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The great semiconductor summit

Chips

Good morning! This Monday, we have a deep dive on how retail investing and social media are changing Wall Street forever, a bunch of CEOs are gathering with the White House to try and fix the chip shortage, a look into Google's sketchy-sounding ad systems, and Microsoft might be about to do another huge acquisition.

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The Big Story

Life after GameStop

No-fee investing isn't new. Neither is social media. But the combination of the two has burst onto the scene recently — Diamond Hands! — and promises to change the face of fintech and Wall Street forever.

The explosion in social investing is the subject of our latest Manual, which looks at all the ways the craze is changing the industry, and the people driving that change. A few key takeaways:

  • Chaos is a ladder. Robinhood raised more than $3 billion in the past year, and is planning to go public. Big banks are pouring money into startups and neobanks. With so few barriers to starting an online brokerage, there's money to be made everywhere.
  • It's a volume game. Yes, the market is going up, but the faster swing is in trading volume. More ordinary people are buying and selling in small increments, rather than institutions selling thousands or millions of shares at a time. Each individual investor may not move the market, but as a whole they're a force to be reckoned with.
  • Regulation is coming, but it might not be so bad. "I'm an enforcement lawyer," former SEC enforcer Jina Choi told Protocol's Tomio Geron. "I've seen a lot of fraud. But look at what happened in GameStop. As long as they go in with their eyes wide open and have material information, they should be able to invest. We're not a nanny state." Still, she said, there is some obligation to protect the people who are getting "fleeced."
  • A big part of the GameStop legacy is transparency. Retail investors increasingly demand more information, they talk in public, and they're bringing what has always happened in fancy Wall Street board rooms out into the open. How money moves, and who gets it, will be harder to hide going forward.
  • And there's a big question here: What responsibility do platforms have for their users? (Turns out this is the question for everyone in tech, no matter what you do!) Some argue that Robinhood didn't protect users, and that companies ought to help them more; others say that underestimates users, and they should be left to their own devices. Every company has to decide where it falls, and deal with what its position means.

The Manual also includes a list of names you should get to know in this space, from newish Betterment CEO Sarah Levy to Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth (and Robinhood enemy No. 1) William Galvin. Go read it all here.

Chips

The semiconductor summit

Some of tech's most powerful executives are spending part of today talking about chips with the Biden administration. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, NEC Director Brian Deese and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo will run the virtual meeting, and try to figure out how to get more chips in the market.

  • About six weeks ago, President Biden held a meeting with lawmakers to talk about what to do about the chip shortage. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse.
  • Last week, GM and Ford both slowed their production to deal with the shortage, and practically every industry has felt the effects of the shortage over the last couple of months.

Who's on the guest list? Executives from Alphabet, AT&T, Dell, HP, Intel, Micron, Samsung and TSMC are all among the 19 companies that will be represented, CNBC said. (Many will send their CEOs; others will send other senior execs.) The whole thing doubles as a way for the White House to promote its huge infrastructure bill, which would commit $50 billion to American chipmakers.

The Biden administration clearly wants to invest in the long-term growth of domestic semiconductor manufacturing. But the chip shortage is happening right now, it's causing huge problems and there aren't many easy fixes available.

And speaking of Zoom summits: A group of CEOs including Reid Hoffman, Ken Frazier and dozens of other leaders spent part of the weekend developing a plan to withhold investment and campaign contributions from lawmakers who restrict voting.

Advertising

Google's ad gambit

Google runs an ad exchange, and is a buyer and seller on that exchange. And the company has allegedly used that privileged position to make itself unbeatable in ad buying, and to make itself a fortune.

The scheme was known as "Project Bernanke," and we know about it now because of an incorrectly redacted filing in response to the Texas-led antitrust lawsuit against Google. (There's a lawyer joke to be made here, but I haven't figured it out yet.)

  • Here's the TL;DR of how it works, per The Wall Street Journal: "Google said Project Bernanke used data about historical bids made through Google Ads to adjust its clients' bids and increase their chances of winning auctions for ad impressions that would have otherwise been won by rival ad tools."

This is a really bad look for Google, though it has disputed the way Project Bernanke was being characterized and has vociferously denied doing things like this over the years.

