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The decades-old tech that could kill passwords
Good morning! This Tuesday, a clever new idea for what comes after passwords, a path forward for diversity in hiring, and a Supreme Court plan for virtual hearings.
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People Are Talking
Too much government intervention could be a bad thing for startups, Entrepreneur First CEO Matt Clifford believes:
- "If the failure rate within, say, a two-year period of seed-funded startups went from 75% to 30%, because there's tons of government money flowing in, it's going to massively distort the market. It's going to keep good people working on bad things for longer, and it's going to make it much, much harder for people with good ideas to succeed."
Elizabeth Warren and Ro Khanna proposed an "Essential Workers Bill of Rights," which Khanna explained like this:
- "Nearly 60 million Americans are still working to keep our internet running, to deliver our groceries, to make sure we have electricity, and to care for the sick. In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote. This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve."
From Protocol: Companies with loyal fans can be resistant to change, but Plex CEO Keith Valory said communication is everything:
- "To some degree, users are always surprised. If I could sit down with every customer individually, I could very quickly make them understand."
The Big Story
First they made us use passwords — now they hope we stop
Tom Jermoluk, the longtime Silicon Valley inventor and investor, feels bad that we're all still using passwords. So he and his longtime business partner, Netscape co-founder Jim Clark, have a new solution.
Jermoluk is the CEO of a new company called Beyond Identity, and Clark is its chairman. They think they've come up with the thing that comes after passwords, based on tech they were working on at Netscape in the '90s.
- Beyond Identity's big idea is to turn every person into their own Certificate Authority. (Here's a detailed explanation of what that means.) Basically, rather than send your password to some server that says "yep, that's David," your computer or phone can validate you to the whole internet.
- It's the same cryptographic idea that lets websites securely communicate with each other, only instead of running on a server your certificate and private key live on your device. Back in the Netscape days, Jermoluk said, "we didn't really have the technology to figure out how to do certificates for individual users and extend that technology down. And so we punted and just had passwords."
- "There's finally the right combination of things" to make this happen, Jermoluk told me. "We really needed a little bit more processing power. We needed phones and computers to have this secure enclave where you could store a private key." Now the tech is ready.
That sounds good. And familiar. Everybody's trying to kill the password! And everybody has different ideas! There's the FIDO Alliance, SSO, password managers, you name it. Beyond Identity CTO Jasson Casey told me the company's advantage is it can work with everything. "We haven't invented any new protocols. We're just using them in a novel way."
- Rather than compete with Okta, for instance, Beyond Identity thinks it can help people do away with (and thus not forget, lose, or have stolen) their Okta password.
- At first, the company's plan is to work with enterprise customers, who manage lots of users and passwords. Ultimately, though, it wants to be a consumer app as well.
As with all these would-be password killers, the test will be adoption. Look how long it's taken for most apps to get on board with two-factor authentication! As bad and insecure as passwords are, they're remarkably resilient. But after seeing a demo of Beyond Identity in action, I sure hope it — or something like it — wins out eventually.
Now's the time to re-think your hiring process
When Salesforce said it would prioritize job applications from employees' friends and family, diversity experts raised red flags. Two leaders in the movement to diversify tech told Protocol that the coronavirus poses a threat to diversity efforts.
- "This puts a strain on diversity," Will McNeil, CEO of Black Tech Jobs told Protocol's Sofie Kodner. With priorities shifting and hiring freezes everywhere, "diversity is one of those things that gets pushed by the wayside."
But long-term, the crisis could create opportunity. So far, diversity hiring for the biggest companies has been a lot of talk and little action. Companies that use this time to rethink their hiring approach may actually be able to achieve their stated goals. There are promising signs that some are.
- "We've seen a rallying of our community, a marshaling of our forces to double down and prevent any backsliding on the progress that we've made today," All Raise CEO Pam Kostka told Protocol's Biz Carson. Her nonprofit is focused on increasing gender equity in the venture capital world.
- "There will never be a better time than post-COVID that I'm aware of in our history ... to take advantage of the skills that are in the marketplace," McNeil told Sofie. He's already seeing a high number of black techies being displaced.
- One piece of advice McNeil offered for companies that hope to be hiring again soon: Focus on hiring diverse talent at the middle- and upper-management level. Concentrating diversity in entry level positions is a common but flawed strategy, he said, leading to what he calls a "tech exit."
- "When you're a young black software engineer and you're the only black person who works in your division or even in your company, there's this thing called social isolation." It's a trend that McNeil has also seen impact the longevity of women and LGBTQ employees.
- "If women don't have the guidance, support and access that they need, then they don't have a shot at it," Kostka told Biz. All Raise is offering online bootcamps and webinars during the crisis. With relationship-building opportunities like networking events and internships on hold, leaders have to think creatively to support diverse candidates.
