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Signal’s moment to go mainstream

Good morning! This Tuesday, Warren Buffett talks crypto, a look inside big tech's political spending, and why Signal looks set to hit it big.

People are talking

Warren Buffett isn't saving up to buy bitcoin, he told CNBC in an interview:

  • "Cryptocurrencies basically have no value, and they don't produce anything."
  • He added that he'll never own crypto — but did float the idea of a "Warren currency," so who knows?
  • The best response to bitcoin, he said, is to short suitcases. All the money once smuggled across borders might now just be crypto.
  • Buffett also finally ditched his flip phone for an iPhone that Tim Cook gave him — but says he only uses it for calls. He called Apple "probably the best business I know in the world," too. So he's never tried Siri.

We need to know more about Facebook's fight against misinformation, wrote Sen. Michael Bennet in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg:

  • "As we approach critical elections in 2020, not only in the United States, but also in countries such as Egypt, Georgia, Iraq and Sri Lanka, Facebook must swiftly adopt stronger policies to limit abuses of its platforms and to absorb lessons learned."
  • Fun fact: Bennet co-authored a similar letter to Facebook, with questions about privacy, way back in 2010. Facebook's likely to respond to the new one a little faster.

Sure, Equifax got hacked. But Equifax chief information security officer Jamil Farshchi wants you to know it's not just Equifax!

  • "Our goal is to say it's not just us, everyone is dealing with these threats, and the more we can share and the more we can teach you all, the better chance we have of being able to lift all boats in this space."

The big story

Inside the tech PAC pack

Here's a fact that won't surprise you: More employees at big tech companies donate to Democrats than Republicans. Here's one that might surprise you: Those same employees give millions to corporate political action committees, and those PACs donate very differently.

  • Protocol's Joanna Pearlstein found that the PACs of Amazon, Google, and Facebook donate to both parties basically equally — and Microsoft's skewed more Republican with its money.
  • It's not a gigantic amount of money, in the scheme of things: Amazon and Facebook, for instance, spent more than 10 times as much on lobbying as they did on PAC donations.
  • But the numbers are growing. Amazon spent about $1.2 million in PAC money in 2019, up 14x from ten years ago.

Sources told Joanna the donations are largely a hedge against accusations of political bias, both from external sources and employees.

  • "I think that's why they go above and beyond to be sure they're distributing their money evenly," UNC researcher Daniel Kreiss told Joanna.

Still, the spending has caused rifts within the companies, with employees complaining that PACs spend their money on candidates with values against the company's. As employees become more sensitive to their employer's values and decisions, the spending could become an even larger source of tension.

On a related note: The Financial Times dives into why rich people — like, really, really rich people, mostly with fortunes made from tech — are spending their money in increasingly wild ways. With very little of it going toward politics.


Signal's mainstream moment

The European Commission — a group that cares deeply about privacy — told its staff earlier this month to start using Signal.

  • Why? Because Signal is admired by privacy advocates, for two reasons: It's encrypted, and based on open-source technology. That makes it easier to vet, and in many ways easier to trust, than competitors like WhatsApp and Telegram. (Let's not even talk about the security disaster that is SMS.)
  • The trend is hitting the U.S., too: Bill de Blasio is on Signal, and it's become a favorite app among White House aides.

And Signal has more to come. It has recently been spending the $50 million it got from WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton on building its team and making the app ready for prime time.

  • "The major transition Signal has undergone is from a three-person small effort to something that is now a serious project with the capacity to do what is required to build software in the world today," founder Moxie Marlinspike, creator of Signal and owner of hands-down the coolest name in tech, told Wired a few weeks ago.

The app could shake up a fairly stagnant messaging ecosystem. iMessage rules in the US, WhatsApp in most other places. Facebook Messenger is big, but Facebook has become harder to trust — something that's also becoming a problem for WhatsApp. (And, again, let's not even talk about SMS.)

  • Messaging is a big business with cultural implications, that has seemingly been in need of a new player that's both trusted and powerful for several years.
  • If it uses that $50 million wisely, Signal has a real chance to be the new default messaging app for lots of people.

