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Facebook wants to own your online identity

Image: Ben Sweet / Protocol
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Good morning! This Wednesday, Facebook wants to own identity online, eBay wants to run its own payments, and Color of Change wants to fix Silicon Valley.

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The Big Story

Facebook's stealthy plan to own online identity

Who are you on the internet? That question sounds deep and existential and like maybe the answer should be, I don't know, "a dog." But I mean it practically. When you tell someone who you are online, what do you say? "David Pierce" doesn't help. "@pierce" is true on Twitter but nowhere else.

The answer's probably an email address, or maybe your phone number. But those aren't very good solutions. Too hackable, too easy to find, too hard to control. Which is why everyone from Twitter to Google to Facebook to Microsoft to the open-source community has made efforts over the years to become something like Your Main Username.

Facebook might have the best chance to actually pull it off, I think. As it continues to consolidate and cross-pollinate its platforms, it's also building a single place where you'll be able to find basically anyone.

  • On Tuesday, Oculus told users they'll have to use a Facebook account in order to log into their VR gear. Which means some users might need to get a Facebook account for the first time. (Or sign up again if they quit over the past few years.)
  • Why demand an account? Well, because Facebook wants to enable some Facebook experiences — for games and livestreams and Portal calls — within Oculus. Also so it can better monitor bad actors across platforms. Plus it's just easier to manage one account per user.

There's nothing obviously insidious about Facebook doing this, but it's an increasingly on-brand move. And let's push it out a bit: If every Instagram and WhatsApp user also has to get a Facebook account, a huge proportion of the internet would suddenly have a Facebook account. Your friends list would become your go-to contacts list, you'd use that login to get into all kinds of other websites.

  • What exactly that identifier might be, I'm not sure. As Facebook has pushed to combine messaging across its platforms, it's still allowing usernames, email addresses and phone numbers. In a way, it doesn't really matter which you tell people, if they're all connected to everything else. And what connects them all, increasingly, is Facebook.

Tuesday's Oculus announcement made some users angry because it felt invasive somehow. But other tech CEOs, especially those running other communication and social tools, should take note of what Facebook's doing here. All the practical reasons for combining everything are real and valid, but they're also the kind of thing we could look back on in a decade and realize were steps toward Facebook becoming the identity layer for the internet. Just as it always wanted.

Diversity

Inside tech's leading diversity fighter

As conversations about diversity and inclusion in tech finally move to the front of executives' minds, Color of Change has served an important role both in the public sphere and in the conversations tech companies are having with themselves and each other.

But the fight to take civil rights to Silicon Valley is a long one, which, as Protocol's Issie Lapowsky writes, Color of Change has been waging for years.

  • The organization was founded to help out in the aftermath of Katrina, and has focused on tech since about 2013. It has pushed for companies to be transparent about internal diversity (or lack thereof), lobbied for new positions to be created, and tried to help Big Tech understand the civil rights implications of its policies and actions.
  • Arisha Hatch, Color of Change's chief of campaigns, told Issie that "although they were probably well-intentioned, there were a lot of ways in which tech companies were undoing or unraveling decades and decades of Black-led activism around voting rights, housing discrimination, surveillance — a whole set of hard-fought wins."

One of Color of Change's early efforts in tech was with Airbnb, and that work helped lead to the company's first internal civil rights audit and ultimately a long list of other changes at the company. Its current target, as I'm sure you've noticed, is Mark Zuckerberg.

  • Here's how Issie described Zuckerberg's first meeting with Color of Change president Rashad Robinson: "When Zuckerberg wandered by, Robinson said Sandberg waved him inside. Robinson remembered standing awkwardly with Zuckerberg for a few minutes, exchanging platitudes about how there was a lot of work to be done, before Zuckerberg slipped away again."

Make sure you read Issie's whole story, because Color of Change is an organization you're not going to be able to ignore, fighting for a cause that's picking up much-needed steam all over the tech industry. And trust me: You don't want to be on its bad side.

Payments

EBay's doing its own payments

Shakeel Hashim writes: EBay's experience with payments is … complicated. Back in 2002, it acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion, only to spin it off again in 2015 at a $52 billion valuation. Since then, an operating agreement has forced eBay to use PayPal as its payment provider — until last month, that is. Now eBay's striking out on its own again, and it's got big plans.

  • Ditching PayPal was evidently a no-brainer. "eBay wasn't at the level of the experiences that we wanted to provide," eBay's Alyssa Cutright told me. The former Square, PayPal and Plastiq exec now leads eBay's global payments team, overseeing the transition away from PayPal.
  • One big frustration: Sellers had to create separate PayPal accounts just to list on eBay. "While that made a lot of sense perhaps 15+ years ago, it doesn't make a lot of sense today," Cutright said.

