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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Tech rages at Trump’s visa ban

Image: The White House
Donald Trump

Good morning! This Wednesday, the tech industry condemns Trump's visa ban, the rush to protect a beloved blogger, and how people really feel about online privacy.

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People Are Talking

On Protocol: The best way to increase diversity is to work on it like it's a product, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said:

  • "This is sort of like, what are we doing to manage content on our site? It's a problem that requires constant time and attention because obviously, if you don't focus on it, it doesn't happen on its own. The answer is a lot of hard work at the recruiting, mentorship, encouragement level and pledging, as we have, goals and measuring where we are."

Twitter added another day to its holiday calendar, head of design and research Dantley Davis said:

  • "Proud that @Twitter is making national elections (U.S. and International) a paid holiday for employees. I hope companies and countries do the same to enable greater participation in elections around the world."

Satya Nadella wrote a remarkably specific note to staff about how Microsoft will help fight racial injustice, with plans like this one:

  • "We will double the number of Black- and African American-owned approved suppliers over the next three years and spend an incremental $500M with those existing and new suppliers."

Want to know the fastest way to make your fintech app fail? Plaid CEO Zach Perret knows it:

  • "If you tell someone to save more money and spend less money, they'll just delete your app … we understood that there needed to be some gamification to make fintech interesting."

The Big Story

Silicon Valley slams the immigration ban

After President Trump signed the executive order freezing new visas — including the H-1B visa that so many tech companies use to bring skilled workers to the U.S. — leaders of companies across Silicon Valley continued to express their dismay.

  • "Okta was built by solving hard problems with skilled workers from all corners of the globe," its CEO Todd McKinnon said, "and we'll continue to seek out the most talented team we can find. I wish the U.S. would stop making it harder."
  • Tim Cook echoed the idea: "Like Apple, this nation of immigrants has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream. There is no new prosperity without both. Deeply disappointed by this proclamation."
  • "Very much disagree with this action," Elon Musk said. "In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad."
  • Susan Wojcicki echoed Sundar Pichai's thoughts from Monday, saying that "immigration is central to America's story, and it's central to my own family's story. My family escaped danger and found a new home in America."

Others offered themselves up as examples, as living proof that the visa program is a good thing:

  • "I came to the U.S. as an engineer on H-1B in 2000 during a tech recession and high unemployment," Harness.io's Jyoti Bansal said. "I like to think I have been a good net positive contributor to the economy."
  • "I first came to the U.S. with Sun Microsystems on an L1 visa in 1993, got my green card in 2004, then worked in Silicon Valley for @ebaytech, @NetflixOSS, @BatteryVentures and @AWSopen," Adrian Cockcroft said.

There was a YouTube video going around yesterday, from 2011, in which Dr. Michio Kaku said that "the United States has the worst educational system known to science," and that its economic systems might collapse without immigration.

  • "America has a secret weapon," he said, "and that secret weapon is the H-1B." Without it, he said, there would be no Silicon Valley.

The industry's fairly aligned on this one, but the question still remains: What will it do about it? And where will entrepreneurs no longer allowed to enter the U.S. go instead?

  • Still, as The New York Times pointed out, the order won't change much immediately, since COVID-19 forced most consulates to stop doing interviews anyway.
  • Long-term, though, Shopify's Tobi Lutke has one idea: "Canada is awesome. Give it a try."

Blogs

Tech Twitter doesn't want its favorite blog to go away

Protocol's Shakeel Hashim writes: Tech people love blogs — and they really love Slate Star Codex, "a blog about science, medicine, philosophy, politics, and futurism." So when the site's pseudonymous author, Scott Alexander, deleted the blog because The New York Times was about to reveal his identity, Tech Twitter reacted exactly as you'd expect.

  • Lambda School CEO Austen Allred called it "incredibly, incredibly sad," while Twitch co-founder Justin Kan called on people to cancel their NYT subscriptions. Thiel Capital's Eric Weinstein summed up the mood well: "I want it back."
  • "It's been overwhelming," Alexander said via email, saying he's received dozens of supportive emails. "I'm really gratified by how strong the response has been."

Village Global's Erik Torenberg once called Alexander "one of the great public intellectuals most people have never heard of." And with over 40% of the blog's audience in computing-related jobs, those who have heard of him tend to be techies.

  • "I would guess the reason he's so popular in the tech community is that he likes to look inside things and figure out how they work," Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham said via email. "Techies like that."
  • Alexander said many people come for the community: "I think we're a relic of an earlier age of blogging, when comment sections played the role that Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit do today."

Alexander made a compelling case for pseudonymity on the blog, and said he doesn't think the Times is doing anything malicious. It simply sees the world differently. "I come from an Internet culture where you have a presumed right to anonymity unless you do something wrong; I think [the NYT comes] from a culture where they have a presumed right to give your name unless you have an ironclad excuse like being a dissident in a dictatorship."

