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Ad dollars control the internet. Can they also fix it?
Good morning! This Wednesday, there's a new debate over facial recognition, Intel-free Macs might be coming soon, and your next office lunch will come in a box.
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People Are Talking
Twitter and Square are adding a new holiday to the calendar, Jack Dorsey said:
- "Both Twitter and Square are making #Juneteenth (June 19th) a company holiday in the U.S., forevermore. A day for celebration, education, and connection."
Following President Trump's executive order, four senators want the FCC to "take a fresh look at Section 230:"
- "While the President has the means to push back on unfair treatment, we worry about everyday Americans who are sidelined, silenced, or otherwise censored by these corporations. Social media companies, whose protections come from their acting as distributors, not publishers, have increasingly engaged in partisan editorializing, censorship of Chinese dissidents, and a host of politically motivated speech policing."
The next phase of online dating is dating that's only online, Tinder CEO Elie Seidman said:
- "You get that digital connection, maybe it just stays in the digital world. For many people, it will want to go to the physical world when it connects. But for some, it will stay in the digital world. So to me, that's the big second wave — how do we innovate here? How do we come to Tinder on a Sunday night, and hang out live, and connect live?"
The Big Story
A renewed fight over facial recognition
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna took what looked like a big stand on Monday. "IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software," he wrote in a letter to Congress, in which he also urged legislators to pass police reform and to start a national conversation about AI, facial recognition and more.
But IBM's still very much in the police business, as Protocol's Issie Lapowsky writes:
- "On its website, IBM touts its policing work, including case studies from Rochester, New York; Miami-Dade, Florida; Durham, North Carolina; and Manchester, New Hampshire. In Miami-Dade County, IBM said it developed technology to help the police 'identify crime hot spots' and 'model what kind of suspect typically commits a particular crime and then generate and filter a suspect list to help solve cases faster.'"
- NYU's Rashida Richardson told Issie that "it's easy to end selling a product that wasn't one of your major profit-drivers, but it's also harder to take their move seriously when they didn't seem to comment on and don't seem to have an interest in divesting from predictive policing."
Still, it's telling that IBM decided to drop facial recognition projects, and that it won so many plaudits for doing so. And the discussion that Krishna wanted is already happening, to some extent: House Democrats are fanning a federal debate on the subject, as part of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
- The bill mostly addresses police-specific issues like body cameras. "No camera or recording device authorized or required to be used under this part may employ facial recognition technology," the legislation reads.
- Our friends at POLITICO have more on the Congressional response to the bill.
In the absence of broader regulation, cities continue to have their own debates. They're happening now not just because Clearview AI continues to creep everyone out, but because the protests make so clear the possibility for live, mass surveillance.
- The city of Boston is the latest to consider banning facial recognition entirely, with proponents saying that even if there might be a time for a more measured response, it's not now.
- Why? Because facial recognition has been shown to be biased in seriously problematic, race-based ways, and often doesn't work very well. "Until the technology is 100%, I'm not interested in it," Boston police commissioner William Gross told the Boston Herald.
Apple bets on its own chips
It's been rumored for years that Apple's planning to switch its Mac lineup to a homemade processor, rather than continuing to rely on Intel. Now, Bloomberg reported the switch could begin as soon as this year's WWDC, which kicks off June 22. (The announcement would likely come long before any product rollout, to give developers time to prepare.).
The last time Apple made a switch like this, it announced it was moving from PowerPC to Intel in 2005, released the first Intel Macs in 2006, and removed PowerPC support entirely in 2009.
- At WWDC 2005 (where Steve Jobs called podcasts "Wayne's World for radio," in case you want a feel for how long ago that was), Jobs said that "as we look ahead, we can envision some amazing products we want to build for you, and we don't know how to build them with the PowerPC roadmap."
- Its issues were about performance, but especially about power consumption. The company has reportedly felt the exact same way about Intel the last few years.
Switching chips could change things for Apple, which currently owns about a tenth of the PC market. Look at smartphones: Apple's A-series chips are generally considered to be at least a generation ahead of Qualcomm's, both in performance and efficiency.
