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Big Tech’s plan to save the election

Image: Luimonts / Protocol
Big Tech’s plan to save the election

Good morning! This Thursday, tech companies band together to fix the election, Uber and Lyft threaten to leave California, and a plan to get TikTok back in India.

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The Big Story

Silicon Valley gets out the vote

One good sign that an issue is Very Important to Big Tech is when Big Tech companies work on it together. Tracking COVID-19, fighting online child abuse, avoiding monopoly regulation, that sort of thing. And now, election security! (Second time's the charm, right, Mark?)

  • Facebook, Google, Twitter, Reddit, Microsoft, Verizon, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Wikimedia co-signed a statement yesterday saying that "in preparation for the upcoming election, we regularly meet to discuss trends with U.S. government agencies tasked with protecting the integrity of the election."
  • They've actually been having these meetings since last fall, and have already started making changes and begun monitoring elections outside the U.S. One thing they talk about? Political advertising, which most of these companies are reckoning with in one way or another.

The companies are also sharing more details about their election-related work, too.

  • Google said it's working with campaigns to thwart phishing attacks and secure G Suite accounts, for instance. And for the public it's adding an information box on both how to register to vote and how to vote.
  • Facebook, meanwhile, is continuing on its plan to register more than 4 million voters through its platforms. It's launching the Voting Information Center on Facebook and Instagram, offering much of the same information: how to register, how to vote, where to volunteer as a poll worker, and relevant deadlines.
  • Because both Facebook and Google have super-specific information about people — their location, age and much more — they're tailoring that information to each voter.

So far, the coordinated efforts are mostly just conversations, with each company making its own policy and product decisions. But they'd be smart to work together on things like multi-platform misinformation campaigns, which will be everywhere the next few months, and on making sure they're surfacing and sharing the same "authoritative" content across the board.

Regulation

Uber and Lyft take their ball and head home

It may not have been a crushing, permanent blow, but when Judge Ethan Schulman told Uber and Lyft to classify drivers as employees — with a bunch of potential delays and loopholes, natch — it at least made it seem possible that Uber and Lyft might lose this fight.

And so Uber and Lyft are making threats:

  • Dara Khosrowshahi told MSNBC that "if the court doesn't reconsider, then in California, it's hard to believe we'll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly, so I think Uber will shut down for a while."
  • Later, John Zimmer said the same thing: "If our efforts here are not successful it would force us to suspend operations in California."

Zimmer followed up by pointing to Prop 22, the bill that could upend this whole thing and exempt ride-hailing companies from AB 5. The subtext to these comments is so clear I probably shouldn't call it subtext: If voters don't save Lyft and Uber, the big bad government might make it go away.

This is a classic move from Uber's playbook. It appealed to riders to defend it in the company's fight with London, and has tried to galvanize people in Toronto, Portland and elsewhere in similar ways. In virtually every regulatory fight, Uber's case has been "yeah, but riders love us!"

  • That's what Uber and Lyft hope the ballot measure will prove once and for all. But just in case, they're going to make crystal-clear what happens if voters don't give them what they want: Nice car service you have there, it'd be a shame if it went away.

TikTok

Reliance wants to save TikTok India

I can't believe I didn't see this coming: Reliance is reportedly in talks with ByteDance to invest in TikTok, to bring the app back to life in the country. The app's India business alone is worth more than $3 billion, TechCrunch reported.

  • It would be a sensible move, as Jio looks to become the dominant internet player in India. It also would mean both Facebook and Google, in a roundabout way, would own part of TikTok, which is just hilarious.
  • One challenge for the deal: ByteDance is quickly losing employees in India, now that the app is banned, and the longer the ban lasts the harder it might be to just flip the switch and get TikTok back online.

