Image: Apple / Protocol
April 27, 2021
Good morning! This Tuesday, everyone is panicking over Apple's privacy pop-ups, Roku and YouTube are bickering over codecs, Basecamp is changing the way it does business and China is already deep in 6G research.
Also, today is my dad's birthday, which makes this both a good time to shout him out and a good chance to see if he actually reads this newsletter. Happy Birthday, Dad!
The Big Story
Anna Kramer writes: No more farmers market benefits, no more political or social conversations, no more DEI committees. Those are just a few of the new culture rules at Basecamp, according to a sweeping set of policies shared by co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson yesterday.
- Political chatter and corporate committees are out. Ditto benefits like fitness, wellness and education allowances, dwelling on past company decisions and 360 performance reviews.
- In exchange, Basecamp is implementing a 10% profit-sharing model, focusing on the impact of the company's products, and "making calls, explaining why once, and moving on."
Basecamp employees are already pushing back. At least five of its key leaders and engineers have already spoken out publicly against the changes, and many more shared their anger and frustration with me anonymously.
- Jonas Downey, the company's design lead, has been with Basecamp for more than nine years. "I've worked at Basecamp for a long time because it's a company full of smart and kind people, and together we've always tried to take care and do the right things. I don't agree with the changes announced today, and I'm sad & upset," he wrote on Twitter.
- And from Zach Waugh, the company's lead iOS engineer: "I'm a straight white man in a tech job, it doesn't get much more privileged than that. It would be so easy for me to ignore things that don't affect me. But I don't want things to be easy, I want things to be better."
In case you're as confused as we were: Yes, these are the same Basecamp founders who spent years writing best-selling books about and encouraging the cultural norms that they are now prohibiting. At least @dhh acknowledged the irony, and the tweet everyone's using to dunk on him. There's always a tweet.
The new rules made a splash beyond Basecamp, with other tech leaders wasting no time calling out the white dude co-founders for a policy that they said perpetuates the discriminatory exclusivity inherent to bro-y tech culture.
- "It's hypocritical how Basecamp is now a 'leave politics at home' company. For months, their cofounder was in the news criticizing everyone. It's only a problem when their employees want the same privileges/freedoms on matters directly affecting them," wrote Jaana Dogan, a principal software engineer at AWS.
'Ask App not to Track'
App Tracking Transparency is the fifth thing listed in Apple's releases notes for iOS 14.5, which started rolling out on Monday, but it's the most consequential software update in a long time.
- Apps are now being forced to ask users to allow them to "track your activity across other companies' apps and websites." There are two options: "Ask App not to Track" or "Allow."
- You'll be surprised how many apps ask. Facebook and others were obvious culprits, but The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, Venmo, Mint, Sling and others all showed the pop-up as soon as I opened them.
- Users can short-circuit the process in their privacy settings, and prevent apps from even asking to track them. But by default, every app will ask permission.
Nobody knows exactly how this will shake out, but most people seem to think that the default answer will be "Ask App not to Track." A lot of ad-supported businesses have been fighting this change for months, and they sure hate it now that it's here. (It's gotten bad enough that Facebook and publishers are on the same side, which … never happens.)
- A group of companies is suing Apple for antitrust violations related to the change, saying developers could lose up to 60% of revenue as a result.
- And if that does happen, Apple's apparently ready to take advantage. It's reportedly getting ready to grow its ad business, starting by adding more sponsored space to the App Store.
- Some companies are looking for ways around Apple's rules, and Apple has promised to shut them all down. But advertisers will always find a way to keep tracking people. FLoCs, anyone?
One thing seems certain: a change in app design. Expect the next phase of app development to focus on keeping users inside of an app for as long as possible. If all Facebook can collect is first-party data, you better believe it's going to find as many creative ways to keep you in the Facebook app as it possibly can.
- That's surely part of the reason it's building an in-app podcast player, why it's adding a Spotify player to the app and why it continues to resolutely steal every feature of every app it can find.
