Photo: Oswaldo Martinez/Unsplash
September 9, 2021
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Good morning! This Thursday, El Salvador's bitcoin experiment is having a rough week, Joe Biden bumps up his solar energy goal (a lot), Brian Armstrong has some questions for the SEC, and Twitter's new Communities feature sounds really familiar.
But first, a note about something new and exciting from our executive editor, Tim Grieve.
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Protocol Power Index
Ranking the most powerful companies in tech
We launched something this week that we're really excited to share with you: the Protocol Power Index.
A lot of media lists and rankings are just somebody's opinions about things, ranked numerically for a patina of precision. Others are based on something, but it's often just one thing — maybe annual revenues or market cap. Fine as a snapshot, but hardly a holistic view. And even those that do use multiple criteria tend to focus on such a broad swath of companies that it's hard to compare genuine rivals.
We thought we could do better. And the result is the Protocol Power Index, an ongoing project to assess the power of companies across the tech industry by digging deep into all of the factors that make a company powerful (or not).
All told, our analysis combines 30 data points for each company we rank. You can read more about our methodology here. But in short, we research and weight the data to give you a detailed and nuanced view of the most powerful companies in tech — and the companies best positioned to challenge them. And we're focused on the workhorses of tech, not just the big household names, to reveal where power is concentrated in critical sub-segments of enterprise, fintech and other burgeoning fields of tech.
Up first are observability, databases and robotic process automation. Next month, we'll switch to fintech and study payments infrastructure and consumer trading platforms. We'll continue adding a new segment every month to build out a bigger picture of power across the whole of enterprise and fintech. And we'll update our rankings as the data changes.
We're excited to share the Protocol Power Index with you, and we hope you'll share your feedback with us. We'd love to hear your ideas, too, as we build out a tool for making sense of some of the world's most important companies.
— Tim Grieve, Executive Editor
The Big Story
Well, that didn't work
El Salvador's brave new bitcoin world fell flat.
The country's move to make bitcoin legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar took effect Tuesday, but was met with a crash in bitcoin prices and headaches with its new digital wallet as businesses and consumers grappled with difficulty in actually using the country's new currency.
El Salvador is the first country to make bitcoin legal tender. The plan was passed through the country's legislature in a matter of hours and implemented in about 90 days.
- The country has outsourced its bitcoin plan to at least five private companies, with others like OpenNode (which McDonald's is reportedly using for bitcoin payments) also getting in on the action.
- There are some potential upsides of the country's move to bitcoin, such as lower costs for remittances, which are estimated to be one-quarter of the country's GDP.
But there's no playbook for how to do this, and it showed in the rollout as the nation faced up to an array of technical and financial landmines.
- There doesn't seem to be a central organization offering technical support or education. What about individuals who don't have a mobile phone, or can't access a bitcoin ATM, which seems to be the main plan to access physical cash? What if businesses need something more sophisticated than a consumer-oriented wallet app to receive payments?
- There were some Chivo kiosks set up at plazas across the country, but they weren't very active, The Wall Street Journal reported. (Chivo is El Salvador's digital wallet, designed to be the central financial app for the entire country.)
- At times, President Nayib Bukele himself offered technical support on Twitter.
- All of this was hammered home as steep drops in bitcoin's price this week highlighted the cryptocurrency's volatility, and protests erupted from citizens who opposed the move to bitcoin.
Volatility will continue to be a headache. The answer to that, some people say, is stablecoins. El Salvador has vague plans to introduce its own stablecoin, a digital version of the colon, its pre-dollarization currency. But that's just an idea at this point, and bitcoin, with its gyrating price, is what the country has for now.
- If the price of bitcoin falls, businesses will have to hike their prices. If it rises, then consumers lose buying power. El Salvador's government seems to recognize the problem: It's still paying public workers' salaries in dollars.
- The IMF, with which El Salvador is negotiating a debt package, believes the bitcoin plan will cause "macroeconomic instability." It could hurt financial trust in the system, given crypto's connections with illegal activity, the multinational agency said.
- There's also the potential use of the system for money laundering or other criminal activity, given how quickly the system was set up. Protesters pointed this out, saying bitcoin would attract money laundering.
