Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai is calling on the U.S. government to create an equivalent to the Geneva Conventions for cyberwarfare, in the wake of increasing attacks from Russia, China and other countries targeting the U.S. and its allies. Pichai made the statement during an interview with the Wall Street Journal at the publication's WSJ Tech Live conference on Monday.
"Governments on a multilateral basis…need to put it up higher on the agenda," Pichai said. "If not, you're going to see more of it because countries would resort to those things." Pichai suggested universal standards of engagement and practice for cyberwarfare could help prevent or slow down some of the more aggressive attacks of late, such as those targeting Microsoft's Outlook software and other products earlier this year.
Pichai's interview was wide ranging, covering not just cybersecurity, but also the transition to remote work during the pandemic, employee activism at Google and more broadly in Silicon Valley, and tech regulation. For instance, Pichai pointed to Europe's GDPR as a model example of informed tech regulation that benefits the whole industry.
"I think the GDPR has been a great foundation," Pichai said. "I would really like to see a federal privacy standard in the U.S." Pichai said the patchwork of state laws "adds a lot of complexity... larger companies can cope with more regulations and entrench themselves, whereas for a smaller company to start, it can be a real tax."
Pichai also spoke at length about the need for the U.S. government to invest in foundational technologies for the future, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductor development, to stay competitive with China and other rivals, as it did in decades past to help build the internet and create universal technology standards.
"The government has limited resources, and it needs to focus... but all of us are benefiting from foundational investments from 20 to 30 years ago, which is what a lot of the modern tech innovation is based on, and we take it for granted a bit," he said. "Public-private partnerships here can be a good template. This is an area where there's bipartisan interest in making sure that we are thinking about it for the long term."
Facebook's Novi digital wallet is now available in most U.S. states and Guatemala in a pilot test of the product, the company said Tuesday. Users can access the platform as a mobile app available on both Apple's App Store and Google Play.
Novi is a rebrand of the Calibra wallet Facebook first announced last year, as part of a larger overhaul and rebranding of Facebook's nascent crypto projects amid intense scrutiny from regulators worldwide. While Facebook is still working on the Diem cryptocurrency (formerly known as Libra) in partnership with members of the Diem Association, it's pushing out Novi now to gather data and test the efficacy of the platform.
"The purpose of the pilot is for us to affirm our operational readiness and show that our Novi systems, such as our customer care response, compliance program, and core features features, are serving customers well," Novi chief David Marcus, the former PayPal executive who for years ran Facebook Messenger before heading up the social network's blockchain division, said in a press release.
More broadly, Facebook is trying to get a foothold in the financial services sector — especially in the developing world — and it sees cryptocurrencies and digital wallets as its best avenue to do so. "Globally, about 1.7 billion adults don't have access to a bank account but could have access to safe and affordable financial service through mobile phones if the right system existed," Marcus said.
For now, Facebook says it is allowing people to send and receive money using the USDP stablecoin operated by blockchain company Paxos and in partnership with Coinbase. In other words, its function right now is to act as an easy way to transfer and hold money, especially in the absence of traditional banking.
Users of Novi can transfer funds into Novi, convert them to USDP (with $1 equaling 1 USDP) and then withdraw any money received in their local currency. Facebook says because USDP is a stablecoin fully backed by the U.S. dollar with cash reserves, it has the necessary regulatory oversight and consumer protections in place to prevent fraud and other potential pitfalls.
Marcus said this does not mean Facebook is distancing itself from the Diem project. "Our support for Diem has not changed," he said. "We see great value in the way Diem is designed with robust protections for consumers and controls to combat financial crime. We intend to migrate Novi to the Diem payment network once it receives regulatory approval." Marcus goes on to write that the goal with Novi is not to have it be used exclusively with Diem, but to be interoperable with other digital wallets.
There are some exceptions to availability for now. The mobile app won't be available to residents of Alaska, Nevada, New York or the U.S. Virgin Islands for now. Signup will require a valid government ID and sending and receiving funds will require both parties have active Novi accounts. Picking up funds can be done in person at a physical location depending on where you live or to a valid bank account.
