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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Reimagining Markets Everywhere

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

Learn more here.

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.

Fintech

Affirm CEO: 'Buy now, pay later' becomes more attractive in a slump

With consumers grappling with rising rates and prices, the question of whether they’ll still buy now and pay later is open. Max Levchin thinks Affirm knows the answer.

Affirm CEO Max Levchin spoke with Protocol about "buy now, pay later."

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Shortly after Affirm went public last year, CEO Max Levchin told Protocol that he saw “an ocean of opportunities” for the “buy now, pay later” pioneer. Wall Street agreed.

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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.

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For the last 50 years, SAP has worked closely with our customers to solve some of the world’s most intricate problems. We have also seen, and have been a part of, rapid accelerations in technology in response. Across industries, certain paths have emerged to help businesses manage the unexpected challenges over the last few years.

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Workplace

The post-layoff playbook: How to avoid 'survivor's guilt'

Taking care of your laid-off employees is important. But how can you restore trust with the employees who make it through?

Employees who survive layoffs are charged with holding the company together. Whether or not managers listen to their concerns can make or break a company’s culture.

Photo: Justin Pumfrey/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Jennifer Burke was on her way to Hawaii for her daughter’s wedding when Zillow followed through on its long-anticipated layoff. She asked her manager to break the news to her by message in the car. You’re one of the safe ones, her manager responded.

“I felt relieved, of course,” Burke said. “I felt apprehensive. I felt sympathy for my co-workers that I knew were going to be laid off.”

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Enterprise

Why chip companies need the college students dazzled by software jobs

New chip fabricating plants will need tens of thousands of skilled workers who don’t currently exist. Training them means persuading students to look away from jobs at big tech companies.

Intel employees in clean room "bunny suits" work at Intel's D1X factory in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Photo: Intel Corporation

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Morris is an unusual 21-year-old. When they graduate college, many of his tech-minded peers will opt to work for the likes of Apple, Google and other household names that have enjoyed meteoric growth over the last decade. Jobs at those tech companies symbolize prestige for graduates and their parents in a way that careers with chipmakers like Intel do not.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Policy

A new UK visa could steal your top tech talent

Without meaningful immigration reform, U.S.-trained foreign graduates could head across the pond.

The U.S. immigration system turns away hundreds of thousands of highly skilled tech workers every year.

Photo: Ben Fathers/AFP via Getty Images

Almost as soon as he took office, President Biden began the work of undoing a lot of the damage the Trump administration did to the U.S. H-1B visa program. He allowed a Trump-era ban on entry by H-1B holders to expire and withdrew a Trump proposal to prohibit H-1B visa holders’ spouses from working in the U.S. More recently, his administration has expanded the number of degrees considered eligible for special STEM OPT visas.

But the U.S. immigration system still turns away hundreds of thousands of highly skilled — and in many cases U.S.-educated — tech workers every year. Now the U.K. is trying to capitalize on the United States’ failure to reform its policy regarding high-skilled immigrants with a new visa that could poach American-trained tech talent across the pond. And there’s good reason to believe it could work.

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Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu

Kwasi (kway-see) is a fellow at Protocol with an interest in tech policy and climate. Previously, he covered global religion news at the Associated Press in New York. Before that, he was a freelance journalist based out of Accra, Ghana, covering social justice, health, and environment stories. His reporting has been published in The New York Times, Quartz, CNN, The Guardian, and Public Radio International. He can be reached at kasiedu@protocol.com.

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