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Stewart Butterfield is scared

Image: WEF / Protocol
Facebook WW bots

Good morning! This Thursday, Slack's mad at Microsoft, Tesla's moving to Texas, and Facebook built a bad bot army.

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The Big Story

Microsoft Teams is scary now

Stewart Butterfield's stance toward Microsoft Teams is … confusing. He's spent the last several years as CEO of Slack basically blowing Teams off, and now his company is filing an antitrust complaint? Actually, you know what, let's run the timeline. It's fun:

  • 2016: Teams launches, and Slack takes out a full-page New York Times ad saying "welcome, Microsoft, to the revolution." That letter, I'm sure, has been framed somewhere in Microsoft's offices as motivation.
  • 2017: Butterfield admits he's maybe a little worried about Teams. "They're the third largest company in the world and if they start channeling all their resources against you, that's a lot to compete with."
  • 2019: Butterfield says actually he's not worried about Teams, precisely because it's bundled with Office 365. "If it's based on the bigger distribution, I don't think that's really a threat."
  • Also 2019: In fact, Butterfield says, maybe "they view us as an existential threat" instead.
  • May 1, 2020: Butterfield says "Teams is not a competitor to Slack."

There are many more, but you get the idea. At some point, you realize that the guy yelling "I'm not scared, I'm not scared, I'm not scared" might actually be a little scared.

  • See, for instance, Butterfield on May 26, 2020: "Microsoft is perhaps unhealthily preoccupied with killing us, and Teams is the vehicle to do that."

Thing is, Stewart, you're right to be scared. As Protocol's Tom Krazit writes: "Usage of Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed over the last six months, thanks in large part to the abrupt shift to working from home brought on by the pandemic. Slack has also grown during this period, but as of April, Microsoft said 75 million people are using Teams every day, while Slack counted 13 million 'daily concurrent users' as recently as March." Microsoft also just had a really good quarter, including for Office 365.

  • The crux of Slack's issue now, Butterfield said Wednesday, is this: "Teams is given away for free, bundled with O365. Skype for Business users are being force-migrated. It's impossible to avoid, turned on by default. Pre-installed (and if you delete it, automatically reinstalled). Priced at zero + 'anything goes' to get distribution = 🚫"
  • Slack wants the EU to force Microsoft to separate Teams from the rest of Office 365, and to charge a price for it. It's also picking a fight over Microsoft's supposed unwillingness to work with third parties.

This is classic tech antitrust stuff. If you have a very popular product, what obligations do you have to the rest of the market? That's a question coming for Apple and the iPhone, Google and search, Amazon and shopping, and indeed Microsoft and Office. The only difference is that Microsoft's not the dominant force it once was — but it's far bigger than people often seem to think.

  • Also, I can only assume that whichever Google employee is responsible for constantly enlarging the USE GOOGLE MEET button is a little sweaty at imagining Zoom executives reading Slack's complaint. But more on that another day.

Offices

Austin real estate prices go brr

Tesla, in the midst of a banner earnings report that made Elon Musk even more hilariously rich, announced the home for its next Gigafactory: a 2,000-acre spot 15 minutes from downtown Austin.

  • Here's how Musk described it: "We're going to make it a factory that is going to be stunning. It's right on the Colorado River. So we're actually going to have to have a boardwalk over you, hiking, biking trail. It's going to basically be an ecological paradise."
  • Tesla appears to be getting many millions in tax breaks from Travis County in exchange for the Gigafactory. It's planning to hire up to 5,000 workers, and invest at least $1 billion in the factory, though Tesla has an imperfect record on following through.

Tesla is actually a little behind the curve here, having picked the place you would have probably named first if I asked you to pick the cool new city for tech people, like, I don't know, a decade ago.

  • Austin is now a mainstay on the list of cities that people move to after they leave the traditional tech hubs, which has been made much easier by the increasing work-anywhere movement.
  • Amazon still plans to hire 800 people in the city as part of its HQ2 plan; Apple is currently building a new campus there to house 5,000 employees, in addition to the 7,000 workers it already employs in the city.
  • But the city is also hitting a tough moment, as the pandemic threatens its growth. Long story short: In Austin Tesla's going to encounter a big group of potential employees, a skyrocketing real estate scene, and also some economic uncertainty.

Point is, if you're planning to open an office in Austin, do it yesterday. And if you're looking for the next cool tech city, look somewhere else. I hear Tulsa's looking for an anchor tenant … though you'll have to figure out what to do with that huge statue.

Simulations

Bots behaving badly

Shakeel Hashim writes: Imagine a Facebook full of bots, many of which are explicitly told to behave badly. Sounds like normal a living nightmare, right? Well, Facebook actually made it — and it hopes that it can make the real Facebook less of a nightmare.

It's called WW (adorably pronounced dub-dub), a nod towards the simulation being a smaller version of the World Wide Web. It uses a new technology developed by Facebook researchers called Web-Enabled Simulation, or WES, which allows simulations to be run on top of Facebook's actual infrastructure.

