Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorDavid PierceNEWSLETTER LayoutWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Facebook picks a fight

Image: Facebook / Protocol
Facebook Apple letters

Good morning! This Thursday: the big question your company should be asking in 2021, why Facebook isn't slowing down in the face of antitrust reform and more moves at Coinbase.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

Facebook can't stop, won't stop

"The lawsuit alone changed the company" is a phrase you hear a lot about antitrust action. The theory is that companies are made nervous by the inquiry, and will change their monopolistic ways before the government has to.

Facebook hasn't changed, at least in the early days after the antitrust world came down hard on it.

  • The company is picking a loud, angry, public fight with Apple over its privacy practices. It took out full-page ads in the country's three main newspapers again today, this time arguing that Apple's crusade against personalized ads is "making the internet much more expensive and reducing high-quality free content."
  • Yesterday, it ran similarly angry ads saying that Apple's new privacy labels and tracking limitations "will limit businesses' ability to run personalized ads and reach their customers effectively."
  • Apple's response to yesterday's ad: It's up to users, not Facebook. "App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice," Apple said in a statement.

Apple obviously has incentives of its own, but it's a bold move for Facebook to say "come for us, you'll kill small businesses!" It won't be hard for regulators to read that ad as Facebook saying, "small businesses have literally nowhere else to go but Facebook." And it's bolder still to take a stance against the company taking a stance for privacy. (And honestly, is bold really the right word?)

  • It's not the only fight Facebook is joining. It said it would help Epic in its big App Store lawsuit, providing supporting documents. News publishers weighed in on that dispute too, with a trade association representing The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vox (among others) joining the Coalition for App Fairness.
  • Meanwhile, Facebook continues its relentless search for domination. The company is developing a tool to summarize news articles "so users won't have to read them," BuzzFeed News reported. It's also evidently still working on brain-computer interfaces. And The Information reported that Facebook's also planning an Angie's List or TaskRabbit-syle service.

If regulators have been looking for signs of contrition from Facebook, they're going to be all the way out of luck.

In related news: There's a big new antitrust suit against Google, from 10 states led by Texas. The most explosive allegation in the suit involves Google and Facebook striking a deal to give Facebook an advantage in Google's ad auctions. If true, it would be about as clean-cut an example of collusive behavior among tech giants as you'd ever find. To top things off, a third lawsuit is reportedly coming today from 30 states, focusing on Google's search dominance.

Business

Everything's your fault!

It might be the biggest question facing the tech industry right now: To what extent are companies responsible for the things that are done with their products? Even when the answer seems simple, it rarely is.

A few examples just from the last couple of days:

  • Massachusetts filed a complaint against Robinhood, saying the company hasn't acted in the best interests of its users. William Galvin told The Wall Street Journal that Robinhood "is not presented as serious investing with substantial risk. It's presented as some sort of game that you might be able to win." Robinhood's response? We don't tell people what to do!
  • Huawei and Alibaba were revealed to have tested facial-recognition software with the specific purpose of identifying Uighur Muslims in China. Both companies said they were just tests, and that the software hadn't been used in actual production.
  • Twitter promised to remove false COVID-19 vaccine tweets, including those "that suggest immunizations and vaccines are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations." (Patrick Collison made a thoughtful argument, not against this particular policy but about the nature of science and misinformation, earlier this week.)
  • Twitter announced AWS as its cloud partner for timelines, which on some level means that AWS will now help people see what they see on Twitter.
  • U.K. officials are blaming WhatsApp for widespread fear of a COVID vaccine, particularly among Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the region.

The question applies up the entire tech stack and across the tech industry. Cloudflare has had to reckon with hosting and providing security for objectionable websites. Nvidia and Intel chips are used in that same Chinese surveillance system. Whether you run a social platform, a code repository, a podcast app or a porn website, you've had to ask and answer difficult questions about moderation.

The big question here quickly splinters into lots of little ones, too. Is there a difference between what you allow and what you promote? (Yes.) Do you have a responsibility to set clear rules from the get-go and adhere to them as best you can? (Yes.) But the more I talk to folks about the tech industry going forward, the more they're anxious about the second- and third- and fourth-order effects of the tech being built right now. Accountability gets messy fast.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Wish had an underwhelming first day as a public company, and CFO Rajat Bahri said the problem is education:

  • "There is a big market out there, and I feel that the next billion people who will start shopping online will be these value conscious consumers all over the world, whether it's South America, whether it's Africa, whether it's Eastern Europe, and we are perfectly suited for those kinds of value-conscious consumers."

