Image: Alessio Jacona
June 29, 2020
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Good morning! This Monday, advertisers continue to bail on Facebook, what Amazon gets from Zoox, and the movie-watching experience of the future.
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People Are Talking
On Protocol: The startups of the future will have to decide — and live — their values from the beginning, Forerunner Ventures' Kirsten Green said:
- "The ones that capture our attention will be built around solving customer needs versus desires, they will prioritize sustainability ... and importantly, they will be building diverse teams with inclusive practices."
Mixer learned the hard way that a few big-name deals isn't enough to build a community, cofounder Matt Salsamendi said:
- "It's kind of like putting a skyscraper up in the middle of a desert. You have to build infrastructure around it, from a community standpoint, for those occupants of the skyscraper, right?"
There is no "back to normal" for business travel, Airbnb's Brian Chesky said:
- "I think a lot of people are going to realize they don't need to get on an airplane to have a meeting. I mean, I met you in an office, but now we're on Zoom."
Parler is the new favorite place of anti-Twitter conservatives, and CEO John Matze said everyone else will follow soon:
- "No one is going to want to stay on Twitter if the conservatives are gone."
TikTok is changing the way young people talk about politics, Columbia professor Ioana Literat said:
- "Political dialogue on the platform is very personal, and youth will often state diverse social identities — e.g. Black, Mexican, LGBTQ, redneck, country — in direct relation to their political views."
The Big Story
Facebook follows the money
Who needs the other side more: Facebook or its marquee advertisers?
- On one side you have some of the internet's biggest spenders who have come to rely on the platform's unmatched targeting.
- On the other, a platform whose money actually comes primarily from small businesses, not huge checks from giant conglomerates.
Well, the game of chicken between the two sides is very much on. Yesterday, Starbucks became the latest company to say it's pausing all social media advertising — which means Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. (YouTube has been notably absent from most of these boycotts.)
- "We believe in bringing communities together, both in person and online, and we stand against hate speech," the company said in a statement.
- Which matches almost exactly what Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Friday, in another attempt to quell the fury. "I'm committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues," he wrote, "because I believe we can make more progress when we hear each other. But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we're committed to removing that no matter where it comes from."
In his post, Zuckerberg outlined a few changes to Facebook. Some of them, like labeling problematic content, were things he once said Facebook wouldn't do, and things he had thrown shade at Jack Dorsey and Twitter for doing. (Life comes at you fast in 2020.) He also promised to crack down on hate speech in paid ads.
- So far, it does seem like the boycott is having its intended effect. Facebook's stock tanked on Friday, and doesn't look like it's going to have a good day today either. And it's not just Starbucks: Here's a Google Sheet with the fast-growing list of companies, big and small, that are joining the boycott.
- But, again, the vast majority of Facebook's revenue comes from small businesses, who can't just suddenly switch over to TV ads.
One big domino left to fall? Procter & Gamble, the biggest advertiser in America. (My theory has always been that Marc Pritchard, P&G's chief brand officer, is actually the most influential person in tech.) From what I hear, these conversations are happening all over the company right now.
My big question going forward: Where's all this ad money going to go if not to Facebook? Ad sales teams at TikTok, YouTube, Google and Snap must be champing at the bit right now. Heck, maybe even Quibi will be a winner.
What Amazon gets for $1.2 billion
After it was announced that Amazon was acquiring Zoox, some people speculated that what Amazon was really buying for $1.2 billion was advanced autonomous warehouse robots. Zoox's custom-built vehicle can move forward or backward and drives itself. Sounds like the forklift of the future, right? Or, at the very least, a perfect last-mile delivery vehicle.
- But in its announcement of the acquisition, Amazon said it's all-in on Zoox's robotaxi plan: It uses the phrase "ride-hailing" four times in five paragraphs, and never mentions any other use of the tech.
- Still, even basic ride-hailing makes sense for Amazon. Uber is a "ride-hailing company" that also delivers food and packages and manages fleets of trucks, because really what Uber is is a logistics company. Which also sounds a lot like Amazon!
