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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

An Apple app strategy for the antitrust era

Good morning! This Friday, Apple may give users a little more control over their iPhone, Google's Fitbit acquisition runs into another roadblock, and a startup raised $9 million to sell you canned water.



People Are Talking

Microsoft is investing $1.1 billion in Mexico, per Satya Nadella:

  • "We're investing in new training labs and skilling programs, so today's workforce and future generations are equipped with the skills required for the jobs of tomorrow."

Liquid Death, the punk canned water startup (yes that's really the whole pitch), raised $9 million, and CEO Mike Cessario has a big expansion plan:

  • "We always knew that we were going to move into brick-and-mortar. When you're water, it's something people want to buy whenever they want rather than order it off the internet."

Russia was behind a cyberattack in Georgia that took out websites and TV in the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said:

  • "This action contradicts Russia's attempts to claim it is a responsible actor in cyberspace and demonstrates a continuing pattern of reckless Russian G.R.U. cyberoperations against a number of countries."

Andy Parker, the father of a reporter who was murdered on live TV, filed a complaint with the FTC because YouTube can't keep the video off its platform:

  • "Mr. Parker and his family have had only one tool available to defend themselves from such traumatic vitriol and the nightmare of seeing their daughter's death: watch these videos one-by-one in order to report them."

The Big Story

Apple could loosen the reins on iOS apps

Apple's tight control over its app ecosystem has always been part of the "it just works" appeal of the company's devices. It's also part of the argument for why Apple is a monopolistic giant that squashes all competitors in its ruthlessly controlling grasp.

  • Startups making browser, maps, email, calendar and contact apps — basically anyone who competes with the built-in apps on your iPhone — have long said it's virtually impossible to compete with Apple. Non-Apple apps can't be set as default at the operating system level, so even if you download Firefox, you can tap on a link in your email and be right back in Safari.
  • And as Apple has leaned into services like Maps, Music and TV, it's also come under fire for how it has advertised and promoted those services. And that tension has piqued some antitrust interest.

Now Apple might let users change the defaults, Bloomberg News reports, for at least their browser and email. Of course, multiple developers told me they'd heard nothing about this from Apple, which probably won't announce anything like this until WWDC in June. But they're excited by the possibility:

  • I spoke to Michael Simmons, whose company develops Fantastical and Cardhop, and he told me that one of the most common requests from users is for a way to make his apps the default on their phone.
  • Mikael Berner, the CEO of Edison Mail, agreed: "It's pretty cool that Apple is considering this. It is a real benefit for the user experience, that is what is most important."
  • "This would be a move many have longed to see Apple make," Firefox chief Dave Camp told me, "and would be one small step towards real change for the ecosystem. If done right, this could finally give consumers the chance to use the applications they want on otherwise closed mobile platforms."

Apple's also reportedly considering opening up the HomePod to other music services — which would be a big deal to the approximately 16 people who own HomePods.

Advertising

The fight over political ads found a new platform

The rules for political advertising on TV are clear. Except for when they're not. And as streaming platforms become advertising giants in their own right, things are getting even murkier.

  • The Washington Post reports that political ads are becoming mainstays on platforms like Hulu and Roku, which are not regulated by the existing rules about political ad transparency.
  • Facebook, YouTube and others have publicly grappled with how to regulate and talk about their political ads. But many other platforms are running campaign spots without any oversight or regulation.

Elizabeth Warren spent upwards of $326,000 advertising on Hulu in the last two months of 2019, the Post reports. Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden have also spent on the platform. And if you've watched … any show anywhere, you've seen a Bloomberg ad.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is planning to buy out the YouTube homepage in the run-up to the election. Bloomberg News compared that to a Super Bowl ad — if there were only one ad during the Super Bowl.

These streaming services are tricky to manage, because they work much like broadcast TV — but aren't yet regulated like it. And as millions more people continue to cut the cord and switch to these platforms, they'll become the default big-screen experience for voters everywhere.

A MESSAGE FROM EVERFI

Built For Better.

Society is demanding corporations help drive meaningful change on some of the world's most difficult topics. Is your company ready?

