October 28, 2020
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Good morning! This Wednesday, a look at what's coming in today's Section 230 hearing, inside Google's plans to help voters make sense of the election, Jon Stewart's upcoming Apple TV+ show, and the big, huge, enormous, gigantic PlayStation 5.
Also, did you go back to the office yesterday, now that San Francisco's allowing it again? How'd it go? I'd love to hear your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And join us today for our event on the future of TV. Protocol's Janko Roettgers will moderate a panel of Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi, Cinedigm president Erick Opeka, Wurl CEO Sean Doherty and CBS News Interactive GM Christy Tanner on whether cord cutting has reached a tipping point in 2020. It's at noon ET, and it's going to be great! Sign up here.
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The Big Story
What's coming at today's 230 hearing
Three of tech's most notable CEOs are in Washington today, where they'll spend who-knows-how-many hours being yelled at about the state of their platforms. And based on their opening testimonies, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey are all going to say the same thing: Getting rid of Section 230 is not the answer.
- Zuckerberg will say he supports changing 230, but only to make sure it's working as intended. "Section 230 made it possible for every major internet service to be built and ensured important values like free expression and openness were part of how platforms operate," he plans to say.
- Pichai's going to say what he always says in these hearings, which is a very diplomatic stream of not very much. But he will say that Google's "ability to provide access to a wide range of information is only possible because of existing legal frameworks, like Section 230."
- Dorsey's testimony will be the most forceful: "Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies."
It's clear that much of today's hearing will be two sides yelling past each other. One side saying "Section 230 means you can't make decisions about content!" and the other saying "Section 230 is precisely why we can make decisions about content!" I recommend Advil.
- The hearing's likely to be wide-ranging, but I expect two other topics to be everywhere: the news business, and the election.
- All three CEOs will tout what their companies have done to support voters and provide election-related information, and Zuckerberg in particular will make a long defense of Facebook's work with publishers.
Everyone seems to agree that some kind of 230 tweak is necessary. But what that is, when it'll happen, and who gets to decide are all very much up in the air. And until all sides have agreed on the problem, there's not going to be much progress. If I were optimistic, I'd say today's the day that could happen. But I'm not optimistic.
More On The Hearing
The 230 stakes are high for small tech, too
Emily Birnbaum writes: Today's hearing is certain to involve a lot of political theater — posturing, point-scoring, whatever you want to call a hearing with the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google one week out from the election. But what happens could have big consequences for other companies, too.
I talked to Jon Berroya, CEO and interim president of the Internet Association, and Benjamin Lee, Reddit's general counsel, about what they're looking for:
Berroya represents Facebook, Google and Twitter as well as a swath of smaller social media companies. He said there's going to be a lot of criticism but no solutions.
- "While there seems to be superficial agreement between both sides that 230 isn't working, what there isn't agreement on is what they want to see instead or how they want to see it actually work," he said. "Until there's agreement on the solution, there's going to be challenges in trying to use legislative action to fix things."
- Small tech companies are worried about the knock-on effects of changes to 230, too. "In the industry, we always worry about what peoples' intentions are when they're talking about laws that are important to the ways companies operate," he said. "We represent large and small companies — Section 230 is important to all of them. It's also important to small community forums that rely on the moderation functionality."
Reddit's Lee said it's "frightening as well as sad" to see what the state of play around Section 230 is right now, and broadly agreed with Berroya. At a time when there's so much antitrust scrutiny around the tech platforms, he warned, many Section 230 reforms could actually benefit the largest players and cement their dominance.
- Section 230 enables Reddit's decentralized moderation model, and many reforms could force the company to take on more responsibility over content moderation. "The PACT Act would end up turning us into Facebook," he said, referencing one of the lighter-touch 230 proposals that is certain to come up today.
The unequal impact of Section 230 reform has become a common worry among smaller tech companies. They worry that any stringent regulation aimed at Big Tech will actually be a win for any company with the resources to hire an army of compliance experts, while crushing those who can't. Today could offer a glimpse into whether those concerns might play out. Maybe.
Get Out The Vote
'What time is the election on?'
Google has a pretty straightforward job during election season, at least as tech companies go: It just has to tell people the right information. Easier said than done, of course, but that's what Google has spent the last few months investing in.
- Lots of people are searching the phrase "how to vote," and so Google built a big information box to appear at the top of those results. Through a partnership with Democracy Works, it'll tell you when Election Day is (spoiler: Nov. 3), explain when all the relevant ballot deadlines are, and surface a bunch of links to check your status or figure out what you need to bring to the polling place.
- Same goes for Google Maps. Search for "polling place" or "where to vote," and it'll direct you right back to that same information box.
Google didn't say how many people have used these tools, but the volume's clearly enormous. Searches for the phrase "how to vote" peaked on Sept. 22, which was National Voter Registration Day, with more than double the search volume of "donald trump" and about on par with Google's most-searched term, "facebook." (Which, LOL.) For weeks the phrase has been roughly twice as popular as "taylor swift," and about as popular as "lebron james." A lot of people are seeing that box.