  • Facebook's using the bots to simulate "harmful behavior," like scamming and weapons purchasing. It can then test ways of stopping that behavior in the simulation, with the hopes of rolling those mechanisms out to make the site safer.
  • Prof. Mark Harman, who worked on the study, wouldn't go into too much detail on what the system is being used for, out of fears that would help bad actors get ahead of the company. But he said that three or four different applications are in the works, with some set to be in production within a year.

The bots are trained on real Facebook user data, and they're rewarded for bad behavior. (Much like real Facebook users!) Harman said that means they "can do things that we haven't seen before" — which is part of the point of it all. If the bots adapt and do something real-world criminals haven't attempted yet, Facebook can block that from happening in real life before it's even been tried. Now we've just got to hope the criminals don't build an AI that predicts what Zuckerberg's up to next.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIXPARTNERS

AlixPartners

Join us: Protocol's transformation editor Mike Murphy will lead a discussion on how businesses have long "gone digital" even if they didn't start that way. We are joined by New Balance CEO Joe Preston, WW CEO Mindy Grossman, and Honeywell Chief Digital Technology Officer Sheila Jordan. This event is presented by AlixPartners.

RSVP today.

People Are Talking

Jim Jordan wants another CEO in the chair at next week's antitrust hearing:

  • "We believe that the hearing would be incomplete without an examination of the practices and conduct of Twitter. Accordingly, pursuant to House rules and on behalf of Republicans, I write to notify you that we are calling Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to testify at this hearing and we expect that you will transmit an invitation to him promptly."

On Protocol: The no-code movement is going to be huge for health care, Intermountain Healthcare CIO Ryan Smith said:

  • "Instead of having a whole bunch of data analysts that have to be in the middle of every business intelligence and data reporting and analytic request, increasingly we can get curated data models, systems and tools, especially visualization tools, in a self-service way."

Former Amazon exec Tim Bray said his criticism of the company hardly makes him an outlier:

  • "I am not in some radical fringe because I think the wealth and power in the 21st century is overly concentrated. The tech industry is a leading candidate for what could be broken up."

Making Moves

Michelle Grover is Twilio's first-ever CIO. She comes from SAP Concur, where she was SVP of software development.

GoldieBlox announced a number of new leadership roles, including Melissa Schneider as CCO, Ferrell McDonald as CMO, and Peter Pergola as operating partner. The company's planning for "significant growth" in the next few years,

In Other News

  • Nvidia is interested in buying Arm, according to Bloomberg. The company is said to have approached SoftBank, which has been reported to be considering a partial or full sale of the chip designer. Bloomberg also said that SoftBank asked Apple if it wanted to buy Arm, but was rebuffed.
  • On Protocol: Apple defended its App Store tax ahead of next week's antitrust hearing, arguing that its 30% App Store commission is industry standard (though, err, Apple's the one that set that standard). Meanwhile, Italy launched an antitrust investigation, examining potential collusion between Apple and Amazon over the sale of Beats products.
  • New York passed a bill banning facial recognition in schools. If signed by Gov. Cuomo, it would be the first legislation of its kind in the U.S.
  • France has effectively banned Huawei from providing hardware for its telecom networks, according to Reuters. The government will reportedly not renew licences for the company's 5G equipment, meaning it will be forced out by 2028.
  • Amazon held its big Alexa event yesterday, touting new features that let the assistant integrate better with apps and devices. It's also rolling out its conversations ability, so if lockdown gets too much you can just start chatting with your vacuum cleaner.
  • General Atlantic and Sequoia might buy TikTok, according to The Financial Times. They're reportedly leading a group of U.S. investors that is talking to regulators about buying the app from ByteDance.
  • Airbnb has been approached by a SPAC, Brian Chesky said. If it went public that way, it would make it one of the largest companies to list via the unconventional method — perhaps a perfect fit for Bill Ackman's largest-ever SPAC?
  • Taboola and Outbrain are allowed to merge, the Justice Department said. Good news for them, bad news for all the people that don't like seeing weird clickbaity foot-health ads at the bottom of news articles.

One More Thing

You come at @caltrain, you best not miss

As a Caltrain commuter, who used to spend most of my days schlepping back and forth up the Silicon Valley peninsula, I know it's not always easy to be Caltrain. You have big dreams! And no money! But one thing that is undeniably true is that @caltrain (and @sfbart, for that matter) is extremely good at Twitter. Case in point: this glorious dunk on Elon Musk's concept art for what I think is a Boring tunnel with Teslas ready to go through? Gimme all that greater throughput per hour, Caltrain.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIXPARTNERS

AlixPartners

Join us: Protocol's transformation editor Mike Murphy will lead a discussion on how businesses have long "gone digital" even if they didn't start that way. We are joined by New Balance CEO Joe Preston, WW CEO Mindy Grossman, and Honeywell Chief Digital Technology Officer Sheila Jordan. This event is presented by AlixPartners.

RSVP today.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from 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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