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Big Tech’s big branding exercise

Image: Protocol
Microsoft Bing

Good morning! This Tuesday, we're gearing up for Oracle v. Google, trying to figure out the difference between Bing and Microsoft Bing, and buying everything we own off of Instagram.

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The Big Story

Oracle and Google's day in court

Oracle and Google have been fighting over Java for more than a decade, which is approximately a thousand years in tech time. But as the two companies head to the Supreme Court tomorrow, the outcome will still matter to absolutely everyone in tech.

Tom Krazit has a great preview of the hearing. The history of the case dates all the way back to when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in 2009 and promptly sued the bejeezus out of Google for cribbing some parts of Java's APIs as it developed Android.

  • Google's argument basically says that code is like math: There are only so many ways to do it right, so you can't really own one. But it's also making a broader case for the open internet, and sharing, and interoperability. "Without interfaces, your contact list cannot access your email program, which cannot send a message using the operating system, which cannot access your phone in the first place," it wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court last year. "Each is an island."
  • Oracle says, well, no. This code is copyrighted, you stole it, you owe us $9 billion. "This is the epitome of copyright infringement," it wrote in its own brief, "whether the work is a news report, a manual, or computer software."

The stakes are high, Tom writes: "Because so many APIs in use are functionally similar, whoever can claim to have originally developed those API methods would be able to assert copyright protection over those methods across a wide range of software, even software completely unrelated to the original interface."

Google won the original case, but after Oracle won in appeals court it now has a bit of an advantage. Here's Tom again: "Because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there are now just eight justices on the Supreme Court, which means Google must secure a 5-3 verdict in its favor to overturn the appeals courts rulings. In the case of a 4-4 tie, the company could seek to have the case reheard before nine judges at some point in the future."

The virtual hearing will happen over the phone tomorrow. And, as Slate noted, the histories of the telephone, Ma Bell, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are a pretty relevant lesson this week.

Branding

What's in a Big Tech name?

Bing is dead. Now there is only … Microsoft Bing. Which is apparently a different thing.

Microsoft's quasi-rebranding of Bing is a statement from the company: that Bing is more than a search engine, it's a part of Windows and Flight Simulator and lots of other things Microsoft does. It's also a clear reflection of the fact that Microsoft thinks Microsoft is a great brand right now.

In a time filled with reckoning over antitrust issues, moderation problems and generally anti-Big Tech feelings, Microsoft isn't alone in putting its name everywhere.

  • Google rebranded G Suite to Google Workspace today, turning it into an all-in-one productivity tool. I wrote on Protocol about why Workspace is interesting, but the name alone is telling.
  • Instagram and WhatsApp now both have "By Facebook" in their official names.
  • Even Apple has shifted from the "iWhatevers" to the "Apple Whatevers" over the years.

Why is this happening? For all the turmoil and talk, nobody does a brand like Big Tech. According to Forbes' 2020 Brand Value rankings, the top five most valuable corporate brands are all Big Tech: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. (Facebook's the only brand in the top five that lost value in the last year, but it's still hanging in there at the top.)

For a while, it looked like tech companies might go the Disney route, owning lots of brands but letting them each hang their own shingle. The bigger they get, the more it seems like the name at the top of the org chart is the only one that matters. (Even Disney is on this train now: Just ask Disney+.) And the more they bring under their umbrella, the more they stand to gain from a Big Tech-friendly ruling in Oracle vs. Google.

Commerce

The social shopping wars are here

It's a fairly simple idea, really: What if you could buy everything — every outfit, every gadget, every hotel room, every Bugatti Veyron — that you saw on Instagram? Instagram would certainly like the idea. It said yesterday that it's adding shopping capabilities to IGTV globally, and will add them to Reels later this year.

  • Social shopping serves two purposes for Instagram: It adds another revenue stream to the service, and it gives creators a way to make money directly through Instagram instead of doing shady brand deals or sending everyone to their Patreon.
  • Diving into shopping so quickly also gives Reels a leg up on TikTok. A billion users that you can sell to is a pretty good reason to make Reels instead of TikToks.