Add this to the list of Anything Could Happen TikTok Acquisition Scenarios we talked about the other day. Speaking of which, here are a few of the best ideas you all sent me over the last few days:

  • "Stripe acquires TikTok, opening up a new line of embedded ecommerce potentials. (Imagine influencers chasing those contracts?)" — Ryan T
  • "Amazon acquires TikTok, after which all content is created from videos surreptitiously filmed by your Echo Show…" — Mike P
  • "I think @realdonaldtrump will buy TikTok, and it will be a majorly successful platform for his storytelling time as a former @Potus." — Andres G
  • "Buffett and Berkshire acquiring TikTok has to be the most absurd, yet still possible scenario out there. It would be the ultimate mic drop if he did the deal then retired in the next few years." — James C

All I've learned in the last few days is that whatever we're thinking is possible, reality will be wilder. And it might not just be TikTok that's for sale: The Information reported that Facebook and Snap have both looked into acquiring Dubsmash, another TikTok-like app that's crushing it right now.

A MESSAGE FROM ITI

ITI

During the upcoming 2020 National Political Conventions, Protocol will host a two-event series on the tech and policy needed to enable a diverse future workforce and a strong economy. The events feature Republican and Democrat policy and political leaders and C-Suite leaders from Dropbox, Cognizant, IBM, Adobe, and more. This series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: A group of philanthropists sent a letter to Sundar Pichai, accusing Google of placing charity ads on problematic sites:

  • "In too many cases, this means the charities are paying Google, only for Google to damage their reputation and undermine their mission."

Are you going to drop $1,400 on a Surface Duo? Satya Nadella said that's the future:

  • "I didn't come at [the Duo] from 'Let's recommit to phones' or go back in time and enter the same market that we quote-unquote 'exited.' We're looking at what's next."

As Google thinks about the next billion users, product management director Josh Woodward said it's thinking about three things:

  • "I would say it's voice, vernacular — which is how people who don't usually speak English are coming online in massive quantities — and then video."

Number of the day

76

That's the percentage of advertisers who returned to Facebook after the July boycott was over, according to Tinuiti, a big search engine marketing company. As for where the money went in July? Well, 40% of advertisers bought more Google search ads, while 24% went to other social platforms, Snap and Pinterest chief among them. The boycott drove prices down, too, but it increasingly looks like a blip rather than a long-term change.

In Other News

  • Palantir is planning to go public in late September through a direct listing, according to a report by Bloomberg.
  • On Protocol: Streaming is the new arena for political ad issues, with platforms like Hulu and Roku suddenly thrust into the middle of the problems that social networks have already been wrestling with.
  • Business travel is more important than you think. Harvard Business School found that "countries grow new industries and expand existing ones if they often have previously been visited by business travelers from other countries that specialize in those industries."
  • Today in un-smooth moves: Amazon is reportedly looking into adding podcasts to Amazon Music and Audible, but tried to get podcasters to commit to not disparaging Amazon on their shows. That … didn't go over well.
  • Airbnb is suing a guest, after a party at an Airbnb in Sacramento turned into a gunfight that left three people in hospital. It's the first time Airbnb has ever pursued legal action against a user who violated its policies.
  • Don't miss this story about Alphabet's struggles in Toronto, from OneZero. The failure of the "city of the future" project is a pretty fascinating cautionary tale about how government and tech can — and can't — mix.
  • Google wants developers to build apps for Chromebooks, and it's pulling out the stops to make it happen. It has a new developer home, and a new campaign to help explain how apps should work and look on larger screens. As distance learning takes over the school world, it's likely to be a big fall for Chromebooks.

One More Thing

The only three things you need to say out loud

Sumner Redstone died this week, and leaves behind a sprawling (and complicated) entertainment legacy. But there's one detail of his later years that I'll never forget: Redstone, who reportedly wasn't able to speak much, rigged up an iPad connected to buttons that allowed him to say, well, the only three things a person ever really needs to say. And they were "yes," "no," and "f*** you." Now that's what I call a good set of smart replies.

A MESSAGE FROM ITI

ITI

During the upcoming 2020 National Political Conventions, Protocol will host a two-event series on the tech and policy needed to enable a diverse future workforce and a strong economy. The events feature Republican and Democrat policy and political leaders and C-Suite leaders from Dropbox, Cognizant, IBM, Adobe, and more. This series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. 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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