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Apple vs. app fairness

Image: Jernej Furman / Protocol
App Store scales

Good morning! This Friday, The Coalition For App Fairness has a bone to pick with Apple, Amazon launched all the Alexa devices, and Daniel Ek has a billion dollars he'd like to spend making European tech amazing.

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The big story

App stores for everyone!

If you've ever watched "Parks & Recreation," you know about The Reasonabilists, the group of people who believe a lizard god is coming back to melt everyone's faces. But who could call a Reasonabilist crazy? That's what I thought of yesterday, reading about The Coalition for App Fairness. Who could be against app fairness?

  • The Coalition for App Fairness is headlined by Spotify, Basecamp, Epic, Tile and other companies who have had loud and long fights with Google and Apple over how they run their app stores.
  • "We believe that every app developer is entitled to fair treatment and that every consumer should have complete control over their own device," the coalition explains on its site.

The Coalition's fight is overwhelmingly against Apple. Google barely gets any mention on its website, even though most of its rules are the same. It's escaping the worst of the blowback for two reasons, I think: It's at least technically possible to sideload apps on Android, and the Play Store isn't nearly as powerful a business as the App Store.

  • Every member of the coalition has some axe to grind, including PrePear, the company that Apple tried to force to stop having fruit in its logo. By banding together, they're hoping to have power much greater than any one company could when fighting Apple.
  • More companies are already looking to sign on, the Coalition's Sarah Maxwell said, including some that had initially been afraid to pick a public fight with Apple.

As for what the coalition ultimately wants? It's fighting for 10 principles, which run from the eminently reasonable ("A developer's data should not be used to compete with the developer") to the never-ever-gonna-happen (they want Apple to allow other app stores on iOS).

The big question here is increasingly this: Does Apple get to do whatever it wants with the App Store, or is it too big and too important and thus needs to be regulated in other ways? Nobody's yelling at Twitter to let you post to Facebook, or for Netflix to show you Hulu shows, but something about apps feels different.

Devices

More Alexa is less Alexa is more Alexa

Janko Roettgers writes: Amazon used its annual fall press event Thursday to introduce what felt like 10,000 new devices in just 45 minutes. It showed off two new TV sticks, four new speakers, a new smart display, two new routers, three automotive devices and a home security drone that flies around your home looking for burglars. Amazon's internal tagline for Alexa devices clearly continues to be: "Sure, why not?"

Weirdly, for Amazon this all about making Alexa disappear. Amid all of those product updates, Amazon execs talked about their vision of the ambient home, a big part of which is an Alexa that does more … and talks less.

  • "We are really excited about this ability to have Alexa be more kind of a fabric within a customer's life and do things on the behalf of the customer," Amazon's Toni Reid said following the event. Daniel Rausch was more blunt: "The smart home you really want is one where you talk with Alexa less."
  • Users will also be able to train and personalize Alexa, and Alexa will remember these settings for each user. In the future, it may even let you take your settings with you: "When you are in a hotel room, it knows that it's Janko, and does a personalized experience," Reid said. (Does anybody remember hotel rooms, by the way?)

When you do talk to your virtual assistant, though, Reid's team has been hard at work making Alexa better at participating in conversations. That includes something the company calls "natural turn-taking," which is coming to Alexa devices next year. Think of it as Alexa being able to take part in conversations with multiple people, and only respond when it's needed, without every sentence starting with "Alexa."

  • Alexa will also sound a lot more human: It's increasingly able to respond to verbal and non-verbal cues, and adapt its own speech patterns accordingly. The assistant may speak faster, slower, or emphasize certain words, much like a human would.

The ultimate goal of all of this is to turn Alexa from that vaguely human-sounding robot into an assistant that learns from you, knows when and how to respond, and also when to shut up. It was described to me yesterday as a "North Star dream, the truly conversational AI." Of course, that's been the dream for a long time, and it's still a ways off. But Amazon's inching closer.

Investing

Bankrolling Europe's tech moonshots

Shakeel Hashim writes: Daniel Ek wants more big European tech companies. And he wants to help build them. "I will devote €1 billion of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders to achieve this European dream over the next decade," he said at an event yesterday. "And I will do so by funding so-called 'moonshots,' focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent."

  • "Moonshot" tends to be code for "unspecified cool stuff," but Ek highlighted health care, education, machine learning, biotechnology, material sciences and energy as potential targets. "When I talk to the scientists and the entrepreneurs, they often face no [funding] options, because these ideas may be too early to bring in venture capital," he said.

Consider this part of a broader move for European tech sovereignty. Ek expressed his frustration with European founders selling their companies to American giants, which he thinks prevents the whole European tech ecosystem from growing. And by the sounds of it, he thinks Europeans might be able to build better companies than Americans.

  • "The values we have here about collective welfare, collaboration and concern for the common good," he said, provide "a very strong foundation to build upon."
  • Spotify wouldn't have succeeded if Ek had been born in the U.S., he said, attributing the Nordics' 1997 fibre-optic internet and boom in piracy to the model's success.

