Good morning! This Friday, inside Facebook's rough relationship with researchers, why the NFL's new TV deal is a big one for streaming, why the car industry swears it's not afraid of Apple, and an update on China's platform wars.
The Big Story
Facebook's research problem
Anna Kramer writes: Researchers and social media companies have never liked each other less or needed each other more. Academics want to understand how social media shaped Trump voters, the Jan. 6 Capitol riots and online extremism. Facebook, Twitter and Google want to build natural-language models and translators, automate filtering and moderation tools and use post-doctoral candidates to build their AR worlds. Neither is really interested in helping the other.
The relationship between platforms and PhDs is increasingly fraught, Protocol's Issie Lapowsky reported, with researchers fighting for the right to scrape data from social companies for their research and those companies pushing back.
- All this tension burst into the news in October when Facebook sent a cease-and-desist letter to the NYU Ad Observer, which was collecting data on how advertisers use Facebook to target users by scraping data from advertiser accounts. Facebook said that scraping violated its terms of service; the Ad Observer refused to back down, arguing the information was publicly available. They still haven't resolved the dispute.
- Most academic research into social networks relies on data-scraping in one way or another, and often scraping will unintentionally violate companies' rules. This happens way beyond Facebook; it's common at YouTube and Twitter, too, though Twitter has a reputation for being somewhat friendlier to researchers.
- While scraping was common practice for years, Mark Ledwich, a researcher who studies YouTube, told Issie that other researchers got nervous after Facebook's cease-and-desist letter. George Washington University's Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics recently turned down Ledwich's request for funding and cited NYU's issues with Facebook in its rationale. "The reason given was they were worried about the risk after the legal threat from Facebook against the NYU Ad Observatory," Ledwich said.
- And some new data privacy laws, such as GDPR, have given social media companies cover. Because the laws increase protections for individual user data, it's easier for companies to cite those laws in their efforts to block scraping, and it also just so happens to prevent researchers from reaching less-than-pretty conclusions about social media.
But privacy advocates and regulators have been pushing social companies to better protect user data for years, even if researchers weren't their target. At the end of the day, it's just not quite as black-and-white as anyone would like you to believe. "A lot of people fundamentally object to the idea of being experimented on without their consent, regardless of what it was for," said Casey Fiesler, an assistant professor at University of Colorado Boulder, who studies tech research ethics. "These are value tensions, and in some cases, it's a no-win scenario."
Amazon the sports giant
The NFL is the biggest thing on TV, and perhaps the best signal for where the whole medium is headed. So here are three big things to take away from the new 11-year, over $100 billion NFL deal that was announced yesterday, which includes exclusive Thursday Night Football rights for Amazon:
- Amazon is not messing around. A lot of people in the space wonder how committed Amazon is to Prime Video as more than just a secondary benefit for Prime subs, but $1 billion a year for exclusive games sends a pretty strong signal.
- Broadcast dominance is dying … slowly. Linear TV is still the cornerstone of this deal. But the platforms are giving themselves more flexibility: Disney plans to stream games on ESPN+, ditto NBC with Peacock and Fox with Tubi. By 2033, those might be the platforms that matter.
- Appointment viewing is more expensive than ever. The NFL is one of the only things — along with maybe awards shows, presidential elections and Oprah interviews — that can actually make millions of people turn on their TV simultaneously. The price for that kind of attention-grabbing is absolutely skyrocketing.
Amazon scored a first here: Its deal is the first time the NFL is showing games exclusively on a streaming service. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told The Wall Street Journal this is a "seminal moment," and compared the deal to the first one the league made with ESPN.
- So why Amazon? By one estimate, 142 million people in the U.S. have Prime accounts. That's actually more than the number of households with cable. Netflix and others are huge, certainly, but while Prime Video doesn't get much shine it has unbeatable distribution. And for the last few linear-TV holdouts, distribution is everything.
Who's afraid of the Apple Car?
The Apple Car doesn't exist, Apple can't even find anyone to make it, and yet it seemingly lives rent-free in the heads of every automaker exec on the planet. They all swear they're not afraid of the big bad fruit … but you know what they say about protesting too much.
- "I welcome the competition from a company like Apple," Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson said this week. "Ultimately, you know, this is a technology race. Tesla recognizes that and Lucid recognizes that. I think that's what differentiates so many of the traditional car companies."
