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Elon Musk, king of the internet

Image: Daniel Oberhaus (2018) / Protocol
Elon Musk

Good morning! This Tuesday, Elon Musk runs the internet, NDAs are under scrutiny, Salesforce has diversity troubles, Clubhouse is banned in China, and we found your new laptop.

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The Big Story

Elon can't lose

Elon Musk controls the universe. Or at least, the part that's online. This is not a conspiracy theory, it's just a fact. He tweeted about liking Etsy and its price spiked. He spurred the GameStop rally with a single "Gamestonk!!" He made Darude's "Sandstorm" a hit two decades after its release. And he helped raise the price of a Dogecoin from 0.007 cents as of Jan. 27 to 8.1 cents yesterday (that's a roughly 115,000% increase) with a series of increasingly meme-heavy tweets about the cryptocurrency.

Quick Dogecoin refresher, because I've gotten some questions: Dogecoin is a cryptocurrency originally designed as a satire.

  • Other than the silly name and logo, it's different from Bitcoin and others in a couple of ways: There's a theoretically infinite supply, and it initially rewarded miners randomly with anywhere from one to thousands of Dogecoin. (Though the rewards are now of fixed value.)
  • On one level, outside of the silly name and logo, it's not necessarily that much more outlandish an idea than Bitcoin. Though even Musk still seems to think it's mostly a joke. "Arguably the most entertaining outcome, the most ironic outcome would be that Dogecoin becomes the currency of Earth of the future," he said on Clubhouse last week.

But the crypto on Musk's radar yesterday was Bitcoin. Musk is also a longtime Bitcoin bull, and he's now putting his money where his tweets are: On Monday, Tesla announced that it bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin in January, and wrote in a 10-K filing that it may now purchase or hold digital assets "from time to time or long-term." The company also wrote that it expects "to begin accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment" for its products.

  • Tesla also filed a substantial list of risks that come with the investment, from "highly volatile" prices to fears of regulation and cybersecurity breaches.
  • But we live in Elon World, and that risky investment immediately became a good one: Bitcoin's price immediately hit its record level and then kept soaring, peaking around 20% higher than its January high, and adding at least $300 million to the value of the Bitcoin held by Tesla.
  • Dogecoin was up just shy of 15% yesterday, too, because a Musk vote on any crypto is apparently a Musk vote on all crypto.
  • There's now some speculation that other companies might start buying into crypto as well, which would give Bitcoin even more credibility, and drive up the price even more. Analysts are already pushing for Apple to do so, though not everybody is convinced.

We've never seen a CEO like Musk, with this combination of market-moving power and willingness to use it for fun and profit. Benedict Evans called Musk "a bullshitter who delivers," which is as good a description as I can think of. Is he the new model for a modern major tech CEO? Who knows. But I bet there's a generation of them about to try to emulate the strategy.

Work

Taking down the NDA

NDAs have loomed over tech employees for decades. In recent years, tech employees have begun to break them to tell the truth about what goes on in the industry, and California could soon make that much easier.

A new bill introduced in California yesterday called the Silenced No More Act would protect workers who speak publicly about any form of workplace abuse that qualifies as discrimination, regardless of whether they'd signed an NDA. That could dramatically shift the balance of power in the industry. But in what way? That's hard to know; it's under an NDA.

  • The bill's creators suspect a lot of people want to speak up. Ifeoma Ozoma, an ex-Pinterest employee who alleged racist and sexist discrimination by the company, helped design the bill based on her experience. She was able to safely accuse Pinterest of sex-based discrimination because of CCP 1001, a California law passed after the birth of the #MeToo movement that protects against those allegations specifically.
  • But her accusations of racism are still not protected, and neither is any other allegation not based on sex. "If Pinterest decides to sue me, they'd have to state affirmatively that the discrimination I faced was not because of my sex — it was because of my race," Ozoma told Protocol's Emily Birnbaum. The new bill would expand the CCP 1001 protections to all forms of discrimination.
  • California State Senator Connie Leyva, the bill's sponsor (and previous sponsor of CCP 1001), told Protocol that while the law would apply to all companies, the tech industry would be obviously affected. "Recently we've heard about Silicon Valley and some of the real, disparaging issues that are happening," she said. "I think sometimes people misguidedly think the tech industry is so great and wonderful but these things happen there too, sometimes even more so."
  • Leyva told Emily the bill should pass because it has plenty of support from the same legislators who voted for the 2018 #MeToo law.