This isn't Jack Dorsey-style philanthropy. Though the €1 billion is a significant portion of his wealth — more than a quarter, according to Forbes — Ek is investing the money, not giving it away. That means, presumably, that he'll be looking for things he can get a return on. But he won't be looking for them in San Francisco.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: All the new tech we're creating, AI and quantum and stuff? We need to use it for science, IBM's Dario Gil said:

  • "Together, HPC, AI and quantum should be able to process the vast amount of data and knowledge to boost all aspects of material design. Complementing each other, they should allow us to reduce the environmental impact of fertilizers to feed our surging population, come up with more sustainable electronics and accelerate drug design."

Facebook's Oversight Board is getting ready to start work, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt said having more voices in moderation conversations will immediately be a good thing:

  • "I do think it's obvious to most people that we can't carry on in a world where it's basically Facebook and ultimately Mark Zuckerberg who takes decisions on what content gets removed or stays up."

An AWS employee emailed coworkers, saying their bosses were snooping for labor-organizing activity:

  • "While we may be under the impression that everything we write at Amazon is at least saved somewhere for review, it is important that those on this list know that they are being explicitly watched and processed in a data farming project from [Global Security Operations]."

China's Digital Currency Electronic Payment will one day dominate the world, Bitcoin scion Chandler Guo said:

  • "DCEP will be successful because there are a lot of Chinese people living outside of China — there are 39 million Chinese living outside of the country. If they have a connection with China they will use the DCEP. They can make DCEP become an international currency."

The TikTok deal may not make sense, but Marc Benioff said kudos to Larry Ellison for making it happen:

  • "I'm calling CEOs who are friends of mine who are in paralysis and who aren't making moves, and I'm saying, 'Look, you've got to get into participation. You've got to get out of paralysis and into participation.' Larry Ellison is the master of relevance. This is a move to make him relevant. This is so important."

Making Moves

Clearview.AI raised $8.6 million this week. In the process, everyone's favorite ultra-controversial facial recognition company also disclosed two new board members: Murtaza Akbar, of Liberty City Ventures, and Hal Lambert, of Point Bridge Capital.

Kevin Mayer may have a new job. The New York Times reported he's in talks to join RedBird Capital, an investment firm with lots of media holdings and experience. Definitely less complicated than TikTok!

Maria Renz is joining DoorDash's board, Bloomberg reports. She is an executive VP at SoFi, and was previously vice president of delivery experience at Amazon.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Amazon announced Luna, its cloud gaming service. It seems to be modeled on the hugely successful Amazon Channels marketplace, letting players subscribe to game "channels," each of which features a range of games. First up is the $5.99 per month Luna+ channel, followed by a Ubisoft channel coming at an undisclosed price.
  • The House antitrust subcommittee will hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss its proposals to improve antitrust law. The subcommittee is expected to release a report investigating Big Tech soon too.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee was due to hold a hearing on Section 230 next week, but Democrat Maria Cantwell objected to a subpoena of Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, calling it a "partisan effort." So now the committee will vote on whether to subpoena the CEOs, which could lead to a hearing later in October.
  • Trump has until 11.30 a.m. PST today to postpone the TikTok ban, a federal judge said, else the government has to attend a hearing on Sunday morning where a ruling on the ban will be issued.
  • ByteDance has submitted the Oracle-Walmart plan to Chinese authorities, who now get to decide whether to approve it. Based on the way state-controlled media is talking about the deal, the sentiment isn't positive.
  • Facebook has new rules for Workplace. Employees must now use their initials or a photo of themselves as profile pics — meaning no more political pics.
  • Hootsuite signed a contract with ICE, but reversed course after widespread employee backlash, led by a viral Twitter thread.
  • Remember the big Twitter crypto hack? Wired's got a deep dive into what went wrong — and how Twitter's trying to stop things from spiralling out of control again in the run up to the election.
  • Facebook shut down a network of fake accounts linked to Russian military intelligence. It said the network wasn't directly targeting the U.S., but that it's concerned about operations ahead of the election.
  • On Protocol: A new social network wants to be kind. Telepath, which is invite-only for now, has strict rules to encourage good behavior — but enforcing those rules may prove to be easier said than done.
  • Apple bought Scout FM, the app that created "podcast stations" — basically making podcasts more like radio. The app's already been shut down, and I bet it's only a matter of time before you see stations in the Apple Podcasts app.
  • Spotify signed a deal with the producer of "The Greatest Showman," Chernin Entertainment, giving it the rights to turn its podcasts into movies and TV shows. "Joe Rogan: The Movie," anyone?
  • The U.S. and U.K. signed an agreement to cooperate on AI R&D. Michael Kratsios said it was part of a broader strategy "protecting against authoritarianism and repression."

One More Thing

Wikipedia's redesign will be chaos

Some sites you just think will never change. They're almost not allowed to. Well just two, really: Craigslist and Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is undergoing a huge redesign over the next year, trying particularly to work better for newer internet users. It's going to be cool to watch this pillar of the web change, but dear lord, can you imagine the infighting and edit battles that are going to happen? The page about the redesign is going to be the best, and worst, thing on Wikipedia for sure.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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