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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

At least tech got some results

Image: Alex Muravev
Vote check

Good morning! This Wednesday, a look at the few things tech knows for sure about the election, how social platforms are faring, and why Pokémon Go is crushing it in a pandemic.

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The Big Story

Tech gets some election results

What do we know so far about the 2020 presidential election? Not much, broadly speaking. It's going to be a long week, friends. Stay hydrated.

In the tech world, though, we do have some more clarity. A quick update on the ballot measures we've been paying attention to:

  • Prop 22 passed in California. (Technically the votes are still being counted, but both sides seem to agree on this one.) It's a crucial win for Uber, Lyft and the rest of the gig companies, as it classifies drivers as independent contractors. Its influence could extend beyond California: Other states were certainly looking to see whether similar legislation might play elsewhere.
  • Prop 24 looks likely to pass as well. That one strengthens the CCPA data-privacy legislation, closing some of the loopholes businesses have identified.
  • Prop 15 is close but losing. If it lands on Yes, many companies will now have to pay property taxes on the current value of their property, not what they bought it for. That would mean a lot of businesses would pay bigger property tax bills.
  • Prop 25, which proposed allowing risk-assessment algorithms to play a role in determining bail eligibility for criminal suspects, looks like it's going to lose by a much wider margin.
  • Massachusetts passed a right to repair law, which will require car manufacturers to let mechanics and owners access a vehicle's repair data. It's just one part of a much broader fight, but it's a win for the R2R community nonetheless. The iFixit team is thrilled.
  • Oregon legalized psychedelic mushrooms. That's not strictly tech, but I know at least a few readers of this newsletter are suddenly thinking about moving to Portland.

As for who will be the next U.S. president? We don't know, and we might not know anytime soon. The only certain thing right now: Large touchscreens with interactive maps are clearly the future of television.

More Election

How the platforms fared

One of the big questions coming into the election was how social platforms, and the internet as a whole, would fare. Anything seemed possible, from a totally smooth process to … I don't know, the whole internet breaking all at once under the weight of Russian disinformation.

The truth turned out to be somewhere in the middle.

  • As far as we know, there were no hacks, no massive equipment outages, no catastrophic social media problems. Am I jinxing it by typing that sentence? Maybe. But so far so good.
  • The worst seemed to happen in Pennsylvania, where one official told BuzzFeed they'd "never seen anything like" the level of misinformation being spread about the election.
  • #StopTheSteal became a breeding ground for that misinformation on Twitter, as Trump's supporters claimed the media and the left were trying to steal the election.
  • Twitter and Facebook were both labeling problematic content, particularly posts claiming a race had been called before it was. Trump's tweets were labeled, reporters' tweets were labeled, everybody got a label last night.
  • One of the scarier new problems was a robocall campaign that told people to "stay home and stay safe" all over the country. Some also told voters they could vote Wednesday if lines were too long Tuesday. The FBI and FCC are both looking into what happened.
  • There were also plenty of small goofs, like Siri answering "When is Election Day" with the date of the election … in 2022. Or Instagram's "Tomorrow is Election Day" message lingering a few hours too long.

It's clear there's a lot of work left to do to combat misinformation and disinformation. And there's still time left even in this election for the platforms to experience more problems. Trump made clear last night that he intends to keep saying he won, and will test the platforms' mettle to keep saying he hasn't yet. Beyond that, it seems like we're left mostly with normal election stress rather than something entirely new.

People Are Talking

Tesla was closer to bankruptcy than you might think, Elon Musk said:

  • "Closest we got was about a month. The Model 3 ramp was extreme stress & pain for a long time — from mid 2017 to mid 2019. Production & logistics hell."

This Jack Ma comment about Chinese banks seems to have gotten his Ant Group IPO suspended, and may have cost him billions of dollars:

  • "Today banks are still operating with a pawn shop mentality, needing collateral and guarantees are just like pawn shops … China's financial pawn shop mentality is the most serious."

If you're looking to get into VR or AR, Google's Paul Debevec said you should be hiring visual effects artists:

  • "A lot of the most talented individuals that I've met through the visual effects industry find their way into the tech industry."

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Making Moves

Jeff Bezos is giving up to $700 million to a number of environmental groups as part of his ultimate plan to give away $10 billion on climate change initiatives.

Ran Makavy and Katie Dill are leaving Lyft. Makavy was head of strategic initiatives, and Dill was head of design.

Alex Lo is Kneron's new chief strategy officer. He was previously at Nvidia for 17 years.

In Other News

  • The U.S. took cyber action against Iran to head off election interference, but officials didn't share specifics. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who runs the agencies, said that foreign interference had been minimal, but warned that there's still a risk of it until the vote is certified.
  • Did you see Trump's YouTube takeover yesterday? As Recode reports, it was part of a huge video strategy that relies heavily on memes — though it's unclear if it's been effective.
  • Comcast is in talks with Walmart to distribute its smart TVs, The Wall Street Journal reports. That confirms earlier Protocol reporting that Comcast is planning on licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers.
  • PayPal plans to integrate Honey into its Checkout product. It said that would come next year, alongside a redesign of its digital wallet that will include crypto support. Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde said the European Central Bank wants to hear the public's views on a digital euro.
  • Snapchat allowed follower counts to be publicly displayed, though it's still up to users to decide whether to display their count. By the looks of it, Kylie Jenner is by far the most-followed person on the platform.

One More Thing

More like Pokémon Stay, am I right?

We all pretty much spent 2020 indoors, not going anywhere, not doing anything. And yet Pokémon Go, a game based on going places and doing things, turned it into its best year ever, with more than $1 billion in revenue. Just goes to show, there's always a pivot if you can find it. Also, sitting in my living room counts as physical activity.

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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