Source Code

Source Code: Welcome to a new kind of tech publication

Your five-minute guide to what's happening in tech this Wednesday, from the app that crashed the Iowa caucus to the reasons behind Tesla's remarkable run.

Welcome to Source Code

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol! If you don't know what Protocol is, that's OK. We're a new publication from Robert Allbritton, the publisher of POLITICO, dedicated to covering the people, power and politics of tech. Today is our launch day. Check out protocol.com to see the stories of the day as well as a note from Tim Grieve, our executive editor, about who we are and what we're up to.

But before you do that, let me introduce myself. My name is David Pierce, and I'm Protocol's editor at large. This is Source Code, our daily briefing on the most important stories in tech. Normally, this newsletter won't start with a long preamble from me — it'll be a quick, fun and essential way to start your weekdays. If we do it right, you should be ready to win the day before you finish your coffee. Maybe even before it's done brewing.

I have more to tell you about Protocol and Source Code, but we'll get to that later. Let's get to the news.

People Are Talking

Steve Wozniak says he still appreciates his weekly paycheck from Apple—even though it's only $50 or so:

  • "It's small, but it's out of loyalty, because what could I do that's more important in my life? Nobody's going to fire me. And I really do have strong feelings always for Apple."

Clearview AI has a right to collect people's photosaccording to its CEO, Hoan Ton-That:

  • "There is a First Amendment right to public information. So the way we have built our system is to only take publicly available information and index it that way." (Ton-That will be on "CBS This Morning" today, and the interview should be … something.)

The Iowa chaos is a bad sign, Joshua Greenbaum, CTO at the U.S. Vote Foundation, told Protocol's Charles Levinson:

  • "What we're seeing is there's a tech bro culture trying to impose itself on the election world." (More on Iowa down below.)

Is Facebook too involved with Libra? Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga thinks so:

  • "It went from this altruistic idea into their own wallet. If you get paid in Libra … which go into Calibras, which go back into pounds to buy rice, I don't understand how that works."

The Big Story

How an app crashed a caucus

Last March, Gerard Niemira, the CEO of a company called Shadow Inc., told Protocol's Issie Lapowsky that Democratic election tech was a "tangled morass." He said this in the midst of talking about how he could fix things.

But Shadow's app was at the center of Monday's Iowa caucus debacle. It took a while, but we now have a much clearer picture of what happened:

  • The app, which was designed to make it easy to tabulate and share caucus data, was built in only a couple of months and given to caucus volunteers with little training or testing.
  • Motherboard got screenshots of the app, which volunteers had to install on their personal phones through a third-party testing service before going through a complicated login and security system (that didn't actually work). Even in the best case, that process is roughly as intuitive as reading hieroglyphs. And they had to do it this way because they didn't have enough time to go through an app store review process.
  • In Iowa, The NYT reports, only a quarter of the 1,765 precinct chairs even managed to download and install the app.

The mess up has had immediate consequences. Nevada — which had planned to use Shadow's app for its caucuses in a few weeks — announced that it's changing plans. And the whole idea of using tech in elections is suddenly up for debate (again).

Niemira told Bloomberg that he is "really disappointed that some of our technology created an issue that made the caucus difficult." He blamed the issues on "a bug in the code that transmits results data into the state party's data warehouse."

Read Issie's story to find out why the problem is so, so much deeper than that.

A MESSAGE FROM NASDAQ

Reimagining Markets Everywhere

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

Learn more here.

Electric Cars

Tesla's meteoric rise continues

Every day this week, Tesla's share price has gone on a virtually unprecedented upward journey. It seems impossible, outlandish, ridiculous, overblown. Until it happens again the next day.

  • Tesla's stock closed at $887.06 on Tuesday, up more than $107 from just the day before. (And it was still climbing after hours.) Only a month ago it closed at $443.
  • In case you're wondering: yes, that's insane.

The weirdest part is that no one seems to know exactly why it's happening. It's a squeeze on the market's most-shorted stock! It's a bunch of amateur investors who just think Elon Musk is hella cool! It's Saudi Arabia! No, it's China! Maybe listeners just really liked "Don't Doubt Ur Vibe"!