Bitcoin is up to record highs, but Brian Armstrong said we're still early in a very long game and investors should bear that in mind:

  • "While it's great to see market rallies and see news organizations turn attention to this emerging asset class in a new way, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to understand that investing in crypto is not without risk."

Shopify's Tobi Lütke says the formula for building a successful company is often overlooked:

  • "I find it amazing how often I come across people who just miss incentive systems entirely. For us, it's obvious. The best way for us to make merchants more successful, our customers more successful, is to actually do that."

A MESSAGE FROM SALESFORCE

Salesforce

Salesforce, the global leader in CRM, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced today that they will collaborate to help Gavi manage critical information to equitably distribute approximately two billion COVID-19 vaccines to 190 countries by the end of 2021. Fair, rapid and equitable access to vaccines is critical to ending the global pandemic.

Learn more about this collaboration

Making Moves

Kelly Kramer is joining Coinbase's board. Marc Andreessen, who joined as a board observer in August, is becoming a director.

Nicole Johnson was promoted to partner at Forerunner Ventures. She's been at the firm since 2013, most recently as a principal.

Kevin Peterson is Waymo's new Head of Perception, joining the company after selling Marble to Caterpillar earlier this year.

Bob Iger and Jeffrey Katzenberg may become U.S. ambassadors. They're both reportedly in the running for such gigs under Joe Biden, with the most likely posts being the U.K. or China.

In Other News

  • Google AI researchers don't want to report to Megan Kacholia anymore. The group, led by Alex Hanna, reportedly sent a list of demands to Sundar Pichai in the wake of Timnit Gebru's departure — and they asked for Gebru to be offered a new job.
  • On Protocol: Lawmakers are trying to use the end-of-year spending bill to pull Section 230 out of trade deals.
  • Amazon asked the CDC to give its workers vaccine priority. It said staff at its warehouses, data centers and Whole Foods stores counted as essential workers. Meanwhile, the NLRB said Amazon workers in Alabama could vote to unionize.
  • The FBI, CISA and ODNI said the SolarWinds hack is ongoing. They've established a joint task force to coordinate a response. Former homeland security advisor Tom Bossert said the magnitude of the hack "is hard to overstate."
  • YouTube caved to Turkey, and will set up an office in the region. Most other social networks are still refusing to on the grounds that it will give authorities vast censorship powers.
  • Filed under FIIIIIINALLY: Roku and AT&T reached a deal to get HBO Max back on Roku players. The app will be available today.

One More Thing

The most complicated cake you can make

And it's the latest installment in our holiday recipes! If you'd like to be included, send over your faves to akramer@protocol.com, or just reply to this email.

Today's holiday food tradition comes from Fidji Simo, who's in charge of the Facebook app: "Two of my favorite things about the holidays are getting to be with my family and being able to pass along generation-old traditions to my 5-year-old daughter. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family bakes a yule log cake, which is a French holiday dessert that consists of a sweet spongy cake rolled and frosted with a rich chocolate buttercream made to look like bark — perfect for someone who has a sweet tooth like me! Better known as a bûche de Noël in my home country, this dessert represents the yule log that families used to burn on Christmas Eve to symbolize the coming of a new year and to bring good luck. While the yule log looks complicated, even an amateur baker can master it! I will admit, you can usually find me cheering on my mom and husband as I take my place as the designated dessert taste-tester for any leftover frosting."

If you'd like to try your hand at this notoriously fiddly cake (perhaps with the whole fam!), you can find Simo's recipe here.

A MESSAGE FROM SALESFORCE

Salesforce

Salesforce, the global leader in CRM, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced today that they will collaborate to help Gavi manage critical information to equitably distribute approximately two billion COVID-19 vaccines to 190 countries by the end of 2021. Fair, rapid and equitable access to vaccines is critical to ending the global pandemic.

Learn more about this collaboration

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.

Recent Issues

Escaping Big Tech