Correction: A previous version of this article implied Facebook's oversees the Diem cryptocurrency project. Like its predecessor Libra, Diem is being developed by a member-based association of multiple stakeholders, of which Facebook is just one.
Invesco won't be launching a futures-backed Bitcoin exchange-traded fund after all, the ETF operator said Monday. Invesco pulled out just one day ahead of asset manager ProShares' debut of the first-ever Bitcoin futures ETF on Tuesday.
"We have determined not to pursue the launch of a Bitcoin futures ETF in the immediate near-term; however we will continue to work in partnership with Galaxy Digital to offer investors full shelf of products with exposure to this transformative asset class, including pursuing a physically backed, digital asset ETF," the company said in a statement to Bloomberg.
Crypto enthusiasts hope a successful Bitcoin ETF could help further legitimize the currency in the eyes of traditional firms and investors. While the currency has experienced a fair amount of volatility this year, peaking at nearly $65,000 in April before a summer crash, it's risen by more than 40% this month and now stands near its all-time high at more than $62,000.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said the January GameStop trading frenzy "tested the capacity and resiliency of our securities market in a way that few could have anticipated," as the agency released its much awaited report on the incident.
"GameStop was just one of many so-called meme stocks that exhibited significant price volatility, trading volume and attention in the markets," SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a video announcing the release of the report Monday afternoon.
The controversial trades offered "an opportunity to study how we can further ensure that the markets are working for everyday investors," he said.
The 45-page report listed key areas that merit further investigation, including "events that may have caused brokerage firms to restrict trading" and "the use of predictive data analytics to market to each of us differently through digital engagement practices," otherwise known as gamification.
A website that tracks Apple's App Store globally has reported a recent slate of takedowns of Quran and Bible-related apps in China.
Apple Censorship, a site that tracks changes to what's available in the U.S.-based tech giant's App Stores, reports a number of recent deletions in mainland China. According to that site, those include the following:
- Oct. 8: The widely used Quran Majeed was removed.
- Oct. 8: Muslim Pro, another popular app that tracks Muslim prayer times, was removed.
- Oct. 8: Bible App by Olive Tree, a popular Bible study guide, was removed.
Facebook has made a series of increasingly aggressive statements in recent weeks, attempting to undermine The Wall Street Journal's reporting on thousands of pages of leaked internal documents. On Monday, the company tried a new approach, chastising reporters for such indiscretions as … collaborating and agreeing to press embargoes.
"Right now 30+ journalists are finishing up a coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents," Facebook's vice president of communications, John Pinette, wrote in a tweet Monday. "We hear that to get the docs, outlets had to agree to the conditions and a schedule laid down by the PR team that worked on earlier leaked docs."
Pinette accused these the journalists working on this project of engaging in a "gotcha" campaign.
Reporters and former Facebook employees alike were quick to point out the fact that agreeing to conditions around how and when information can be quoted and referenced is something Facebook asks reporters to do on a near daily basis.
Others just appreciated the notice:
The Netflix trans employee resource group released a list of demands to the company ahead of a planned Wednesday walkout over the controversial Dave Chappelle special "The Closer," asking for increased investment in trans-affirming content and recruitment of trans leaders, adding disclaimers and labels for transphobic content and other changes.
Leaders of the Trans* ERG are planning a walkout Wednesday to protest the company's streaming of "The Closer" and the firing of one of the walkout's organizers, who was dismissed after the company suspected they leaked streaming data about the comedy special.
The demands, first reported by The Verge, do not ask for the removal of the Chappelle special. They do insist that Netflix "acknowledge the harm and Netflix's responsibility for this harm from transphobic content, and in particular harm to the Black trans community," which appears directly aimed at co-CEO Ted Sarandos' statement last week that the company does not believe "The Closer" directly causes real-world harm or violence.
"We are employees, but we are members, too. We believe that this Company can and must do better in our quest to entertain the world, and that the way forward must include more diverse voices in order to avoid causing more harm," the walkout organizers wrote in their statement.
