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Cook vs. Zuck

Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook

Good morning! Hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend. This Tuesday, we look at the battle between Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook, and go inside the more confusing fight between Slate Star Codex and the New York Times.

Also: Today is the launch of Protocol | Fintech, your new home for news, analysis and research on the people, power and politics of how tech is reshaping finance. Sign up here and you'll receive the first edition of its newsletter, out later today.

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The Big Story

Battle of the tech titans

Two CEOs, with 27 years of CEO-ing and $3 trillion in market cap between them, are at full war. I'm talking, of course, about Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg, who have been waging an increasingly public — and increasingly bitter — battle over privacy and much more.

We got a closer look at the rivalry this weekend thanks to a big piece from The Wall Street Journal which traced the whole thing back to the 2017 Sun Valley conference.

  • From the Journal: "Mr. Zuckerberg upbraided Mr. Cook about the app-review delays and other problems between the two companies. Mr. Cook appeared unwilling to give ground, and Mr. Zuckerberg felt he was abrasive."
  • The next year, Cook was asked what he'd do about the Cambridge Analytica issue if he were running Facebook. His answer: "What would I do? I wouldn't be in this situation." (Go watch the video, by the way; he was about 50 times angrier than I remembered, and said a lot of things he's been saying ever since.)
  • Zuckerberg went on the Ezra Klein Show and punched back: "I think it's important that we don't all get Stockholm syndrome and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you."
  • Zuckerberg's actual feelings were much harsher, the Journal found. "We need to inflict pain" on Apple, he reportedly told his team.
  • Ever since, the two companies have taken every available shot at each other, mostly in passive-aggressive ways that would make high schoolers proud.

Where we've landed now is with two of the most consequential companies in the industry, each with a lot of leverage, also fighting via their products.

  • Apple is getting ready to take a much stronger stance in favor of privacy; Facebook says Apple's only trying to favor its own apps. Apple wants to cut off pernicious ad tracking; Facebook says Apple's just a mob boss, saying "wouldn't it be a shame if we cut you off" and then rubbing its fingers together for a cut.
  • Apple owns the App Store; Facebook owns most of its most popular apps.

This is all going to come to a head pretty soon, when Apple rolls out its tracking notifications. But look at Facebook's relentless integration of its messaging apps, or its increased control over the Oculus ecosystem, or even the Facebook smartwatch reportedly coming out this year. Facebook's putting a lot of time and energy into building a future in which maybe it doesn't rely on Apple at all.

Media

Slate Star Confrontation

The story everyone was talking about this weekend was "Silicon Valley's Safe Space," by Cade Metz at The New York Times. It was, depending on how you see the world, either a thoughtful look into a popular worldview among tech folks or a failed hit piece against the author of the popular-with-some-tech-folks Slate Star Codex blog.

  • The story makes some connections that a lot of folks in tech thought were just false, like associating SSC author Scott Siskind (that's his real name, which we know now) with extreme views on race and intelligence.
  • It also mentions a 2014 post called "I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup" that Sam Altman and others said was hugely influential in tech circles. It speaks of "The Grey Tribe," which Metz described this way: "[It] was characterized by libertarian beliefs, atheism, 'vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up,' and 'reading lots of blogs,' [Siskind] wrote. Most significantly, it believed in absolute free speech."

Siskind responded on Substack with his side of the story, continuing a long post from last month.

  • "I don't want to accuse The New York Times of lying about me, exactly," he wrote, "but if they were truthful, it was in the same way as that famous movie review which describes 'The Wizard of Oz' as: 'Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.'"
  • He pushed back on most of the story's allegations and inferences, like his connection to Peter Thiel or "a more general case that I was a bad ally to women in tech."

One name that comes up over and over in every side of this story is Balaji Srinivasan, who has spent much of the past year claiming to be very right about COVID, being very bullish on Bitcoin and raging at "the media." For years, he's been behind the scenes trying to tear down anyone he doesn't like, and that's becoming increasingly public.

  • When Rationalism and neo-reactionaries were in the news years ago, the Times reported, Srinivasan wrote in an email: "If things get hot, it may be interesting to sic the Dark Enlightenment audience on a single vulnerable hostile reporter to dox them and turn them inside out with hostile reporting sent to *their* advertisers/friends/contacts."
  • Siskind said in one post that Srinivasan reached out in the course of his fight with the Times, too: "He had some very creative suggestions for how to deal with journalists. I'm not sure any of them were especially actionable, at least not while the Geneva Convention remains in effect."
  • Srinivasan — who clearly relishes his media-villain status — spent part of the weekend tweeting about the death of the media's power in society. And the rest of it tweeting about Bitcoin.

