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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Facebook’s tardy self-reflection

Image: Protocol
Facebook scrutiny

Good morning! This Tuesday, Facebook's election influence study, Walmart's new not-quite-everything bundle, and Apple gives in to developers (a little).

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The Big Story

Facebook's a-little-too-late election study

Facebook: We're going to dig deep into our own effect on the presidential election, so we can hold ourselves accountable!

Also Facebook: We will tell you our findings roughly nine months after the election, kbye.

Here's the deal with the new study, according to Protocol's Issie Lapowsky: "The new research project, which Facebook announced Monday, will study how the 2020 election is playing out on the world's largest social network, and how the platform affects things like political polarization, voter participation, trust in democracy and the spread of misinformation." It'll include 17 researchers and two dozen Facebookers, and their findings will be public and published with no interference from the company.

  • What does it mean for the 200,000 to 400,000 people who opt in? Issie explains: "The research team will deidentify their data, split them into groups and begin tinkering with their News Feeds, switch up their ad experiences and, in some cases, even ask them to stop using Facebook temporarily, all while surveying participants to see how their experiences and viewpoints evolve and stack up against control groups."
  • There could be a bizarre irony to this: By testing to see if it can sway an election, could Facebook … sway an election? Facebook says no, but others will surely say yes.

The obvious question: Why didn't this start three years ago? Still, on the plus side, it does seem like progres: I don't think I've ever heard Facebook so thoroughly acknowledge its role in the electoral process. Facebook's Nick Clegg described the platform's political debate as "raucous, often intense, but undoubtedly now part of the fabric of an open democracy."

  • That's a big departure from Mark Zuckerberg calling it "a pretty crazy idea" that Facebook helped sway the 2016 election.

In related news: Facebook's threatening to no longer allow news to be shared on its platform in Australia if new regulations requiring Facebook to pay publishers are passed. There are lots of questions about how that would work, but for now it's a leverage play against what Facebook (and a lot of others) see as a ridiculous new law.

Shopping

Walmart's not-quite-everything bundle

After months of teasing and rumors, Walmart finally took the wraps off Walmart+, its bundle of stuff that could help it compete with Amazon Prime. So far, though, it looks … a lot like a Costco membership?

The program launches September 15, and will cost $12.95 a month or $98 a year. Here's what subscribers get for their money:

  • Unlimited free shipping, including same-day delivery on things like groceries and other items. (This is the key one: It gives Walmart an instantly great deal in grocery delivery, and puts it on par with Amazon in the "get me my thing now please" race.)
  • Fuel discounts, of up to 5 cents a gallon.
  • Scan & Go, a feature in the Walmart app that lets you scan stuff as you shop, pay with Walmart Pay, and get out of the store without waiting in line.

So far, Scan & Go is by far the cleverest thing about Walmart+. It'll help get subscribers to download and use the Walmart app, get them used to paying with Walmart Pay, and teach them new ways to shop both in stores and online.

  • Even if this whole Walmart+ thing isn't very advanced, and is more just a ruse to get people to download the Walmart app and instinctively open it when they need something, it'll be a huge victory for Walmart.

Walmart told TechCrunch that Walmart+ isn't a Prime competitor, which is just obviously not true. It's just not a very complete one yet! But Walmart's right to start with shipping and delivery, and it's playing to its strengths: Amazon may have a Whole Foods app, but it's hardly maximizing the potential of offline-online commerce. Walmart has a chance to get there first.

Apps

Apple gives in (slightly) on the App Store rules

Developers I've talked to in recent months are frequently irritated with Apple's App Store policies, and the way it seems to be getting more aggressive over forcing in-app purchases and demanding a cut of all possible revenue.

But one thing they're really annoyed about is the way it happens: Devs submit an innocuous update, to fix some tiny problem, and Apple drops the rejection hammer. That old feature that hasn't changed at all? Apple suddenly changed its mind about it.

But Apple extended a bit of an olive branch to those developers yesterday:

  • In an update to its review guidelines that it first teased at WWDC in June, the company said "bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues."
  • The process now: Your update goes through, but Apple will tell you you're in violation of its guidelines if its taken issue with a feature. Then you'll have to address its concerns before your next submission. The end result isn't much different, but there should be fewer surprise rejections going forward.

Developers can also suggest changes to the guidelines, by filling out a form that I'm guessing has gotten some … emotional submissions already. Or at least it will at some point: The portal was actually down much of the day yesterday. Still, thoughts and prayers to whoever's going through that inbox when it comes back online.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from anywhere, to anywhere

A strong healthcare system can scale to meet increasing patient demands. At Philips, we're charting a new way forward by moving care beyond the hospital's walls with advanced virtual health capabilities that expand clinical reach and increase care team capacity.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Climate startups can't save the planet alone, Josh Felser said, but neither can the big companies:

  • "I don't think they can do it alone. We have to get into the cycle of repairing the Earth. If we don't start now and we just depend on big companies, that's only going to take us part of the way there."