It sure seems like Facebook's happy turning Instagram into a virtual mini-mall, and like it's trying to get as many different cuts of as many different transactions as possible. There's also a really interesting generational shift here, too: As the pandemic has forced older users to get comfortable with online shopping, younger folks are increasingly doing their shopping by scrolling and streaming.

Social commerce is already booming in China, as we've mentioned here before, and the U.S. seems to be close behind. No wonder Walmart wants a piece of TikTok so badly.

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: Managing in-person shoppers and online orders is crucial going forward, Chipotle's Curt Garner said:

  • "We built dedicated make lines, what we call our digital kitchen, in every one of our restaurants, with the idea that orders coming in from outside the restaurant would not be interrupted by the lines inside, and we wouldn't have guests standing in the line of a restaurant and being told to wait while our crew assembled orders for the digital channels."

On the nine-year anniversary of Steve Jobs' death, Tim Cook tweeted a remembrance:

  • "'A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.' — Maya Angelou. You're always with us Steve, your memory connects and inspires us every day."

In a draft memo published by POLITICO, Rep. Ken Buck gave his thoughts on some of the antitrust subcommittee's forthcoming recommendations for how to limit Big Tech's power:

  • "The majority … offers policy prescriptions that are non-starters for conservatives. These proposals include eliminating arbitration clauses and further opening companies up to class action lawsuits. Similarly, the majority's desire to institute Glass-Steagall for America's tech sector … will not garner support from Republicans."
  • The subcommittee's report was due today, reports POLITICO, but has been delayed while Republicans negotiate the document.

Number of the Day

400

That's how many petaflops of what Nvidia calls "AI performance" the company is building into its new Cambridge-1 supercomputer, which it says will be the U.K.'s fastest. The company's spending $52 million on the project, and intends for it to be used primarily for AI-based health research and drug discovery.

In Other News

  • Instagram started labeling accounts as "state-controlled media." Facebook did this in June, and the approach will expand to ads "in the months to come."
  • Facebook expanded its WFH policy. The Information reported that managers and other employees previously not eligible for permanent WFH status are now allowed to apply.
  • Apple stopped selling rivals' headphones and speakers. It no longer offers Sonos, Bose or Logitech audio products online or in its physical stores, seemingly ahead of plans to launch its own Apple-branded headphones and an updated HomePod soon.
  • SpaceX won a $149 million Pentagon contract to build satellites. They'll be used to track missiles, and it's the company's first satellite-building government contract.
  • SMIC shares plunged yesterday after the company confirmed that U.S. restrictions had been placed on supplying it and warned that those limits may have "potential material adverse effects on the company's future production and operations."
  • China says the U.S. WeChat and TikTok bans violate World Trade Organization rules. A delegate said that the U.S. failing to provide evidence for why the bans are necessary is what constitutes a "clear abuse." The U.S. defended its actions.
  • Facebook told Turkey that it will not establish a local presence, The Financial Times reports. That violates new government rules requiring social media companies to have a physical presence in the country, and could lead to Turkey fining, throttling or even blocking Facebook.
  • John McAfee was indicted for tax evasion and arrested in Spain. The DOJ said he failed to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018 — unsurprising, considering McAfee has previously said he doesn't pay taxes because they're illegal. The SEC also charged him with fraudulently promoting ICOs. He is currently awaiting extradition to the U.S.
  • Venmo launched a credit card. It's issued by Synchrony Financial, and the physical card has a QR code printed on it. It offers cashback on users' top spending categories, and is compatible with Google Pay and Samsung Pay — but not Apple Pay, yet.
  • Slack went down yesterday, giving half the world a virtual snow day. Meanwhile, Cole Haan said it was making Slack-branded sneakers. Insert your own joke about priorities here.

One More Thing

Your Tesla's camera is watching you

Ever wonder what the internal, driver-facing camera in your Tesla is actually looking at? It mostly wants to know what happened right before a crash, and it's able to see (and log) if your eyes are closed, if you're looking out the window … and if you're looking at your phone. Tesla told Electrek that it doesn't actively monitor this stuff, but it's not hard to imagine Elon approving a feature that says "hey moron, look at the road!" every time you check your texts. Step two: a robot arm that chucks your phone out the window if you try and grab it?

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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