote Retro Dodo founder Brandon Saltalamacchia in a post this week outlining how small independent publishers with original, human-written editorial content are being punished by Google and pushed down its all-important traffic-driving page ranking algorithm.

The post is another desperate plea to Google from outlets which struggle to divine the vague and often contradictory instructions to win the favour of Google’s algorithm and gain access to the eyeballs that keep them in business. With the quick adoption of AI-powered summaries in search results and now AI-generated content indexed in Google’s previously robust book queries, indie publishers are facing an uphill battle to stay in front of audiences on the venerable web crawling platform.

The challenges faced by independent publishers like Retro Dodo are not unique to their website. Many small content creators and publishers are struggling to maintain their visibility on Google’s search results pages. The dominance of major companies in the search ecosystem has created an uneven playing field, where smaller websites are at a significant disadvantage. This lack of diversity in search results is leading to a less vibrant and less informative online experience for users, who miss out on valuable content from independent sources.

The responsibility for a more vibrant landscape falls on regulators, competitors and individual internet users. Regulators need to implement policies that encourage competition and address abuses of dominant market positions that allow corporations to erect moats around the free and open internet. At the same time, competitors like DuckDuckGo, Bing, or Ecosia need to offer alternatives that reward indie publishers and quality human-generated content. With these alternatives available and monopolistic practices kept in check, users will be free to migrate and reward the efforts of search engines with higher quality information.

Through a concerted effort from all stakeholders, we can ensure that the internet remains truly free and open, where independent publishers like Retro Dodo have a fair chance to reach their audience and contribute to the wealth of information available on the web.

Censorious Apple Tried to Keep Down Khan

On an episode of The Daily Show last week, host Jon Stewart welcomed Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as a guest. Khan, known for her tough stance against corporate monopolies and her efforts to promote fair competition, discussed the FTC’s ongoing work to address anticompetitive practices in the tech industry and other sectors.

During the interview, Stewart made a surprising revelation about his former show, The Problem with Jon Stewart, which aired on Apple TV+. He disclosed that Apple had previously asked him not to invite Khan as a guest on his show. “They literally said, ‘Please don’t talk to her,” Stewart shared with the audience. This revelation highlighted the influence that large tech companies like Apple can and do wield over the free flow of information even in the internet age.

Throughout the interview, Khan emphasized the crucial role of the FTC in preventing the concentration of power and decision-making in the hands of a few dominant companies. She stressed the importance of maintaining a fair marketplace for businesses and protecting consumers from the potential harms that can arise from corporate monopolies. Though Apple’s censorship highlights the dangers of concentrated media markets, the interview also revealed how brittle these censorship efforts can be when individuals are willing to speak out against them.

The Agenda Goes to CAMP

This week, CAMP Executive Director Keldon Bester appeared on TVO’s The Agenda to discuss the growing problem of greenwashing. Referring to the deceptive practice of representing a product or service as environmentally friendly, greenwashing is a growing problem as more consumers take their impact on the environment seriously. The show’s panel explored why companies greenwash, the challenges of regulating the practice, and potential solutions to the growing issue.

As environmental impact becomes more important to consumers, some companies prioritize appearing sustainable over actually implementing sustainable practices. This deceptive behavior makes it difficult for consumers to make informed choices in a marketplace where information to back up sustainability claims is not available.

Panel members acknowledged the challenges of addressing greenwashing, including challenges to claims about entire businesses or brands rather than specific products. But the show explored potential solutions, including proposed amendments to the Competition Act that would specifically target greenwashing. While some experts believe that this is a positive step, others argued that more comprehensive measures are needed to effectively combat greenwashing.

If you have any monopoly tips or stories you’d like to share, drop us a line at hello@antimonopoly.ca

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