​Big Tech’s seat at COP27
Photo: Gehad Hamdy/picture alliance via Getty Images

​Big Tech’s seat at COP27

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Good morning! Yesterday was the start of COP27, where climate negotiators and corporate leaders meet to discuss how to reach net zero, among other climate challenges. And more than ever, Big Tech is playing a pivotal role in the discussions.

What tech wants from COP27

It’s once again climate conference season. Negotiators are descending on Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for international climate talks known as COP27, Protocol Climate editor Brian Kahn writes.

The hot topic at COP27 will be loss and damage, or a framework for rich countries to pay emerging ones for climate damages. It’s a highly complex and contentious topic.

  • The tech industry technically doesn’t have much of a say in given it’s basically a fight over money between countries that caused the climate crisis while getting rich and those suffering the effects.
  • But tech has a role to play in the shape of the discussion. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chairman and president, told Protocol that “we need to focus on the needs of the Global South.” That could mean deploying AI and other tools that can help mitigate crop losses when extreme weather hits, for example.

The tech industry sees itself as part of the international order. It’s impossible in many ways to disentangle business interests from nation-state interests at this point, but particularly when it comes to the climate because everyone has to live with the world’s choices.

  • “COP27 is taking place against a backdrop of intersecting crises in the global economy including economic uncertainty, an energy crisis in Europe, and climate change impacts globally, but we cannot slow our progress,” said Kate Brandt, chief sustainability officer at Google.
  • “This is why collaboration, implementation, and innovation will be essential over the next decade, and the discussions and outcomes over the next two weeks will be key in driving progress.”

Progress could take a number of different forms. So far, it’s taken the form of climate pledges that have yet to bend the emissions curve at the company and global levels.

  • Microsoft saw its emissions increase last year due to growth in Xbox use and its data center business despite its pledge to cut emissions and reach carbon negativity by the end of this decade. (Most countries haven’t done much better.)
  • The company has since laid out what policies it will advocate for that will, in theory, make it easier for the company and the world to start cutting emissions.

But there are deeper discussions to be had at COP27 and beyond about how the industry uses its power to shape the world. “The tech sector exists to see around the bend,” Jamie Beck Alexander, the director of Drawdown Labs, told Protocol. “Given this foresight, industry leaders know that we will all one day soon wake up and realize that we have to make impossibly hard changes in our economy on impossible time horizons.”

Read more: What the tech industry wants at COP27

The ‘Big Lie’ redux?

Some candidates have already started repeatingBig Lie” charges ahead of tomorrow’s midterms. And the social platforms that help them spread their message have prepared few measures to stop it, Protocol’s Ben Brody reports.

Companies haven’t updated their playbooks for the midterms. Many of the efforts from the likes of Twitter, Meta, YouTube, and others to protect 2022’s elections look a lot like the measures the platforms took in 2020.

Twitter could be making the problem worse, especially given Elon Musk gutting half the company’s staff. In terms of policy, Twitter actually goes a little further than some of its peers, limiting “misleading claims intended to undermine public confidence in an election.”

  • But the company had its hands full enforcing its rules even before the cuts.
  • One bright spot: plans to charge for verification are reportedly being delayed until after the midterms, according to The New York Times.

Meta seems to have mostly recycled its 2020 playbook, despite reports that suggested the company’s three platforms were particularly helpful in supercharging the original Big Lie — focused on Biden’s election — in the leadup to Jan. 6.

  • In laying out its plans for the midterms, Meta said it might append labels to “content discussing the integrity of the election.”
  • The company said users disliked the volume of labels it applied last time around, though, so it suggested any labeling that does occur will only happen on posts that reach a certain level of virality.

Other platforms’ approaches don’t inspire confidence, either. YouTube, for example, prohibits “false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches occurred in certain past elections to determine heads of government.”

  • But it doesn’t apply to claims about 2022, which is both current and a contest when the president isn’t on the ballot.

There's a real risk that some people will seek to overturn legitimate losses — or even that a few Democrats will sense an opening for bad behavior — by fostering doubts about whether the U.S. can still pull off real elections. The social networks seem mostly to be hoping they have the tools to tackle that. It’s not clear they do.

Read more: Trump allies are questioning U.S. democracy. Tech is letting them.

Real estate tech is feeling the pain

For tech companies that rely on the housing market, which has been hard hit by inflation and rising interest rates, it’s a tough road ahead, Protocol's Tomio Geron writes.