For years, activists have said that NDA rules need to change and forced arbitration clauses need to end. Regardless of whether the bill passes in California this year, Ozoma and other leading industry activists say they're focused on federal reforms in the long run.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Cynthia Perry left Salesforce amid what she called consistent discriminatory behavior:

  • "I have been gaslit, manipulated, bullied, neglected, and mostly unsupported … the entire time I've been here."

Masa Son and Jack Ma have an interesting way of keeping in touch, Son said:

  • "Thirty minutes or so, before I go to bed, I draw some drawings ...[and] show him."

Adobe's Shantanu Narayen keeps in touch with his whole company via email:

  • "People know, at Adobe, anyone who sends me an email will get a response from me."

Community standards matter more than top-down ones, Reddit's Steve Huffman said:

  • "When it's written by your peers in the context of a community, it's really powerful. Think of it as the difference between your parents saying, 'Be nice,' and your friends saying, 'Be nice.' The latter carries a lot of weight."

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

One thing we have realized is that COVID-19 has accelerated three transformational trends that already existed before the pandemic, but are now dramatically reshaping healthcare: the concept of a networked healthcare system, the increasing adoption of telehealth, and the idea of virtual care and guidance. At the same time, we have seen consumers becoming much more engaged in their personal health and that of their families.

Read more

Making Moves

Brad Flora is a new group partner at Y Combinator. Janelle Tam is also the firm's new Series A program director, Alex Petersen is its senior legal counsel, Ryan Choi is the director of the Work at a Startup program, and Nic Dardenne and Matt Bogrand are principals at YC Continuity.

Dan Riccio is now working on AR and VR projects at Apple, Bloomberg reported, having stepped down as head of hardware engineering.

Nagraj Kashyap is the new managing partner of SoftBank's Vision Fund, joining from Microsoft's M12 venture fund.

The Rust Foundation is now in operation, governing the most beloved programming language of software developers. Ashley Williams is the interim executive director.

Reddit raised $250 million in a new round that doubles its valuation to $6 billion.

Helbiz, the scooter and bike company, is going public via a SPAC. It's also getting into ghost kitchens, because that gave it 2020 startup bingo.

DoorDash bought Chowbotics, a company building automated food prep tech. I see your ghost kitchens and I raise you robot kitchens!

WordPress bought Parse.ly, the popular analytics tool.

EA bought Glu Mobile for $2.4 billion, which gives it a huge leg up in the mobile gaming race.

In Other News

  • The Justice Department is no longer challenging California's net-neutrality law. Acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel praised the DOJ's decision.
  • The EU might force Big Tech to pay for news. The Financial Times reported that European lawmakers are considering similar proposals to Australia's, which have angered Google and Facebook.
  • Facebook announced new policies on anti-vax content. It will remove posts claiming that vaccines cause autism, among other posts. Some have criticized the new policy's wording for banning legitimate news discussion.
  • Twitter might launch a paid subscription. Bloomberg reported that it's considering charging users for premium content from people they follow, access to TweetDeck, and potentially an "undo send" button.
  • On Protocol | China: China blocked Clubhouse. Users are now hurriedly exchanging alternative contact info while they can, and many fear repercussions for having used the app.
  • Mark Cuban is reportedly launching Fireside, a podcast app that allows monetized live conversations.
  • Congress is investigating whether Parler has ties to Russian entities. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform requested information from Parler COO Jeffrey Wernick.
  • GM's China venture accused Tencent of abusing its market position. It filed an anti-monopoly complaint alongside tech supplier Pateo, arguing Tencent used WeChat's dominant position to restrict sales of their products.
  • LCY Chemical plans to build a semiconductor chemical plant in Arizona. The TSMC and Intel supplier said it's responding to American desires to localize the chip supply chain.
  • Hackers tried to poison a Florida city's water supply. Officials said hackers gained access to Oldsmar's water treatment system, seemingly using TeamViewer, and tried to increase the water's sodium hydroxide levels. Fortunately, someone immediately noticed the change and fixed it.

One More Thing

We're doing seven screens now

I bet you thought your remote setup was good enough by now. Well, you're wrong. Because you don't have the new Expanscape Aurora 7, which has an Intel i9, tons of RAM, built-in GPU, and oh yeah, seven freaking screens. Sure, it weighs about 26 pounds and only gets an hour of battery life, but who cares? Where are you going? Seven screens!

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.

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