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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.
Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

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Alex Katouzian
Alex Katouzian currently serves as senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure (MCI) Business Unit at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. In this role, Katouzian is responsible for the profit, loss and strategy of the MCI BU, which includes business lines for Mobile Handset Products and Application Processor Technologies, 4G and 5G Mobile Broadband for embedded applications, Small and Macro Cells, Modem Technologies, Compute products across multiple OS’, eXtended Reality and AI Edge Cloud products.
Protocol | Fintech

Hippo’s plan to reinvent insurance: Fix homes before they break

Hippo, which is going public via a SPAC Tuesday, is using tech to prevent claims from happening.

Hippo CEO Assaf Wand wants to catch homeowners' losses before they happen.

Photo: Hippo

Home insurance, a $108 billion legacy industry that depends on troves of data, is a natural area for fintech companies to target.

That change is starting to happen — and one company is getting fresh capital to tackle the opportunity. Hippo, led by co-founder and CEO Assaf Wand, is going public today through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company Reinvest Technology Partners Z. The SPAC is run by LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

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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.

Protocol | Policy

Weak competition could hike your broadband bill by $96 a year

A new consumer survey says that those with the most choice in broadband providers are paying the least and reveals opinions about municipal broadband, internet access, affordability and more.

Broadband affordability has become an urgent issue during the pandemic.

Photo: John Schnobrich/Unsplash

American homes that have lots of choice in broadband providers can expect to pay around $8 less per month for internet than those who are locked into a single company, according to a new survey from Consumer Reports.

The median monthly bill for people with four or more broadband providers in their area was $67. It was $75 for those with only one choice, according to the survey of nearly 2,600 US residents. In a sign that consumers are thirsty for increased broadband access, the survey also suggested wide approval for municipal broadband programs run by local governments.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Enterprise

Partners and "co-opetition": Inside the new enterprise cold war

There's a rush of new partnerships within enterprise tech as vendors try to make software that plays nicely with others. But not all partnerships are created equal.

AWS and Salesforce have entered a major partnership.

Image: Protocol

If AWS and Salesforce labeled their relationship on Facebook, they'd probably choose "it's complicated."

In June, the two companies announced a major partnership, one that AWS says is the most comprehensive of all its joint initiatives. For example, customers will have a single login that gets them into both systems, which means users can create blanket data-access policies as well as seamlessly move information across the two platforms. The companies will also jointly build products.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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