Image: Alessio Jacona / Protocol
November 12, 2020
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Good morning! This Thursday: TikTok's anticlimactic deadline day, Facebook's political ad problems and the biggest shopping day of the year.
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The Big Story
The TikTok sale that … wasn't
Today is the day we've all been waiting for! The epic conclusion to the TikTok drama. Everyone's on pins and needles, the closed-door meetings are going through the ni— ... wait, one sec, I'm being told that's not right, and that actually everyone has completely forgotten about this particular "national security issue" and billion-dollar deal and it turns out this was basically a political farce that seems overwhelmingly likely to come to nothing?
- It's gotten so bad that TikTok said in a statement that in the months since the White House's original executive order it has "received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework."
- TikTok also sent a long filing to an appeals court in D.C. that essentially translates from legalese as "this whole process was nonsense, it was never in good faith, and evidently it was never even serious." TikTok asked for a 30-day extension on the order so it might continue to talk to the government and potential acquirers, but mostly it's just asking for some kind of update on what the government plans to do.
It never looked like the administration would get its way here, especially after the original ban was blocked by a federal court. And as Beijing fought back on what it perceived as bullying from the U.S., the whole thing got messier than the White House may have bargained for.
The Trump administration obviously has other things on its mind right now — and other specious legal fights that it deems more important. But in the last several months, as I've talked to people about the ordeal, it's been increasingly hard to find anyone who took it seriously. And it's fair to wonder what else of the Trump administration's anti-tech rhetoric and promises will fall by the wayside, too.
Facebook stays the course on political ads
Issie Lapowsky writes: Facebook's political ad ban, put into place to mitigate some of the post-election chaos on the platform, continues on. In a blog post, Facebook said advertisers can "expect this to last another month, though there may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner."
- The announcement fueled mounting frustration among Democrats, who say that the ban is limiting Georgia Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock's ability to reach voters ahead of a crucial runoff election in January.
- Hector Sigala, a Democratic digital strategist and former digital media director for Bernie Sanders's 2016 campaign, tweeted that this means Democrats will have no access to Facebook ads to remind voters of crucial dates for a race that will decide who controls the Senate. That includes the voter registration deadline in early December.
Facebook implied the decision had to do with ongoing refusal by Republicans to accept the election results, per an email first reported by The Wall Street Journal. "While multiple sources have projected a presidential winner, we still believe it's important to help prevent confusion or abuse on our platform," the email said.
- Google may also continue its ban for at least a month, the Journal found. In response, Miryam Lipper, communications director for the Ossoff campaign, called for an exemption for Georgia candidates.
- "Facebook and Google's unacceptable ad ban will block voters from learning how to register to vote, request absentee ballots and ensure their vote is counted," Lipper told us in a statement. "With 55 days until the election, Facebook and Google are putting their fingers on the scale for millionaire Republican candidates while ignoring the rampant disinformation on their platforms and engaging in their own version of voter suppression."
The shopping season is officially upon us
The biggest shopping day of the year isn't Prime Day or Black Friday. It's Singles Day, 11/11, the day created by Alibaba that has become the biggest buying spree of the year in China. And this year's was a doozy, and not just because Katy Perry was there:
- Alibaba said more than $74 billion was spent during the event, which actually started on about Nov. 1. (It's like the "Black Friday" deals that Walmart's already offering.) That's both a massive number in its own right and almost a 40% jump over last year's number, which is a good sign for the whole global retail business.
- JD.com did about $40 billion in sales of its own, which it told CNBC was more than double last year's sales.
- The BBC has a good rundown of exactly how huge Singles Day is, how global it's become, and what it takes to deliver almost 2 billion goods all at once.
It wasn't all good news for the Chinese giants, though: The country's government also announced that it will be taking a more serious approach to antitrust regulation within the country. It's particularly interested in companies that use their huge businesses to subsidize their money-losing projects in order to drive competitors out of the market. Alibaba and JD.com, along with other giants like Tencent and Baidu, figure to be near the top of investigators' lists.
