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The stories we loved from 2020

Image: Creaticca Creative Agency / Protocol
The stories we loved from 2020

Good morning. This Sunday, it's time to look back at this very long year that's almost over. Nothing about 2020 has gone the way we expected, and as always we hope you're safe and well heading into the end of the year. To mark the moment — and to try to jog our memories a bit — we rounded up some of the best tech stories on the internet from the last 12 months. (And we tried to keep it to the stuff that still feels relevant and worth reading now.)

Seeing as it's also the end of Protocol's debut year — we launched Feb. 5, in the halcyon days of the Before Times — we thought this was also a good time to look back on some of our favorite Protocol stories of the year. Some broke big news, some illuminated people and stories we needed to know more about, all are really good and important tales. Hopefully there's some good holiday reading in here for you.

Oh, and also! Since this is the last weekend edition of the year, I want to take a second to thank the whole Source Code crew — Anna Kramer, Shakeel Hashim and our editor Jamie Condliffe — for all the work they do making this newsletter far better than I ever could. I don't say this enough, but Source Code is the result of a ton of work from the whole Protocol team, especially those three, and I'm incredibly lucky to work with them all.

As always, let me know what you think, and what you'd like to see more of in our weekend edition. I'm david@protocol.com, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks! On to the good stuff.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

Best of Protocol

A tiny team of House staffers could change the future of Big Tech. This is their story, by Emily Birnbaum

  • With so much antitrust action coming against Big Tech, it's tough to know what's real and what's posturing. This group is doing some of the Hill's most real work.

Through apps, not warrants, 'Locate X' allows federal law enforcement to track phones, by Charles Levinson

  • Babel Street's tech became a recurring story this year, led by this investigation into how the government tracks its citizens, and how a complicated system makes that possible. And profitable.

From McDonald's to Google: How Kelsey Hightower became one of the most respected people in cloud computing, by Tom Krazit

  • Kelsey Hightower's story is both inspirational and unusual, and his career says a lot about what a more diverse, more effective tech industry looks like. Hightower's also working hard to make that happen.

Silicon Valley's new extreme: The 2:30 a.m. tech bus from Salida, by Lauren Hepler

  • There are a lot of ways to understand what's been happening in Silicon Valley — and why a lot of people and companies are thinking about leaving — but the tech employees forced to live hours outside the city they work in tell the story pretty effectively.

How one woman is building the future for Google in Silicon Valley, by Anna Kramer

  • While so many companies are fleeing the Bay Area, Google is staying. Actually, it's doubling down. But there's a thin line between investing in your community and steamrolling it — and a few very important people are trying to keep Google on the right side.

How COVID-19 rewrote Y Combinator's Winter 20 Demo Day, by Biz Carson

  • It's been a weird year to be a startup, huh? There are good lessons for founders, investors and frankly everyone in what happened at Y Combinator this year, as it tried to figure out how to maintain a community and help guide startups through a pandemic.

How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet, by David Pierce

  • Everything about the way we interact online changed this year. And while Zoom became 2020's buzziest chat company, Discord might be the closest to actually perfecting what it means to live a virtual life.

Alloy promised Democrats a data edge over Trump. The DNC didn't buy it. Now what? By Issie Lapowsky

  • As tech companies told us a lot this year, it's always an election season on the internet. And more than ever, data — who has it, how they get it, how it's used, how much you can trust it — is a huge part of the process. But data, as one company spent millions of dollars learning, is a tricky thing in the real world.

Why Microsoft's new Flight Simulator should make Google and Amazon nervous, by Seth Schiesel

  • Cyberpunk 2077 was supposed to be great, and was decidedly not great. The new Flight Simulator, on the other hand, was even better than advertised, and was also an indicator of how the cloud and big data are going to change how games work.

How Google kneecapped Amazon's smart TV efforts, by Janko Roettgers

  • One of the most forceful antitrust accusations against Google is that the company spends a lot of money to cement its dominance and bullies partners into helping it do so. This story — about how Google uses Android as a weapon — encapsulates that perfectly.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

At Micron, we see an opportunity to establish memory and storage platform capabilities that will unleash software developers to deliver solutions that speed insight and ultimately support emerging customer requirements. The data-centric era has ushered in a new opportunity to tap data for business growth, but many companies continue to struggle to transform mounting data stores into competitive advantage.

Learn how here.

Best of Everything Else

"The intelligence coup of the century" – The Washington Post

  • This is a story straight out of a Tom Clancy novel, about the CIA secretly selling encryption tools to other countries while keeping a backdoor for itself. But it's true. And what that meant for decades of global espionage is pretty incredible.

The inside story of MacKenzie Scott, the mysterious 60-billion-dollar woman – The Market

  • After her divorce from Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott has embarked on a genuinely remarkable string of philanthropic giving. She's writing a playbook that everyone with money should be learning from, both in terms of how to give and how to do it well.

The 8th Wonder of the World* — The Verge

  • What happened with Foxconn in Wisconsin is one heck of a cautionary tale. In local government, running a company or staking your fortunes on big job-creation promises? You should read this carefully.

The panopticon is already here – The Atlantic

  • China is often made out to be a mysterious bogeyman, a country with different values and plans that are hard for outsiders to understand. This story puts all of that into context, and makes clear that the fight between the U.S. and China for technological supremacy extends far beyond the countries' borders.

How Pfizer delivered a COVID vaccine in record time: Crazy deadlines, a pushy CEO — The Wall Street Journal

  • The existence of COVID vaccines is an enormous, incredible achievement. This story dives into what it takes — and what it costs, in all senses — to make that happen.

Is Twitter going full resistance? Here's the woman driving the change. — POLITICO

  • Vijaya Gadde belongs near the top of this year's list of "most important people whose names you don't know." She's leading the charge to figure out how Twitter handles politics and keeps users safe, and seems to be pulling away from social media's free-speech-anything-goes roots.

Huawei, 5G and the man who conquered noise — WIRED

  • 2020 was the year 5G took over! Just kidding. But the technology is more real and more important to understand than ever, not to mention at the center of a geopolitical arms race to control the future. This story does a good job of making sense of all of it.

The conscience of Silicon Valley — GQ

  • You should pretty much always listen when Jaron Lanier speaks, especially when he's trying to identify a human-first vision for the future of technology. I can't remember a story from this year that made me nod more often, or highlight more quotes, than this one.

India's engineers have thrived in Silicon Valley. So has its caste system. – The Washington Post

  • This year was full of long-overdue conversations about bias and corporate culture. But we're only starting to understand how many forms those things take, and how long it will take to begin to rectify them all.

Taking back our privacy — The New Yorker

  • Encryption will change the internet, for better and for worse. Signal's encryption systems appear to be becoming the industry standard, and Moxie Marlinspike is leading Signal's charge. The way he talks about bringing "normalcy" back to the internet will be one of the most important conversations of 2021.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

At Micron, we see an opportunity to establish memory and storage platform capabilities that will unleash software developers to deliver solutions that speed insight and ultimately support emerging customer requirements. The data-centric era has ushered in a new opportunity to tap data for business growth, but many companies continue to struggle to transform mounting data stores into competitive advantage.

Learn how here.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and 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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