Siskind, meanwhile, seems to want this whole thing to be over, but there's no chance of that. The Slate Star Codex story is now shorthand for questions about free speech, controversial thought and who can (and should) control the way people communicate on the internet. And we're nowhere near done with that.

People Are Talking

ByteDance is walking away from the TikTok-Oracle deal, a source told The South China Morning Post, which it never wanted in the first place:

  • "The deal was mainly designed to entertain demands from the Trump administration. But Trump is gone, and the raison d'etre of the deal is gone with him."

Reducing emissions isn't enough to fight climate change, Bill Gates said in his new book. We have to eliminate them entirely:

  • "The case for zero was, and is, rock solid. Setting a goal to only reduce our emissions — but not eliminate them — won't do it. The only sensible goal is zero."

Bosses need to be careful not to stratify their hybrid offices, Zillow's Rich Barton said:

  • "We must ensure a level playing field for all team members, regardless of their physical location. There cannot be a two-class system — those in the room being first-class and those on the phone being second-class."

VW's Herbert Diess said he's not worried about the Apple Car:

  • "The car industry is not a typical tech-sector that you could take over at a single stroke. Apple will not manage that overnight."
  • Box's Aaron Levie said what we were all thinking: "There's a long history of incumbent business leaders making this statement, and it usually doesn't end well."

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

In 2018, Amazon announced a starting wage of at least $15 an hour for all U.S. employees. Since then, other major companies have followed suit. Now, it's time for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, and revitalize the national economy.

Coming Up This Week

There's a meme stock hearing on Thursday. Robinhood's Vlad Tenev, Reddit's Steve Huffman, and u/deepfuckingvalue himself (also known as Keith Gill) are testifying to the House Financial Services Committee about GameStop and more.

The North Dakota State Senate is set to vote on a bill that could begin to rewrite the rules of the app stores. It's not terribly likely to pass, but a lot of folks — including people in Cupertino and Mountain View — are watching carefully.

Australia is finally introducing legislation to force Google and Facebook to pay for news this week. Google's said the law would force it to remove search from the country.

Palantir, Shopify, Dropbox, Roku and Twilio all report earnings this week.

In Other News

  • Zuckerberg and Dorsey might testify before the House again. POLITICO reports that a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing is planned for next month, potentially to discuss coronavirus misinformation and the platforms' role in the Capitol riot. YoutTube's Susan Wojcicki and Twitter's Vijaya Gadde could also testify.
  • Amazon sued Letitia James. It said the New York AG is exceeding her authority in trying to regulate Amazon's COVID-19 safety practices and worker treatment.
  • The FTC is reportedly investigating the Nvidia-Arm deal. Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm are all reportedly concerned about the takeover.
  • Apple approached Nissan about making its self-driving car, but talks reportedly ended after Apple asked for the car to be Apple-branded.
  • Minneapolis banned police from using facial recognition technology. The Minneapolis Police department chief said he wasn't consulted on the ban.
  • Spotify employees can now work from anywhere. They can choose the city and country they want to work from, and will be given membership at a co-working space if they're not near a Spotify office.
  • Uber said the EU should introduce something like Prop 22. It called for a "framework for flexible earning opportunities," ahead of a European Commission review of the sector.
  • ByteDance might sell its Indian TikTok operation to Glance, Bloomberg reported. TikTok is currently banned in the country due to its Chinese links.
  • Parler's back online, though it's still blocked from the app stores. Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler is its new interim CEO.
  • Carl Pei's Nothing bought Andy Rubin's Essential. Which leads to all sorts of jokes.
  • Elon wants to interview Vladimir Putin on Clubhouse. The Kremlin said the offer was "very interesting."

One More Thing

Meet the Bitcoin hoarders

Your crazy stat of the week, courtesy of The Telegraph: There are about 100 million accounts holding Bitcoin, but 40% of all available Bitcoin is owned by just 2,500 accounts. About 100 accounts hold 13% — or about $118 billion worth — of all Bitcoin in circulation. That means one big trader can single-handedly swing its price, just by putting a lot on the market at the same time. It also means there are at least a few hundred accounts whose Coinbase balances would make the rest of us weep.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

In 2018, Amazon announced a starting wage of at least $15 an hour for all U.S. employees. Since then, other major companies have followed suit. Now, it's time for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, and revitalize the national economy.

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.

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