America’s new meme-lord in chief
Good morning and Happy Valentine's! This Friday, we have another big move in the U.S. vs. Huawei chess match, a whole lot of Bloomberg memes, and a free rom-com to watch this weekend.
People Are Talking
Shel Kaphan, Amazon's first employee, expressed concern about what the company has become:
- "On one hand I'm proud of what it became, but it also scares me. I think not all of the effects of the company on the world are the best. And I wish it wasn't so, but I had something to do with bringing it into existence; it's partly on me."
Cisco won't be buying Nokia or Ericsson or any 5G infrastructure companies, CEO Chuck Robbins said:
- "The problem is, people don't understand. Everyone is wrapped around one particular point, the radio. Every other part we are building."
Attorney General William Barr says President Trump should stop tweeting about DOJ cases. He told ABC News:
- "I'm gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me."
China's military vehemently denies hacking Equifax:
- "[The charges are] without a basis in fact. This behavior is completely hegemonic and amounts to legal bullying."
The Big Story
What's in a Huawei indictment?
In the ongoing chess match between the U.S. government and Huawei, it can be hard to know what's real and what's political posturing. You'd be forgiven for reading Thursday's indictment of Huawei, its subsidiaries, and an employee, and wondering what's really going on here.
Here's what's really going on here:
- The U.S. accused Huawei of violating federal racketeering laws and conspiring to steal trade secrets from American companies. Of course, the U.S. has been accusing Huawei of those same things for a long time.
- But this puts years' worth of accusations into a single document. It's eye-opening to see accusations over Huawei's alleged theft-promoting bonus program, its secretive work in Iran and North Korea, and more, all in a row.
In some ways, the indictment's goal was reputational, experts told Protocol's Charles Levinson and Adam Janofsky. The U.S. wants to influence other countries as they debate whether to implement Huawei tech in their growing 5G networks:
- "It's the U.S. trying to use the tools it knows how to use to try and suppress Huawei's rise on the global stage," Stanford policy and security fellow Herb Lin told Charles and Adam.
- But Emily Harris, a cybersecurity expert in the U.K., said the charges "do not provide the long-awaited smoking gun showing collusion between Huawei and the Chinese state."
A related note from our friends at POLITICO Pro: The Senate has cleared obstacles to a bill that would pay rural telecom carriers hundreds of millions of dollars to rip out and replace their Huawei (and ZTE) gear. The bill could come up for a vote before the end of the month.
Be sure and read the whole story from Charles and Adam. While Thursday's indictment may not be a game-changing moment in the battle between country and company, it's an aggressive move nonetheless from the U.S.
I'm Mike Bloomberg, and I approve this dank meme
If you were on Instagram in the last day or so, you couldn't miss the storm of ads coming from Mike Bloomberg's campaign. The campaign bought sponsored posts on some of the biggest meme accounts on the platform. Honestly, they're hilarious, but that's not the point.
- The campaign is working with a company called Meme 2020, according to The New York Times. Meme 2020's lead strategist is Mick Purzycki, who also runs Jerry Media, the company behind the fuckjerry Instagram account — and was a big player in the Fyre Festival. (That is really quite a resume.)
Meme 2020 worked on the Bloomberg meme-splosion with a company called Doing Things Media, which runs a number of large Instagram accounts. Reid Hailey, Doing Things' CEO, told Protocol's Shakeel Hashim that the backstory here is … really not terribly complicated:
- "We specialize in making people laugh, and when this campaign was brought to us, we wanted to jump on the opportunity to be included on it."
Hailey declined to say how much the Bloomberg campaign spent — or to say much of anything else, really. Whatever it cost, taking over Instagram's meme-verse was surely less expensive than the reported $1 million a day the Bloomberg campaign is spending on Facebook ads. And based on the reaction to the ads, we'll be seeing more sponcon from the Bloomberg campaign very soon.
At this rate, we're about a week away from Bloomberg Twitch-streaming his epic Fortnite matches.
