Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

The EU sets the AI agenda

Good morning! This Wednesday Kickstarter formed a union, the EU is making rules on AI, and SpaceX is almost ready to take you on a ride.

People Are Talking

Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler was "terrified" after publishing her original blog post, three years ago today, she told CBS This Morning:

  • "I realized very quickly that I was being followed. I would hear these rumors that were being spread through the press that were trying to discredit me … I suspected it was Uber."
  • She said that Dara Khosrowshahi told her later that he "killed all that crap."

Uber said it had no knowledge of any such investigations, and that her work was a force for good:

  • "Susan's courage to speak up was a catalyst for much needed change at Uber and in countless other organizations around the world."

Campaigns need a new way of thinking about the internet, said former White House director of communications Dan Pfeiffer:

  • "Campaigns need a plan to get their supporters to share content with their social networks, just as they have a plan to get their volunteers to knock doors and make phone calls."

Apple is going too far to get people using its apps, developer Steve Streza thinks:

  • "Apple TV+, News+, Arcade, and Card are all new this year, and are already strongly advertised in iOS. Apple Music has existed for a few years, and its level of advertising in the app is pervasive. As time goes on, these ads are going to get worse, not better."

The Big Story

The EU sets the agenda for AI regulation

After much buildup, today is the day the EU publishes its latest proposal for the regulation of artificial intelligence. One much-leaked document suggested that the European Commission could propose a temporary ban on all facial recognition in public spaces, while the government works on a long-term strategy for regulating the technology.

We'll know much more later today, but many purported details are floating around already:

  • The Commission will reportedly ask for 20 billion euros, or almost $22 billion, in funding each year from public and private investments for the next decade, in order to compete in AI development on a global scale.
  • The plan is said to seek to ensure algorithmic results can always be explained, and to focus particularly on what it calls "high-risk AI," which it says should be tested before being used broadly. So, no giant facial-recognition search engines rolling out without oversight. You know, hypothetically speaking.

The new rules "will produce and deploy much more artificial intelligence" in Europe, Margrethe Vestager told reporters earlier this week. But that will intentionally look different from American or Chinese AI, and could, in some cases, force companies to retrain their systems in order to comply with European rules.

AI isn't the only topic today, by the way:

  • The Commission will also present a European Data Strategy. That will reportedly attempt to ensure that more data is stored and processed in Europe, and propose a single market for data within the entire EU.

After today, there's a 12-week period of feedback and debate, and you can bet the tech giants will offer plenty of both, even beyond the Facebook idea-onslaught from this weekend. Formal legislation won't come until at least the end of this year.

The EU tends to set the tone on a lot of regulatory measures — GDPR has become something like the de facto privacy framework, for instance, and the same could happen with data and AI. So watch this space, no matter where you live.


Kickstarter workers unite

The tech industry has its first white-collar union, now that Kickstarter employees voted 46-37 to unionize the company. And according to Protocol's Lauren Hepler, it could be just the beginning.

  • Lauren told me Kickstarter employees are now explicitly targeting other tech workers. Taylor Moore, one of the company's primary union organizers — who was fired in September — told her, "you can fire organizers as much as you want. You can't fire an idea."
  • Clarissa Redwine, another now-fired Kickstarter employee, ran a Kickstarter campaign last year for a "solidarity onboarding" kit that would help other companies and employees organize. It easily met its goal, and even got a "Project We Love" stamp from Kickstarter. Read into that … whatever you like.

As for what happens next at Kickstarter? CEO Aziz Hasan said in a statement that "we support and respect this decision." Though he'd said a few months ago that "the union framework is inherently adversarial" and "would set us back." A spokesperson told Lauren that the company will move forward with bargaining a contract, but didn't say when.

Collective tech-worker action has been a theme over the last couple of years. I wouldn't expect Kickstarter to be the industry's only official union for long.


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?


Patreon looks for new ways to fund online art

Patreon has been experimenting with lots of new ways to help online creators get paid outside of the ad-dominated social web — and to find a more sustainable business for Patreon itself. The latest: Patreon Capital, which Hot Pod reports allows creators to get cash advances from Patreon.

