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Goodbye, San Francisco. Hello, Austin.

Image: Megan Markham/Protocol
Austin

Good morning! This Tuesday, what happens when everyone's COVID-19 changes expire, why everyone's fleeing to Austin, and how only a few people successfully spread lies all over Facebook.

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The Big Story

When do the COVID concessions end?

Early on in the pandemic, as life suddenly went from normal to remote-work-with-kids-at-home chaos, a lot of companies responded by trying to make all of our lives easier. ISPs dropped data caps; ed tech companies made everything free; SaaS companies let customers defer payment until things went back to normal.

Well it's almost the end of 2020, the pandemic is worse than ever, life's not close to going back to normal, and yet we might be nearing the end of the corporate beneficence. Some companies are ready to get back to the way things were, though many are planning to extend the temporary rules a little longer.

  • Comcast is planning to start enforcing its data caps starting in January, including in some new markets in the U.S. It's offering newly capped users two extra months "to understand" how the new plan affects them.
  • Uber Eats' commission-free online ordering system is scheduled to start charging again at the end of the year, though the company said the date is subject to change. DoorDash's Storefront was also supposed to start charging commissions in January, but now won't until the end of March.
  • Apple pushed back its deadline for developers to offer digital classes through in-app purchases from December to June "to allow additional time for developing in-app purchase solutions."

Some features will stick around, though, as the COVID way of doing business becomes the normal way of doing business.

  • Coursera, which opened up a big portion of its library to everyone through the end of the year, now offers a more robust free version, and is working with state governments to keep that kind of stuff accessible going forward.
  • Uber said some of its fee waivers, like for onboarding and pickup orders, will continue to be company policy.

In all these cases, the real question is: When is COVID-19 over? It's certainly not over yet. But when do we even get to start thinking about what's next? That's the question companies should be asking internally in the last few weeks of 2020, because plans for 2021 depend on the answer.

Real Estate

The SF skedaddle continues

To everyone who lives in Austin, and already thinks it's too crowded: I'm so sorry.

Dropbox's Drew Houston and Splunk's Douglas Merritt are just the two most recent CEOs to decide to ditch the Bay Area and head to Texas, The Information reported. (Some might want you to call it Silicon Hills; I prefer Silicon Taco Trucks.)

  • Also leaving SF: Brex, which has been so tied to the city that it actually bought a South Park restaurant a while back. The company's moving to LA, but apparently also considered Austin, Park City and Lake Tahoe.
  • In every case, the Bay Area is still an important place, and everyone picked their new location in part because it's easy to get back to SF. But they don't need to live there — and most of all pay taxes there — so they don't want to.

It might be really easy for well-connected, veteran tech execs to live anywhere they want. But for younger, newer folks, proximity to power might still be hard to beat. The Information reported that Splunk employees are already wondering whether they need to move to Austin, too.

  • Delian Asparouhov from Founders Fund might have it about right. "If you are ambitious founder, exec, VC and under ~35 and work in tech…" he tweeted, "not being in SF permanently or regularly over the next decade will be career suicide. Don't miss out!!"
  • Naval Ravikant's reply: "Companies won't expand in SF but will still be disproportionately born in SF."

The question of who gets paid what, where, continues to drive a lot of these decisions. Reddit became the latest company to say it doesn't matter: It'll pay people the same no matter their hometown. But that argument is far from over.

People Are Talking

Too many CEOs waste too much energy making too many decisions, Jeff Bezos said:

  • "You need to be thinking two or three years in advance, and if you are, then why do I need to make a hundred decisions today? If I make, like, three good decisions a day, that's enough, and they should just be as high quality as I can make them."

On Protocol: The pandemic forced a good shift in the startup mindset, Faire co-founder Marcelo Cortes said:

  • "Everything we were doing was usually to keep this growth ... All of a sudden, we had to change into this mode of like, 'OK, we need to stop this growth and let's help our customers do as well as possible.'"

A former SoftBank executive laid out Masa Son's investment strategy with brutal simplicity:

  • "Venture capital has become a lottery. Masa is not a particularly deep thinker, but he has one strength: He's devoted to buying more lottery tickets than anyone else."
  • This is from a great (and divisive) New Yorker story about the VC industry that's really worth a read.

After Jack Ma got in trouble for tough talk on China, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang praised the country's anti-monopoly rules:

  • "Supervision allows platform enterprises to not only develop well on their own, but also helps the sustainable and healthy development of the entire society and creates innovation."

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

Number of the Day

95,546

That's the number of Facebook posts containing narratives about voter fraud that human rights group Avaaz looked at to learn more about how false information spreads on social media. Together those posts had been shared, liked and commented on almost 60 million times. The crazy part: 33 posts accounted for 13 million of those interactions. Only a handful of "superspreaders" managed to push misinformation to massive heights, and onto other platforms. (Spoiler alert: one of them was the president.)

In Other News

  • Amazon hired the Pinkertons to spy on warehouse workers, Vice reports. Its monitoring operation in Europe appears to keep tabs on labor activists, union organizers and environmentalist and social justice groups.
  • Congrats Elon, on becoming the world's second-richest person. Musk overtook Bill Gates yesterday: He's now worth $127.9 billion, just ahead of Gates' $127.7 billion.
  • Apple lobbyists oppose the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, according to The Washington Post. The bill would require companies to guarantee that they don't use forced labor in Xinjiang.
  • Apple's chief security officer was indicted for bribery. A grand jury accused Thomas Moyer of trying to get concealed-gun permits for Apple staff by offering the sheriff's office 200 iPads. Apple said an internal investigation found no wrongdoing.
  • The Wisconsin Foxconn plant might finally be a thing. Bloomberg reports that Foxconn has signed a contract with Google to assemble server components at the plant, with mass production scheduled for early next year.
  • On Protocol: Intel shut down its AR/VR volumetric capture stage. The ambitious 10,000-square-foot facility was used to record a few music videos, but seemingly couldn't find a sustainable rental model.
  • China cracked down on livestreaming, banning teenagers from gifting and requiring both hosts and gift givers to use their real names. That could have big implications for Kuaishou, which is looking to IPO soon.
  • Uber and Lyft got a government contract worth up to $810 million. The companies can now promote their services within agencies.
  • There was a huge maskless party at Travis Kalanick's NYC penthouse, New York Magazine reports. Kalanick's spokesperson said he'd lent the apartment to a friend and was unaware of the party. Cat Marnell, who was there, said "it wasn't even cool."

One More Thing

The meta-metaverse

It's honestly almost too on the nose: Roblox, the company that's about to go public with the promise of building the metaverse, is hosting a treasure hunt to promote "Ready Player Two," the sequel to the book that's made so many people think about the metaverse over the last few years. It starts next Tuesday, and while I don't think the winner will end up controlling Roblox and being a trillionaire, you never know for sure.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Daniel Zhang's name. This story was updated Nov. 24, 2020.


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