NOTE: Protocol has agreed to be acquired by Axel Springer, whose Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mathias Döpfner, is on the board of Netflix.
Informatica is aiming to raise as much as $928 million in its pending public offering, according to a federal filing on Monday.
The IPO comes as vendors that help companies manage their corporate information report huge funding rounds and double-digit growth year-over-year.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating crypto lending platforms, calling them "high-risk virtual currency schemes."
James has ordered two unnamed companies to cease and desist operations for residents of New York. She has ordered three other companies to provide information to her office.
While the two companies ordered to cease operations were not named, unredacted file names of the letters name the two companies as Nexo and Celsius. Nexo said in a tweet that it does not offer its Earn product to New Yorkers.
These products are essentially unregistered interest-bearing accounts, James alleged. "Virtual or 'crypto' currency lending platforms are essentially interest-bearing accounts that offer investors a rate of return on virtual currencies that are deposited with them."
N26 has raised more than $900 million in a series E round that values the German challenger bank at more than $9 billion, the company said Monday.
The funding round was led by Third Point Ventures and Coatue Management. N26 said it now has more than 7 million customers in 25 countries. The company said it expects to record more than $90 billion in transaction volume in 2021.
The investment underscores the growth of the digital banking industry, where N26 competes with startups like Chime and Current.
Facebook wants to be the company that moves our lives into the shared virtual reality known as the metaverse — and apparently, the company needs to hire 10,000 engineers in the European Union to make that happen.
The company announced Monday that it's going on a massive European hiring spree over the next five years because "Europe is very important to Facebook," and "European policymakers are leading the way in helping to embed European values like free expression, privacy, transparency and the rights of individuals into the day-to-day workings of the internet," according to Monday's announcement. The statement also asks European governments to work with Facebook to find the talent it needs.
Mark Zuckerberg has been pushing the idea that Facebook will be the leader in creating the metaverse over the last year, and Facebook recently appointed Andrew Bosworth, its longtime AR/VR leader and expert, as Facebook's new incoming chief technology officer.
Amazon would like to hire 150,000 seasonal workers across more than 20 states, in addition to more than 100,000 non-seasonal workers in warehousing and delivery — all while the country faces a notoriously stubborn labor shortage that's leaving even popular employers with a hard time filling jobs.
And Amazon has found itself less than popular with lots of workers, battling unusually high worker turnover rates that have made it difficult for the company to find interested workers in some places. The company said earlier this year it plans to hire more than 100,000 (non-seasonal) fulfillment workers and 40,000 additional corporate employees, hires that — if they happen — would make Amazon the largest private employer in the United States, surpassing Walmart.
The company has responded to its hiring issues and the labor shortage with pay boosts and other incentives — for example, it plans to offer an average $18 per hour starting salary, plus a $3,000 signing bonus, for the new seasonal workers across more than 20 states. Some workers may receive an additional $3 per hour depending on shifts — though what type of shift was unspecified — in many states, according to Amazon's Monday press release.
Amazon also recently unveiled a new "free" tuition coverage plan for workers who stay on more than three months, though the actual offerings of that plan are somewhat limited. Walmart, Target and other large employers have also started offering competing benefits.
Top Amazon officials, including former CEO Jeff Bezos, appear to have misled Congress regarding the company's treatment of third-party sellers, according to a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The leaders of the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust probe into Big Tech said, in a Monday letter to Andy Jassy, that recent reports contradict company officials' claims that Amazon doesn't preference its own offerings above those of third-party sellers on the site and doesn't use the private data of individual sellers to compete against them.
The letter comes after a Reuters report found last week that Amazon engaged in "a formal, clandestine strategy" in India of copying other sellers' goods with its own brands and then ensured its offerings appeared near the top of searches. An investigation in The Markup found similar behavior in the U.S.
"At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon's representatives misled the Committee," the five lawmakers wrote. "At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law."
