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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Your Tesla is not a driverless car

Good morning! This Wednesday, the NTSB took a swing at Tesla's Autopilot, Amazon grew its grocery dreams, and seemingly every tech exec quit their job.

People are talking

San Francisco is in a state of emergency over coronavirus, according to Mayor London Breed:

  • "Although there are still zero confirmed cases in San Francisco residents, the global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness. We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm."

All tech workers should unite to fight for better conditions, Coworker.org co-founder Michelle Miller told Protocol:

  • "We saw the internet and the infrastructure of technology as critical to the ability of workers to engage in freedom of association. It felt important that the tech companies be accountable to people like the users on our platform."

A federal privacy law shouldn't overrule the states, California AG Xavier Becerra cautioned:

  • "Congress should make clear in any legislative proposal that state attorneys general have parallel enforcement authority and that consumers also have the opportunity to protect their rights directly."

The big story

Self-driving cars really aren't self-driving

It's become a philosophical question right up there with the trolley problem: Whose fault is it when a self-driving car crashes? After a two-year investigation into one such accident, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled on the subject, and has some of its own answers.

  • Here's a reminder of what happened in the crash: Walter Huang's car, a Tesla Model X with Autopilot turned on, swerved into a concrete barrier in Mountain View. The vehicle had apparently lost sight of the lane lines, and steered into the area separating the exit lane from the highway. The car then accelerated into the barrier.

The NTSB concluded that Huang was playing a game on his phone when the car crashed. And during a hearing on Tuesday, the agency said there's plenty of blame to go around:

  • It blamed Apple, and other device manufacturers, for not creating a way to disable their devices when a vehicle is in motion.
  • But it blamed Tesla most of all: "It's time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars," said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt. "Because they don't have driverless cars."

Ultimately, the investigators couldn't pinpoint exactly what made the car lose the lines and steer into the barrier. That's one of many big remaining challenges with self-driving cars: They're collecting and processing so much data, often using complex machine learning algorithms, that it can be impossible to understand their decisions. And until regulators can understand them, they'll have a hard time trusting them.

  • The NTSB can't enforce rules itself, but recommended to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it require more testing of these partially automated systems, and force car makers to find a way to ensure drivers are paying attention even when they're not driving.

Security

What's keeping the security world up at night?

The RSA conference is underway in San Francisco, bringing many of the world's security experts together under one roof. Protocol's Adam Janofsky is there, talking to everybody — here's what he said is happening.

  • The biggest threat on people's minds might not be Russian hackers or sophisticated malware, but coronavirus. Chunks of exhibitor space once designated for IBM, AT&T, Verizon and about a dozen other companies that pulled out of the conference are now devoted to lounge space. It's easier to find a hand sanitizer pump than a power outlet.
  • Microsoft CISO Bret Arsenault felt the need to clarify in an interview with Adam that he was recovering from a normal cold. "I don't have the coronavirus," he said as he opened up a pack of throat lozenges.

As for the scheduled programming, Adam said election security was the overarching concern.

  • "There's no single issue I'm involved in that I've seen this level of engagement," said Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. "The intelligence community, federal law enforcement, my team, the Election Assistance Commission, everybody is at this issue as hard as any other issue I've seen."
  • "100 percent security is not going to be the outcome," said Krebs, even though the government is working hard on it.

RSA runs through Friday, and we'll have more from Adam as the show goes on.

A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

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

Retail

The growing grocery store of the future

Amazon Go, with all its cameras and weight sensors and ruthless shopping efficiency, has been a boogeyman to grocery stores for several years. Most of the existing sites have been more like corner stores, though, selling snacks and drinks but not much else.

On Tuesday, the company leveled up its ambition, debuting its most sophisticated cashier-free experiment yet: Amazon Go Grocery.

  • The 10,000 square-foot grocery store is now open in Seattle. That's 5-10 times the size of other Go stores, and a little smaller than your average Trader Joe's. It'll sell 5,000 product lines, which is still only a fraction of what you'll find at your local saver.

"There's no plans to put this in a Whole Foods, for now," Amazon told Recode. But I'm guessing that "for now" won't last very long if this experiment works out.

This is the first time Amazon has opened a full-scale grocery store with its cashier-free system. It's also very similar to the 15,000-square-foot mockup the Amazon grocery team came up with at the very beginning of the Go project.

  • Back in 2015, Jeff Bezos mentioned a number of challenges, particularly weighing things like meat and seafood. Go Grocery has no deli or seafood counter — likely a sign Amazon hasn't fixed those problems yet. I also wonder if it's also just annoying to bag your own cartful of groceries.

Have you been to the new Go Grocery store? Tell me what it was like! david@protocol.com.

Making moves

Bob Iger stepped down as Disney's CEO, though he'll be the company's president through 2021. Bob Chapek is the new chief executive, ending a years-long debate over who the heir apparent would be. By the way, what a missed opportunity for Iger's parting words to be, "I'm going to Disney World!"

Also at Disney, Kelly Campbell is Hulu's new president. She was previously its CMO. Hulu's structure is confusing, now that Disney's fully in charge and Hulu is under Kevin Mayer's direct-to-consumer business. But Campbell is now the service's head honcho.

Keith Block, the co-CEO of Salesforce, is also stepping down. He was the person many assumed would be Marc Benioff's heir apparent. That probably makes Bret Taylor, the company's president and COO, the likely candidate to succeed Benioff.

Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty is the new head of Uber Eats. Jason Droege, the head of Eats since it started in 2015, is stepping down. As Forbes notes, this comes as Dara Khosrowshahi is starting to put pressure on Eats to be profitable.

In other news

  • Facebook is banning coronavirus-related ads that "create a sense of urgency," or falsely promise to cure the virus.
  • On the same theme, Apple is taking plenty of coronavirus protections, it said ahead of its annual shareholder meeting today. I'm half convinced Jony Ive is going to come back just to design a Purell dispenser beautiful enough for the Steve Jobs Theater.
  • And from Protocol: We still don't know all the effects coronavirus will have on the tech industry, but one good way to find out is to see what's happening to Kickstarter campaigns. So far it's slowing campaigns and forcing delays.
  • How much is your privacy worth? If you're in the U.S. it's about $3.50 a month, according to a new study. Of the six countries studied, German respondents had the highest price tags by far, at $8 a month. But they'd still share their bank balance info for less than $10 a month.
  • Recorded music revenues went up 13% in 2019, to a total of $11.1 billion. Almost 80% of revenue now comes from streaming services. Somehow, vinyl sales are also growing again.
  • SpaceX won approval to take over land at the Port of Los Angeles, which it'll use to build the vessels required to take humans to Mars. If LA's spaceport turns out anything like LAX, none of us are ever getting anywhere.
  • Also in LA: The city is about to introduce the first electric fire truck in the country. It's made by Rosenbauer, and will be able to run for two hours fully electric. It also looks like a Robocop prop.

One more thing

It's like Facebook, but for gazillionaires

The hottest new thing in social networking is here, courtesy of Rolls-Royce. Wait, that can't be right. And yet it is! The company announced Whisper, "a digital world of curated luxury." It's an online members' club where Rolls owners can talk to each other, get travel recommendations, and access content created just for them. (A sample headline reads "Craft Your Own Cognac," which I don't think is technically something you should do in your Rolls-Royce.) The app's been in testing for more than two years, because apparently "you have to own a Rolls-Royce" still wasn't an exclusive enough club.

A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

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

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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