But there's at least one big potential barrier: With its popularity will come legal questions. The DOJ, for one, is not a fan of encrypted messaging.

Signal's a great way to chat with your favorite journalists, by the way. Want to chat about Source Code, your story ideas, or anything else? Hit me up: (203) 570-8663.


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How visa status is used against tech workers

"I believe that H-1B employees tend to tolerate more bullshit from managers because they cannot move to another company that easily, and they cannot just rage-quit."

That's what one anonymous tech employee told OneZero, which published a sprawling study on how these visas, which tie an employee's immigration status to a single company, cause problems for those workers.

  • Across 35 tech companies, at least 50% of visa holders at every company (and often many more) said they'd experienced at least some additional pressure because of their visa status.
  • Most said they hadn't experienced specific discrimination — the pressure had more to do with performance, and the looming fear of the life-changing consequences of a bad review.

The H1-B system is hugely competitive and politically fraught. It's also become one of tech's core interests when it comes to immigration. Big companies argue in favor of continuing the program because it allows them to bring in the best talent no matter where they're from, while critics argue it simply lets them replace employees with cheaper contract workers.

OneZero is doing a series this week on life in Silicon Valley — it's all worth a read.

Are you an H1-B worker? Do you have any colleagues who are? Tell me if your experience matches what OneZero found:

Number of the day


That's the number of consecutive hours, minutes, and seconds streamed by ChilledCow, a much-loved YouTube channel streaming a (supposedly) endless playlist of easy-listening beats. With 218,243,916 views, ChilledCow was one of the great pirate radio stations on the platform — until YouTube shut it down. YouTube says that was an error that won't happen again, though it's not the first time this has happened to a channel. Regardless, ChilledCow is back up, and marching toward breaking its consecutive-hours record on August 22, 2021.

In other news

  • From Protocol: The inside story of how an AR startup failed. Daqri raised about $300 million at a time when all you had to do was say "augmented reality" and people threw money at you. But it never lived up to its promise, and eventually sold for parts to Snap.
  • Target is now one of America's 10 largest online retailers, wedged between Best Buy and Costco. But here's some important context: Numbers 2-10, Walmart down to Macy's, are about half as big as the leader, Amazon. Combined.
  • Speaking of Amazon: It will open a much bigger cashierless grocery store in Seattle today, four times the size of its first. It's also considering licensing out the technology.
  • Southeast Asia's largest ride-sharing and food-delivery apps may merge, The Information reports. Grab and Gojek together would be one of the world's largest startups — but the two sides disagree about who should be in charge.
  • Apple's long-running patent case got booted out of court. Its appeal over the years-long case with VirnetX over security patents was rejected by the Supreme Court, which means Apple still owes more than $440 million in damages.
  • And speaking of Apple: the company is moving into a new building in New York, where it'll have more than 300,000 square feet. Apple said it "fell in love" with the spot near Madison Square Garden, which is something only a tourist could say about a spot near Madison Square Garden.
  • Uber is planning geotargeted, coordinated ads for the roofs of some of its vehicles. Brought to you by the same company that once offered to replace your center console with a vending machine.
  • HQ Trivia was the hottest thing in gaming. So what went wrong? According to this great Bloomberg story, the company fell apart from the inside out.
  • We'll find out more about the fatal 2018 Tesla autopilot crash today. National Transportation Safety Board investigators have been looking into the California accident for nearly two years, and will present their findings this morning. Read this to catch up on the backstory, and watch the NTSB's presentation here.

One more thing

Meet me at the cloud rave

Just because you're stuck at home during a pandemic scare doesn't mean the party has to stop. Nightclubs in China are now live-streaming "cloud raves," with DJs playing sets to an empty room and inviting others to watch. Some people just watch and listen; others comment and chat like they're at the club together; others even post videos of themselves dancing. (It's basically the low-fi version of that Marshello Fortnite concert from a couple of years ago.) It's the next best thing to being there — and the drinks are way cheaper.


CLEAR is transforming the need for ID

CLEAR confirms your identity with your eyes and fingerprints, making life easier in airports and venues nationwide.

Learn more here

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