The members of Congress urged Amazon to send "truthful" responses "as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate."
The letter cited several instances of testimony from Amazon lawyers and officials that the lawmakers said "directly contradicts" the recent reports, including the appearance last year from Bezos, who was then CEO.
Committee leaders had previously expressed worries about the truthfulness of Amazon's answer on the topic, suggesting ahead of securing Bezos' testimony that he needed to appear to put the matter to rest.
Amazon said Monday in a statement it "did not mislead the committee," stressing that its search function prioritizes what customers want and its policy "prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products."
"We investigate any allegations that this policy may have been violated and take appropriate action," the company said.
This article was updated to include an Amazon statement.
Comcast has launched its first smart TVs in the U.S.: The company officially announced the launch of two TV models manufactured by Hisense under the XClass TV brand Tuesday. Executives painted the launch as part of an ambitious expansion beyond the company's core cable footprint.
"We're thrilled to bring our award-winning entertainment experience to smart TVs nationwide and for the first time offer consumers inside and outside our service areas a simple way to navigate their live and on demand content, whether streaming or cable," said Comcast's chief business development officer, Sam Schwartz, in a news release.
The launch announcement was anything but a surprise: Protocol first reported last month the company's plans to launch XClass-branded smart TVs, and highlighted that a launch was imminent earlier this week. Retail partner Walmart had already listed one of the models Sunday night, revealing further details about the product.
Comcast is selling two XClass TV models, with screen sizes of 43 and 50 inches, via Walmart's website and retail stores. The description on Walmart's site underscored simplicity as a key value of the product. "XClass TV brings you all the joy of TV and none of the frustration," the listing reads in part. "XClassTV is lightning fast, effortless, and personalized for you — which means less waiting, less searching, and more joy."
XClass TVs will offer access to apps from Netflix YouTube, Hulu and Disney+, according to the product listing. "You're greeted by a home screen that puts the apps and services you love in one place," it reads in part. "Quickly pick up where you left off with your recently watched programs, plus get recommendations based on what you watch."
Walmart's site list a retail price of $298 for the 43-inch TV; the 50-inch model is being listed for $348. As previously reported by Protocol, Comcast is offering new XCLass TV buyers 12 months of free access to its Peacock Premium streaming service.
XClass isn't Comcast's only attempt to gain a foothold in the smart TV space. The company also launched a Sky Glass-branded smart TV in the U.K. earlier this month.
Update: This post was updated throughout following Comcast's official announcement on Oct. 19.
Expensify, which makes cloud software that helps businesses manage their expenses, filed for an initial public offering on Friday.
Expensify, which was founded in 2008, said it plans to list on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol "EXFY."
The Portland-based company reported a loss of $1.7 million, on revenue of $88 million in 2020, compared to a profit of $1.2 million on revenue of $80.5 million in 2019. Expensify reported sales of $65 million in the first six months of 2021, up from $40.6 million in the year-ago period.
Netflix fired the person who organized the upcoming walkout over Dave Chappelle's new comedy special, "The Closer," on suspicion of disclosing metrics to the press, according to The Verge. The worker, who is Black, was not named for fear of online harassment.
The metrics in question include how much money Netflix made off Chappelle's special and how many people it reached; those metrics ended up in a Bloomberg report. The employee, who leads the company's trans employee resource group, had been laying out plans to protest Netflix's decision to release the comedy special, which Netflix has defended.
Netflix and other tech companies have recently been embroiled in controversy all stemming from their own employees. While Facebook is a more recent and notable example, having been caught up with two whistleblowers in recent weeks, Apple has also had its fair shares of run-ins with employees. The company just fired an #AppleToo leader, Janneke Parrish, for deleting content off her work devices, and terminated another employee who spoke out against the company last month.
The streaming service also suspended Terra Field, a trans software engineer whose tweet about the controversy went viral, but later reinstated her. "This is not me, but I am furious about it," Field tweeted on Friday in response to the employee's firing.
A Netflix spokesperson confirmed the termination, saying the company let go an employee for "sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company." "We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company," the spokesperson said.
