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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Robinhood the outlaw

Image: Olena Panasovska / Alex Muravev / Protocol
Robinhood

Good morning! This Thursday, everybody has thoughts about Section 230, Robinhood keeps running into trouble, and everybody's spending big on 5G.

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The Big Story

Everybody had feelings about Section 230

Yesterday was the deadline for comment on the Trump administration's Section 230 executive order and the NTIA's subsequent petition to change it. And it turns out some people had some comments. Were many of them from bots? Were some of those bots pretending to be Mark Zuckerberg saying wild stuff? Yes and yes.

Protocol's Emily Birnbaum bravely waded through the insane, the off-topic and the deeply bizarre to find the most important and telling comments. Here are a few:

  • Reddit is against the proposed changes: "Whereas Section 230 has been improperly portrayed as a gift to 'Big Tech,' we argue that it is crucial to those smaller companies, like ours, that seek to compete with and offer alternatives to the largest corporate entities."
  • The Internet Accountability Project, partly funded by Oracle, is in support: "As a conservative group dedicated to advocating for policies that promote online competition, safeguard digital privacy, and prevent political bias, we are troubled that Section 230 is used to protect harmful online content as well as its use by digital platforms to justify arbitrary internal guidelines to allow censorship of conservative speech."
  • AT&T hasn't taken a specific side, but said things need to change: "Leading tech platforms should now be required to make disclosures about how they collect and use data, how they rank search results, how they interconnect and interoperate with others, and, more generally, how their algorithms preference some content, products and services over others."

As with all these sorts of petitions and request-for-comments, most responses are either entirely fake or a copy-and-paste job:

  • The most common response I've seen is a (too close to be coincidental) version of this: "I fully support President Trump's petition to revisit Section 230."
  • And on the other side, this one was everywhere: "Dear FCC: President Trump's Executive Order on CDA 230 is authoritarian. I urge you to reject this dangerous regulation and save online free speech."

The overarching sentiment, from people who seem to be writing their own words? People feel like they're being censored on online platforms for their conservative views.

  • That shouldn't be too surprising. Because even though there's nothing at all in Section 230 about conservatives or censorship — and in fact the law allows for that kind of moderation — this debate is actually about Big Tech vs. conservatives.

Fintech

Get rich or die trying

Company comes along and makes previously complicated/expensive thing easy/free. Everybody loves Company! Company grows fast. People realize easy/free has both hidden costs and serious side effects, and that Company grew so fast it made some irresponsible decisions along the way. But Company is now so big and so popular that it has a massive bank account. Company thinks it can weather a few big storms. Usually Company is right. And through it all, most people still love Company! It's so easy/free! A few fines won't change their mind. But eventually, there's only so much controversy Company can handle. Things get messy for Company. (Unless Company is Facebook.)

Anyway, this time, Company is Robinhood.

On the one hand, things are great over at Robinhood: It's raised money three times this year, a total of $800 million, and is one of the hottest names in fintech. IPO rumors are everywhere.

On the other hand, it's hot in part because it's kind of a mess. Just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the SEC is investigating the company "over its early failure to fully disclose its practice of selling clients' orders to high-speed trading firms." And that's just the latest:

  • It's also under scrutiny — not quite official trouble, but certainly the step before — for the way it approaches trading altogether. It's accused of having dark patterns everywhere, urging people to trade more (and more crazily) without helping them understand what they're doing or the consequences.
  • It also keeps getting into trouble because it keeps going down at the most inopportune moments. Class action suits against it have been floating around since March.
  • And Bloomberg reported this week that U.S. consumer protection agencies are getting far more complaints about Robinhood than any of its competitors.

Robinhood's is a story as old as the internet, really. Now all that's left to see is whether it can weather controversy the way Facebook can.

In related news: Jack Randall, Robinhood's longtime head of communications, left the company this week. I'm not saying it's not a coincidence, but I'm not not saying that either.

Data

Why Facebook lets you transfer your data

Shakeel Hashim writes: This morning, Facebook announced that it's expanding its data transfer tool, allowing users to move their photos and videos from Facebook to Dropbox or Koofr. The tool was first launched in the U.S. earlier this year, allowing transfers to Google Photos, and the timing of this expansion is pretty telling.

  • Facebook's tool comes as part of its participation in the Data Transfer Project, a collective of Big Tech companies working on data portability. They're not doing that purely out of the goodness of their hearts: The EU's GDPR and California's CCPA both require data portability, saying it will empower individuals and help foster competition.
  • But that's easier said than done: Back in June, the European Commission said that the right to data portability was "still not fully used," and said it would spend the next few years trying to increase people's usage of the right.

