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.

Loom, Zoom, boom: How Rippling raised $250 million with a demo video and a memo

Video app Loom has become the founder’s tool of choice for pitching venture capitalists.

Rippling CEO Parker Conrad recorded a product demo on Loom and sent it to investors as a fundraising shortcut.

Photo: Rippling

Parker Conrad has come to deeply loathe PowerPoint slides. He’s raised money for three different startups, and sending investors slides of a pitch deck feels like sending them only half a presentation, he said.

“It’s like sending someone a song and some of the tracks of music are missing,” Conrad, the co-founder and CEO of HR startup Rippling, told Protocol. “Any slide that you put together is meant to be accompanied by your voice track. And so if you’re sending slides without that, it’s a terrible way to convey information.”

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Biz Carson

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.

The fintech developers who made mobile banking as routine as texting or online shopping aren't done. The next frontier for innovation is open banking – fintech builders are enabling consumers to be at the center of where and how their data is used to provide the services they want and need.

Most people don't even realize they're using open banking services today. If they connected their investment and banking accounts in a personal financial management solution or app, they're using open banking. Perhaps they've seen ads about how they can improve their credit score by uploading pay stubs or utility records to that same app – this is also powered by open banking.

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Bob Schukai
Bob Schukai is Executive Vice President of Technology Development, New Digital Infrastructure & Fintech at Mastercard, where he leads the technical design, execution and support of innovative open banking and fintech solutions, as well as next generation technologies to support global payment and data capabilities. Prior to Mastercard, Schukai’s work focused on cognitive computing, financial technology, blockchain, user experience and digital identity. He is also a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The cry-laughing emoji has absolutely earned this

Is it always sincere or even trendy? No. Does it serve its purpose? Absolutely.

The laugh-cry emoji has provided us with a codified process for indicating that we are all having a fun time here.

Photo: atomicstudio via Getty Images

In a stunning victory for the rights of people who find out about TikToks via Instagram Reels and have fond memories of Warped tour, the cry-laughing emoji has once again emerged from the fray as the most-used emoji of the year, according to data from the Unicode Consortium. The tearful grin, whose Christian name is “Face with Tears of Joy,” hasn’t relinquished its stranglehold on the top spot since 2015, when we as a nation were reeling from Zayn Malik’s One Direction exit, marveling at the Sisyphean efforts of pizza rat and becoming slowly numb to Uptown Funk. That was the same year that the teary-eyed grin was named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year.

This is the second year that the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit organization tasked with digitizing language, has released data (the first was in 2019). Other emoji in the top 10 include the red heart, sobbing face, face with heart eyes and Old Faithful, the venerable smiley face 😊. The Consortium notes that many of the most-used emoji’s placements have stayed consistent from its 2019 data, although the pleading face emoji (🥺) did make a noticeable leap from 97 to 14.

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Policy

Inside the scramble to fix Biden’s plan for the future of the internet

The White House is planning to unveil its Alliance for the Future of the Internet this week following a month of pushback and a mad dash to reshape the ambitious proposal.

An initial proposal raised alarm bells with civil society groups and other U.S. government agencies alike.

Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

The White House is set to announce plans this week for its much-anticipated Alliance for the Future of the Internet, a bid to rally a coalition of democracies around a vision for an open and free web.

But behind the scenes, digital rights advocates, foreign governments and even other U.S. officials have spent the last month scrambling to push the White House to rethink its initial plans, leaving the fine points of the proposal in flux with days to go before the big reveal.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | China

How IP protection drove Chinese fans away from Hollywood

The sentencing of China’s largest volunteer subtitle group is a warning message to fans of pirated material.

Two major Chinese video platforms attended a press conference of the action against copyright violations in Beijing on Nov. 13, 2013.

Photo: WANG ZHAO / Stringer via Getty Images

For 16 years, Liang Yongping led one of the biggest Chinese fan translation groups, one that has brought countless foreign movies to the Chinese internet. His methods were legally questionable, but for a long time, the government didn’t seem to mind. When Liang was interviewed by a state-run magazine in 2011, he was called “the preacher of knowledge in the internet era.

But on Nov. 22, Liang was handed a sentence of 3.5 years in prison and a fine of over $230,000. The reason, to no one’s surprise, was copyright infringement.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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