- More recently, on devices like AirPods, Apple has used its own chips, and that marriage of hardware and software that the company never stops talking about has helped it to add uncopyable features — like simple pairing and rock-solid connection.
The switch will be tough, though. Mac OS is not only based on Intel but on decades of history, and thus tech debt. As developers discovered with Apple's Catalyst development technology, it's not always seamless to port apps from one architecture to another.
- But if Apple gives itself, and developers, enough time, the invisible new chip inside millions of laptops could change the market.
The Transformation of Work Summit
Join us for Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit on June 23 at noon ET for a discussion of where in-demand skills meet job opportunity. First speakers announced: Congressional Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI). This event is presented by Workday.
Ad dollars control the internet. Can they fix it?
There are few groups more powerful in tech than the ad buyers. If you want to pressure Facebook to make a change, there may be no better way to do it than through the advertisers who give the company its billions of dollars.
So it's a big deal that marketing agencies are wary of working with Facebook again, even as they start to ramp up spending after a coronavirus slowdown.
- "It may not be immediate or dramatic, but advertisers have given Facebook a lot of passes and now we are hearing they are saying it will be harder to stand back," Simulmedia's Dave Morgan told The New York Times.
- Companies big and small are rethinking their ad buys on the platform, in protest of its content and moderation policies.
- Media Matters is also urging advertisers to stop running ads on Facebook, The Information reported.
This kind of handwringing happens with every Facebook scandal, and nothing has ever really come of it. Facebook remains a brilliantly successful advertising platform, and so far throughout its history dollars have handily beaten morals for marketers everywhere. Particularly for small businesses, there's really nowhere else to go.
But from what I've heard from companies these last few weeks, there's an urgency to the latest internal discussions that feels new. It just feels bad to them to be spending on Facebook right now — and that feeling doesn't seem to be changing yet.
Reddit is adding Michael Seibel to its board of directors, filling the spot that Alexis Ohanian left and said should be filled with a black candidate. Seibel is a partner at Y Combinator, a longtime investor in Reddit, and the co-founder of Justin.tv/Twitch.
Arm China has removed CEO Allen Wu after a whistleblower-prompted investigation found "serious irregularities." It plans to replace him with Ken Phua and Phil Tang as interim co-CEOs. Wu had been in the job since 2018, and at Arm since 2004.
SoftBank Investment Advisers laid off 15% of the Vision Fund's global staff — about 75 people — as it tries to rebound from the fund's disastrous performance in recent months.
In Other News
- On Protocol: When COVID-19 hit, Thumbtack laid off 30% of its staff, including its head of diversity and inclusion. When protests swept the country, it reversed course: It's hiring a head of D&I again.
- Corporate app creep is real, and a security risk. According to the Thales Group, nearly a third of companies have more than 50 SaaS applications, and the complexity makes it harder to keep corporate data secure.
- The U.S. government didn't do a good enough job vetting Chinese telecom companies that were installing gear on American soil, according to a Senate investigation.
- Facebook News launched to users in the U.S., after months of testing. It has more video than before, more local news than before, and the same focus on trying to win back publishers and news-readers of all kinds.
- Tesla workers who were told to return to work at the company's factory in Fremont before health officials said it was OK have begun to test positive for coronavirus. The Washington Post reported that "several cases" have already been confirmed.
- The FCC proposed a $225 million fine for 1 billion illegal robocalls made over the last five months. (Given the FCC's history with these fines, I wouldn't expect to see much of that be collected.) Unrelatedly, it's also planning to provide up to $16 billion for companies helping to connect "unserved homes and businesses across rural America."
One More Thing
What's waiting for you at the office
In the next few weeks, you may go back to the office, even if it's just to grab the hoodie and mug you left there in March. If you work at Google, you'll be greeted by a temperature check at the door, spread-out offices and meetings, and a boxed lunch instead of the usual cavernous buffet. If you work in finance? Same thing, perhaps with more plexiglass around your desk. And some companies are planning to use apps to schedule workdays like a restaurant would schedule shifts. The days of the ultra-luxe office life appear to be well and truly over. But at least that boxed lunch is still free.
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