This post was updated with comment from Netflix.
This week Google began rolling out an infinite scroll feature "for most English searches on mobile in the U.S.," according to the company. Prior to the update, mobile users had to click a button to load a new page of results.
Google said in a press release announcing the decision: "While you can often find what you're looking for in the first few results, sometimes you want to keep looking. In fact, most people who want additional information tend to browse up to four pages of search results. With this update, people can now seamlessly do this, browsing through many different results, before needing to click the 'See more' button."
The company didn't provide an estimate for the full rollout of infinite scroll, or for when the feature might be offered outside the U.S.
Google users will likely be familiar with the infinite scroll experience from social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn all implement infinite scroll within their social feeds.
Critics of infinite scroll say it manipulates users into spending more time online. The inventor of the feature, Aza Raskin, claims he feels guilty about having created it. "If you don't give your brain time to catch up with your impulses, you just keep scrolling," Raskin told the BBC.
Infinite scroll stands to benefit Google if users scroll through more search results and are therefore exposed to more ads. One interesting aspect of the design change is that it reorients the positioning of advertising within search results: Rather than coming at the top and bottom of each page, the ads are placed throughout the infinite stream of search results. This could benefit Google by making it more difficult for users to differentiate between paid and organic search results.
Alphabet generated $50.4 billion in advertising revenue for the three months ended June 30, 2021. That constituted nearly 82% of total revenue for the quarter.
The director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeted Friday in praise of people "working to find and responsibly disclose vulnerabilities."
The tweet by Jen Easterly came a day after Missouri's Republican governor accused a reporter of illegal hacking for a story on a flaw in a state website that exposed teachers' sensitive personal information.
According to reports, the journalist used tools that come standard on most browsers to identify the issue in the public-facing code of the site, and the reporter waited until the problem had been corrected to publish.
The accusations by Gov. Mike Parson led to suggestions that he was threatening the reporter for responsibly exposing public lapses.
Cybersecurity researchers, including those working for the world's top companies, routinely probe software for security oversights and vulnerabilities to repair them before bad actors can find them, and such actions are considered a crucial part of protecting digital infrastructure.
Several people suggested that Easterly's reminder that CISA "greatly value[s] the partnerships and efforts of researchers, hackers, academics" and others whose work "makes us all more safe & more secure" was aimed at Parson.
Beijing is considering elevating the Antimonopoly Bureau to a vice-ministerial level agency amid a widening regulatory crackdown on Big Tech, Reuters reported Wednesday.
The antitrust watchdog currently sits within the State Administration for Market Regulation, which has frequently made headlines as it imposed record-breaking fines on tech giants this year. The new plan is to make the bureau a vice-ministerial level agency and rename it to the National Antimonopoly Bureau, sources with knowledge of the plans told Reuters.
This is "the biggest news in Chinese antitrust history," antitrust expert Angela Zhang, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, wrote on Twitter. "This new regulatory restructuring will be a significant boost to Chinese antitrust enforcement."
Legal experts have long been skeptical whether the current, thinly staffed Antimonopoly Bureau of the State Administration for Market Regulation would be able to tackle the mounting antitrust cases in the tech sector.
Once the central antitrust watchdog is granted higher authority, the agency could see its staff increase to at least 100 from 35, Zhang said. The reformed bureau will also oversee three separate agencies: one to oversee mergers and acquisitions, another to conduct investigations and a third to draft competition policies.
A top Google executive on Friday criticized a major forthcoming antitrust bill in the Senate, warning that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act could have "unintended consequences" that break "a range of popular products that people use everyday."
"We're not opposed to antitrust scrutiny or updated regulations and we encourage Congress to take up the challenge of acting on areas of widespread agreement, like protecting Americans' privacy and updating protections for children," Google's vice president of government affairs Mark Isakowitz said in a statement posted to Twitter. "But just like the controversial package in the House, this bill doesn't address the real issues - rather, it would break a wide range of helpful services from leading American companies, while making those services less safe, less private and less secure."
