×

Get David Pierce’s daily analysis of the tech news that matters.

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Your five minute guide to what's happening in tech

×
Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Prime Day’s over. The real test starts now.

Image: Lluisa Iborra / Protocol
Amazon box

Good morning! This Friday, a look at the biggest campaign spenders in tech, the latest in the content-moderation mess, and what to watch for after Prime Day.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

Tech's money is big, and it's blue

Top executives at tech's five largest companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — have collectively given more than $16 million to political groups this election cycle. Virtually all of it went to Democrats.

Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and the Center for Responsive Politics worked together to identify the largest donors from each company, and found that they're almost all white men, write relatively small checks (emphasis on "relatively," with the average donation hitting $183,000), and skew heavily Democrat.

One interesting wrinkle, though: Issie found that none of the biggest donors from those five companies are the CEOs.

  • CEOs, she wrote, "are notoriously stingy about donating to politics and rarely, if ever, pick a horse in any race. This election cycle, they have mostly contributed sparingly, if at all, to their own corporate PACs, which carefully distribute dollars evenly across party lines."
  • In Mark Zuckeberg's case, for instance, he's done most of his political work through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
  • The optics on all sides are messy, too: Tech leaders don't want to be seen as biased or favoring one side, and there are plenty of reasons neither campaign would want to be associated with the big bad tech industry.

A few other takeaways from Issie's excellent report:

  • Reid Hoffman was the biggest donor of the group, giving a total of $7.6 million to various causes this cycle.
  • Eric Schmidt wrote the biggest single check: $1,006,375 to Future Forward PAC.
  • Some C-level leaders, like Brad Smith and Sheryl Sandberg, are still giving large amounts to electoral causes. Only CEOs are universally absent.
  • Douglas Vetter, a VP and associate GC at Apple, was the only person on the list to contribute to Trump's campaign, as well as other down-ballot Republicans.

Moderation

Everything is content moderation

The hugely controversial New York Post story continues to ramble through social media, testing the boundaries of everybody's content moderation rules.

  • The Twitter account for President Trump's reelection campaign was briefly locked yesterday after sharing a video about Joe Biden based on the article, which Twitter said violated its rules against posting private information. Once it was allowed back, @teamtrump posted the same video again (and pinned it), with the message that "we are re-posting the video Twitter doesn't want you to watch." It was practically a dare to Twitter: just try and keep us down.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to subpoena Facebook and Twitter over the way they handled the story. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Josh Hawley are leading the charge.

Content moderation rules remain anything but clear or consistent at Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, despite all the ongoing work and endless policy updates. "I've said over and over again that both the media and platforms need detailed policies, measured against realistic scenarios, that they publicly commit to, so that making the right call in the heat of the moment is easier," Alex Stamos tweeted. "This is exactly why."

  • YouTube seems to be trying to do just that: It announced a new policy that prohibits conspiracy theory content "used to justify real-world violence," which it said explicitly includes some QAnon content. This is a subjective and tricky policy to enforce, but it's perhaps a more coherent policy than to just blurt out "WE'RE BANNING QANON!"
  • Twitter's also changing its thinking. Its legal, policy, and trust and safety lead Vijaya Gadde described one change for future decisions: "We will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them." Twitter will also label tweets rather than blocking links.

There are no right answers in content moderation. Everything is a study in tradeoffs and unintended consequences, anything you do will make a lot of people really mad, and the only thing that definitely doesn't work is doing nothing at all. Aren't you glad you started a massively successful social media company?

Amazon

Prime Day's over. The real test starts now.

Anna Kramer writes: Amazon's two-day shopping extravaganza wrapped up Wednesday, but a big question lingers. Now that everyone's bought all that stuff, can the company handle the logistical nightmare of shipping it all in the middle of a pandemic?

There have been problems with past Prime Days, where warehouse and delivery workers planned walkouts and organized boycotts calling for safer working conditions during the rush to meet increased demand.

Shopify and smaller businesses are hoping Amazon struggles under the strain. The PR team behind Shopify's Twitter account had a great time the last couple of days, hunting down disgruntled Amazon customers and doing their best to lure them toward smaller businesses instead.

