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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Moderation Madness

Image: Emile Graphics / Juan Pablo Bravo / Protocol
Trash can

Good morning! This Tuesday, Reddit bans The_Donald, YouTube bans white supremacists, and Twitch bans President Trump himself.

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People Are Talking

Doug Hirsch, one of Facebook's earliest product chiefs, said he's selling his stock in the company — not out of anger, but self-reflection:

  • "For a number of years, the greatest financial success I had ever experienced wasn't from my decade at Yahoo or the company I started and sold, but from this accident of timing and luck. I will never complain about my compensation, but I'll be honest — it drove tremendous feelings of guilt and 'did I really earn this?' shoe-gazing."

Microsoft is joining the social media ad boycott, CMO Chris Capossela said:

  • "Our experience tells us that the most impactful means to effect genuine, long-term change is through direct dialogue and meaningful action with our media partners, including the suspension of real marketing dollars."

What if the future of meetings didn't involve real-time conversations? That's what Prezi CEO Peter Arvai imagines:

  • "We should look at asynchronous meetings as containing key benefits of video meetings, phone calls, and emails. They give you the clarity and engagement of video meetings, the duration, flexibility and ease of phone calls, and the memorialization of emails for referring back."

You shouldn't be able to click a button and sign your privacy rights away, Sen. Sherrod Brown said:

  • "We don't expect citizens to be aeronautical engineers, making sure they understand all the risks of flying, and then sign a form giving away their right to sue if the plane goes down. In the same way, we can't expect everyone to be a privacy expert just so they can protect their families from corporations that want to exploit their data."

The Big Story

The Great Banning has commenced

All at once, June 29, 2020, became something like Moderation Day.

  • Reddit banned The_Donald, ChapoTrapHouse and about 2,000 other subreddits from its platform because "they consistently host rule-breaking content and their mods have demonstrated no intention of reining in their community."
  • Twitch went further and banned President Trump's channel altogether, albeit temporarily. Twitch told Protocol's Janko Roettgers that "hateful content is not allowed on Twitch," and there are no exceptions. Not even for POTUS.
  • YouTube removed a number of high-profile white supremacist channels, including those belonging to David Duke and Richard Spencer, and said it banned more than 25,000 channels overall after updating its guidelines against hate speech.

Why did this happen all at once, and why yesterday? In part, it seems, because the increasing ad boycott against Facebook is spilling over onto these other platforms, and they're eager to avoid the full brunt of the attack.

  • Also, I don't have any evidence that the platforms are collaborating on these decisions and policies, but it's certainly happened before, and by making controversial moves at the same time the platforms provide each other some cover.

Huffman's note about Reddit's move stuck out to me, because it's a remarkably human look at the situation. Huffman didn't hide behind Reddit's policies or say "we mostly do good." He said Reddit hadn't done enough, and changed the policies.

  • "Ultimately, it's our responsibility to support our communities by taking stronger action against those who try to weaponize parts of Reddit against other people," Huffman wrote.
  • He also told reporters, per The Verge, that "I have to admit that I've struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company's values around common human decency."

Reddit's also thinking through product changes, Huffman said. It's starting with how easy it is for banned people to create a new account. "We aim to address this in the long term by making the reputation of an account more valuable," he said, "and by requiring an account to have good reputation to do such things, so that banning an account actually hurts (and is therefore more effective)."

These changes make all the companies more advertiser-friendly. But they also show that tech companies are clearly feeling more free to enforce their rules, especially after Twitter and Snap started doing so. And they're more willing than ever to change the rules, too.

More Moderation

India kicks out some of its most popular apps

Protocol's Shakeel Hashim writes: The Indian government made waves on Monday when it announced that it would ban 59 Chinese apps, including WeChat and TikTok, and claimed they pose a threat to the "sovereignty and integrity of India." It's a marked escalation in India-China hostilities, and signals tech as a major battleground in the countries' dispute.

  • Tensions between the two countries have been on the rise in recent months, with anti-Chinese sentiment spiking in India after violent border clashes. A "boycott China" campaign picked up steam, and an app called Remove China Apps surged in popularity (but was later removed by Google from its app store).
  • The country's government now seems to be responding to that consumer pressure. On Monday, its Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it had received complaints about Chinese apps "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data," raising concerns about "national security and defense."
  • Besides TikTok and WeChat, the list of banned apps includes Clash of Kings, Weibo, Mi Video Call and Cam Scanner. Usage on "both mobile and nonmobile internet-enabled devices" is now forbidden, though it's unclear exactly how the government plans to enforce that.

