BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Kara Swisher and Sundar Pichai speak onstage Vox Media's 2022 Code Conference - Day 1 on September 06, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media)
Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

Sundar Pichai embraces objectivity. What about accountability?

Source Code

Good morning! Summer is over, and big names from the tech industry celebrated by descending on LA for Code Conference. Here’s what happened, along with a look at what rising iPhone prices might mean.

The Code to content moderation

Tuesday afternoon at the Code Conference, journalist Kara Swisher’s signature soiree bringing together luminaries from across the business world, the atmosphere was techy with a touch of LA casual.

  • Jackfruit carnitas tacos were served for lunch while robots buzzed around delivering cookies with Swisher’s face on them.
  • Attendees were offered Johnnie Walker NFTs, a copy of Scott Galloway’s book “Adrift” and a pair of Swisher’s iconic aviator Ray-Bans.

The event continues to wheel out big names. And in conversations with investor Mark Cuban, Axel Springer CEO Mattias Dopfner (the leader of Protocol’s parent company), Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, among others, the themes of the day were equally big and serious: content moderation, free speech and nonpartisan journalism.

Pichai elaborated on the company’s removal of Truth Social and Donald Trump from its app store and YouTube during the last conversation of the night.

  • Pichai emphasized the company’s minimum content moderation standards for apps, which include enabling users to report content and having a mechanism for removing violent content.
  • Although Truth Social didn’t meet those requirements, Parler apparently did. “We just had Parler approved, but they actually implemented the basic policies we require,” he said.
  • Trump’s removal from YouTube fell on similar lines. Although Pichai emphasized repeatedly the importance of free speech, Trump’s removal “was very specifically post-January 6th and seeing the risk of violence associated with that.”

The weaponization of abortion data will challenge Google, and how much responsiblity it takes for its search information.

  • Pichai said Google has been focusing on certifying whether medical providers actually provide abortions, enabling privacy-friendly modes for searching, and adding features to delete information continuously.
  • He noted Google’s expertise in ranking information based on quality, noting how the company made efforts during the pandemic to rank information from public health organizations and medical institutions higher, for instance.
  • Still, Pichai was careful not to espouse a particular stance, noting “we are an information company, it is important we be objective in how we provide information.”

Tech companies trying to avoid hard stances by exercising objectivity is nothing new, but it dominated the discourse at Code. It’s a nice idea in theory, but it’s also used to avoid accountability. If you stand for nothing, what do you fall for?

— Aisha Counts

Who cares about Apple’s price increase?

The iPhone could see its first price increase in years at Apple’s “Far Out” event later today. But even though inflation, supply chain issues and other challenges have hit nearly every tech company, Apple has floated above it all. And if history is any indication, a price hike on the company’s flagship product shouldn’t do it much harm.

iPhone demand keeps rising, even as Apple has been hit with supply chain constraints, COVID-related lockdowns in China and the loss of business in Russia.

  • In late July, Tim Cook said there’s been “no obvious evidence of macroeconomic impact” on iPhones sales. The company posted record third-quarter revenue, bringing in about $83 billion. Nearly half of that came from iPhone sales.

Price rises could test Apple’s inflation-defying act. The company hasn’t raised iPhone prices in five years.

  • The iPhone 14 lineup is expected to be about $100 more expensive than last year’s models because of component cost increases and expected improvements to the phone’s camera and display.
  • In other words, Apple will have a convincing-sounding justification to hand if its new smartphone models are more pricey.

But any increase is unlikely to have a huge effect on demand. The company has never cared to be a low-cost option in the first place, and its customers tend to be higher-income individuals who are willing to pay a premium and are less sensitive to price hikes.

  • Apple has a far-out approach (pun intended) toward supply deals. The company spends billions of dollars on long-term supply contracts, so even if its supply chain develops kinks, the company is fairly protected from significant pricing changes or shortages.
  • Whenever Apple has raised prices in the past, its users have ponied up extra cash regardless of how expensive things have gotten because the new hardware has come with other kinds of improvements.
  • The 2017 iPhone X crossed the $1,000 threshold without much resistance, for example.