But Amazon said that independent third-party sellers had a killer two days on the platform.

  • Small and medium-sized businesses brought in more than $3.5 billion over the two days, an increase in growth that exceeded Amazon's own retail business, according to a press release.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Strengthening healthcare interoperability and cybersecurity in the Covid era

A stronger healthcare system means connecting people, data and technology for a frictionless experience across care settings. At Philips, we're developing interoperable solutions that seamlessly transfer data so clinicians can stay focused on what matters most: the patient.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: The FCC's ready to do some rulemaking on Section 230, Ajit Pai said:

  • "As elected officials consider whether to change the law, the question remains: What does Section 230 currently mean? Many advance an overly broad interpretation that in some cases shields social media companies from consumer protection laws in a way that has no basis in the text of Section 230."

Fully electric, self-driving cars are coming to SF streets soon, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said:

  • "We're not the first company to receive this permit, but we're going to be the first to put it to use on the streets of a major U.S. city. Before the end of the year, we'll be sending cars out onto the streets of SF — without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel."

The EU needs tools to be able to control Big Tech companies, said Cédric O, France's secretary of state for digital transition:

  • "Access to data, to services, interoperability … these are efficient tools that we should be able to use, with a tailor-made approach, in order to tackle market foreclosure and ensure freedom of choice for consumers."

Making Moves

David Edmonson joined TechNet as its new VP of state policy and government, leading the organization's localized work across all 50 states.

Ryan Caldbeck is stepping down as CircleUp's CEO. He announced the move in a moving blog post, in which he discusses the toll that running a company alongside personal issues took on him. He also published an email he sent to a former board member, calling that board member's behavior "seemingly vindictive" and "destructive." Nick Talwar is replacing Caldbeck.

Stripe bought Paystack for upwards of $200 million. Paystack's been called "The Stripe of Africa," and is Stripe's biggest acquisition yet.

In Other News

  • Judge Laurel Beeler is "not inclined" to reverse her WeChat decision. That likely means the government won't be able to block the app for now, though the Justice Department is appealing Beeler's order.
  • Instagram agreed to crack down on "hidden advertising" for British users, as part of an investigation from the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority. It will "prompt users to confirm if they have been incentivised in any way to promote a product," and use algorithms to spot undisclosed ads.
  • Google is turning Hangouts into Chat. But Voice is different, and also different from Fi, but Fi is kind of like Chat? And neither of them work in Hangouts? Anyone who can explain Google's messaging strategy deserves a PhD.
  • Don't miss this story on the history of cloud gaming, from Polygon. It's a technology that's slowly staggered forward, but might now finally be on the brink of mainstream adoption. Relatedly, Protocol's Seth Schiesel explained how the new Xbox's launch lineup is a bet on changing the business of games.
  • Tesla had to pause construction on its Berlin factory because it didn't pay its water bill, according to German media reports. Its water was reportedly shut off after the company didn't pay, despite receiving several warnings. The issue seems to have been addressed.
  • On Protocol: HashiCorp's making it easier to turn raw code into running apps. Waypoint, its new open-source project, will save developers from having to configure and package their code.
  • Foxconn wants to become "the Android of EVs," its CTO said. The company launched an open platform for sharing software and hardware designs for electric vehicles, and it wants at least 10% of the EV market to use the platform in the next seven years.
  • On Protocol: Argyle raised $20 million entirely using Notion, rather than a normal pitch deck. And it's not the only one to abandon PowerPoint slides, either.

One More Thing

Your weekend project, confirmed

Simone Giertz with the tweet of the week: "I built my dog a selfie booth so she can take photos of herself by pushing a pedal with her paw." And Giertz did it with Legos! It's not super complicated, it looks awesome and it's the kind of almost-kinda-slightly-educational project that makes for a perfect weekend. My dog's Instagram is about to get EPIC.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Strengthening healthcare interoperability and cybersecurity in the Covid era

A stronger healthcare system means connecting people, data and technology for a frictionless experience across care settings. At Philips, we're developing interoperable solutions that seamlessly transfer data so clinicians can stay focused on what matters most: the patient.

Learn more.

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 weekend, see you Sunday.

Recent Issues

What Quibi got wrong