The bipartisan Senate bill, which is set to be introduced next week by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin, would prohibit large tech companies from self-preferencing their own goods and services on platforms they own. That includes "biasing search results in favor of the dominant firm."
"Our country faces a monopoly problem, and American consumers, workers, and businesses are paying the price," Klobuchar said in a statement this week. "We must put policies in place to ensure small businesses and entrepreneurs still have the opportunity to succeed in the digital marketplace."
The Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to approve the first bitcoin futures ETF next week.
The two ETFs from ProShares and Invesco respectively are expected to start trading next week, and the SEC isn't expected to block them, Bloomberg reports.
The SEC had previously rejected numerous bitcoin ETFs. But these two new products are based on futures contracts and filed under mutual fund rules, which the SEC has indicated it is more likely to approve than previous ETF applications.
A prominent human rights activist and Saudi dissident is suing Twitter for allegedly hiring two men who acted as spies for the Saudi government. The suit accuses Twitter of negligence in its failure to detect the two spies inside the company — who are currently under indictment from U.S. federal prosecutors — and prevent them from stealing personal information for the Saudi government.
Ali Al-Ahmed, the leader of the human-rights investigation agency Institute for Gulf Affairs, is known as a prominent critic of the current Saudi regime and was granted asylum to remain in the United States in 1998. The suit filed Oct. 14 in the Northern District of California names both Twitter and the two alleged spies as defendants; Al-Ahmed already has a second suit underway against Twitter in the Southern District of New York, where he is claiming that the company's hiring of the two men eventually led to the imprisonment and death of activists in Saudi Arabia.
The two men named in the suit have both been indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors for working at Twitter and passing private information to the Saudi government from 2013 to 2015, one as a site reliability engineer and the other as a media partnerships manager.
The claim filed Thursday in California alleges that Al-Ahmed's personal information, including private conversations and connections with activists in Saudi Arabia, was stolen by these two individuals and sold to the Saudi government, and that Twitter should have known that these two men were unfit employees and should have done more to protect his personal information.
The suit also alleges that Al-Ahmed's Arabic-language Twitter account was suspended in 2018 and has not been reinstated despite multiple attempts at appeal, and accuses the company of keeping Al-Ahmed's account offline because of its interest in maintaining users in Saudi Arabia. "While Twitter may wish to play the victim of state-sponsored espionage, Twitter's conduct in punishing the victims of this intrigue, including Mr. Al-Ahmed, tells a far different story: one of ratification, complicity, and/or adoption tailored to appease a neigh beneficial owner and preserve access to a key market, the KSA," Randy Kleinman, the attorney for Al-Ahmed, wrote in the complaint.
Twitter declined to comment.
Atlassian will reopen most of its U.S. offices next month, the company told employees Wednesday.
The $103 billion software maker shut down its offices in March 2020 and reopened them briefly in June 2021. In July, the company closed them again as the delta variant brought a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
Atlassian will reopen its San Francisco, Mountain View, New York, Boston and Virginia offices in November, according to an employee who spoke to Protocol on the condition of anonymity. The one U.S. location Atlassian isn't immediately reopening is Austin: That office's lease expires in January, and the company is building out a new Austin office that's set to open in June.
The company's Sydney headquarters is also reopening Nov. 8.
Atlassian isn't requiring employees to return to the office regularly. The company told its workforce last year that they could work remotely forever.
Atlassian didn't immediately comment on its office return plans.
Coinbase wants Congress to prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from regulating crypto and turn the job over to a new body, according to a new report.
The crypto marketplace wants Congress to create a special regulator for digital assets, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing an internal Coinbase policy document.
Coinbase is planning to make its proposals for crypto regulation public, the report said. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Coinbase has been engaged in a public dispute with the SEC under Chair Gary Gensler, who has argued that some crypto currencies should be considered securities and should be covered by investor-protection laws.
Last month, Coinbase cancelled a planned lending feature, after the SEC threatened to sue the company to block the rollout.