Source Code

Maps is where the money is

Your five-minute guide to what's happening in tech this Friday, from how AB 5 has been bad for Uber riders to the latest twists in the internet-provider space race.

Good morning! This Friday, Google Maps gets an update, how an old privacy law is increasingly important for technology companies, and a developer wants to charge you $1,000 a month for an underground bunk bed.

People Are Talking

AB 5 has been bad for Uber riders, says CEO Dara Khosrowshahi:

  • "Service levels to riders have gotten worse" and "prices in California have gone up more than anywhere else in the country."

Existing cybersecurity problems will only get worse with 5G, Akamai security chief Andy Ellis told Protocol's Adam Janofsky:

  • "We buy this world full of connected devices, and the mortgage is that at some point we have to secure them before they cause more problems for us."

Russian trolls didn't influence American voters, according to a Russian troll indicted for influencing American voters:

  • "I believe that what occurs in another country, it's pretty hard for me to influence it." And later: "Blaming me is the same as blaming Zuckerberg for creating Facebook."

Twitter is looking outside SF to grow its talent pool, says CEO Jack Dorsey:

  • "Concentration in San Francisco is not serving us any longer, and we will strive to be a far more distributed workforce, which we will use to improve our execution."
  • A Twitter spokesperson told Protocol's Levi Sumagaysay that "there's incredible talent around the world, and we have to be able to work in a way that supports them as employees regardless of where they live."

The Big Story

Google turns on the Maps money tap

Google Maps is 15 years old, and, like any 15-year-old, really ought to start earning its keep. So Google's making some big changes to one of its most quietly important products. Maps has a new icon (not a fan, personally), a new Contribute tab that's going to infuriate everyone at Yelp, and a new focus on helping people find places to go rather than just helping them get there.

  • In many ways it makes Maps a more useful real-world search engine, which means it has a straighter path toward making lots of ad money for Google. A Morgan Stanley analyst told Bloomberg last year that "the most under-monetized asset that I cover is Google Maps," and that eventually Google would flip on the money switch. This might be the moment.
  • Maps head Jen Fitzpatrick told Wired that "we do see that there is potential to, in a thoughtful utility-focused way, have ads continue to play in the broader maps experience." She emphasized that Google cares about user experience, but still: Get ready for more sponsored pizza places, and a little ad-flagged arrow in your AR view pointing to sweet savings down the block.

For years, Google has obsessed over how it might translate its excellence in searching on a screen to searching in the real world. Glass, Lens and countless other projects have aimed at that same goal. Maps seems to be the obvious place for Google to focus those efforts — and the company knows it.

Does your business advertise on Google Maps? How do you as a user feel about the way it's changed? Send me a note: david@protocol.com.

Regulation

An old privacy law with newfound significance

Last week, Facebook paid $550 million to settle an Illinois lawsuit from 2015 that actually pertains to a law the state passed in 2008. Protocol's Charles Levinson has the story of how the Biometric Information Privacy Act was passed and why 12 years later it matters in a big way.

  • BIPA required that companies receive permission from users before collecting biometric facial recognition data.
  • Facebook didn't get permission before it rolled out a feature that suggested who might be in that photo you just uploaded, and a suit filed in 2015 alleged that it was violating the law as a result.

Facebook agreed to the settlement after the Supreme Court declined to hear its appeal. Privacy advocates are now using the hefty settlement to make the case to legislators debating privacy laws in other states that they should emulate the tough provisions in the Illinois law, like an individual's private right to sue companies.

  • "It underscores why you have to have meaningful access to justice for an individual," Washington representative Norma Smith told Charles. "We should have a meaningful voice in how our personhood is sliced and diced and monetized." (Facebook's legal team at Mayer Brown LLP declined to comment for the article.)
  • Facebook, of course, is hardly new to receiving large fines for questionable practices. And even the big ones don't seem to ding the company's spirits — or its share price.

Read Charles' story for the full details on BIPA, the fight over privacy legislation, and what it might take for these questions to actually be answered in court.

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Nasdaq Technology is reshaping the future of global markets by redefining what a marketplace can be.

