Image: JD Lasica / Protocol
March 8, 2021
Good morning and happy International Women's Day! Hope you had a great weekend. My wife got vaccinated, so I'm calling mine a win. Anyway, this Monday: a deep look at how tech is fighting domestic online extremism, what you need to know about Chamath Palihapitiya, the latest hack every company needs to deal with, and Jack Dorsey's $2.5 million tweet.
The Big Story
Enemies foreign and domestic
Social media companies are finally cracking down on domestic extremism on their platforms. But why now? Was it really as simple as the end of the Trump administration? Not exactly. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky found in a deep look at the history of content moderation and political machinations at Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Tech companies first started to work together on extremist content and its moderation in a serious, measurable way after political pressure from the Obama administration to counter the "ISIS threat."
- They eventually came up with a plan to share hashed terrorist images between platforms, while Google's Jigsaw lab started sponsoring search ads to counter terrorist propaganda in search results.
- And that worked fairly well: These companies have been cracking down (relatively) effectively on foreign extremism and terrorism now for years.
But tech companies haven't stamped out domestic extremism. That's partly because of political interests (read: Trump), but mainly because of War on Terror politics, the tangled nature of domestic extremism — it's easier to target a group called "ISIS" than a vague collection of ideologues — and even a plain lack of technological capability.
- Or maybe it's just this simple: "Nobody's going to have a hearing if a platform takes down 1,000 ISIS accounts," Nu Wexler told Issie. "But they might have a hearing if you take down 1,000 QAnon accounts."
In fact, progress on domestic extremism has been painfully slow. The first turning point for Facebook et al was the extremist violence during the 2017 Charlottesville rally, which was planned in public on Facebook.
- Facebook slowly started to take action, first banning a few hate groups, then expanding its definitions of violence and domestic extremism, then renaming its counterterrorism team to a "dangerous organizations" team.
- But not until after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot did the social platforms acknowledge their slow shift just was not enough. (Of course, the incoming Biden presidency helped, too). That's when companies started to realize that domestic extremism isn't just about organizations and structured ideologies: It's about a complex web of conspiracy theories, and understanding what might make someone choose to turn their beliefs into actions.
And there's a huge amount still to do. "This isn't over," Facebook's Brian Fishman told Issie. "This is going to be with us for a long time." To find out more about what that looks like, go read Issie's story.
How to Chamath
Nobody defines the current moment in tech — frothy markets, big personalities, cryptocurrencies, SPACs, fighting for a more responsible future — better than Chamath Palihapitiya. In the last 12 months, he's ascended to first-name-only status. He is simply Chamath.
The Wall Street Journal published a profile of Chamath over the weekend, and it's full of fun details:
- He already raised $3.7 billion for five SPACs, and has filed for seven more, the Journal reported. And that's not counting the group of biotech-related SPACs he's planning.
- He's also working on a big climate-change plan, and "approached potential investors about raising billions of dollars for a partnership with tech giants on climate efforts," per the Journal.
- There is no better hype man in the game right now. Because SPACs are mergers, there are fewer rules against talking up your own company, and oh boy does Chamath love talking up his companies. For the last year he's been a fixture on CNBC, but Twitch reportedly approached him about revealing his new deals on the streaming service instead.
The Journal's story makes Chamath out to be a brilliant marketer and pitchman, who has figured out how to both grow an audience (fitting, for the former head of growth at Facebook) and use that audience to make a fortune. But it also points to a few signs — the Clover Health fiasco chief among them — that fast talk can only get you so far.
In related news:Don't miss the story everyone was tweeting about this weekend, "How to become an intellectual in Silicon Valley."
The next big hack
The latest in a string of huge hacks just keeps getting bigger. The Hafnium attack affected somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 organizations, and as many as 250,000 individual users.
Quick catch-up: Last week, it became public that a Chinese cyber espionage group named Hafnium used a series of exploitable holes in Microsoft Exchange Server software to get complete access to devices and data from all those users.
- The hack appears to be quite recent, starting in January but mostly taking place in the last few days of February and first few days of March.
Microsoft has patched the holes — if you haven't, you need to update, like, now — but warned that updating might not be enough for organizations who are already infected. It built a scanning tool to help those companies find out.