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Netflix is huge, but TV's not dead yet
We talk a lot about "the streaming era" and "streaming wars." But regular ol' TV is still out here kicking the rest of them around. Nielsen's annual Total Audience Report, which came out this week, is a stark reminder of how things really work:
- The average American watches about 3.5 hours of traditional TV every day, and streams just 38 minutes. (The only thing people do more than watch TV? Stare at their phone — for 3 hours and 58 minutes a day.)
But while the landscape may be changing slowly, it's definitely changing. 91% of people in Nielsen's survey said they subscribe to at least one streaming service, and hardly anyone said they're looking to stream less.
- Netflix accounted for 31% of streaming hours, with YouTube in second at 21%.
- Across virtually every age group, at least half of consumers only subscribe to one or two streaming services. That's scary news for the seemingly endless list of new streaming services — Peacock and HBO Max are going to have a hard time convincing people to drop Netflix or Disney+.
Nielsen's study also surveyed the audio world, and found basically the same thing: Old-school radio dominates, but streaming audio — on phones and tablets — is growing fast.
By the way, here's a fun number to throw around next time somebody asks if you've seen whatever dumb Netflix cooking show they're into: Nielsen found U.S. consumers had access to 646,152 unique titles in 2019. All that to choose from ... and here I am rewatching Schitt's Creek. Again.
Walmart is shutting down its Jet Black service — which I can only describe as "Instacart for Walmart but for Fancy People" — and is laying off 293 people as a result. Walmart said the tech will live on in other parts of the business.
Shutterstock's CEO Jon Oringer is stepping down. He founded the company in 2003, and will stay on as the company's executive chairman. Existing COO and president Stan Pavlovsky will be the new CEO. I guess you could say Oringer was looking for a little more "Young man relaxing on beach" and a little less "Frustrated businessman sitting on desk with hand on head in office."
Bernard Coleman is heading to Gusto to run employee engagement. He was previously Uber's head of diversity, but left the company in late January, TechCrunch reports.
Trish Burgess is now Santander's head of peer-to-peer payments. She previously helped launch Apple Pay and Apple Card, and will be tasked with improving the company's user experience and building a P2P payment network.
In Other News
- From Protocol: Facebook released a massive social sciences dataset that researchers can study. The process of getting this done was long-winded and … not easy. As one of the researchers who helped shepherd the dataset to release told Protocol: "I'm happy to be quoted saying this: This was the most frustrating thing I've been involved in, in my life."
- Don't miss this great deep dive into Zume Pizza and how it raised $446 million for the robot-pizza future — when it may never have had a chance to pull it off.
- A California court ruled that Apple has to pay its workers for the time they spent having purses and backpacks searched at the end of their shift.
- Also in California: a state auditor published a litany of concerns about automatic license plate readers. The report says data is being shared among law enforcement agencies and there's little oversight over how it's used.
- From Protocol: A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Microsoft, preventing it from working on the Pentagon's JEDI project. It's a small win for Amazon in its bid to protest the contract, but may not be more than a delay in Microsoft's plans.
- A startup says it built an app that would let citizens vote from their phone, securely, from anywhere. A new report from MIT says, basically, that's crap — and so is the app.
- Need something cheap to do tonight? Netflix is making a rom-com, "To All The Boys I've Loved Before," available to stream even to non-subscribers in an attempt to get them to watch the sequel — the first time Netflix has done that in the U.S. I've seen it twice, and it's a great Valentine's flick. Don't judge me.
One More Thing
The true value of a failed game console
Three decades ago, two gaming giants came together to build a console: the Nintendo PlayStation. The console never hit the market, and apparently only 200 prototypes were ever made. Now one — maybe the only one left — is up for auction. The current price for this yellowing, working, CD-ROM-drive-having, Mortal Kombat-ready piece of deeply odd gaming history? After about a day of bidding, $350,000. And that's no doubt headed up in the three weeks before the bidding ends, because at least one of the bidders is Palmer Luckey. And he seems very committed.
If you don't win the auction, I have a Game Boy Pocket that's yours for the relatively bargain price of $90,000. Hit me up.
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A quick end-of-week thanks to Jamie Condliffe, Source Code's editor, Shakeel Hashim, its producer, and the whole Protocol staff for making this newsletter happen. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day, and your long weekend — see you on Tuesday.