Zoox was valued at $3.2 billion about two years ago, which means Amazon's getting a significant discount even as self-driving continues to develop. Recently Waymo, Cruise and Tesla seem to have sucked all the air out of the space (Elon Musk even called Jeff Bezos "a copy 🐈" on Friday), which may have made it harder for others to survive and get funding.
- According to one estimate, it'll cost at least another $10 billion to bring Zoox's tech to market.
- Amazon's better at long-term investing than most, though, and has a long history of throwing money at ideas until they work. Which may be what it takes to win in self-driving.
A lot of execs talk publicly as if everything will be autonomous two weeks from now. Remember that Lyft chart that said nearly half of all rides would be autonomous … by 2020? Whoops.
- But most admit privately that this is a much longer-term play, that the transition will be measured in decades instead of years.
So the question for Amazon, I guess, is: Will it be Zoox or Prime Air that sees the light of day first? I wouldn't hold your breath for either one, though.
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Careful what you copy
One feature in iOS 14 that didn't get talked about much is a new security warning, which pops up every time an app you're in reads the contents of your clipboard. And, it turns out that's a very common practice:
- TikTok came under fire earlier this year for reading clipboards, which it said was an anti-spam feature that it would remove. Researchers say it never did. And now it's promising again to do so.
- More recently, a developer testing iOS 14 made a video showing weather, news, and shopping apps, as well as web browsers, creativity tools and more, all grabbing the clipboard every time they opened.
There are plenty of harmless uses for this, of course. Your browser offers to open a link you've copied; Pocket saves a link you grabbed from another app. It's not at all a new practice.
- But as Ars Technica points out, it gets more dangerous as devices get more interconnected: A password or credit card number saved on your Mac could get snatched up by any old app.
More than anything, it's a good example of what Apple's trying to do with all these pop-ups and messages. It wants to make users painfully, constantly aware of all the times their data is being collected, shining a light on the bad stuff to force developers to do better.
Coming This Week
Many companies have been planning to reopen offices starting next week. As COVID cases continue to spike all over the U.S., look to see if companies push back — or cancel — those plans.
CCPA enforcement begins in California this week. I'm curious to see whether the state's ready to start picking fights from day one.
In Other News
- "👁👄👁," aka It Is What It Is, was all over Twitter at the end of last week, touted as a mysterious new invite-only app that you could get access to by donating to social justice charities. Turns out the app didn't actually exist, and it was all just a very clever way to raise money for charity — and satirize Silicon Valley culture in the process.
- All commercial trucks and vans sold in California need to be zero-emission by 2045. Get ready for a lot of Semis.
- The Fed has been buying up tech bonds: It's already spent over $21 million on them, including bonds from Microsoft, AT&T and PayPal. Apple, Verizon and Oracle are all on its "to purchase" list.
- The Washington Post has a great story about Telegram founder Pavel Durov, who refused to give the Russian government access to user data — and got away with it.
- Don't miss this story from Business Insider about Egon Durban, the co-CEO of Silver Lake Partners, who has led the firm's flurry of tech investments and become one of the most powerful financial figures in Silicon Valley.
- Tencent is launching a Twitch competitor in the U.S., called Trovo. It's set aside $30 million to entice streamers to join the platform, hoping that viewers will follow.
One More Thing
The movie theater we actually can go to
Time for the latest instalment of "the future happens inside Fortnite." We were supposed to be two weekends away from the grand reopening of the movie theater, anchored by "Tenet" and "Mulan." Now both those movies are coming out in August instead. Personally, I can't imagine sitting in a theater anytime soon — hard to eat popcorn with a mask on, you know? Besides, if Fortnite's Movie Nite experiment from this weekend is any indication, we can do just as well in the digital world. The idea of watching a movie on a screen within a screen while staring over my character's shoulder seemed ridiculous, but the whole experience of watching "Inception" in Fortnite turned out to be lively and fun and … not unlike a movie theater on opening night. And I can make my own popcorn, thank you very much.
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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.