- Facebook and others built big businesses on being portals to everything, because users and data always flowed back. Now, I suspect we'll see their walls get higher, their platforms more all-consuming and their reasons to let you leave start to dwindle.
People Are Talking
Here's how Craig Federighi described Apple's stance on privacy:
- "These devices are so intimately a part of our lives and contain so much of what we're thinking and where we've been and who we've been with that users deserve and need control of that information. The abuses can range from creepy to dangerous."
Luminar is working with Airbus on lidar-equipped aircraft, and Luminar's Austin Russell said it's for more than just self-flying:
- "A double-digit percentage of helicopter crashes happen by just landing on things like wires that are totally avoidable. If you can actually just have a 3D map and see what's going on hidden underneath you would be an improvement. Even some of the best pilots have a hard time being able to see these kinds of things."
Tesla sold a bunch of its Bitcoin holdings, but Elon said it wasn't just to cash out:
- "Tesla sold 10% of its holdings essentially to prove liquidity of Bitcoin as an alternative to holding cash on balance sheet."
A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK
The internet has changed a lot since 1996 - internet regulations should too. It's been 25 years since comprehensive internet regulations passed. See why we support updated regulations on key issues, including: protecting people's privacy, enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms, preventing election interference and reforming Section 230.
SiriusXM bought 99% Invisible Inc, as the company continues to push hard into podcasting (and all things non-satellite radio) after buying Pandora and Stitcher over the last couple of years.
Brex raised $425 million, and is now worth $7.4 billion. The fintech funding craze continues.
Peter Thiel is spending $10 million to try and get Blake Masters elected to the Senate. Masters is the COO of Thiel Capital, and a longtime partner of Thiel's.
GM scored the first commercial license of the Energy Department's AI software, and will use the Multinode Evolutionary Neural Networks for Deep Learning system to potentially improve its driver assistance software.
Lyft sold Level 5 to Woven Planet, a subsidiary of Toyota, for $550 million. That makes Lyft the latest tech company to decide it doesn't want to build self-driving cars, and Toyota the latest automaker to get even deeper into the business.
Thoma Bravo bought Proofpoint for $12.3 billion, well above its $7.5 billion market cap.
In Other News
- The EU will charge Apple with antitrust violations this week, The Financial Times reported. The bloc's expected to focus on the App Store.
- On Protocol: Roku and Google are publicly fighting about video codecs. Roku accused Google of anti-competitive behavior, saying Google is using YouTube TV negotiations to push Roku to support AV1 and to prioritize YouTube in search results. Relatedly: Google Cloud just signed a deal with Univision, and bundling was apparently key to clinching the deal.
- China launched an antitrust investigation into Meituan. It's looking at "pick one of two" practices, where sellers are forced to choose just one ecommerce platform on which to sell their products.
- On Protocol | China: China holds 35% of global 6G patents, according to a government report which urges China to "utilize its technological advantage in 5G to continue staying ahead."
- Blue Origin challenged NASA's SpaceX moon lander contract, filing a protest with the Government Accountability Office over the $2.9 billion deal that Blue Origin tried and failed to win.
- Gavin Newsom critics have enough signatures to trigger a recall election. Expect tech to be very involved in the campaigns, ahead of a likely November vote.
Work in the Future
The top-third Zoom trick
There's a subconscious routine we all run right before we get on a video call. Fix the hair, turn on the ring light, hide the wine, shoo the dog out, deep breath and go. Here's a few steps to add: Melissa Du and Eric Park built a site called Video Call Checklist with science-backed tips for making your calls a little more pleasant, for you and everyone else.
All the tips are good ones, especially about how to position your camera, but the last one is my favorite: Enough with the full-screen chats! Make the window about the size of an iPhone, stick it up at the top of the screen, and it'll almost look like you're making eye contact. But don't actually make eye contact over Zoom. That's creepy.
A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK
2021 is the 25th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the last major update to internet regulation. It's time for an update to set clear rules for addressing today's toughest challenges. See how we're taking action on key issues and why we support updated internet regulations.Learn More
Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.