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Tech is torn over social activism at work

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Protestors

Good morning! This Tuesday, Epic and Apple might go before a jury, search engines aren't happy with Android's search choice screen, and a Coinbase blog post divides tech Twitter.

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The Big Story

Apple vs. Epic: Bring in the jury

Biz Carson writes: The legal battle between Apple and Epic Games happened the only way it could: The Zoom call maxed out its number of attendees, so Fortnite fans violated court rules and started streaming the hearing onto YouTube and Twitch as part of the #FreeFortnite campaign.

But the judge was no huge Fortnite fan. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wasn't "particularly persuaded" by some of Epic's arguments — but then, she also called some of Apple's reactions overblown. She said she would be issuing a written order, but didn't give a timeline on when she would make a decision.

The trial went as you'd expect: Apple's core arguments continued to center around customer privacy and security; Epic said its recent actions were proof that controls are needed.

  • The judge seemed to side with Apple on that: "There's plenty of people in the public who consider you guys heroes for what you did, but it's still not honest," Gonzalez Rogers said of Epic.

Epic's lawyers said its actions are justified, arguing that they showed that there was consumer demand for an alternative payments system after over half the buyers used Epic's option. (Apple's lawyers argued that the fact that it was only half showed that users still trust Apple's products more.)

  • Epic also defended its #FreeFortnite marketing campaign, which included a shot-by-shot re-creation of Apple's iconic 1984 ad, as necessary preparation.
  • "When you are taking on the biggest company in the world, when you know it's going to retaliate, you don't lie down in the street and die," said Epic lawyer Katherine Forrest.

The fight may now go before a jury at the recommendation of the judge: She said that she assumed the losing party would file an appeal and that the appellate court looks more favorably on jury verdicts.

  • Jury trial or not, Gonzalez Rogers signaled that it's likely that Apple vs. Epic would start next summer and could have a July 2021 trial date.
  • "As we've noted, these are important cases and they're on the frontier of antitrust law. You might as well find out what the people really think and want," she said.

More Antitrust

DuckDuckGo and Ecosia say Google's search choice is unfair

Earlier this year, in response to a 2018 European antitrust ruling, Google started offering new European Android users a choice: They could pick which search engine would be the device's default, from a list of four. One of those would always be Google, but competitors could bid to be included as one of the other three in each country.

According to DuckDuckGo and Ecosia, the whole system is flawed.

"It hasn't worked," DuckDuckGo's Kamyl Bazbaz told me. While DuckDuckGo has previously won some of the auctions, this time around it lost out in most big countries, with Bing, Info.com and PrivacyWall the big winners announced Monday. Ecosia, meanwhile, had previously boycotted the auction. "We decided to participate in this round," CEO Christian Kroll said, "because we really didn't see that we had a choice." But it lost in every country other than Slovenia.

"What we wanted to do at the beginning was get data to understand what it would be like to profitably bid," DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg said. So back at the start of the program DuckDuckGo bid high amounts. Now, it knows how much it can afford to pay per user, and it turns out to be less than other companies. Weinberg attributed that to the engine's business model: It shows fewer ads, and it makes less money per ad because it doesn't collect as much data.

  • "We're naturally going to be able to bid less than everybody else long term," Weinberg said. "This auction system is, I think, designed to get rid of these alternative business models." (That doesn't really explain why PrivacyWall won, though Kroll speculated that the relatively unknown company might be bidding high to help build brand visibility.)
  • Kroll agreed with Weinberg's assessment and thinks this outcome is what Google wanted all along. The winners, he said, "are exactly the companies that are least interesting to users, which means that when this option screen is presented … nobody will select anything other than Google."
  • In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Google said "an auction is a fair and objective method," adding that it has "carefully balanced providing users with yet more choice while ensuring that we can continue to invest in developing … Android."

Being excluded from the choice screen probably won't have an immediate impact on DuckDuckGo, Weinberg and Bazbaz said: It's simply not prevalent enough yet. But it has the potential for impact, they think, and being excluded could harm their business long term. "The idea of it is actually a really good remedy, it's just Google has hijacked it and made it look bad," Weinberg said.

DuckDuckGo has its own designs, supported by Ecosia, for what a "good" screen looks like: More than four options shown to every Android user, not just new ones, with no auction behind it all. And it has big ambitions for that design:

  • "I'm hoping the Department of Justice, for example, picks it up," Weinberg said. (The company has discussed the concept with the DOJ.)
  • And ahead of the DOJ's lawsuit against Google, expected to drop in the next couple of weeks, Weinberg said he's "hoping for some real structural change."

Culture

Tech's torn over social activism at work

On Sunday, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong published a blog post about the company's mission. One part in particular caught the attention of tech Twitter.

"We focus minimally on causes not directly related to the mission," Armstrong wrote. That means not engaging with "broader societal issues," or advocating "for any particular causes or candidates internally that are unrelated to our mission, because it is a distraction from our mission." Social activism, Armstrong thinks, has "the potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction, and by creating internal division."

"I recognize that our approach is not for everyone and may be controversial," he said.

No kidding.