How Can Your Company Be Built for Better?

M&A

Google and Fitbit vs. everybody

Google would really like to buy Fitbit. An ever-growing list of government agencies and privacy advocates, however, would prefer that didn't happen.

  • This time it's the European Data Protection Board, which said: "The possible further combination and accumulation of sensitive personal data regarding people in Europe by a major tech company could entail a high level of risk to privacy and to data protection."

Approval of the acquisition seems to be a bit of a bellwether — a handy metaphor for the whole question of how much personal data a tech company should own.

  • The EDPB said that Alphabet and Fitbit should "mitigate possible risks to the rights to privacy and data protection before notifying the merger to the European Commission," but didn't offer specifics on what that would look like.

Google's already collecting masses of health data through Android Wear. But buying it appears different somehow: Millions of people bought Fitbit devices, and now the data those devices collected is owned by another company. How that works, and what happens next, will set a fascinating precedent.

Making Moves

Rivian CTO Mike Bell left the company. Bell is a heavy hitter in the tech world: He worked on the iMac, the iPhone and other products at Apple, and was leading the charge at Rivian. No word yet on where he's headed.

Julie Zhuo is leaving Facebook after nearly 14 years, most recently as a design VP. She's starting a new advisory firm called Inspirit with Chandra Narayanan, formerly Sequoia's chief data scientist.

WeWork is still making executive changes. This time it's hired Ernst & Young partner Shyam Gidumal as COO, reporting to CEO Sandeep Mathrani, who was appointed two weeks ago. In the new WeWork era that counts him as the company's wily veteran.

In Other News

  • Atherton, a town right in the middle of Silicon Valley, is the first U.S. town ever to crack $500,000 in average annual income, according to Bloomberg News research. (It's actually all the way up to $525,000.) Eric Schmidt, Sheryl Sandberg and Steph Curry have all lived in the tiny suburb. Two other top-five towns are also in the Valley.
  • Samsung sent a weird alert to some unknown (but definitely large, if you believe Twitter screenshots) number of phones that just said "1." Samsung said it was an accident, but it only took about 8 seconds for Reddit threads to be filled with out-of-control conspiracy theories.
  • Mike Bloomberg tweeted a doctored debate video, providing a test to Twitter's new rules on edited and synthetic content. So far, it's still up.
  • Sweden's central bank is making a big bet on digital currency, starting a pilot project for "e-krona" based on blockchain technology that is designed to bring state-backed money online.
  • The Defense Information Systems Agency may have been breached. According to letters sent to potential victims, personal information including Social Security numbers in its databases were compromised.
  • From Protocol: About 300 Oracle employees staged a virtual walkout yesterday, protesting Larry Ellison's decision to host a fundraiser for President Trump.
  • New Mexico sued Google for violating child privacy laws, alleging that it uses Chromebooks and its education platform to collect students' data without parental consent. Google called the allegations "factually wrong."
  • 7-Eleven is testing Amazon Go-style cashierless stores. The first one is open in Texas near the company's HQ, and I'm confused: I don't see hot dogs or pizza slices anywhere.

One More Thing

From Protocol: Silicon Valley's new new thing is prenups

It wasn't long ago that a whole generation of founders and inventors had kids, and suddenly had second thoughts about what the tech they'd invented was doing to society. Now a new generation is discovering its own rite of passage: the prenup. Kelsey McKinney writes for Protocol about the family law attorneys dealing with an onslaught of work from the newly rich and newly in love. Sorting it all out is more complicated than ever, especially when so much "wealth" is tied up in venture valuations, pending IPOs, and the vagaries of bubbles and interest rates. And sometimes the rules even involve unfollowing each other on Instagram.

A MESSAGE FROM EVERFI

Built For Better.

Society is demanding corporations help drive meaningful change on some of the world's most difficult topics. Is your company ready?

How Can Your Company Be Built for Better?

Correction: In yesterday's newsletter, we misstated Helen Dixon's role. She is Ireland's commissioner for data protection, not the EU's.

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, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.

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