The most compelling explanation I've heard goes like this: Tesla has a long history of getting in its own way, with things like ill-advised tweets and inefficient production lines. But now, Gartner analyst Michael Ramsey told me, Tesla's starting to nail the basics:

  • "They've always had a super strong brand and have always had major flaws," Ramsey said. "And they still have flaws. It's just that the big flaws seem like they're fading."
  • Tesla's getting better at building factories, better at running them, better at delivering on promises, better at keeping its CEO out of trouble.

Whatever the reason, it looks like Musk's unusual compensation plan is going to work out. There's an increasingly plausible world in which Tesla makes Musk the world's richest person.

Have you bought or sold Tesla stock in the last couple of months? What made you move? How high do you think it's going? Send me a note: david@protocol.com.

Politics

The White House 5G dream, now with Big Tech

In an interview with the WSJ, Larry Kudlow said that the White House is working with American tech companies to build "an American soup-to-nuts infrastructure for 5G." That's what Trump has been asking for, Kudlow said.

  • Dell, Microsoft, and AT&T are all part of the project, the WSJ reports, and they could have a system running within 18 months.
  • Surprised? Well, you're not alone: One source at a U.S. telecoms association told Protocol's Adam Janofsky that they hadn't heard of the project before reading the WSJ story either.

The project's focus is on building cloud services and software that can run on top of virtually any company's hardware — because no American company is set up to compete head-on with Huawei in the 5G infrastructure business. Kudlow even allowed for the possibility that the America-first plan might need to include European companies like Nokia and Ericsson.

If you're skeptical, you're still probably not alone. "There were U.S. alternatives [to Huawei], but they essentially went bankrupt," NYU professor Sundeep Rangan told Adam. "Taxpayers would be very confused about the government investing money into an industry that already has low margins and had to consolidate."

This is just the latest in a number of Trump administration moves designed to fight Huawei's 5G dominance. Kudlow echoed the party line on that front, calling the company "a threat to our national security."

Making Moves

  • Michael Ronen, the U.S. head of SoftBank's Vision Fund, is leaving the company. He expressed … "issues" about SoftBank, according to the FT, and had been planning to leave for several weeks. The FT also reports that Ron Fisher, SoftBank's vice chairman, could be in the hot seat.
  • Splunk hired former Okta Chief Security Officer Yassir Abousselham as its own CISO. Splunk's previous CISO, Joel Fulton, is starting his own cybersecurity company.
  • Dan Houser, a co-founder of Rockstar Games, is turning the "extended break" he took last year into a permanent departure from the company. His last day will be March 11.
  • Liz Schimel, the head of business for Apple News, is leaving amidst a rough first year for Apple News+. Bloomberg says Apple is "seeking to hire a notable name from the publishing world" to replace her.

In Other News

Everything else you need to know

  • 28.6 million people have already signed up for Disney+. That's more than analysts expected from the service's first quarter and puts the service already nearly on par with Hulu (which has been around for … many quarters). Here's hoping Baby Yoda gets a cut of the proceeds.
  • The hot new job title in Silicon Valley? Ethicist. Protocol's Linda Kinstler dug into what it's like trying to be the moral center of the tech industry. (Spoiler: tough.)
  • Foxconn hopes to "gradually" restart factories in China starting next week, in the wake of closures resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. Reuters reports that it could take one to two weeks for the plants to get back up to full speed.
  • Andreessen Horowitz is launching a new life-sciences venture fund, with $750 million to invest. "Bio is not the 'next new thing' — it's becoming everything," the partners wrote in the blog post announcing the fund.
  • Twitter announced new guidelines for how it handles "synthetic and manipulated media." Execs say it will either delete content that's been faked or changed in order to deceive viewers, or add a label saying what's happened. But the bar is high, and the onus for finding stuff is on users.
  • Instagram reportedly brought in about $20 billion in ad revenue last year. Facebook doesn't report Instagram's specific financials, but Bloomberg's figure places Instagram above the $15.1 billion in ad revenue that we now know YouTube made last year.
  • The owner of the NYSE wants to take over eBay. Intercontinental Exchange is reportedly interested in a deal in excess of $30 billion but says eBay "has not engaged in a meaningful way."
  • Tinder may be in GDPR hot water. Ireland's Data Protection Commission announced a formal inquiry into "ongoing processing of users' personal data," as well as how the company has communicated with users.