  • That clash doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon. "Especially in these times of increased fear and partisanship," Alexander said, "I think the former culture is really valuable."

A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

CLEAR

CLEAR's touchless identity verification is available in 34 airports nationwide. Members verify their ID with their eyes and scan their boarding pass on a mobile device. With iris first technology, heightened cleaning, and social distancing set in place, you can travel safer with CLEAR. Touchless. No Crowds. Keep moving.

Learn more here.

Personal Data

How people really feel about privacy

We here at Source Code love a good survey. And here's a fascinating one: Okta polled 12,000 people across the globe to see how they thought about privacy, and how they understood the state of things. Turns out, they mostly don't.

  • 42% of Americans said they didn't think their shopping data was being collected, and 49% didn't think their social media posts were being tracked.
  • When asked whether they'd be more willing to share their data if they were paid for it — Andrew Yang-style — only about a third of people said yes. 76% had at least one type of data they'd never give up or sell.
  • A whopping 55% of Americans believed their offline conversations were being tracked. Because that "Facebook's listening to my microphone" rumor just will not ever die.

COVID-19 seems to be changing things a bit. 26% of the survey's respondents said coronavirus and contact-tracing have made them more aware of data tracking, both good and bad, and many said they're more comfortable with the idea of being tracked for the purpose of fighting a pandemic.

  • But only to a point: 71% said they weren't comfortable with being tracked for social-distancing purposes.

The broad takeaway seems to be this: People don't think or worry much about the implications of what they buy, watch, listen to or look at. But when it comes to things that feel more personal — location, biometrics, that sort of thing — they get skeeved out fast.

  • Oh, and also: Americans are way more worried about … everything tracking-related than people in other countries.

The study's especially fascinating in light of Apple's privacy announcements this week, and the tech industry's more general push toward more transparency and information. We can have an honest conversation about privacy and data collection, but not until people understand what's actually happening. And as Okta found, most people don't. Not even close.

Making Moves

Stacy Brown-Philpot is stepping down as TaskRabbit's CEO. She'll stay in the job until the end of August to allow the company to find her replacement, and said this has been the plan for months. As The New York Times points out, Brown-Philpot has plenty of projects still on her plate.

Palantir reportedly added three new board members, including journalist Alexandra Wolfe Schiff, Zillow founder Spencer Rascoff, and 8VC partner Alexander Moore. Wolfe Schiff, who will be the first woman to join the company's board, resigned from The Wall Street Journal to take up the role.

In Other News

  • Don't miss this story from The New York Times about the dozens of women in gaming who decided to speak publicly about their experiences with harassment and sexism in the industry — from developers, streamers, and others.
  • From Protocol: Amazon is looking to add 24/7 live TV to Prime Video, with live news, music and sports all under consideration. The company has been "actively pursuing" licensing deals for linear and live programming, a source said.
  • Amazon launched a $2 billion VC fund to invest in "sustainable and decarbonizing technologies." Wonder if that had anything to do with Amazon's other announcement yesterday: It said its carbon footprint grew 15% last year.
  • Dell may spin off its VMware stake, according to The Wall Street Journal. The stake is worth around $50 billion — way more than Dell's $36 billion market cap, and proceeds from it could help to pay off a lot of debt.
  • Facebook discontinued Oculus Go, its entry-level VR headset. The company said it is going all-in on the Oculus Quest's six-degrees-of-freedom tech instead.
  • Brazil's central bank suspended WhatsApp payments, which launched last week. The bank said it wants time to examine risks that the feature might present.
  • Twitter labeled another tweet from President Trump, this time for violating its policy against abusive behavior. His press secretary Kayleigh McEnany wasn't happy about it.
  • Square has started withholding up to 30% of some merchants' revenue to protect consumers from "risky sellers." But some merchants say they've been unfairly targeted.
  • From Protocol: A tech training program for at-risk youth in Camden, New Jersey, had to shift to work-from-home like everyone else. But some of its students and interns didn't have homes to go to.

One More Thing

RIP Segway

It's easy to laugh now, but the Segway was supposed to change everything. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs loved it (though Jobs hated the early design), and it became almost a given that there would someday be Segways everywhere. But outside of cops and tour groups, that didn't happen. And now the original Segway is no more. But don't be sad for the Segway! What started with that big-wheeled goober is now built into the tech and ideas behind the scooters, hoverboards and e-bikes taking over streets near you: As part of Ninebot, the Segway idea is bigger than ever. So raise a glass to the original, as it heads to prowl the big mall in the sky.

A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

CLEAR

CLEAR's touchless identity verification is available in 34 airports nationwide. Members verify their ID with their eyes and scan their boarding pass on a mobile device. With iris first technology, heightened cleaning, and social distancing set in place, you can travel safer with CLEAR. Touchless. No Crowds. Keep moving.

Learn more here.

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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