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The struggle to fix Google’s Google bias
Good morning! This Wednesday, antitrust watchers look into Google search (again), Quibi brawls with a competitor before it even launches, and Uber's back in the no-driver's seat in SF.
People Are Talking
Ron Wyden slammed the EARN IT Act ahead of its big hearing today:
- "It does nothing to reverse DOJ's decade of neglect of these cases and, in exchange, it gives the attorney general unprecedented power to regulate online speech and undermine Americans' security by weakening encryption."
Snap is really playing a long AR game, Evan Spiegel says:
- "Over the next 10 to 20 years, [mobile phone usage] is going to migrate to Spectacles. So the question is, on what timeline? What's interesting, though … if we lose this bet, it's still okay, because we have the AR platform. We'll still have a very, very large business. But what would it look like if we also win the hardware piece? Why wouldn't you try?"
Elon Musk is real-estate shopping in the midwest:
- "Scouting locations for Cybertruck Gigafactory. Will be central USA."
- And a minute later: "Model Y production for east coast too."
Facebook needs to ditch political ads right now, said Code 2040's Karla Monterroso:
- "Tying money and targeted ad data to freedom of speech is ridiculous. No one is entitled to that amount of data tied to a microphone in exchange for money. Especially if they are spreading lies."
There's no money in electric cars for as long as Tesla's allowed to burn money, James Dyson found:
- "We would have to make money out of our electric car even if we weren't trying to repay the investment. Even to make money on an on-going basis would have been extremely hard against that sort of subsidized competition."
The Big Story
The blurred lines of anti-competition
We're largely past the question of "does Google bias its own stuff in search results?" Just ask the EU! The question now is: Does it matter? Actually, even that question isn't new, but it's relevant all over again now that both the DOJ and FTC are eyeing big tech.
Yesterday at a Senate antitrust hearing, Yelp's head of policy, Luther Lowe (a ubiquitous name on this beat), and others shared concerns about Google's search practices, along with general self-preferencing by Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and others.
- Senator Amy Klobuchar used the opportunity to announce a new bill to crack down on monopolies, including shifting the burden of proof onto companies to demonstrate they're not suppressing competition and fining anticompetitive giants up to 15% of their revenues.
- The bill is designed to "deter anticompetitive exclusionary conduct that harms competition and consumers," and to give the FTC and DOJ more teeth to prosecute the issue. (That phrase – "exclusionary conduct" — is key in antitrust circles, and is becoming a buzzword on this issue.)
- Meanwhile, two other senators sent a letter straight to the DOJ in a bid to make sure search is included in its Google antitrust investigation.
But not everyone thinks self-preference is anti-competitive. And even if they do, "we are a long way from an antitrust violation," David Balto, an antitrust lawyer in Washington and former policy director for the FTC, told Protocol's Sofie Kodner.
- Balto also noted that it's been over 20 years since the last significant antitrust ruling, underlining what he saw as the courts' continued deference to the market.
Surprising remote work tips from a work-from-home pro
For a lot of people, it's now at least day three of working from home. Advice on how to cope is everywhere, and mostly obvious. Take a shower! Get dressed! Turn off the TV! No snacks! But truly making the most of a distributed team also takes some counterintuitive thinking.
I asked Amir Salihefendic, the CEO of Doist — maker of apps like Todoist and Twist, and a completely remote company — if he had any counterintuitive advice on how to make remote work … work. He had plenty:
- Many managers worry their employees won't work as hard at home, but Salihefendic told me he sees the opposite. "People are very bad at actually managing when they're working and when they're not," he said, "and they'll actually default to working more." Rather than keeping people on task, he said, focus on making sure they eventually disconnect.
- It's easy to fall into the trap of constantly checking in when you can't see someone across the office, but Salihefendic said the best solution is to still have efficient meetings and then let people disappear for a few hours to do deep work. Internal message boards, shared documents, even email can be better than constantly being tied to messaging apps and video conferences.
Salihefendic did echo a couple of more common bits of advice. For one thing, keeping your workspace organized is really important. He also said it's key to find ways to talk face-to-face — even if, in these coronavirus times, that has to happen virtually.