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Space

The internet-provider space race is taking off

It's still not clear if the future of internet connection involves balloons or drones hovering above us, but it definitely involves satellites. And there's a bit of an arms race going on:

Both companies are planning to offer a service in the next year or so, though with very different business models: Starlink plans to compete directly with Comcast and Verizon, while OneWeb plans to partner with them to extend their range to hard-to-reach places.

If you're counting, that's a lot of satellites heading into the skies. And the Times reports that some astronomers are worried about radio interference — and all that machinery getting in the way of their view of the stars.

Making Moves

  • Michael Murphy is the new CEO of vaping company Pax Labs. No word on Murphy's favorite oil flavor or how big a cloud he can blow.
  • WeWork shook up its board. Three members have been dropped from the group Adam Neumann bossed around, and will be replaced in part by SoftBank's Kirthiga Reddy — WeWork's first female board member.
  • Amazon is hiring. A lot. Again. The company says it plans to create 15,000 jobs in Bellevue, Washington, and build "its biggest tower ever" in the town. Unlike other Amazon real-estate plans, this was announced without months of public buildup and competition.
  • Okta named Craig Weissman as its new chief architect. Weissman was formerly CTO at Salesforce, and told Business Insider that part of his job is to help turn Okta into a "true platform."
  • Jan Chong, longtime senior director of engineering at Twitter, is now VP of engineering at the financial-automation firm Tally.

In Other News

  • Google turned its endless supply of free food into a five-year study on healthy eating. The company changed plate sizes, moved snacks and coffee farther apart, and found it could subtly lead employees to better habits. Please, someone, come to the Protocol office and do the same to me.
  • Uber and Lyft drivers continue to share articles, tips and warnings about coronavirus in Facebook groups, sometimes to problematic effect. "Please do NOT post bogus crap just to get people riled up," the moderator of one large San Francisco group wrote recently. "Do your research before posting, and if it's just a photo without a supporting article it will be deleted. No racist Asian comments will be tolerated."
  • Jeff Bezos posted a truly glorious sub-'gram on Thursday, asking what to do in a nightmarish business situation. Turns out he may have been referring to organizing a meeting with the White House adviser Peter Navarro. (To answer your question, Jeff, the answer is (E): Yell "Alexa, save me!" and have your private Prime Air plane swoop you away.)
  • The FCC announced its plans to reuse chunks of spectrum, currently claimed by satellite providers, for various 5G purposes. There's an auction for the spectrum planned for the end of this year, and the spectrum could be back in use by 2021.
  • A D.C. appeals court said it won't reconsider last year's net neutrality repeal. The appeal had been brought forward by 15 states and various trade groups, including one representing Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Alphabet.
  • The U.S. offered its first safety exemption for self-driving cars — to Nuro, a startup that now plans to launch as many as 5,000 vehicles onto American streets. Their first job will be the most important thing any vehicle can ever do: delivering Domino's pizza.
  • Huawei, Xiaomi and BBK are building a platform to rival Google's Play Store, Reuters reports. The "Global Developer Service Alliance" would allow non-Chinese developers to upload to all three of the companies' app stores at the same time, chipping away at Google's services revenue.

One More Thing

I found you a new place to sleep in SF

You know those SF real estate stories that pop up every now and then, where you can buy a bunch of broken boards that someone calls a "house" for the low, low price of $9 million? I can beat that: A developer wants to build 88 underground "sleeping pods" underneath apartment buildings in the city — and charge $1,000 a month in rent. Key amenities: No doors and no windows, but you do get a "privacy curtain" and plenty of company from the five other people sleeping in fancy bunkbeds right next to yours. Want your own bathroom? Too bad, that's only for the upstairs people paying twice as much for hardly any more space. Don't get your hopes up, though, because the project hasn't cleared the city yet — and rent will probably double before it does.

A MESSAGE FROM NASDAQ

Reimagining Markets Everywhere

Nasdaq Technology is daring to think differently.

Learn more here.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. See you tomorrow.

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly characterized Facebook's recent settlement related to Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act. The settlement is being used to argue in favor of a right to sue in privacy laws being debated elsewhere; it did not end any private citizens' right to sue. An earlier version also misspelled the name of Protocol reporter Levi Sumagaysay. This story was updated Feb. 7, 2020.

Policy

Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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