Real estate tech companies face a tough slog in the current environment. Until inflation and interest rates show some real signs of dropping, the companies face both the challenges of all high-growth tech companies whose stocks have been hit, as well as the effects of the real estate downturn. “They're doubly affected,” said Melody Brue, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

  • As tech companies, their natural move is to try to innovate their way out of this. But in a high-risk environment, some consumers may want to stick to traditional real estate services from humans, Brue said. Tech can cut costs, but it’s much harder to build trust.

Zillow is betting on becoming a super app. The home-prices site beat analysts’ estimates for the third quarter but its fourth-quarter outlook fell short. It also laid off 300 employees.

  • Zillow has finally finished selling off the homes that were part of its iBuyer experiment. It announced a painful exit from that business a year ago.
  • Zillow is now focused on building a “super app” that includes buying and selling services such as 3D tours for consumers.

Rocket’s mortgage operation is no longer soaring. Refis boosted Rocket last year: It processed more than double the volume of such loans than any other lender. But refinancings have cratered with soaring interest rates this year.

  • Rocket is focusing instead on new home loans and cash-outs. In the third quarter, Rocket’s mortgage loan origination was $25.6 billion, down 71% from $88.05 billion in the year-ago period.

And Opendoor faces an overhang. The iBuyer doesn’t just face a real estate downturn among consumers, it also has to take on the risk of buying and selling homes itself — the enduring challenge of its controversial model.

  • Opendoor sold more homes than expected in the third quarter, but margins were hit by the homes it bought before the downturn. Opendoor also said last week that it would lay off about 550 employees.

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People are talking

Jack Dorsey tweeted an apology for growing Twitter “too quickly”:

  • “Folks at Twitter past and present are strong and resilient. They will always find a way no matter how difficult the moment. I realize many are angry with me. I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation.”
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince is bullish about the company's future:
  • “We can get to $5 billion of revenue in the next five years with the products that are in-market today."
Startups are scooping up laid-off talent, Streamline AI co-founder Kathy Zhu told the WSJ:
  • “A few years ago, there was no way we could’ve attracted candidates like this."

Coming this week

Activision Blizzard reports earnings today.

Zoom’s hybrid two-day conference, Zoomtopia, starts tomorrow in San Jose.

EU antitrust regulators will decide by tomorrow whether to clear Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

The CIO’s Future of Cloud Summit happens tomorrow and will be virtual.

Microsoft is adding helicopters and gliders to Microsoft Flight Simulator on Friday.

The FNCS Invitational 2022, Epic Games’ Fortnite competition, runs Saturday and Sunday at the Raleigh Convention Center in North Carolina.

Making moves

Meta is planning to lay off thousands of employees, reports The Wall Street Journal. The cuts could be announced as soon as Wednesday, according to the newspaper.

Twitter is asking some laid off workers to return, according to Bloomberg. Apparently some were let go my mistake, and others have skills that may still be required by the company.

Chris McGugan is the new CEO of Televerde, a sales and marketing company. Most recently, he served as senior vice president and general manager of Oracle CX Service.

Lidar manufacturers Ouster and Velodyne are merging to create a company worth around $400 million.

In other news

What's happening at Twitter today? Well, Elon Musk apparently wants to ban non-parody impersonation on the social network. Semi-relatedly, Mastodon now has more than 1 million monthly active users monthly active users!

The former CEOs of MoviePass have been charged in a securities fraud case. Ted Farnsworth and Mitch Lowe are alleged to have falsely claimed that MoviePass' $9.95 plan "was tested, sustainable, and would be profitable or break even on subscription fees alone," according to the indictment.

Kai-Fu Lee wanted to spread knowledge about AI in China with the U.S. so both countries could succeed. Instead the world-renowned researcher and investor started a fierce rivalry.

Chinese chip designers are skirting export controls imposed by the U.S. by tweaking the designs of chips to make them slower.

Ebook site Z-Library had its domains seized by the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday. But the circumstances surrounding the shutdowns are still unclear.

Apple expects to ship fewer iPhones this quarter than aniticpiated due to production cuts in China at COVID-hit factories.

The Biden administration highlighted five areas where research today could have a major impact on cleaning up carbon pollution. The five areas are: building efficiency, the power grid, aviation, industrial processes, and fusion energy.

Binance helped Iranian firms exchange nearly $8 billion in crypto in 2018, despite sanctions intended to block the country from global financial systems at the time.

Getting Siri-ous

Are you tired of waking your phone with a friendly greeting whenever you want to set a reminder or know the weather? Apple might be doing something about that: Bloomberg reported that the company is working on dropping the “Hey” from “Hey Siri” for its voice commands, so the assistant will respond to just “Siri.” As simple as this sounds, the switch would actually require some major AI training and complex engineering work. Apple is also reportedly hoping to integrate Siri more into third-party apps and services.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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