Given the current economic environment and Apple’s stagnant share price, investors may be keen to see if the company can retain its historic pricing power even as consumers’ money fails to go as far as it once did. But based on the reaction (or lack thereof) to past price hikes, the company will probably come out just fine.

— Sarah Roach

Fixing a broken system

Having a research paper accepted for presentation at a computer science conference is a coveted rite of passage among academics and professionals, potentially opening the door to tenure or competitive job offers. But University of California, Berkeley CS professor Edward Lee thinks that system is broken.

  • Though program committee members supposedly spend hours reading submissions, writing opinions and voting on whether papers are worthy of acceptance, he argues that rejection letters are often so off-base or random that it seems like nobody bothered to read some papers in the first place.
  • “It has become very clear to me that there are a lot of people who are very frustrated with the current situation,” Lee told Protocol’s Anna Kramer. “I have seen some extremely talented people leave the field because of brutal reviews. And that's just unacceptable.”

Lee has decided to call out the “toxic culture” of CS, and a blog post he wrote chastising the rejection culture at computer science conferences has gone viral.

Read the full story about why he’s spoken out, and what he thinks can be done to improve things.

People are talking

Elon Musk texted Morgan Stanley banker Michael Grimes about delaying his takeover of Twitter, according to a Delaware Chancery court hearing Tuesday:

  • “[It] wouldn’t make sense to buy Twitter if we’re heading into world war three.”

Samsung's Kyung Kyehyun warned the chip industry could have a tough rest of the year:

  • “The general perception earlier this year was that the second half would be better than the first half, but from April to May, it changed drastically.”

Making moves

Jorge Martell is OneSpan’s new CFO. He most recently held the same role at Extreme Reach.

Lars Radowitz is Igneo Technologies’ new chief strategy officer. He most recently worked at Aurubis as the VP of raw materials recycling.

Chien-Liang Chou is Dave’s new CTO. Chou was previously the company’s EVP.

Ronak Sheth is Pricefx’s new CEO. Sheth has been the pricing software firm’s president and CRO since May 2021.

Susie Bihler was named a partner at Leading Edge Capital Management, where she will focus on growth-equity investment.

Revolut is trying to slash costs, according to the Financial Times, including revoking job offers to graduates just days before new employees were due to start work.

In other news

Travis Kalanick really is back. He’s quietly expanded his dark kitchen business across Latin America, and has reportedly secured funding from Microsoft.

Google's holding a launch event Oct. 6 for its Pixel 7, first smartwatch and other devices. It'll take place in New York City.

Meta Connect is happening Oct. 11. The company is expected to talk about its efforts to build, you guessed it, the metaverse.

Elizabeth Holmes filed a request for a new trial in light of new information: ex-Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff showed up at her house and said he regrets his testimony.

Here's how Twitter's edit button will work: Users can edit their tweets up to five times during a 30-minute window. New Zealand-based Twitter Blue subscribers will get the feature first.

Tencent is more than doubling its stake in Ubisoft, paying almost $200 million at roughly $80 per share.

Bitcoin miner Poolin suspended all withdrawals, flash trades and internal transfers, citing a need to preserve assets and stabilize liquidity.

Instagram disabled Pornhub’s account for undisclosed reasons. A company spokesperson told Motherboard the removal was due to the platform’s “overly cautious censoring of the adult industry.”

Brazil fined Apple more than $2 million and ordered it to suspend the sale of iPhones that don’t come with a charger. Apple plans to appeal the decision.

Crypto auction gone wrong

A hacker stole $185,000 in crypto raised at an auction hosted by Bill Murray for Chive Charities on Thursday. The hacker allegedly stole the funds directly from Murray’s digital wallet, and attempted to steal 800 of his NFTs, making Murray the latest high-profile crypto enthusiast to become the victim of a hack. (These types of hacks are beginning to feel even more like “Groundhog Day,” aren’t they?) Though the original funds have yet to be recovered, a Coinbase user sent 120 ETH to the charity to replace what was lost.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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