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Sony’s future of gaming looks like … a router
Good morning! This Friday, the EU prepares to file antitrust action against Amazon, Sony reveals the PlayStation 5, and OpenAI has a new chatbot to play with.
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People Are Talking
YouTube launched a $100 million fund for Black creators, and Susan Wojcicki said she knows the platform has work to do:
- "We will work to ensure Black users, artists, and creators can share their stories and be protected from hateful, white supremacist, and bullying content."
- "I've been following Facebook and I've been encouraged by progress on so many of the big issues facing us. In the past month the world has grown more chaotic and unstable, which has only given me more resolve to help out."
On Protocol: Quarantine-related viewer numbers might go back down, Amazon's Marc Whitten said, but one trend will continue:
- "I feel like we've probably accelerated cord cutting by, I don't know, a year? I'm making that particular number up, but I think there are a lot of people that have suddenly tried this, and they will perhaps stick with it where maybe they weren't in the audience before."
Sarah Friar tried to lay out a plan for making Nextdoor a more hospitable place:
- "We've heard from many Black neighbors that they do not feel welcome and respected. For this, we are sorry. This, we must change."
Snap won't release its diversity numbers, and Evan Spiegel has a deeply weird reason:
- "I've always been concerned that releasing that data publicly only reinforces the perception that tech is not a place for underrepresented groups."
The Big Story
The new antitrust era may almost be here
Antitrust action is the greatest bogeyman in tech – always discussed, often threatened, rarely spotted, but permanently terrifying. Now the EU may be about to let the monster emerge from under the bed again.
The EU could file formal antitrust charges against Amazon as early as next week, The Wall Street Journal reported. The charges are said to be focused primarily on Amazon's treatment of third-party sellers, rather than AWS or its Whole Foods acquisition or any of the other potential antitrust angles that have been discussed.
- Remember that story from earlier this year saying Amazon used data from its store to decide which products to make, and then sold them at unbeatable prices, decimating their third-party sellers? Yeah, the EU remembers it, too.
- This has been an open question for Margrethe Vestager, the EU's antitrust guru, for years. "Some of these platforms, they have the role both as player and referee, and how can that be fair?" she asked in a New York Times interview last year. "You would never accept a football match where the one team was also being the referee."
Recent history would suggest that Amazon will pay a giant fine and move on with its life — even Google's $5 billion antitrust fine from the EU in 2018 over Android amounted to little more than a slightly painful slap on the wrist.
- But Vestager has been clear that she wants to do more than just levy fines. We might be about to find out what, exactly, that particular monster looks like.
This should be particularly concerning to Apple and Google, both of which also have a checkered history with third-party sellers. If the EU's antitrust approach is to separate sellers from stores, Apple and Google could both be in for similar treatment.
- Nothing has officially been filed against Amazon yet. And charges would only be the beginning of the process. But they'd likely embolden U.S. investigators, who have been poking at the tech giants for months without much to show for it.
- But you better believe Big Tech is ready to fight back. Google, Amazon, Facebook and others have set up and funded a number of political groups, The Washington Post reported, to push pro-tech ideas and deter regulators from taking antitrust action. And they're trying to do it all without being noticed.
The Biden campaign comes at Facebook
Joe Biden's campaign is escalating its battle with Facebook, Protocol's Emily Birnbaum tells me:
- "He's using the most powerful tool at a politician's disposal: an open letter. After months of conversations with Facebook and years of statements to the press, Team Biden seems to think it can win political points by highlighting its criticism of Facebook's hands-off stance towards political speech, specifically from the president."
The Biden campaign is asking Facebook to do three things:
- Create rules that prohibit threats and lies about how to participate in the election.
- Fact-check viral content about elections.
- Implement a two-week period before the election during which all political advertisements are fact-checked.
Facebook already does the first two things, Emily points out, "just not to Biden's liking." More analysis from Emily:
- "Biden will likely continue to use Facebook as a foil as we get closer to the November election, framing the company as undemocratic and biased as it helps amplify President Trump."
- "On the other side of the aisle, conservatives will continue to claim Facebook unfairly censors right-wing voices. It's a lose-lose, and both parties seem to be trying their hardest to work the refs."
Meanwhile, Facebook quickly responded to the letter. It's pretty saucy!
- "We live in a democracy, where the elected officials decide the rules around campaigns," the company's statement said, before pointing out that the two leading candidates have now called on Facebook to do precisely opposite things with political statements.
