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Every tech fight is public now


Good morning! I'm back from three days without cell service or screens, which I highly recommend doing occasionally. This Monday, why all of tech's big fights are suddenly in public, how Mark Zuckerberg influenced China policy, and how to roll the dice for your passwords.

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The Big Story

Nice dirty laundry you have there, Tim Cook

A group of WeChat users is suing the U.S. government, saying Trump's ban on the app is unconstitutional. TikTok is planning to sue the U.S. government, saying the same thing. Apple and Epic continue to duke out their App Store issues one court filing at a time.

  • For an industry so accustomed to backroom deals, sliding into each others' DMs and hashing out billion-dollar acquisitions over sushi at the St. Regis, this is a very different look.

Actually, let's catch up on the Apple-Epic stuff, because a lot happened over the weekend.

  • On Friday, Apple filed a sweeping response to Epic's whole argument, saying that "the 'emergency' is entirely of Epic's own making" and only happened because Epic "no longer wanted to play by Apple's long-standing rules."
  • Epic filed a brief yesterday saying, OK whatever, Apple: You're still coming after our entire existence and, by threatening to cut off the Unreal Engine, actually threatening the entire gaming industry.
  • Microsoft, not typically the first company to take aggressive stands on hot-button issues, filed a statement of support for Epic. In it, Microsoft's Kevin Gammill says: "Even uncertainty about the Unreal Engine's ability to continue supporting iOS and macOS will make it less likely for Microsoft (and, I believe, other game creators) to select Unreal Engine for their projects."

These are the sorts of fights Apple has from time to time — the company's been dealing with disgruntled developers since time immemorial — but hates to have in public. Apple doesn't like issuing statements, doesn't like talking to reporters on the record, doesn't even tweet publicly. Now it's being forced to engage.

A fight in the court of public opinion is clearly what Epic and others want, because that's seemingly the only place it has leverage against Apple. And between all these legal fights and the steady drumbeat of hearings involving Big Tech CEOs, more of tech's internal monologue is being publicly broadcast than ever before.

  • Meanwhile, we're about to get some seriously important legal precedent for tech issues. In addition to all the China ban stuff, the White House wants the Supreme Court to decide whether blocking someone on Twitter counts as a First Amendment violation.

This isn't a fad, by the way. This is the new normal. Tech is big enough, sprawling enough, and important enough that its issues are inevitably going to play out much more publicly from now on. If you've been hoping your company could just hole up and ride out the chaos, you're going to need a new plan.


Zuck's long game on China

Remember the dinner Mark Zuckerberg and President Trump had last fall? Turns out, one of the topics of conversation was a little app called TikTok. The Wall Street Journal reported that Zuckerberg was in Washington on something of an offensive against TikTok, and also spoke with several senators about the subject.

  • If you're surprised by that, you haven't been paying attention. On that same DC trip, at a speech to a bunch of Georgetown students, Zuckeberg made an anti-China-tech statement that was clearly influential.
  • "While our services like WhatsApp are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections," he said, "on TikTok … mentions of these protests are censored, even in the U.S."
  • Facebook, by the way, disputes the WSJ story. "Mark has never advocated for a ban on TikTok," the company said, though it acknowledged that he has talked about Chinese tech a lot.

All this zeal surely stems partly from the threat of TikTok to Facebook. And it's a bit of a departure for Zuckerberg: For someone whose products are blocked in China, and who now takes great moral offense at the country's policies, he's spent a lot of time working with the country.

  • Remember in 2010, when Zuckerberg's annual goal was to learn Mandarin? Over the years, he has also been to China a few times, met with a number of tech leaders there, and even endorsed Xi Jinping's book.
  • As recently as 2018, the running assumption was that Facebook was still going to try and operate in China.

Rereading the transcript of Zuckerberg's Georgetown speech, there's a lot of the current White House playbook in there. American internet supremacy; free expression; framing the whole thing as a question of safety and freedom. But I guess even Zuckerberg didn't expect things would go this far.


It's time to go public

This could be a busy week for companies planning to go public. Bloomberg reported that Unity, Asana and Snowflake could all be revealing their plans and financials this week, ahead of public debuts in September. Luminar, too.

