Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Charles Deluvio / Protocol

Less fighting, more fun: Social’s great un-politicking

Dog

Good morning! This Thursday, a bill in North Dakota could change the way the App Store works, social platforms are trying desperately to get out of politics, the TikTok deal seems fully dead and @realDonaldTrump is gone for good.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day. And you can text with us, too, by signing up here or texting 415-475-1729.)

The Big Story

North Dakota takes on Big Tech

The bill that's scaring Apple right now is SB 2333. Just two pages long, it says a "digital application distribution platform" that does more than $10 million in revenue each year in North Dakota — that's every major app store — cannot:

  • "Require a developer to use a digital application distribution platform or digital transaction platform as the exclusive mode of distributing a digital product."
  • "Require a developer to use an in-application payment system as the exclusive mode of accepting payment from a user to download a software application or purchase a digital or physical product through a software application."
  • "Retaliate against a developer for choosing to use an alternative application store or in-application payment system."

In essence, the bill demands every platform run like the Mac does. Sure, have your app store, charge 30%, use your payment processing, go wild! But you have to also allow people to install and pay for apps in other ways.

  • That is what people like Tim Sweeney and David Heinemeier Hansson have been asking for recently. Heinemeier Hansson testified in a hearing about the bill yesterday, and his prepared remarks said "the 17 lines of SB 2333 read like music. Written in a language I can understand without hiring counsel to parse it for me."
  • Apple's Erik Neuenschwander made the opposite case, saying that the App Store's ability to stop malware, engender trust and make things easy is crucial. "Senate Bill 2333 threatens to destroy [the] iPhone as you know it," he said.

Don't dismiss this offhand. It's significant in and of itself that a bill like this made it to public debate, and it obviously has Apple concerned enough to send Neuenschwander, its manager of user privacy, to testify.

  • Kyle Davison, the North Dakota state senator who co-sponsored SB 2333, said after the hearing that he couldn't believe how much attention the issue had gotten: "I think it raises an awareness not just in me but in my colleagues that it is a real issue."
  • He didn't sound particularly confident it would pass, at least in this first incarnation, but said it was clear that this conversation needed to happen both in North Dakota and elsewhere.

And do expect to hear about this elsewhere. There's a similar bill under consideration in Arizona, SB 1642, which argues for the exact same thing as the North Dakota bill in almost the exact same way. And I'm told there are other laws like these coming sooner rather than later.

Social

Social's un-politicking

Stop me if you've heard this before: Facebook is going to experiment with showing users less politics in their News Feed. It will run tests in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia, then in the U.S. and beyond.

  • Facebook's not exactly sure how this will work, product management director Aastha Gupta said in a blog post: "We'll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people's feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we'll use going forward."
  • But the mission is clear: make Facebook more fun and less confrontational. "People don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services," Mark Zuckerberg said on Facebook's earnings call two weeks ago.

This is an early online trend of a post-Trump world. Facebook and Twitter have both been desperate to show that most people don't want to talk politics on their platforms.

  • Jack Dorsey said as much on Twitter's earnings call the other day: "We are a platform that's obviously much larger than any one topic or any one account."
  • But that's the thing about politics: It may not be a huge percentage of usage, but it punches above its weight when it comes to engagement, reach and ultimately revenue. Trump may not have been the only reason people used Twitter, but he made the platform feel important and essential in a way it never had before.

But what counts as politics? Are COVID vaccines politics? Are messages from President Biden or the DOJ politics? (Facebook is exempting all of the above from the de-ranking, at least for now.) For the last four years, practically everything has been politicized and polarized. It's clear that most people want less politics, but it's less clear that they'd all define politics the same way.

TikTok

Biden's China re-think

The Biden administration has "shelved indefinitely" the Trump White House's plan to force a TikTok sale to an American company. After months of kicking the can down the road, it's now been picked up and thrown out.