- "Even if you patched the same day Microsoft published its patches, there's still a high chance there is a web shell on your server," Steven Adair, the CEO of Volexity, told Krebs on Security. (Volexity was the organization that first reported the issues to Microsoft.) "The truth is, if you're running Exchange and you haven't patched this yet, there's a very high chance that your organization is already compromised."
The hackers' motivations aren't clear yet. And there are plenty of questions about what the Chinese government would want with a huge trove of random employees' email. But the potential fallout is big enough that even the White House is talking about it pretty seriously.
- Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, "This is an active threat still developing and we urge network operators to take it very seriously." She said security officials were already trying to figure out how to respond.
JOIN US THIS WEEK
As more companies look to digitize their operations, developers are becoming even more central to the business. Join Protocol's Tom Krazit and Joe Williams in conversation with Google Cloud's Amit Zavery and Webee's Cecilia Flores. This event is presented by Intel.
People Are Talking
There's no such thing as an "internal startup" at a big tech company, Hunter Walk said:
- "You can work on experimental products in a mechanism that tries to counterbalance some of the gravitational pull and processes that a big company otherwise uses to manage itself, but it's not a startup. You will never be able to take the brand risks, the legal risks, or the partnerships risks that a startup can."
Caring about product isn't the same as caring about design, a former Amazon designer said:
- "Amazon will never be a design-led company. It's evident in the quality of the products they ship. And although the design is still thriving there, I don't believe it's fundamental to the core DNA of the company. Just because there's 'customer obsession' doesn't mean there's an investment in quality and design rigor."
- "For a few days in 2017 I chose coins I believed had value. One of them was Doge — now being touted years later by Elon Musk. The coin has increased well over 1000% since I chose it. Not a pump and dump."
Googlers are unionizing in part because they want to know more about what their work is actually being used for, Chewy Shaw said:
- "The biggest thing that concerned us was that people on [Project Dragonfly] had no idea they were on that project until the information about it got leaked. It was similar with Project Maven."
Incoming Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said the chip shortage isn't going away, and it's stressing him out:
- "If you asked me, 'what keeps me up at night?' right now [it] is this supply chain crisis we're having in the semiconductor industry."
Coming Up This Week
Roblox's direct listing is set for Wednesday. Keep an eye on this one both for clues about the gaming market and for a sense of how close investors think we are to a full-on metaverse.
Reporting earnings this week: Oracle, Asana and MongoDB.
In Other News
- On Protocol | Policy: Tim Wu's appointment to the National Economic Council has Big Tech rattled. His role as a leader in the progressive movement to break up Big Tech signals that tough regulation might be on the horizon.
- The new IPO perks: Pelotons and Snoop Dogg? Tech companies going public are having to find new ways to reward employees, The New York Times reported, and are landing on everything from celebrity Zoom cameos to exercise bikes.
- Google employees that complained about racism and sexism were told to seek mental health treatment, NBC News reported. One worker said going on medical leave in response to being treated badly is "normalized" at the company.
- Facebook is being investigated for "systemic" racial bias in its hiring by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Reuters reported. That could lead to a lawsuit against the company.
- India threatened to jail Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter employees, The Wall Street Journal reported, for not complying with takedown requests over political protests.
- Panasonic is buying Blue Yonder for $6.5 billion, Nikkei Asia reported. It will supposedly integrate the supply-chain management provider's tech with Panasonic's hardware.
- Tesla is getting into the power game. The company is quietly building battery storage of more than 100 megawatts just outside of Houston, Bloomberg reported, with aims to get onto the Texas power grid that failed so badly last month.
- Deliveroo announced plans for an IPO. Its revenue grew 54% last year. Coursera also filed for an IPO, while JD.com is reportedly considering pulling its fintech unit's listing.
- MacKenzie Scott has remarried, according to The Wall Street Journal. She's reportedly now married to Dan Jewett, a private school science teacher who Jeff Bezos said is "such a great guy."
One More Thing
Most valuable tweet ever?
By one definition, definitely: Jack Dorsey is selling an NFT version of his "just setting up my twttr" tweet from 2006, and the bidding is already at $2.5 million with plenty of time left on the clock. (The highest bidder appears to be Sina Estavi, the CEO of Bridge Oracle and the highest bidder on a number of other tweets too.) Is it worth more in the grand scheme of things than Elon Musk's "funding secured" tweet, or the one where he sent dogecoin to the moon? Probably not. But in the sense that all you're really buying is a screenshot, this one might be tough to top.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.