Should ad exchanges be regulated like stock markets? Antitrust scholar Dina Srinivasan says yes, because they already operate the same way:

  • "When 'Flash Boys' came out, it was comical. That book was being passed from executive to executive. People would laugh about how there were operatives who were arbitraging between ad exchanges too. People were just laughing at the parallels."

AT&T's Joan Marsh is cheering on Section 230 reform, asking for a different way of thinking about net neutrality:

  • "Adopting an ISP-only 'neutrality' regime is as backwards looking as it is mistargeted. It would be akin to landing the plane, but on the wrong day, at the wrong gate, and in the wrong airport."

Sal Khan's biggest worry about distance learning? Making sure kids are able to show up and do the work:

  • "That's the one that I feel the most helpless on given what we can do at Khan Academy. We can make the content, we can make it as engaging as possible. But how do you reach those kids who need extra support at home when you literally can't be there with them?"

The SEC changed its rules on who counts as an investor, and Serena Williams is all for it:

  • "Why is this exciting? It means that VC is no longer exclusively for individuals who have extremely high income or net worth."

Making Moves

Jennifer Jarrett is leaving Uber. She's been at the company for about a year and a half, and led the dealmaking process for its Postmates acquisition. Next, it sounds like she's headed back to the biotech world.

Marc Andreessen and Gokul Rajaram are joining the board at Coinbase. As others have pointed out, this is only the latest people-sharing move between a16z and Coinbase, but Andreessen is obviously the biggest name on the team and will be a loud voice guiding the company from now on.

Brian Boland is leaving Facebook. He's been at the company for 11 years, leading many of the company's partnerships and product marketing efforts. He'd also been overseeing partnership data, according to CNBC, which put him in the middle of some of the company's thorniest issues.

In Other News

  • From Protocol: Sonos has been working on headphones, according to a new patent filing, and it looks like they're going to integrate with existing speaker setups.
  • The TikTok timeline is still confusing. CNBC reported that ByteDance has chosen a buyer and could announce the deal today, while The New York Times says things could take a little longer thanks to the change in China's export rules.
  • Wish confidentially filed for an IPO, and it's set to be a big one: The ecommerce site was last valued at $11.2 billion. Hopefully its S-1 will be as entertaining as its Facebook ads.
  • Zoom continues to boom in pandemic times: It announced monster earnings yesterday. Someday schools and friends will get off Zoom, but it's an increasingly ubiquitous business tool. And businesses pay the bills.
  • Amazon got FAA approval for drone deliveries. It's a big step in making the tech a reality, but don't get too excited: It's only allowed to do trial programs, and fully autonomous flights are still not allowed.
  • The SEC and FINRA are looking into Robinhood's March outage, according to Bloomberg. The investigations will specifically look at how Robinhood communicated with customers: Based on customers' reports, it … didn't. Making matters worse, the app crashed again just as Apple and Tesla's stocks split on Monday morning.
  • An army of stan accounts is trying to get Ed Markey reelected. They're running Zoom phone banks and creating pretty good memes. They got him to join a dance party, too, which you absolutely must watch.
  • Don't miss this series about the intersection of tech and police brutality from The Verge. A good one to start with: Why police body cameras, which ostensibly record everything, often don't.
  • Still deciding whether to reopen offices? A new Harvard Business Review study, conducted during lockdown, found that knowledge workers are more productive when working from home.

One More Thing

VCBrags signs off

Everybody thinks they know who @VCBrags is on Twitter, except it turns out almost everybody is probably wrong. In the midst of this odd parlor game — and with VCBrags' reputation changing from "silly fun" to "mean-spirited thing that the VC industry hates" — the user behind the account shut it down. "The intention was to make people laugh in a 'Silicon Valley' TV show type of way, not to make anyone feel belittled or even threatened with gif and emoji response," said the screenshot announcing the account's end. But still: Who is it? Not Sahil Lavingia, though everyone thought so for a minute. Jason Calacanis swears it was his doing, but who knows? @VCBrags: Gone, probably soon forgotten, but hopefully always a mystery.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from anywhere, to anywhere

A strong healthcare system can scale to meet increasing patient demands. At Philips, we're charting a new way forward by moving care beyond the hospital's walls with advanced virtual health capabilities that expand clinical reach and increase care team capacity.

Learn more.

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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