- "Just as they have done with broadcast networks — where the U.S. government prohibits rejecting politicians' campaign ads — the people's elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them," it continues.
- "There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."
The Transformation of Work Summit
Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit
How can tech help identify and match in-demand skills with job opportunity? Speakers include Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI), CEO of Jobs for the Future Maria Flynn, and CEO of Colorado State University Global Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker. Presented by Workday.
It's a router. It's a skyscraper. It's a PS5!
After much delay, Sony finally took the covers off the PlayStation 5. In a livestream I watched with several million of my closest friends (remind me why companies do live events again?), Sony's Jim Ryan called the PS5 "the biggest generational transition our industry has yet seen," before unveiling the gaming trailer to end all gaming trailers.
- Miles Morales as Spiderman was there! Gran Turismo was there! Ratchet & Clank! Demon's Souls! Ghostwire! Horizon Zero Dawn 2! Scary games! Racing games! Games starring strawberries! Hologram cats!
- Google Stadia, take note: This is what a launch lineup looks like.
We also got good looks at the controller — with its speaker, microphone, and (thank goodness) a built-in mute button — and finally, finally at the console itself.
It turns out the console is sort of a Rorschach test: Everybody sees something else in its swoopy design. It could be a Shanghai skyscraper. A 2003 router. A plastic box (hard to argue with that one). Your favorite popped-collar prepster. The Wii's mean older brother. I could keep going, but personally, all I see is the Eye of Sauron.
- Now Sony just has to convince people that all those things are totally acceptable to keep next to a TV in the living room.
Maxine Williams, Facebook's Chief Diversity Officer, will now report directly to COO Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg said that the move is part of the company "putting Diversity & Inclusion at the heart of our management team discussions and processes — at the heart of all we do." (If you haven't read our Q&A with Williams from a few weeks ago, now's a good time to.)
Audrey Gelman resigned from her CEO role at The Wing, and will be replaced by a three-person group: Lauren Kassan, Celestine Maddy and Ashley Peterson.
Jim Keller, Intel's top chip designer, resigned "for personal reasons." He'll continue consulting for the company for six months. Intel also re-organized its engineering team as part of the change.
In Other News
- On Protocol: Snap announced a bunch of new features for Snapchat – AR lenses, fun games, that sort of thing. But it also announced a way to put Snap's camera into other apps, which could turn the company from "a messaging app" into a core part of the infrastructure of augmented reality.
- Google is changing its ad-targeting rules, so that housing, employment, and credit advertisers can't discriminate across a number of factors.
- Jack Dorsey is giving away his fortune in an unusual way: with the help of one person, Vanessa Terry, and at a pace practically unheard of in the philanthropy world.
- More big-money delivery news! Instacart raised $225 million and is now valued at $13.7 billion, making it one of the largest players in the delivery space, while DoorDash is reportedly securing funding that would value it at more than $15 billion. Eat your heart out, Just Eat Takeaway Grubhub Whatever Your Name Is.
- Microsoft will stop selling facial-recognition software to police. It's not the first company to do so, but it took the strongest stance yet: President Brad Smith said the company won't start selling again until there's a national law governing the tech.
- On Protocol: Movie theater companies are desperate to get people going to the movies again. For America's largest such company, AMC, the key will be MoviePass-style subscriptions. And plenty of bleach.
- Apple is removing podcast apps like Pocket Casts and Castro from the App Store in China, at the request of the government. Castro tweeted that it suspected its support of the ongoing protests was the problem.
- Google countersued Sonos, saying it infringed five Google patents — exactly the same number of patents that Sonos said Google violated when it filed suit originally in January. Almost like everybody's hoping to just trade patents and walk away.
One More Thing
The chatbot to end all chatbots
If there's one thing we know about chatbots, it's that they always turn out super well and not racist or rude or problematic. Wait. So it's kind of bold of OpenAI, the organization hoping to build super-smart machines that don't want to take over the world, to make a language product its first commercial system. It's just called API, and after being trained on trillions of words from Wikipedia, books, and the internet at large, it can write news, answer questions, finish your sentences, and more. Google's using it, Microsoft's using it, and I'm assuming in about three weeks it'll be writing this newsletter. Hopefully I have a PS5 by then.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Have a wonderful weekend, see you Monday.