  • Carlos Cabrera, Patreon's VP of finance, told me that the company is primarily making cash-advance decisions based on a creator's earning history. (Which, obviously.)
  • But the company also considers how long a creator has been on the platform and how many patrons they have as it makes decisions about how much to advance and to whom. At first, it's a case-by-case system, but Cabrera said it will become more automated over time.

Jack Conte, Patreon's CEO, told me recently that in general the company is working to find more ways to support the internet's creative class — which is becoming an economic force without getting much economic support.

  • Conte is interested in helping creators get access to capital, get insurance, and get more of the things afforded to other professionals. "Any problem that a member of the workforce has, creators will have," he said, "and they're becoming legitimate members of the workforce."
For Patreon, stability is everything. The company wants to help creators be less reliant on the changing winds of the ad world; help them keep money coming in even if they don't "load watch time into these ecosystems" every day, as Conte likes to say. Making art online is a job, he believes, and should be treated as such. With all the boring loans and paperwork that come with it.


Twitter acquired Chroma Labs, a company that made tools for making Stories in apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Does that mean Twitter Stories are coming soon? Maybe not: Twitter said it's integrating Chroma's seven employees into its product teams. But come on. Twitter: Do Stories.

Dell sold its RSA cybersecurity unit for $2.075 billion, to a consortium led by Symphony Technology Group. Dell COO Jeff Clarke said the sale helps Dell "simplify our business and product portfolio."

Uber closed its office in downtown LA, and laid off about 80 employees as a result. The company said it was closing the office, which was primarily for customer support, and shifting the jobs to an office it runs in Manila.

In Other News

  • The agenda for today's Section 230 workshop at the DOJ is front-loaded with people who have big ideas about how to change the law, and short on civil liberties and tech advocates who want to leave it as is, Protocol's Issie Lapowsky tells me. At least, that's the portion of the day the public and the press are invited to. In the afternoon, the DOJ is holding a closed-door session that will include more tech voices.
  • One tech industry official told Issie, "I think it's unfortunate there isn't more industry representation in the first half of the day. We're relegated to defending very, very important equities in private, after the fact." Ahead of the workshop, brush up on Section 230 by reading Issie's explainer, and stay tuned for updates.
  • PBS Frontline aired its Amazon documentary. Not much that counts as brand new and revelatory came out of it, but it was still an interesting and thorough look at how Amazon became Amazon — and what we should make of the company now.
  • Bloomberg reviewed Steven Levy's much-anticipated book, "Facebook: The Inside Story," which is out in a couple of weeks. One backroom detail about Mark Zuckerberg that people won't stop talking about: "He, too, is consumed by his public image. (A communications exec is shown blow-drying the CEO's armpits before speaking appearances to eliminate anxiety sweat.)" How's that for a weird tech job?
  • From Protocol: Nevada Democrats are looking for volunteers with even basic tech skills in the wake of the Iowa caucus debacle.
  • Alphabet shut down Makani, its moonshot project working on power-generating kites. The company was publicly demoing the kites as recently as last fall, and had been part of the X team since 2013 before spinning out as its own company last year.
  • SpaceX hopes to launch as many as four private citizens on a five-day spaceflight around Earth in the next two years in collaboration with a company called Space Adventures. No word yet on the cost, application process, or preparation difficulty, but I assume both companies will respect dibs. So, dibs.

One More Thing

Welcome to the era of selfie deepfakes

Manoj Tiwari, an Indian politician, recently uploaded two short videos of himself talking about his political rivals ahead of an election. But only one of them was real. The other was a deepfake: an algorithmically generated video that showed Tiwari speaking in Hindi, when in fact he actually recorded the video in English. Vice has a great story of how deepfake technology is now being used in campaign efforts like never before — and what this kind of fakery means when it's done entirely intentionally.


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?

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me,, or our tips line, Enjoy your Wednesday, see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

The best of Protocol

The confessions of SBF

Your holiday book list

A tale of two FTXs