One More Thing

The Amazon van coming to a street near you

As you know, as FedEx and UPS know, and as everyone knows, Amazon is interested in taking more control over deliveries. It's working on drones, adorable robots, and who knows what else, but one of its more interesting plans might be a plain-old van. It's working with Rivian to manufacture 100,000 purpose-built vehicles and showed off some early designs on Tuesday. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the van is … kind of adorable? It pairs some Pixar-cuteness with an electric drivetrain, Alexa-powered smarts, and some seriously complicated ideas about packing efficiency. Coming to your Prime-subscribing curb in 2021.

A MESSAGE FROM NASDAQ

Reimagining Markets Everywhere

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

Learn more here.

That's it for us today. Source Code will come from me every morning, and you can always reach me at david@protocol.com or by replying to this email. (I'd love to see where you're reading this; I'll feature whoever sends a Protocol photo from the most remote location in tomorrow's newsletter.) But every day you'll also be seeing the work of Protocol's newsletter editor Jamie Condliffe and our terrific team of reporters. And I hope you'll see your own contributions here, too! Have a question or a story idea? Get a new job / have a birthday / sell your company / pull off an elaborate hack the likes of which the world has never seen? We want the Source Code community — the business leaders and tech insiders also getting this email — to hear all about it. (If you don't want to get this email anymore, you can unsubscribe below. I'll try not to hold it against you.)

Welcome to Source Code — I'm thrilled you're here, and I'm so excited to do this together.

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


Climate

New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

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Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

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Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Entertainment

Watch 'Stranger Things,' play Neon White and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Here are our picks for your long weekend.

Image: Annapurna Interactive; Wizard of the Coast; Netflix

Kick off your long weekend with an extra-long two-part “Stranger Things” finale; a deep dive into the deckbuilding games like Magic: The Gathering; and Neon White, which mashes up several genres, including a dating sim.

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Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Fintech

Debt fueled crypto mining’s boom — and now, its bust

Leverage helped mining operations expand as they borrowed against their hardware or the crypto it generated.

Dropping crypto prices have upended the economics of mining.

Photo: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin boomed, crypto mining seemed almost like printing money. But in reality, miners have always had to juggle the cost of hardware, electricity and operations against the tokens their work yielded. Often miners held onto their crypto, betting it would appreciate, or borrowed against it to buy more mining rigs. Now all those bills are coming due: The industry has accumulated as much as $4 billion in debt, according to some estimates.

The crypto boom encouraged excess. “The approach was get rich quick, build it big, build it fast, use leverage. Do it now,” said Andrew Webber, founder and CEO at crypto mining service provider Digital Power Optimization.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Policy

How lax social media policies help fuel a prescription drug boom

Prescription drug ads are all over TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. As the potential harms become clear, why haven’t the companies updated their advertising policies?

Even as providers like Cerebral draw federal attention, Meta’s and TikTok’s advertising policies still allow telehealth providers to turbocharge their marketing efforts.

Illustration: Overearth/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In the United States, prescription drug advertisements are as commonplace as drive-thru lanes and Pete Davidson relationship updates. We’re told every day — often multiple times a day — to ask our doctor if some new medication is right for us. Saturday Night Live has for decades parodied the breathless parade of side effect warnings tacked onto drug commercials. Here in New York, even our subway swipes are subsidized by advertisements that deliver the good news: We can last longer in bed and keep our hair, if only we turn to the latest VC-backed telehealth service.

The U.S. is almost alone in embracing direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements. Nations as disparate as Saudi Arabia, France and China all find common ground in banning such ads. In fact, of all developed nations, only New Zealand joins the U.S. in giving pharmaceutical companies a direct line to consumers.

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Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

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