Facebook's new tool will likely please regulators in the EU — and at the FTC, which is hosting a workshop on data portability on Sept. 22. In comments submitted ahead of the FTC hearing, Facebook said it "supports the passage of comprehensive federal privacy legislation in the United States, alongside dedicated portability legislation," and made it pretty clear that it has thoughts on what that legislation should look like. (It's shown support for Richard Blumenthal, Mark Warner and Josh Hawley's Access Act.) Showing a practical commitment to data portability could help it influence proceedings.

It also helps head off antitrust concerns: Facebook can point to the tool as evidence that it clearly doesn't stifle competition, because users can easily leave whenever they want. But as Privacy Valley's Gert-Jan Kroese wrote on LinkedIn last year, the real question is whether anyone will actually use these tools. When we asked Facebook how many people have transferred data to Google Photos, a spokesperson didn't give specific numbers, saying only "we've been pleased with the response so far." Wonder if regulators will be too?

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from anywhere, to anywhere

A strong healthcare system can scale to meet increasing patient demands. At Philips, we're charting a new way forward by moving care beyond the hospital's walls with advanced virtual health capabilities that expand clinical reach and increase care team capacity.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

An appeals court found that the NSA's phone-record collection was illegal, and Edward Snowden was thrilled:

  • "Seven years ago, as the news declared I was being charged as a criminal for speaking the truth, I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA's activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them. And yet that day has arrived."

On Protocol: In uncertain times, there's one place every company's placing bets, Accenture's Jimmy Etheredge said:

  • "From what we see, it is cloud, cloud, cloud. And I think what companies are looking for is ways to make investments in innovation that is going to be at the core of their strategy. And cloud is where they see the ability to be thoughtful about cash."

A number of advocacy groups are telling Joe Biden not to hire Facebook employees:

  • "We know the Biden transition would not consider people who work for or lobby on behalf of tobacco companies or the National Rifle Association for a role in the transition or the administration … Similarly, Facebook's willful and repeated practices undermine our democracy and civic life, while profiting off of the facilitation of racist violence is toxic."

The current stock market has shades of the dot-com burst, Dick Costolo warned:

  • "Every possible positive scenario is priced into the bull case, and we're ignoring the bear cases around market risk, macro risk, what ends up happening with China."

Number of the Day

5,492

That's how many 5G licenses Dish bought in the most recent spectrum auction, as it tries desperately to become the fourth player in the wireless business now that Sprint's out of the game. Total cost? $913 million. But Verizon spent the most in the auction, dropping $1.9 billion for 557 licenses around the U.S.

In Other News

  • A fight reportedly broke out on Facebook's internal messaging platform this week, and Mark Zuckerberg had to step in. It was sparked by a Facebook employee's post titled "In Support of Law Enforcement and Black Lives." After heated discussion, Zuckerberg said that the company's developing rules that will prevent employees from discussing "highly charged content broadly in open groups."
  • A federal court said the government couldn't ask Google for geofence searches: Law enforcement requested a detailed list of all smartphones within 100 meters of two Chicago businesses in a specified time period, but was denied. Watered-down requests were also rejected, which could have big implications for how the government collects data.
  • Your occasional reminder to never use this newsletter for stock tips: Zoom's stock came back to Earth a bit Wednesday, though it's still up more than 50% from a month ago.
  • Bill Ackman approached Airbnb about taking it public with his huge SPAC, according to Bloomberg. Apparently the company wasn't hugely interested — though it's not totally ruled out the idea.
  • Remember last week's story about Larry Ellison's checkered philanthropy record? Ellison's now shut down his foundation altogether, reports Recode, apparently because he wants to focus on fighting COVID-19 instead.
  • On Protocol: Fast wants to reinvent online shopping with a one-click checkout. But its aims are bigger than that: Ultimately, it wants to kill the password altogether.
  • Emergency alert systems are more important than ever. But as this OneZero piece explains, the infrastructure underpinning them is messy — and prone to life-threatening errors.
  • India banned 118 more Chinese apps, including PUBG. That's after an Indian soldier was reportedly killed on its disputed border with China earlier this week.

One More Thing

Truly the perfect board hire

DraftKings naming Michael Jordan as a special adviser to its board of directors is truly a match made in heaven. It'd be like giving Joey Chestnut a seat at the Nathan's table, or getting Tom Cruise to help you run a cybersecurity firm. Always good to get the people who know your product best!

Though I do wonder if DraftKings tried to get Pete Rose first.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from anywhere, to anywhere

A strong healthcare system can scale to meet increasing patient demands. At Philips, we're charting a new way forward by moving care beyond the hospital's walls with advanced virtual health capabilities that expand clinical reach and increase care team capacity.

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 day, see you tomorrow.

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