There's an argument that these are all just technological teething pains, a beta test conducted in public. And the dip in bitcoin could just be a "typical" sell-on-the-news reaction, according to Ulrik K. Lykke, executive director at crypto hedge fund ARK36. But it's clear that remaking an economy in real time around cryptocurrency is easier said than done.
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.
A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB
Singapore is fast becoming a global hotbed of tech innovation. It's easy to see why. Nearly 80 of the world's top 100 tech firms have set up outposts there, including Google, Facebook, Stripe, Salesforce and homegrown unicorns like the super-app Grab.
People Are Talking
Elizabeth Holmes failed Theranos, but that's not fraud, her attorney, Lance Wade, said during opening remarks:
- "Failure is not a crime. Trying your hardest and coming up short is not a crime."
- "Look … we're committed to following the law. Sometimes the law is unclear. So if the SEC wants to publish guidance, we are also happy to follow that."
Amazon doesn't think Elon Musk is playing by the government's rules:
- "If the FCC regulated hypocrisy, SpaceX would be keeping the commission very busy."
Elizabeth Warren wants Andy Jassy to explain why Amazon's algorithms point customers to COVID-19 misinformation:
- "This pattern and practice of misbehavior suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products."
Michael Donlan is Mosyle's first COO. He last served as the head of the U.S. public sector at Apple and worked at Microsoft before that.
Tom Conrad is the next CEO of Big Sky Health. He's been an exec at Pandora, Snap and Quibi.
Tina Dobie joined Calendly as chief customer officer. She's previously held leadership roles at WP Engine and Bazaarvoice.
Stephen Elop is Digital.ai's next CEO. Once the CEO of Nokia, Elop has also served as an exec at Microsoft, Telstra and Adobe Systems.
On Protocol | Enterprise: Box's Aaron Levie faces a big vote of confidence today that will decide whether he keeps control of the company.
In Other News
- Catch up on all things Theranos trial, which started yesterday in San Jose. Dozens of people lined up around the courthouse before the trial started, including women dressed in Holmes' signature style as CEO.
- Brazil made some kinds of content moderation illegal. President Jair Bolsonaro's new policy requires a court order for platforms to remove certain kinds of disinformation.
- Meeting President Biden's solar energy goal will take a lot of work, but most climate scientists say it's necessary. The target will require trillions of dollars in investment and much more buy-in from companies, homeowners and the government.
- Twitter has a new feature called Communities. It's kind of like Facebook Groups: Users can join a "community" of people who share specific interests, and people can send tweets directly to other members of that group.
- Go to Whole Foods, but leave your wallet at home. Amazon is bringing its automated checkout tool, called Just Walk Out, to two Whole Foods stores beginning next year.
- Media companies in Australia are liable for comments left on their Facebook pages, the country's court ruled. The decision takes a different approach from the U.S. and others, where individuals are usually the ones liable for defamatory statements.
- Google settled a lawsuit with a software engineer who said he was fired over workplace activism. The NLRB is still working on other allegations against Google, including claims that employees were fired for protesting against the company.
- TikTok can drive minors down a rabbit hole of content about sex and drugs, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The issue goes back to the platform's algorithm, which learns users' interests based on how long they linger on a video.
One More Thing
A closer look at the SolarWinds hack
It's been a while since the SolarWinds hack, but unfortunately it's still very relevant. Microsoft's Brad Smith gets into the details of what happened, including lessons learned from the breach, in an updated version of his book "Tools and Weapons."
Smith writes about the meetings that took place and the people involved in responding to what turned out to be the biggest hack against the U.S. government in years, and offers recommendations on how to prevent future attacks. It's not a quick read at more than 400 pages, but it's definitely worth a look if you want to learn more about what happened.
A MESSAGE FROM SINGAPORE EDB
Business leaders say they choose Singapore for its modern tech infrastructure, strong government support, robust pipeline of talent and pro-business regulations (the World Bank ranks it No. 2 in the world for ease of doing business). Plus, its location in the heart of Southeast Asia serves as a launchpad into the bustling Asian-Pacific market.
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