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Software goes on trial

Oracle Google lawsuit

Good morning! This Thursday, the Supreme Court thinks software is like spices, Android TV is in trouble in India, and Slack wants to copy a feature from Instagram.

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The Big Story

Software is like spices. And QWERTY. Kind of.

Anna Kramer (who's new to Protocol, everybody say hi!) writes: Google and Oracle got their chance to battle it out in the (virtual) Supreme Court yesterday, after more than a decade of build-up. The key takeaway: Though the justices voiced concern about the fallout from a pro-Oracle ruling, most still seemed skeptical of Google's arguments.

The stakes are high, as the case will likely determine whether companies can claim copyrights to APIs, an outcome that would upend the tech industry's business model. Oracle claims that Google's use of Java APIs in Android violates Oracle's ownership rights.

  • "If the Supreme Court agrees, Oracle will be sitting on a potential gold mine involving Android as well as any application that uses Java, a backbone programming language for nearly two decades," Protocol's Tom Krazit told me.

Many justices seemed to struggle with the technicalities, comparing APIs to instructions to mix spices, their development to the creation of the QWERTY keyboard, and Google's use of Java to cracking a safe to steal cash. But no analogy is perfect, because the issues are so complex and esoteric.

Justice Stephen Breyer did try to flash his technical chops, though, reading aloud pieces of the Java API to question Google's attorney, Tom Goldstein.

  • He asked Goldstein: "If you spent enough time, and you had the most brilliant computer programmers, don't you think they could devise a system of calling up the Java program, though it might be expensive to do and take a long time, that didn't use the words java.lang.math?"
  • Goldstein's response: "No."

Oracle seemed to have the better day in court. Breyer was the only justice who appeared obviously in favor of Google's claims by the hearing's end. Justices John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito were all more skeptical of Google's argument. Gorsuch told Google's lawyer that phone makers like Apple "have come up with phones that work just fine without engaging in this kind of copying." Gorsuch also suggested that the case could be returned to the appeals court without a definitive ruling.

Both companies expressed optimism about the outcome of the hearing, and the court will likely release a ruling some time next year. But the issues here are already starting to crop up elsewhere: This week's antitrust report had a whole section recommending that tech firms be required to embrace interoperability, which is precisely what Google's been asking for.

Streaming

Android antitrust hits the small screen

Janko Roettgers writes: A day after Congress put out its big antitrust report, Google was also feeling the heat in India. The nation's Competition Commission is investigating whether Google's Android TV licensing contracts prevent TV manufacturers from also using other smart TV operating systems, like Amazon's Fire TV OS, Reuters reported yesterday.

Sound familiar? That's because Protocol broke the news about Google engaging in this behavior in March. Here's the gist:

  • Google has long required companies that manufacture Android phones to follow a set of confidential rules known as the Android Compatibility Commitment. In the TV world, Sony, TCL, Xiaomi and other companies all make smart TVs running Google's Android TV system, but aren't allowed to make TVs running Amazon's Android-based Fire TV OS.
  • These rules even apply across device categories. If Xiaomi wants to run a Google-sanctioned version of Android on its phones, it's barred from making Fire TV-powered streaming devices.

Indian regulators began their investigation in June, Reuters reported, and have asked Google to address their concerns. The company has reportedly asked for more time to respond.

Google also just unveiled a new Chromecast streaming dongle that runs the next version of Android TV. That new version comes with a revamped UI that some industry insiders criticize for giving Google even more control. "This will not get easier for Google," one of those insiders told us Wednesday.

WFH

Slack's take on the (virtual) office

There are two types of people in the world: People who think always-on video chat is the solution to remote work, and people who would prefer to be left alone sometimes, thankyouverymuch.

Slack's trying to find a middle ground. At its Frontiers conference, among a bunch of other product announcements — DM with people outside your company! Enterprise-ready app certification! — the company showed off the way it's thinking about video and audio for work communications. In all, it's trying to make communication feel less regimented and more office-y.