For more on diversity efforts amid COVID-19, read Biz's full interview with All Raise CEO Pam Kostka.
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We know it's a challenging time for small businesses.
To help, Facebook created a $100 million Small Business Grants Program to provide businesses with the resources they need.
Learn more about the Facebook Small Business Grants Program.
How two developers fixed Google Meet
A couple of weeks ago, Corey Pollock and Keyfer Mathewson got fed up with Google Meet. Its basic video-conferencing tech works well, but it lacks some of Zoom's best features — virtual backgrounds, gallery view, push-to-talk features, and more. They didn't want to switch to Zoom, both for security reasons and because they already use Meet for their day jobs on the product team at Shopify. So they decided to upgrade Meet instead:
- The two spent a week developing a Chrome extension called Google Meet Enhancement Suite, which adds grid layout, simplifies the process of joining a meeting, and more.
- When they quietly added the extension to Chrome's store last Sunday, Pollock told me, thousands of people found it right away. "We were kind of bug-fixing, putting it out there, and we got an immediate influx of traffic. It was crazy," Pollock said.
With new people getting used to virtual meetings, there's room to improve on all existing products. But Google's scrambling just to keep up with demand for Meet, which is adding more than 2 million new users a day. "All the puzzle pieces kind of come together in your mind, it's like, we need to build this," Pollock said. He's not worried about whether Google might be building new features. He'll do them faster.
- As of yesterday the Enhancement Suite has over 10,000 users — now Pollock and Mathewson are thinking about how to monetize, and prioritizing all the feature requests coming in from users. Turns out everybody has something they hate about video chat. And everybody wants to copy Zoom's virtual backgrounds.
Amazon hired Matthew Kaufman as principal engineer for Alexa devices. Kaufman was most recently the chief architect for video conferencing vendor Blue Jeans, and used to be the principal architect for Microsoft's Skype. Alexa, are you spotting a trend here?
Jamie Iannone is the new CEO of eBay. He comes from Walmart, where he'd been recently promoted to COO for U.S. ecommerce. This is Iannone's second stint at eBay — he was there for eight years before leaving for Barnes & Noble in 2009.
Amazon hired 100,000 people in the last month, and plans to hire another 75,000 soon. It's still offering itself as a place for people who have been laid off or furloughed to work "until their past employer can bring them back."
In Other News
- Today in coronavirus: Verizon built a new tool to help people solve their own internet problems while the company stops doing home visits. New Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods delivery customers are now on a waitlist. Google and Apple shared more about their contact-tracing plan, including how they're going to get it onto devices — Google's doing it through Google Play Services, and Apple through an iOS update. Layoffs are affecting everyone in the tech industry, but may be hitting satellite offices the hardest.
- The Supreme Court is holding oral arguments by telephone, which for the Court counts as extremely high-tech. They'll hear 10 cases in May with all parties participating remotely.
- Don't miss this story from The Information about Brian Chesky, who has gone from can't-fail CEO of a sector winning startup to crisis manager of a company on the brink.
- Apple's planning big things for this fall. Bloomberg reports that it's working on a new design for the iPhone, a smaller (and cheaper) HomePod, the long-awaited location-tracking tags, and a lot of 5G everywhere. Only question is: When will Apple be able to launch any of it?
- 1.7 million people downloaded Quibi in its first week. That's a huge number. It's no Disney+, but it's big. Quibi's also speeding up plans to let you watch shows on your TV, which really makes me question what Quibi even is for in the first place.
- Dish is laying off an unspecified number of people, and says it is taking "a closer look at every aspect of our business." Some are beginning to question whether Dish's huge bet to become the nation's fourth big wireless carrier may be doomed.
- From POLITICO: Reddit released its first political ad transparency report. It shows, among other things, that the Bernie Sanders campaign advertised on the platform far more than any other candidate. And that political ads is a pretty small business.
- The Vision Fund lost just shy of $17 billion in the last fiscal year. The rough year isn't a surprise — WeWork, Wag, Uber, Oyo, I could keep going — but the size of the loss makes it clearer than ever why Vision Fund 2 has been hard to get off the ground.
One More Thing
Every meeting could use a llama or two
We can all agree that the best part of every Zoom meeting is when someone's kid or pet shows up in frame, right? Leave it to Silicon Valley to turn that into a business. A Half Moon Bay farm called Sweet Farm now offers a product called Goat 2 Meeting (amazing) that lets you book an animal cameo for your Zoom in exchange for a donation to the farm. Protocol has a team happy hour on Thursday, and you better believe I will be inquiring about availability.
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