  • A good chunk of tech Twitter praised the post. "Coinbase appears to be taking the unpopular position of allowing (even encouraging) diversity of thought in the workplace. Good for them," Michael Arrington wrote. "Focusing and keeping the team united around why they wanted to join in the first place is how you build a movement and change the world," said David Sacks. Paul Graham was a big fan, too: "I predict most successful companies will follow Coinbase's lead. If only because those who don't are less likely to succeed."
  • But a lot of people were … not impressed. "Coinbase announces new commitment to a white supremacist workplace," Nandini Jammi said. "Why can't Coinbase acknowledge the injustice and inequality that affects many current and future Coinbase users?" asked Reuben Bramanathan. "Watch as Coinbase purposely creates an environment that is harsh, perhaps even hostile, to some workers, causing them to leave," Erica Joy predicted.

One thing to watch now is how Coinbase employees respond. Some people expect a mass exodus of talent; others think this might attract less politically engaged people to work there. We'll find out soon enough which one's true.

This Twitter controversy was almost immediately overtaken by Clubhouse drama, by the way, after a discussion about "anti-Semitism and Black culture" reportedly became anti-Semitic. As Gabe Rivera pointed out, it's one a16z portfolio company taking the fall for another. That's what I call teamwork.

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People Are Talking

Kara Swisher asked Elon Musk who he's voting for:

  • "I mean, I'm — to be totally frank I'm not — I mean, I think — let's just see how the debates go. You know?"
  • He thinks the debates will decide things for America: "I think people just want to see if Biden's got it together."

Uber's ex-CTO Thuan Pham is worried about the company's self-driving division:

  • "Over the past two years I have periodically raised concerns with Dara on whether meaningful self-driving progress is being made at [the Advanced Technologies Group] … I just don't understand why, from all observable measures, the thing isn't making progress. How come there hasn't been accountability or transparency?"

NAACP Vice President Jamal Watkins wants more information from Facebook about the 2016 election after Channel 4 reported that the Trump campaign targeted Black voters marked as "deterrence."

  • "I don't believe Facebook has fully disclosed their role, and fully disclosed the types of ads that were run, who was involved and literally how they may have been embedded in, say, the Trump campaign to make this all come to life."

Making Moves

Amazon is hiring 5,300 people in Vancouver over the next three years, and will open a new 1.1 million-square-foot office in the city.

Rinki Sethi is Twitter's new CISO. She most recently did the same job at Rubrik, and now has the unenviable task of making sure July's hack doesn't happen again.

Krishna Tammana is Talend's new CTO. He was previously VP of engineering at Splunk.

Adrienne Gormley is now COO at N26, and Diana Styles is its new chief people officer. Gormley joins from Dropbox, and Styles was previously an executive at Adidas.

Ivanti bought MobileIron for $872 million, which the two companies said will create a market leader in "unified endpoint management."

In Other News

  • Google's new Chromecast leaked — at Home Depot. The new device, set to be unveiled Wednesday, went on sale at a few retailers ahead of its announcement. The receipt even lists the device by its code name: "SABRINA-ABBEY ROCK CANDY."
  • An Amazon manager settled with the SEC for insider trading. Laskha Bora, who worked in Amazon's tax department, allegedly gave her family confidential earnings information.
  • Tesla tried to buy a mining company, Bloomberg reports, but after talks fell through it decided to just get its own mining rights. Elon Musk told investors last week that the company has the rights to more than 10,000 acres of lithium-rich clay deposits in Nevada.
  • Daniel Ek made his first moonshot investment. He was part of a new $600 million funding round for Northvolt, a Swedish battery gigafactory, alongside a bunch of institutional investors and fellow Spotify board member Cristina Stenbeck.
  • Amazon wants to see your palm. It announced Amazon One on Tuesday, a new palm scanner that will grant customers access to Amazon Go stores. The company also said it plans to let third parties use the service, too.
  • Disney sold adtech company TrueX to Gimbal for less than $100 million, The Wall Street Journal reports. Disney acquired it as part of its 21st Century Fox acquisition, and the sale represents another example of media companies getting out of the adtech game.
  • Cloud streaming has a much bigger carbon footprint than other gaming methods, Sony says. While downloads emit 0.047kg of CO2 per hour and disc games 0.055kg, cloud game streaming averages out to 0.149kg per hour, according to its calculations. But for games played for less than eight hours, cloud gaming does better than downloads.
  • JD.com's health care subsidiary filed for an IPO. It aims to raise as much as $2.8 billion.
  • McAfee filed for an IPO. Can't wait to read the "John McAfee's behavior" section of its risk factors in that S-1.

One More Thing

FarmVille goes to the big farm in the sky

It's the end of an era: FarmVille is shutting down on Facebook on Dec. 31. It's a casualty of Adobe killing Flash Player, and brings an end to 11 years of really annoying notifications. Don't worry though: FarmVille 3 is coming soon.

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Small businesses need to attract and sell to new customers, but many worry about adding operational complexity – especially right now. QuickBooks Commerce is a new platform to manage multiple online and in-store sales channels and better maintain inventory while getting profitability insights – all from one central hub.

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Today's Source Code was written by Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to shakeel@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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