EBay's now transitioning to its own payments system, powered by Adyen. But Cutright is crystal clear about one thing: "It's not about creating a new PayPal 2.0 under the eBay umbrella." EBay's new payments team is solely focused on making payments better on eBay, not around the web.

Specifically, it wants to let users pay using different methods such as Apple Pay, if they want to, or installment payment methods such as Afterpay (which it's trialing in Australia). Down the line, Cutright said eBay wants to offer a whole range of financial services to buyers and sellers.

  • She said that includes the "natural things in financial services — different types of credit vehicles, whether it be working capital, or credit or debit cards." Case in point: The company recently partnered with LendingPoint to offer sellers loans.

There's one other benefit to ditching PayPal, of course: costs. Cutright said that eBay can now negotiate processing fees on behalf of all its sellers, rather than them each negotiating with PayPal individually. That should lower sellers' fees, she said — which sounds like good news for everyone but PayPal.

Join us today

ITI

During the 2020 national political conventions, Protocol will host a two-event series on the tech and policy needed to enable a diverse future workforce and a strong economy. Join us at noon ET today for the first event in the series, hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

People Are Talking

Facebook hasn't taken much action against President Trump's posts, but Sheryl Sandberg said it would if it had to:

  • "When the president violates our hate speech standards or gives false information about voter suppression or coronavirus, it comes down."

Forget national security — banning TikTok in the U.S. is about fairness, Tim Wu said:

  • "In China, the foreign equivalents of TikTok and WeChat — video and messaging apps such as YouTube and WhatsApp — have been banned for years. The country's extensive blocking, censorship and surveillance violate just about every principle of internet openness and decency. China keeps a closed and censorial internet economy at home while its products enjoy full access to open markets abroad."

Oracle reportedly wants to buy TikTok, and President Trump (a noted Larry Ellison fan) likes the idea:

  • "Well I think Oracle is a great company and I think its owner is a tremendous guy, a tremendous person. I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it."

Making Moves

Andrea Wishom is Pinterest's newest board member. She's the president of Skywalker Holdings, and is Pinterest's first Black board member. She joins at an interesting time, as the company reckons with a number of allegations about discrimination and sexism at the company.

DJI sent us a note disputing some of the numbers in the Reuters story we mentioned in yesterday's newsletter. From its statement: "In truth, DJI has made some important structural changes and our business is thriving, as both personal and professional customers around the world are embracing drones in an era of social distancing."

Alyssa Harvey Dawson is Gusto's new chief legal officer. She's a longtime tech exec, with stints at eBay, Netflix and Sidewalk Labs, and said she's going to help the company shift to a post-pandemic world.

David Kunst is Wing's new head of operations. He joins from Lyft, where he ran operations in Northern California (which seems like … not a fun job right now). Faisal Masud, Wing's former COO, is now officially out of the company.

In Other News

  • Uber may be battling in California, but it's not slowing down. It rolled out its monthly subscription service, Pass, to cities all over America (except in California). And Uber and Lyft are both looking into a franchise-like model to get around the law in California.
  • On Protocol: Physna launched a search engine for 3D models, in an attempt to index the real world, Google-style. Best of all, it's called Thangs.
  • Trouble might be in store for Apple's Chinese business. The Information reports on China's increasingly aggressive approach toward the company, which could seriously hurt the App Store as Trump feuds with the country.
  • The Twitter hack wasn't a one off: The same "phone spear phishing" approach has hit dozens of other companies in the past month, investigators told Wired. If you haven't trained your employees on how to avoid these yet, you should probably make that a priority.
  • That viral conspiracy video, "Plandemic," has a sequel, and social media companies are trying to stop it from spreading. Facebook won't let users link to it, while Twitter warns people the link might be "potentially spammy or unsafe."
  • Verizon has seemingly backed down from charging extra for 5G plans. That's probably a good move: It was the only carrier trying to charge more, despite having pretty minimal coverage.
  • There's turmoil at Winklevoss-backed Protocol Labs (no relation, promise). Axios reports that investors are feuding over the YC graduate's blockchain project, Filecoin, with a legal battle now playing out over who owns what.
  • An early front-runner for Holiday Gift of the Year 2020: A Radio Flyer take on the Tesla Model Y for you kids. It's $99, Tesla was involved in the design, and you're going to want to get yours quickly.

One More Thing

The new Flight Simulator: Good, but hilariously imperfect

Few things in tech history have given me as much joy as watching people scour the Earth in the early days of Apple Maps, looking for warped bridges and random mountains in the middle of highways. And now, with the new Microsoft Flight Simulator, I get to relive the experience. Here's Buckingham Palace, turned into a bunch of apartments! Here's a very important bridge that just doesn't exist! Flight Simulator is a great, impressive game — and this might be my favorite feature.

Join us today

ITI

During the 2020 national political conventions, Protocol will host a two-event series on the tech and policy needed to enable a diverse future workforce and a strong economy. Join us at noon ET today for the first event in the series, hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

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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