And why wouldn't you go public right now? The S&P 500 is at a record high, tech companies are routinely popping on their first day of trading — annoying Bill Gurley in the process — and enough people are saying this can't last that it must feel like now's the time.

  • Bloomberg found that 18 software companies have gone public this year, and have seen their stocks rise an average of 91%. It's been a good year for IPOs of all shapes and sizes, but particularly in software.

Of the three companies in Bloomberg's report, Snowflake's likely to be the largest IPO. But I'm most interested in Unity, which could be going public right as its greatest competitor, Epic, is fighting an existential battle with the richest company in the world.

  • In every case, though, there's going to be a lot of fun S-1 reading to do! I, for one, am very excited to finally learn … anything at all about Palantir.

Join us Wednesday


Join us Wednesday at noon ET for the second event in our National Political Conventions series 'Building the Future'. This event series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

RSVP here.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Want to hire a better, more diverse team? Use data, EQT Ventures' Zoe Jervier Hewitt said:

  • "I always get founders to talk about what the objective is: If this person was doing their job really well, what would happen? And then let's reverse engineer that and say, what track record do they need to have, and what skills would they need to have to be able to do that?"

Facebook CMO Antonio Lucio is leaving Facebook to focus on diversity and inclusion, which feels like a bit of a backhanded burn:

  • "Specifically, I want to devote the next, and probably final, chapter of my professional life to help companies and agencies in the marketing and advertising industries accelerate their transformation."

Speaking of quitting jobs, Jeff Wilke is leaving Amazon next year, and his reason is much simpler:

  • "It's just time."

There's no perfect advice for founders, but "stay in control" is a good place to start, Aaron Levie said:

  • "I would highly recommend to any company of any size that you have as much control of your destiny as possible."

Coming Up This Week

Protocol's next Building the Future event is on Wednesday, looking into how we can use tech to get people back to work and get the economy back on track.

Y Combinator's virtual Demo Day runs today and tomorrow, and as Biz Carson wrote it's been an interesting time for the accelerator.

Kafka Summit 2020 also starts today, with all the data-streaming talks and info you could ever want.

Box, Salesforce, HP and VMware all report earnings this week.

In Other News

  • Your remote-work data flows need a rethink. Twitter hacks might be the most prominent example, but every company — tech or otherwise — needs to figure out how to handle, safeguard and keep tabs on important documents and information while everyone's working at home. And it's not easy.
  • Don't miss this story about the underworld of Roku private channels, from The Daily Beast. You might use your Roku for Hulu and Netflix, but the platform also hosts the same kinds of misinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories you'd find anywhere else.
  • Ever wondered what corporate culture's like inside the Pentagon? It couldn't be more different from tech. No laptops in meetings, no Wi-Fi, no email unless you're physically in your office. It sounds like something out of a black-and-white movie! It also sounds like … Washington.
  • On Protocol: One way to increase diversity? Embrace open source. That's what an industry group for Hollywood's VFX artists thinks, at least, arguing that open-source contributions can be an alternative to traditional hiring benchmarks.
  • The Trump campaign had Apple reset its App Store rating, after TikTok users trolled the official app with bad reviews. So they'll troll it again, right?
  • People just won't stop paying ransomware attackers: The University of Utah paid almost $500,000 to keep its data safe, which was partly covered by its insurance provider. Seems like a great time to remind yourself of this ProPublica article, which claims insurance companies' behavior encourages more attacks ... driving up demand for insurance.
  • Jio's got competition. Tata, India's other gigantic conglomerate, is launching a "super app" to bundle ecommerce, financial services, health care and a whole lot more.
  • Here's a name you should know: Zeynep Tufekci. As The New York Times points out, she's made a long-term habit out of being right about really important things, in tech and elsewhere. She's also very good at Twitter.

One More Thing

The most fun you've ever had making passwords

It looks like a Boggle board, and has enough dice to make a dungeon master jealous. But DiceKeys is no game: It's a simple system for creating a super-secure key. Created by a Berkeley computer scientist named Stuart Schechter, it becomes the basis for all the passwords, encryption keys and everything else in your life. And best of all? If you forget it, just go check the board. It's much harder to lose than a piece of paper or a flash drive.

Join us Wednesday


Join us Wednesday at noon ET for the second event in our National Political Conventions series 'Building the Future'. This event series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

RSVP here.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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