- And that's pretty much what everyone says. "Competition is a wonderful thing — it helps motivate the others," BMW CFO Nicolas Peter said. "We're in a very strong position and we want to remain in a leading position of the industry."
- "The car industry is not a typical tech-sector that you could take over at a single stroke," VW CEO Herbert Diess said last month. "Apple will not manage that overnight."
- "After making a vehicle," Toyota president Akio Toyoda said, "I'd like them to be prepared to deal with customers and various changes for some 40 years."
It's a testament to Apple's power that this keeps happening. Anytime there's even a rumor of Apple being interested in something, the rest of the industry immediately treats it like a big and important player. It doesn't always work out that way, obviously — HomePod and Apple TV, just to name two — but most of the time, anyone betting against Apple ends up looking pretty silly. And anyone who says they're not worried ends up looking like a liar.
Protocol's Joe Williams sits down with Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk for a discussion on his influential leadership of the industrial icon and what's next in the company's digital overhaul.
People Are Talking
Mark Zuckerberg said he's definitely for sure not afraid of Apple's privacy changes:
- "It's possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple's changes encourage more businesses to conduct more commerce on our platforms by making it harder for them to use their data in order to find the customers that would want to use their products outside of our platforms."
Robinhood is going after Coinbase, Vlad Tenev said:
- "We're actually growing our crypto team hugely this year, we want to make a huge investment and hire a ton of people … the business has just been going through exponential growth."
On Protocol: Building a single AR interface to run our lives is going to be really hard, Facebook's Andrew Bosworth said:
- "Interfaces that move around are hard to learn. It's a huge challenge here, and that's why it's a research problem. It may end up being the case that the right thing to do is just to insist on more specificity from the consumer for a while."
Tim Cook still believes remote work isn't the best answer:
- "Innovation isn't always a planned activity. It's bumping into each other over the course of the day and advancing an idea that you just had. And you really need to be together to do that."
Cook also said on behalf of the Business Roundtable that the American Dream and Promise Act should pass:
- "Dreamers — who came to America as children and who know it as their only home — make invaluable contributions to America and certainly to companies like ours."
Delta Electronics chair Yancey Hai said the company's cut 40% of its staff in China, and it wants to go even further:
- "Even without the U.S.-China conflict, China is no longer a good place for manufacturing."
Bill Nelson is President Biden's choice for the next NASA administrator, The Verge reported.
Manesh Mahatme will lead WhatsApp Pay in India, Reuters reported. He's currently director of Amazon Pay India.
John Rice is joining Opendoor's board. He's the CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow.
Sony and RTS acquired the Evolution Championship Series, giving the companies a big new esports franchise.
In Other News
- Apple reportedly sent cease-and-desist letters to Chinese companies that are testing CAID, an IDFA replacement developed by the state-backed China Advertising Association. It told developers that they had two weeks to make changes before Apple would kick them off the App Store.
- On Protocol | China: China's vicious platform wars might be ending. Regulators are pushing the nation's platforms to be more interlinked, as seen in reports that Taobao Deals will finally appear on WeChat.
- China told LinkedIn to suspend new user signups for 30 days as a penalty for failing to control political content. It's also restricting the use of Teslas for official state and military use for what it said are national security reasons.
- Facebook is exploring ways to get kids on Instagram, BuzzFeed News reported. Adam Mosseri said it's likely to be a separate version of the platform.
- On Protocol | Enterprise: The e-signature war is going beyond the dotted line. DocuSign is planning to conquer more of the document world, even as Adobe doubles down on the core market.
- Don't miss this piece on Clearview AI, from The New York Times, in which far-right activist Charles Johnson claims he cofounded the company — and that he wants everyone, not just law enforcement, to have access to the tech.
- On Protocol | China: China is souring on facial recognition. A major TV segment this week provoked a backlash against retailers using the tech, though it overlooked the fact that Beijing has become both the critic and perpetrator of mass surveillance.
- The NHTSA is investigating another Tesla crash, which allegedly involved "Autopilot." It's the third crash being inspected in recent weeks.
One More Thing
NFT of the day
It's called "CLASSIFIED," an NFT made up of "every classified document leaked by pro-privacy whistleblower Edward Snowden." The documents span three decades, and put together make up Snowden's face. It was minted by Twitter user @alterisecul, and inspired by @SHL0MS. Even if you don't buy the NFT, zooming around the photo itself is pretty wild.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that "CLASSIFIED" was minted by @SHL0MS. This story was updated Mar. 28, 2021.
Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.