Another nugget from the unredacted filing: Sheryl Sandberg herself was one of the people who signed the Jedi Blue ad-buying deal, which has sparked accusations of price fixing between ad giants. Google's Philipp Schindler signed it as well.

A MESSAGE FROM BROADRIDGE

"The GameStop trading shot heard round the markets served to many as a wake-up call: Retail investors are all in and they're here to stay. The issue is: How will they use their power?"

Read More

People Are Talking

Coinbase is going public on Wednesday, and New Constructs' David Trainer thinks it's hugely overvalued:

  • "Competitors such as Gemini, Bitstamp, Kraken, Binance, and others will likely offer lower or zero trading fees as a strategy to take market share … The crypto markets are very young and we expect many more companies to compete for the profits Coinbase enjoys today."

23andMe's Anne Wojcicki said the key to fixing health care is not to fix the existing system, but to follow the money:

  • "You can play to follow the code to lead to a slightly better outcome, but like hands down, I just don't want to be in the system. Tell me who makes money if I'm healthy at a hundred, and I will go in that path."

Even with the Chinese government issuing big fines against tech companies, one Meituan employee said they'd be nuts to self-regulate:

  • "Everyone with a clear mind won't self-regulate, you just pretend that you do. Who will pay for the loss if you lost your competitive advantage because you self-regulated and others didn't?"

A former Facebook employee, Sarah Zhang, said that political leaders are using the platform to mislead their citizens and Facebook doesn't really care:

  • "What we have seen is that multiple national presidents believe that this activity is sufficiently valuable for their autocratic ambitions that they feel the need to do it so blatantly that they aren't even bothering to hide."

Coming Up This Week

Coinbase's direct listing is set for Wednesday, and it looks like a huge one. I'll send a Protocol mug to anyone who correctly guesses what its valuation will be when it hits the market.

Microsoft might be buying Nuance for about $16 billion. Bloomberg reported the two sides are in "advanced talks," and the deal could be done as soon as this week.

Biden plans to name Chris Inglis as the first national cyber director today, The Washington Post reported. Jen Easterly will reportedly be the new CISA head.

Could the Facebook Oversight Board finally rule on Donald Trump? As our friends at POLITICO report, Trump's road to victory looks like a narrow one. But you never know.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Union organizers lost the Amazon vote, but they're not done fighting. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union has already contested the results of the election and is on track to file an unfair labor practice charge against Amazon, while workers in Chicago and Iowa are still trying to unionize.
  • Apple isn't giving up on the smart home. It's reportedly working on a combination HomePod/Apple TV/webcam, which could help it get back in the race. (The TV-connected camera industry is about to be huge, by the way.)
  • Chinese regulators fined Alibaba $2.8 billion for abusing its market dominance. It said Alibaba had forced merchants to sell exclusively on its platforms. Alibaba said it "sincerely accepted" the fine.
  • Josh Hawley: still mad at Big Tech. He has a new "trust-busting" plan that would ban M&A for any company worth more than $100 billion, make it easier to prosecute companies that break the rules and make the penalties seriously steep.
  • Apple's sending Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer to Congress, making him available for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on app stores. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee had previously criticized Apple for not providing a witness.
  • On Protocol: Over 500 Alphabet employees demanded it stop protecting harassers. In an open letter, they said "no harasser should manage or lead a team."
  • Chris Cox's compensation was just under $70 million last year, Facebook filings revealed. Most of that is in stock.
  • Farmers are paying the price for TSMC's immense water use, The New York Times reported. Amid a drought in Taiwan, the government has shut off irrigation to farmland in an effort to keep the chipmaker up and running.

One More Thing

Optimus Prime

The Optimus Prime we've been waiting for

Where does a toy end and a robot begin? I submit that the Optimus Prime Auto-Converting Programmable Robot is firmly on the latter side of that line. For one thing, it's $700. It's 19 inches tall, has microphones and speakers — honestly, put Alexa in this thing and I'm sold forever — and 27 servo motors running to keep everything transforming. This thing really is more than meets the eye. Like, a lot more.

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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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of companies present at the semiconductor summit. This story was updated on April 12, 2021.

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