This could pose a major problem to TikTok, which has over 80 million monthly active users in India. In April of last year, the app was removed from Indian app stores for eight days after the government said it posed a risk to children.

  • At the time, executives reportedly said they were losing $500,000 a day as a result. And that ban only stopped new users from signing up, whereas this latest move bans "usage" — seemingly preventing existing users from using the app altogether.

This isn't the only way tech's been caught in the India-China crossfire: Last week, Reuters reported that tech shipments from China had been held up at Indian ports, including Apple and Dell products.

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Computers

Shop 'til you drop on Google dot com

Google: great at search. Amazon: great at products. Amazon: also winning at product search. Which Google would like to rectify. And it's starting by making it free for retailers to list on Google Shopping, and have those listings appear in normal search results.

  • "Initially, free listings on Google Search will appear in a product knowledge panel that shows buying options for a particular item," said Bill Ready, Google's president of commerce.
  • Right now, when you Google, say, "Nintendo Switch" all the listings that appear are paid for. But that's going away when this new policy rolls out over the summer.

Google's clearly trying to establish Google Shopping as a real ecommerce player, as Walmart and Shopify and eBay and so many others all try to push back at Amazon's online dominance. Paired with its Google Lens product search and Google Assistant shopping lists, it could be a pretty powerful ecosystem — except everyone currently just searches "Nintendo Switch Amazon" and goes from there.

  • But Google's volume is so large that it can change things fast. In April, it made listings free in the Shopping Tab, and later told 9to5Google that clicks have gone up 70% since then.
  • Of course, this all makes those ads above search results even more powerful. If users start coming to Google looking to buy things straight from their search results, that ad space becomes invaluable.

I'm absolutely fascinated by the ongoing battle between these platforms, all vying to be the place you shop. It's like every department store moved into town, opened up across the street from each other, and started having huge sales to drive the others out. It's good news for buyers, as long as it lasts.

Making Moves

Katerra laid off more than 400 employees, The Information reported, about 7% of staff. It's another in the growing line of companies that took huge investment from SoftBank and then had to cut costs.

Sophia Dominguez is Snap's new head of camera platform partnerships. She comes from Svrf, a company she founded to work on AR and 3D search and discovery.

Leading an investigation into Pinterest's workplace culture: Danielle Conley, a lawyer at WilmerHale in DC. Pinterest has been in the news after former employees said they were discriminated against while working there.

Mark Porter is MongoDB's new CTO, after having the same gig at ride-sharing company Grab. He's been on MongoDB's board since February.

In Other News

  • A fun duo of competing Postmates stories: Reuters reported the company has started thinking about an IPO again, while The New York Times said Uber made an offer to buy the company for around $2.6 billion. Can both be true? Certainly. Can both come true? Probably not. Watch this space.
  • Google staff want updates on the company's long-term remote work plans. The Information reports that Sundar Pichai was pressed for info at an all-hands meeting last week — but he apparently said a decision wouldn't come before the end of summer.
  • Lululemon is buying Mirror, the fitness-class-in-your-house-through-a-smart-mirror company, for $500 million. Bets on the instructors getting cool branded uniforms?
  • Amazon is giving its front-line staff a bonus. Full-time workers get $500, while part-timers get $250. That's after the company cut its $2 per hour hazard pay at the start of the month.
  • Speaking of Amazon: Don't miss this excellent Recode story about the current conditions at its warehouses, where workers say they don't feel safe.
  • Alphabet is reportedly in talks to buy North, the AR smart glasses company, for $180 million. It'd be a way for Google to revive its failed headset ambitions — hopefully with fewer Glassholes this time round.

One More Thing

Everyone's a Disney Princess!

First Disney did hand-drawn animation. Then it did animation via computer. Up next: deepfake cartoons? The company's research studio put out a (terrifying, unnerving, probably best not to watch) video yesterday featuring a new algorithm for "neural face swapping in images and videos" at high resolution. (Not movie-theater high, yet, but getting there.) Gizmodo has a good story on how it works. At this rate, by the time they get to "Toy Story 8," you're going to be able to stick your own face onto Woody's.

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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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