  • Discussions between the two sides continue, The Wall Street Journal reported, mostly over data security and how to ensure that American user data doesn't end up in the hands of the Chinese government.
  • Biden has promised to be tough on China in this space — and just announced a new task force to that end — but his administration seems to want to take a less aggressive approach than the Trump administration.
  • "Broadly speaking, we are evaluating the risks to U.S. data, including from TikTok, and will address them in a decisive and effective fashion," Jen Psaki said in a White House press briefing. Which tells us, well, nothing.

But the White House needs to make some decisions quickly. The Trump-era executive order pertaining to Alipay and WeChat goes into effect next week, and the government has until next Thursday to respond to TikTok's lawsuit challenging the executive order against it (though the Journal also reports that the Biden administration has now asked to delay the government's appeal of the injunction resulting from that lawsuit).

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

People Are Talking

As crypto mints new millionaires and billionaires, Coinbase's Brian Armstrong said, it could change the world's power structure:

  • "Most of the people who bought crypto early on — they're believers in the power of technology to change the world. They're interested in the ethos of crypto in many cases, and I suspect that they would allocate their capital towards more things in that vein."

@realDonaldTrump is not coming back to Twitter, the company's CFO Ned Segal said:

  • "The way our policies work, when you're removed from the platform, you're removed from the platform whether you're a commentator, you're a CFO or you are a former or current public official."

Satya Nadella kinda sorta took credit for Slack's success while also burning Apple's policies:

  • "[Slack] didn't have to call Microsoft. They didn't have to go through any of our app stores. They didn't need any of our permission compared to any of the other platforms that they're available on."

And Slack's Jonathan Prince said, uh, no:

  • "The only relevant question is whether Microsoft is illegally abusing its dominance and tying Teams to its apps and services in order to protect its chokehold on enterprise software and prevent the discovery and adoption of new and innovative tools."

Cisco's Chuck Robbins has a clever idea for hybrid meetings that don't suck:

  • "I think you're going to see real 3D experiences. You're going to be virtually in the room and there's a lot of work that our teams are doing right now to build that next-generation technology."

Facebook's reportedly building a Clubhouse clone, and Twitter's Kayvon Beykpour saw it coming:

  • "I'm surprised it took 'em this long."

Making Moves

Bumble's IPO is today, and it's shaping up to be a big one. Here's everything you need to know.

Meghan DiMuzio is now executive director of the Coalition for App Fairness, and said she plans to "accelerate the next phase of our work."

Andy Ellis is leaving Akamai in March after more than two decades. What's next? He didn't say, but first he's writing a book.

In Other News

  • Microsoft was in talks to buy Pinterest, the Financial Times reported. Talks are reportedly not active anymore, however.
  • Twitter refused to comply with the Indian government's orders. It said it would not remove the accounts of journalists, activists or politicians, arguing that "we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law." India has previously threatened to jail Twitter employees for noncompliance.
  • Shareholders are investigating whether Facebook paid $4.9 billion to protect Mark Zuckerberg. They think it may have overpaid in a privacy settlement with the FTC in order to protect Zuckerberg's personal liability. A judge ordered Facebook to turn over relevant documents.
  • Abusive Instagram DMs will now result in account bans. Facebook made the policy change after soccer players received a torrent of racist abuse.
  • The EU might build an advanced chip foundry, Bloomberg reported. The bloc's supposedly considering the plans in an effort to become less reliant on the U.S. and Taiwan.
  • Baidu might create a standalone AI chip company. CNBC reported that it's in talks to raise money from GGV and IDG Capital for the new unit.
  • China detained a Tencent executive, according to The Wall Street Journal. Zhang Feng has reportedly been held over allegations that he shared personal WeChat data with a former government official.
  • Elon Musk and Kanye West will do a Clubhouse show. It'll be on Good Time, obviously, and I'm sure Clubhouse's engineers are preparing their servers already.

One More Thing

Blame the DMCA

If you want someone to stop livestreaming you, there are crazier things you could do than start playing "Santeria" by Sublime so the video has to be taken down on copyright grounds. That's what one Beverly Hills cop appears to have done, anyway. Vice's story digs into all the odd and technical details, but here's the real rub: The video's still up. Because the craziest move of all is to assume that moderation policies work the way they're supposed to.

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

Return of the Mac