- Google's job might get tougher in the next couple of weeks, as "how to vote" turns into the much messier "who won the election." Google's working with the AP to source that information, and said it'll have streams from major news sources all over YouTube.
- As soon as polls close, it'll attempt to turn off all election-related advertising for at least a week, meaning nobody can buy their way to the top of those results either. (But the word "attempt" is doing a lot of work in that sentence.)
It's interesting to see Google — and many others — decide that election season is a time for the company to be much more proactive and selective about the information people see. There's no pretense of getting out of the way or letting the platform do its job. They see this as a moment to step in, to keep watch, to make sure things go the right way.
A MESSAGE FROM ROKU
Join Janko Roettgers today at noon ET to answer the question: Has TV reached a tipping point? You will hear from industry experts including Tubi founder and CEO Farhad Massoudi, Cinedigm President Erick Opeka, Wurl CEO Sean Doherty and CBS News Digital EVP and GM Christy Tanner. The event is presented by Roku.
People Are Talking
Reddit's going to let most employees work remotely if they want, and is rethinking its comp structure to match:
- "To support employees to live where they want to and do their best work, we are eliminating geographic compensation zones in the U.S. It means that our U.S. compensation will be tied to pay ranges of high-cost areas such as SF and NY, regardless of where employees live."
Twitch is a seriously useful way to reach voters, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said:
- "It actually has been effective … folks from the DNC were tweeting and reporting that we were the highest driver to iwillvote.com ever during the cast of the livestream."
Elon Musk really just won't stop tweeting:
- "Jack in the Box should do double duty as a sperm donor clinic — name is 👌"
SpaceX is launching its Starlink satellite-internet, but doesn't want anyone to get their hopes up for the "Better Than Nothing Beta":
- "As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations … there will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all."
- If the Starlink subreddit is any indication, expectations are decidedly not low.
Jon Stewart is headed back to TV, with a series on Apple TV+. That's a heck of a way for Apple to show it's serious about being a huge streaming platform.
Silicon Valley's richest are spending huge amounts to help Biden win the election. Recode tallied their total contributions at over $120 million. Top of the list: Karla Jurvetson, psychiatrist and wife of investor Steve Jurvetson.
Amazon's hiring 100,000 people to help it manage the holiday rush. That's actually down from recent years, but that's maybe not surprising given the 175,000 or so people the company has already hired this year.
Ankhi Das is leaving Facebook. She was the company's leading public-policy executive in India, and has been the subject of criticism over the way she applied (and didn't apply) hate-speech rules in the country.
In Other News
- AMD is buying Xilinx for $35 billion. AMD CEO Lisa Su said the deal would help AMD increase its data center presence.
- On Protocol: Facebook botched its election ad ban, blocking preapproved ads, including Biden's, shortly after it went into effect. Meanwhile, Google said it will ban political ads for at least a week after the election, and new Wikipedia rules prevent new editor accounts from modifying its 2020 election page.
- Jack Dorsey wasn't involved in initial discussions about the NY Post article about Hunter Biden, The Wall Street Journal reports, a sign of his hands-off approach to leadership in general.
- On Protocol: Netflix is testing an audio-only mode. It would be the latest entrant in the crowded battle for your ears: Just yesterday, Audible added 100,000 podcasts to its app, available without a subscription.
- Apple's search engine push might be picking up pace. The Financial Times reaffirms rumors that Apple is developing a full-fledged Google rival, pointing to new iOS 14 features and increased web crawling activity.
- Apple and Foxconn's relationship is eroding, The Information reports. Foxconn has reportedly charged Apple for workers it never hired and cut corners on iPhone production, in an effort to boost low margins.
- Microsoft earnings beat expectations, with Azure revenue up 48% year-on-year. Its video game division also did well, and the company expects "very strong demand" for its new consoles. Sony suggested something similar, raising its annual profit outlook by 13%.
- Waymo and Daimler are making self-driving trucks. They aim for the Freightliner Cascadia truck to be available in the U.S. "in the coming years."
- On Protocol: America might finally get open banking. Proposed rulemaking on Dodd-Frank Section 1033 could fundamentally reshape American finance — but not without a fight. Meanwhile, the DOJ is reportedly considering litigation to block Visa's acquisition of Plaid over antitrust concerns.
One More Thing
Did you hear? The PS5 is huge.
Here's what we know about the Playstation 5: It's very large. Everyone on the internet would like you to know it's large. Does it matter that it's quite large? Not really, but such are the nature of review embargoes that "it's large" is about all there is to say about it so far. Point is, it's large. Presumably at some point it will also play some video games. But for now, it's large.
A MESSAGE FROM ROKU
Introducing the OneView Ad Platform. From Roku.
A single platform for marketers and content owners to reach more cord cutters and measure performance using TV identity data from the No. 1 TV streaming platform in the US. Advertisers can manage their entire campaigns – including OTT, linear TV, omnichannel, and more – all in one place.
Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to email@example.com, or our tips line, firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.