Somehow, antitrust regulation seems to be the only thing all the world's governments agree on.
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People Are Talking
Even in the Xbox team, Microsoft is shifting away from being a platform company, Phil Spencer said:
- "When we pitched the strategy internally around putting the player first and meeting them on the devices they're on, it was really a player-centered point of view that resonated with the company because of … things like Office 365 that were more customer centered than device or platform centered."
Hunter Walk explained that regulating the internet is so complicated because one set of rules never covers it:
- "Often these discussions are very, very theoretical. And when you try to actually put them into a 'well, what do you want the regulations to be,' it breaks down to people describing for each situation the way that they wish the world worked but not being able to create a uniform set of guidelines."
Want to make AI work? Do it at a tech giant, DeepMind investor Humayun Sheikh said:
- "Commercialization for any AI based company is very difficult, unless you get absorbed by a big corporate … DeepMind would have probably failed as a company because you wouldn't be able to commercialize anything."
If you're investing right now, SoftBank's Rajeev Misra said, you need to be thinking about 2025:
- "You have to look at a 5-year view and see is the world going to be different with 5G, autonomous vehicles, more and more activity online where the cost of doing business will be a lot less than having a restaurant and producing food? There is no debate. We have to navigate geo-politics and regulation, regulatory changes."
Ginni Rometty is all-in on remote work:
- "A number of these things, in the hybrid way of working, will remain. And the digital acceleration will continue, because people have now seen what's possible, and many of these things have been things they've wanted to do for a long time."
On Protocol: Ron Klain is slated to be Joe Biden's chief of staff. He was previously in the role when Biden was VP but has spent most of the last decade working with Steve Case at Revolution. A lot of folks in tech, from Ron Conway to Chris Sacca, praised his appointment while also saying he's not going to take it easy on the industry.
Chris Young is Microsoft's new EVP of Business Development. He was previously CEO at McAfee and fills the role left open when Peggy Johnson left to run Magic Leap.
Notion hired five new executives: Maryanne Caughey as head of people ops, Hasani Caraway as general counsel, Robbie O'Connor to help make inroads in EMEA, Katsukiyo Nishi to do the same in Japan, and Kate Taylor as the head of customer experience.
In Other News
- On Protocol: We have a new president-elect, and a new Twitterer-in-chief as well. Even amid all the craziness of the last week, Biden's outdueling Trump on Twitter (though Facebook's a different story).
- Two great Quibi post-mortems you should read, from The Verge and Businessweek. Or just read this quote from one producer, which about sums it all up: "Take the worst parts of Hollywood, bake it into a phone, and that's what you got."
- Apple's offering employees up to $500 a day to go back to China for work purposes, hoping to get more people to take up the "voluntary" trips.
- Ring recalled roughly 350,000 doorbells after they were found to be a fire risk. Which is … not what you want right outside your front door.
- YouTube has had a bad election in the misinformation department, and it doesn't seem to care. Real shades here of 2016, when Mark Zuckerberg thought it was crazy that Facebook might have an impact on an election.
- Amazon wants Alexa to help the elderly. Its new "Care Hub" helps people monitor their elderly relatives, makes it easier for people to call for help, and more. Countdown to the ad where someone says, "Alexa, I've fallen and I can't get up."
- Don't miss this Masa Son profile from The Wall Street Journal about how he pulled SoftBank out of a disastrous situation yet again — and how Elliott Management helped make it happen.
One More Thing
The Xbox Series Vape
Add this one to the Customer Support Answers Hall of Fame. From the official Xbox Twitter account: "We can't believe we have to say this, but please do not blow vape smoke into your Xbox Series X." (Here's some very important context.) It's like we always say, friends: You can't believe everything you see smoking on the internet.
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Register today for the inaugural City Possible Summit, pioneered by Mastercard. Experience the superpower of collaboration by visiting the City Possible Digital Plaza and hear from thought leaders from across the cities ecosystem who are committed to driving equitable urban development.
Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.