What's your best work from home tip? Send it my way and we'll share it here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Quibi debuts a new courtroom drama
Quibi has a cool $1.75 billion in its pockets, and now a competitor wants some. Interactive video startup Eko is suing the company, alleging that Quibi's team stole one of its key features. And Protocol's Janko Roettgers, who has covered Quibi for months, found the suit is full of juicy details.
- At the center of the legal dispute is Quibi's Turnstyle feature, the tech that allows viewers to switch from horizontal to vertical viewing. Eko alleges that Quibi employees learned about the technology in multiple meetings with Eko's staff, and that Turnstyle violates one of Eko's patents.
- Quibi preemptively counter-sued Eko on Monday, alleging that the startup had "embarked on a campaign of threats and harassment" ever since Turnstyle was first unveiled at CES.
These two companies have plenty of connections. For instance: Walmart is one of Eko's biggest financial backers, holding more than 10% of the company. Walmart also happens to be one of Quibi's "exclusive partners" for launch ads.
- Also juicy: Quibi president and Hollywood magnate Jeffrey Katzenberg met Eko CEO Yoni Bloch in early 2017 to discuss a potential investment, but ultimately passed on it. Maybe Bloch sees the lawsuit as a second chance?
Honestly, if Quibi's shows are half as interesting as all the drama around the company in the runup to launch, the service is going to do just fine.
Jatinder Dhillon, Tesla's manufacturing director, has left the company after seven years. Tesla may have just announced its millionth car, but it has plenty of manufacturing issues left to sort out.
Mike Hudack is Monzo's new chief product officer. He was previously a partner at Blossom Capital and CTO of Deliveroo, but will now be taking on the banking world.
Alexandra Reeve Givens is the new president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. She comes from Georgetown's Institute for Technology Law & Policy, and previously worked on IP and antitrust issues for the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Thanks, Elizabeth, for sending this in!)
In Other News
- Today in coronavirus: The White House plans to meet with Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft to coordinate efforts fighting coronavirus. Open-plan offices, in addition to all the other reasons they're terrible, might be contributing to the spread of the virus. Google told all North American employees to work from home. While Italy is on lockdown, Amazon, Microsoft and others are offering free Wi-Fi, ebooks and more to people in quarantine. Postmates promised to cover medical costs for its couriers. Instacart and DoorDash offered paid sick leave for theirs. Apple promised unlimited (but unpaid) sick leave for retail workers. Mark Zuckerberg wants to help pay for more testing in the Bay Area. Amazon's donating $5 million to help small businesses. And E3 is canceled.
- From Protocol: Google and Amazon are locked in a smart TV battle, and Google's fighting to win. It's been telling partners that if they want to use Android for anything, even for phones or tablets, they can't use Amazon's Fire TV at all.
- The supposedly private Whisper app was actually leaving users' personal messages and information exposed for anyone to find, the Washington Post found. Researchers were able to access nearly 900 million records, all the way back to the app's first days.
- Apple appears to be working on a fitness app for iOS devices, designed for Apple Watch users. The app seems likely to be built into the next version of iOS, and would be scary news for … well, every fitness app developer in the App Store.
- When Amazon comes for your business, there's usually not much to do but panic. Yet Square managed to survive the private-label attack — and the way it did so holds lessons for every company.
- Uber's self-driving cars are back on the road in San Francisco. But the rollout is slow: Uber's only going to put two autonomous cars on the road, and they'll only be driving during daylight hours. And they definitely won't be picking up passengers.
- Yelp found and banned a group of 550 accounts that had been coordinating to post reviews on the platform. Yelp also removed more than 1,100 reviews that came from fans defending their favorite celebrities against restaurants, coffee shops, and Sephoras.
- New rules from the Department of Health and Human Services are meant to help people manage their health records in mobile apps — but critics warn that without a broader regulatory framework, this data will inevitably fall into bad hands.
One More Thing
Shove your fake meat in your e-mouth
As a person who loves both the environment and all cheeseburgers ever created, I've always been intrigued by companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. And for the one meal during which cheeseburgers are not the best choice, there's now Beyond Meat's breakfast sausage! Coming soon to a grocery store near you, blah blah blah. But can we talk about the machine Beyond uses to simulate the way meat pushes back when you chew? It looks a bit like a pneumatic press, but Beyond calls it an "e-mouth." Apparently it's the most sensitive chewer ever. All I know is that someday, when robots take over and need their own sustenance, e-mouths will be everywhere.
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