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Can the clones beat Clubhouse?

Clubhouse

Good morning! This Tuesday, the competition is catching up with Clubhouse, Sen. Mark Warner talks to Protocol about reforming Section 230, and Zoom has a new plan to keep growing.

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The Big Story

Everybody's coming for Clubhouse

Exclusivity can be a growth hack in a startup's early days: Staying invite-only and iOS-only has given Clubhouse some shine, and surely made it easier to scale. But exclusivity becomes a problem when the competition starts to catch up. And Clubhouse may be about to feel that.

  • The Clubhouse-ification of the tech industry is happening fast. Twitter Spaces is launching widely in April. Telegram just announced Voice Chats 2.0, with basically the same set of features. Facebook is working on a Clubhouse-y feature. Spotify has been surveying users on their feelings about Clubhouse. Even Discord, which was arguably doing Clubhouse before Clubhouse was doing Clubhouse, is testing features to be more like Clubhouse.
  • In China, Tencent and Alibaba are both building audio chat into their platforms, and Bloomberg reported that Xiaomi is "toying with the concept" as well. VCs are apparently eager to throw money at anything that smells like Clubhouse.

There are no prizes for being first to the party. And at some point, Clubhouse is going to have to figure out how to get big fast, or risk being the hipster option in third place. (Ello and Peach, anyone?)

  • Clubhouse's Paul Davison said during a Town Hall on Sunday that an Android app is coming in the next few months, and that the company could drop the invite requirement soon as well. Both would be a big help for the company's growth efforts.
  • But growth has its own costs. One reason Clubhouse has moved slowly, Davison said, is to keep working on the discovery experience; it's easier to help people sort through 100 rooms than 100,000. And Clubhouse already has its share of privacy and moderation concerns.

Can Clubhouse build a sustainable social graph before social companies can build audio chat? That may be the many-billion-dollar question.

Regulation

Picking the right Section 230 fight

Anna Kramer writes: Now that the Biden administration has settled into the White House and Congress managed to pass a coronavirus relief bill, attention is turning to some of this year's proposals to reform the much-maligned protection for platforms and publishers. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum interviewed Sen. Mark Warner at a Protocol event yesterday to talk about his reform proposal, the SAFE Tech Act, which proposes fairly substantial reforms to the law.

  • While light on specifics, Warner frequently returned to the idea that the Section 230 proposals in his bill, the PACT Act (another, lighter-touch bill) and from other political leaders could all get pieced together into something that moves in tandem through Congress.
  • "I doubt if there is going to be a single piece of legislation that becomes the all-telling, all-defining 230 legislation, I think there may be component parts of a variety of bills," he said.

Warner refused to really address some common criticisms of his bill, such as the idea that increased legal liability could become a heavy burden for small businesses and nonprofits that don't have the same resources as larger tech companies.

  • Instead, he repeatedly returned to his position that big companies should not be allowed to avoid responsibility for illegal behaviors on their platforms, and that his bill would create that missing accountability.
  • "What I don't want is to have these giant providers continue to use Section 230 as this kind of immunity, 'get-out-of-jail-free' card, where we've seen repeated online abuse, financial fraud and scamming, done oftentimes by advertisers and paid content providers," he said.

The SAFE Tech Act's lack of specificity drew significant criticism from Daphne Keller, a director at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center, who spoke to Issie and Emily after Warner's talk.

  • "It tackles five or six different problems at once, and tackles each of them with maybe one sentence of legislative language. The problem with using very loose legislative language to go after these things, whatever the law tells platforms they should take down, their incentive is to go way beyond that and take down a big margin beyond what the law requires," she said.

Up next, Warner hopes his bill will get some bipartisan support in the coming weeks and months, and we may also see some movement to combine portions of Warner's bill with the PACT Act.

Video

Zoom always and everywhere

What do you do when you've become a world-beating, category-synonymous success as an app? You become infrastructure. You bake yourself so deeply into the rest of the ecosystem that you become essentially unkillable. That's where Zoom is headed.

Zoom has launched the Zoom Video SDK, which developers can use to put Zoom's basic features into pretty much any app. Zoom has done some white-label deals before — RingCentral is probably the best example — but now any developer that wants to use video can use Zoom.

  • Its examples are a good representation of where this space is headed. Zoom for multiplayer gaming! Zoom for personalized virtual shopping! Anywhere users might "Zoom and something," Zoom wants to do it all in one place.
  • This is in addition to Zoom's App Store — which I refuse to call Zapps, sorry — and the On Zoom platform that lets people run events through Zoom.

Two trends are colliding here. It's never been easier to build a half-decent video platform, thanks to WebRTC. But as the virtual, video-based economy booms, half-decent video is no longer good enough. Zoom is betting that companies will find it easier to pay for a great service than to try and build their own. (It's also betting that this can keep fueling growth and justifying astronomical stock prices when the pandemic is over.)