  • Slack Stories could someday be a thing. (Like Instagram, but for Business!) They're meant as an easy way to give status updates, or have an asynchronous standup meeting without turning them into interminable email threads.
  • Push-to-talk audio is also maybe coming to a channel near you. Channels would have a voice-ready space, and you could jump in and out like it's a conference room.

Slack's not just thinking about communication anymore, either. Steve Wood, the company's VP of product for Platform, told me that he wants Slack to become "the central nervous system" of every business everywhere. Slack's not trying to become an all-in-one suite of work tools, but it does want to be the place where every important thing — whether it's a message from your boss or a notice that your server just crashed — appears first.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

A group of European lawmakers took issue with Jeff Bezos over a couple of Amazon job postings for "intelligence analysts":

  • "We wonder about your intentions with great concern: Does Amazon's monitoring intentionally target trade unionists, Amazon workers, as well as political representatives (including ourselves) who could possibly express criticism of its activities?"

On Protocol: Election misinformation is being replaced by misinformation about misinformation, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said:

  • "As it gets harder and harder to run large scale social media operation campaigns because they're getting caught, they're trying instead to play on our fears. Why run a large campaign that will get you caught when you can try and trick people into thinking such a campaign is happening?"

Is Steve Ballmer worried about a breakup of Big Tech? Uh, no:

  • "I'll bet money that they will not be broken up."

Did you see that anti-Zuckerberg ad during the debate last night? Accountable Tech's Nicole Gill said the timing was important:

  • "This VP debate will draw the nation's attention to the precarious state of our democracy, from the erosion of truth to the extreme tribalism. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have turbocharged all of that, and they need to be held accountable."

Making Moves

Walter Delph is the new chief business officer at Magic Leap. His history is all over the map, from consulting to Verizon to the LA Kings. Now he'll be leading the effort to turn Magic Leap from a consumer product to an enterprise one.

Jennifer Johnson is the new CMSO at Amplitude. She comes from Tenable, and has worked at Tanium, a16z and elsewhere. She brings big CMO chops to the job, and will try to grow Amplitude in a big way.

Netflix is taking over a 87,000 square-foot office in London, Bloomberg reports. The building will become its new U.K. HQ, and will triple Netflix's footprint in the city.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Facebook will ban all political ads after polls close on Election Day. It will also ban new ads that call for poll watching using militarized language.
  • The U.K.'s Cambridge Analytica probe found no evidence it was involved in the Brexit referendum. It also found no evidence that Cambridge Analytica helped Russia interfere in any elections globally.
  • Almost 2,000 election offices applied for Mark Zuckerberg's $250 million donation. Demand was so high that the deadline for applications was extended from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15.
  • Some QAnon accounts are still up on Facebook, because the ban applies only to groups and pages, not individual users.
  • Every tech company has moderation problems, example #43173: Etsy banned QAnon merch.
  • A London-based investment firm is reportedly bidding for TikTok. The Wall Street Journal reports that ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming has talked to Centricus advisers about the offer, though ByteDance denied the two were in talks.
  • The White House is considering restrictions on Ant Group's and Tencent's payment platforms, Bloomberg reports. Officials are reportedly concerned that the platforms pose a national security threat.
  • Margrethe Vestager will use injunctions more often against Big Tech, she said, after the European Commission settled with Broadcom over its exclusivity agreements. Broadcom agreed to not use any exclusivity arrangements for set-top boxes or modems for the next seven years.
  • Amazon sent a legal notice to Future Group, saying it breached the terms of its contract with Amazon when it sold a chunk of its business to Reliance Retail. Oddly, Amazon is also now reportedly in talks to invest in Reliance Retail.
  • DoorDash launched a new WFH-friendly tool, DoorDash for Work. It lets employers give staff credits for meal orders and pay for their DashPass memberships. Bets on it becoming a new essential job perk?

One More Thing

Up close and personal with the PS5

I'm a sucker for a good teardown video, and the one Sony made about the PS5 is truly a paragon of the art form. Watching it, you'll almost understand why the console is approximately the size of a microwave.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

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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