Protocol's long reads of 2020

Here are some of our favorite stories that we published in the last 12 months.

Protocol's long reads of 2020
Image: Protocol

As the year draws to a close, we thought this was also a good time to look back on some of our favorite Protocol stories of the year. Some broke big news, some illuminated people and stories we needed to know more about, and all are great and important tales.

Hopefully there's some good holiday reading in here for you.

A tiny team of House staffers could change the future of Big Tech. This is their story, by Emily Birnbaum

  • With so much antitrust action coming against Big Tech, it's tough to know what's real and what's posturing. This group is doing some of the Hill's most real work.

Through apps, not warrants, 'Locate X' allows federal law enforcement to track phones, by Charles Levinson

  • Babel Street's tech became a recurring story this year, led by this investigation into how the government tracks its citizens, and how a complicated system makes that possible. And profitable.

From McDonald's to Google: How Kelsey Hightower became one of the most respected people in cloud computing, by Tom Krazit

  • Kelsey Hightower's story is both inspirational and unusual, and his career says a lot about what a more diverse, more effective tech industry looks like. Hightower's also working hard to make that happen.

Silicon Valley's new extreme: The 2:30 a.m. tech bus from Salida, by Lauren Hepler

  • There are a lot of ways to understand what's been happening in Silicon Valley — and why a lot of people and companies are thinking about leaving — but the tech employees forced to live hours outside the city they work in tell the story pretty effectively.

How one woman is building the future for Google in Silicon Valley, by Anna Kramer

  • While so many companies are fleeing the Bay Area, Google is staying. Actually, it's doubling down. But there's a thin line between investing in your community and steamrolling it — and a few very important people are trying to keep Google on the right side.

How COVID-19 rewrote Y Combinator's Winter 20 Demo Day, by Biz Carson

  • It's been a weird year to be a startup, huh? There are good lessons for founders, investors and frankly everyone in what happened at Y Combinator this year, as it tried to figure out how to maintain a community and help guide startups through a pandemic.

How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet, by David Pierce

  • Everything about the way we interact online changed this year. And while Zoom became 2020's buzziest chat company, Discord might be the closest to actually perfecting what it means to live a virtual life.

Alloy promised Democrats a data edge over Trump. The DNC didn't buy it. Now what? By Issie Lapowsky

  • As tech companies told us a lot this year, it's always an election season on the internet. And more than ever, data — who has it, how they get it, how it's used, how much you can trust it — is a huge part of the process. But data, as one company spent millions of dollars learning, is a tricky thing in the real world.

Why Microsoft's new Flight Simulator should make Google and Amazon nervous, by Seth Schiesel

  • Cyberpunk 2077 was supposed to be great, and was decidedly not great. The new Flight Simulator, on the other hand, was even better than advertised, and was also an indicator of how the cloud and big data are going to change how games work.

How Google kneecapped Amazon's smart TV efforts, by Janko Roettgers

  • One of the most forceful antitrust accusations against Google is that the company spends a lot of money to cement its dominance and bullies partners into helping it do so. This story — about how Google uses Android as a weapon — encapsulates that perfectly.
Fintech

Election markets are far from a sure bet

Kalshi has big-name backing for its plan to offer futures contracts tied to election results. Will that win over a long-skeptical regulator?

Whether Kalshi’s election contracts could be considered gaming or whether they serve a true risk-hedging purpose is one of the top questions the CFTC is weighing in its review.

Photo illustration: Getty Images; Protocol

Crypto isn’t the only emerging issue on the CFTC’s plate. The futures regulator is also weighing a fintech sector that has similarly tricky political implications: election bets.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has until Oct. 28 to decide whether the New York-based startup Kalshi can offer a form of wagering up to $25,000 on which party will control the House of Representatives and Senate after the midterms. PredictIt, another online market for election trading, has also sued the regulator over its decision to cancel a no-action letter.

Keep Reading Show less
Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

The Uber verdict shows why mandatory disclosure isn't such a bad idea

The conviction of Uber's former chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, seems likely to change some minds in the debate over proposed cyber incident reporting regulations.

Executives and boards will now be "a whole lot less likely to cover things up," said one information security veteran.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If nothing else, the guilty verdict delivered Wednesday in a case involving Uber's former security head will have this effect on how breaches are handled in the future: Executives and boards, according to information security veteran Michael Hamilton, will be "a whole lot less likely to cover things up."

Following the conviction of former Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan, "we likely will get better voluntary reporting" of cyber incidents, said Hamilton, formerly the chief information security officer of the City of Seattle, and currently the founder and CISO at cybersecurity vendor Critical Insight.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Climate

Delta and MIT are running flight tests to fix contrails

The research team and airline are running flight tests to determine if it’s possible to avoid the climate-warming effects of contrails.

Delta and MIT just announced a partnership to test how to mitigate persistent contrails.

Photo: Gabriela Natiello/Unsplash

Contrails could be responsible for up to 2% of all global warming, and yet how they’re formed and how to mitigate them is barely understood by major airlines.

That may be changing.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Entertainment

Inside Amazon’s free video strategy

Amazon has been doubling down on original content for Freevee, its ad-supported video service, which has seen a lot of growth thanks to a deep integration with other Amazon properties.

Freevee’s investment into original programming like 'Bosch: Legacy' has increased by 70%.

Photo: Tyler Golden/Amazon Freevee

Amazon’s streaming efforts have long been all about Prime Video. So the company caught pundits by surprise when, in early 2019, it launched a stand-alone ad-supported streaming service called IMDb Freedive, with Techcrunch calling the move “a bit odd.”

Nearly four years and two rebrandings later, Amazon’s ad-supported video efforts appear to be flourishing. Viewership of the service grew by 138% from 2020 to 2021, according to Amazon. The company declined to share any updated performance data on the service, which is now called Freevee, but a spokesperson told Protocol the performance of originals in particular “exceeded expectations,” leading Amazon to increase investments into original content by 70% year-over-year.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Latest Stories
Bulletins