While Microsoft and Google try to rope more people into their products, Zoom is trying to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to be the iPhone of video, the Windows of video and the AWS of video, all at the same time. And would you bet against Zoom pulling it off?

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

A new study conducted by Amazon/Ipsos found that most Americans support raising the minimum wage. Results from the study, which involved interviews with more than 6,000 adults, revealed that two out of three support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Read more

People Are Talking

Alexis Ohanian's Seven Seven Six said the David Dobrik allegations are "extremely troubling" but that it will still work with Dispo:

  • "We have made the decision to donate any profits from our investment in Dispo to an organization working with survivors of sexual assault. We have believed in Dispo's mission since the beginning and will continue to support the hardworking team bringing it to life."

Employees might go back to the office, but not five days a week, Microsoft researchers found:

  • "Over 70% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65% are craving more in-person time with their teams. To prepare, 66% of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. The data is clear: extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace."

You know who likes the "Bitcoin is digital gold" narrative? Jerome Powell:

  • "They are also not particularly in use as a means of payment. It's more a speculative asset. It's essentially a substitute for gold, rather than for the dollar."

Françoise Brougher said she was fired as Pinterest COO in brutal, unexpected fashion:

  • "I never saw it coming. I was like the intern, fired in a 10-minute call."

On Protocol | Fintech: Tech companies have to continue to be there for the communities they claim to serve, Cheese's Ken Lian said:

  • "We want to be the first challenger bank for the Asian communities and immigrants. When we see violence against Asian communities and the small businesses that are immigrant-owned or Asian-owned, we see that we need to step up and provide more support to the community."

Making Moves

Microsoft's in talks to buy Discord, Bloomberg reported. The deal could value Discord at over $10 billion, but it's reportedly far from certain and Discord might choose to go public instead.

Lina Khan is officially President Biden's pick for FTC commissioner. Which means now is a good time to brush up on our profile of her work and the Amazon antitrust paper she published in 2017 that changed the game.

Uri Frank is Google's new VP of engineering for server chip design, joining from Intel.

Johnny Jiang is Superhuman's new head of marketing, joining from Peloton.

Box is reportedly exploring a sale, after Starboard has been unhappy with its growth.

Richard Stallman is back on the board of the Free Software Foundation, 18 months after he initially resigned following comments about Jeffrey Epstein.

Synnex and Tech Data are merging, in a $7.2 billion deal that will create a gigantic IT distributor.

Peloton's been snapping up tech companies, Bloomberg reported, acquiring voice assistant company Aiqudo, wearables maker Atlas and interactive workout mat company Otari.

In Other News

  • Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan was on a Microsoft advisory council until last year, new disclosures showed. Sullivan is currently dealing with the national security consequences of the recent Hafnium hack.
  • The NLRB found that Amazon illegally interrogated and threatened a worker, Motherboard reported. The NLRB reportedly issued a federal complaint against Amazon's actions toward the Queens warehouse organizer.
  • The Supreme Court declined to hear Facebook's appeal against a class action lawsuit. That means the $15 billion suit, which accuses Facebook of violating state and federal laws with its user tracking, can proceed as planned. Apple is also facing a class-action suit, which accuses it of knowing that the butterfly keyboards were defective.
  • WeWork lost $3.2 billion last year, down from $3.5 billion the year before, The Financial Times reported. The figures are included in documents the company is showing to potential investors, in a bid to raise $1 billion before going public at a $9 billion valuation via a SPAC.
  • Nearly 40 progressive groups formed the Ban Surveillance Advertising coalition, which wants to … ban surveillance advertising.
  • SoftBank, IBM and others called for a G7 Data and Technology Forum, which could recommend how tech is regulated globally. The G7 formed something similar for the finance industry in the aftermath of the 2008 crash.
  • TikTok doesn't exhibit "overtly malicious behavior" regarding data collection, University of Toronto researchers said. They said Douyin, the Chinese version of the app, has "features that raise privacy and security concerns" that TikTok lacks, but noted that the evidence is "inconclusive about whether TikTok employs political censorship of user posts."
  • Tencent has to make concessions for its Huya-DouYu merger, Reuters reported, in the latest sign of the country's antitrust crackdown.

One More Thing

MIND MGMT

NFT of the day

I bet it's been a while since you read the great sci-fi comic "MIND MGMT," but if you've been hankering for a new issue, you're in luck. Sort of. There's a new story out now, but it's being sold as a single-copy NFT, and the buyer gets to decide what to do with it. They can share it, print it, delete it, keep it for themselves Martin-Shkreli-Wu-Tang-style, or whatever they want. Personally, I vote you buy it and share it. With me. Please and thank you.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

A new study conducted by Amazon/Ipsos found that most Americans support raising the minimum wage. Results from the study, which involved interviews with more than 6,000 adults, revealed that two out of three support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Read more

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: This story misstated Lina Khan's agency of nomination. The story was updated on March 23, 2021.

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