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The audio revival starts here

Person listening to music

Good morning! This Tuesday, we're presumably all still happy-crying about people finally getting COVID vaccines, right? But also, the social-audio space is heating up, Apple's making developers mad about privacy and Larry Ellison says "mahalo" now.

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The Big Story

Turn off the camera

Audio is having a bit of a moment. Which seems odd, given that in many ways it seems like a step backward from all the video and VR and AR tools being built right now. But, from Clubhouse to Discord to Twitter's upcoming Audio Spaces to the general ongoing explosion in podcasts, audio's still here.

First, you need to get over your preconceptions. The whole social-audio space can sound a little Russ Hanneman, "I put radio on the internet"-ish. But some folks are starting to see it differently. And Capiche — a new service that's sort of a cross between talk radio and conference calls, which CEO Austin Petersmith calls "Twitch for audio" — is trying to take advantage.

  • I asked Petersmith: Why audio? "In some ways we kind of skipped over audio on the internet," he said. "The amount of experimentation of video is orders of magnitude more than audio, and I think that's because there's a tendency to go toward the highest-fidelity thing available. But there are all kinds of reasons audio's amazing."
  • One of those reasons is simplicity. Capiche is broadcasting regular ol' phone calls, and letting people listen by simply dialing in, or via a web browser. And it all works even if your phone is locked and in your pocket, which is nice.

There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out. Capiche is still early in thinking about business models — which already include ways for show hosts to charge subscribers, a la Substack — and about moderation. So far, Petersmith said, there hasn't been much Clubhouse-style controversy on Capiche; it's mostly just people chatting on the phone with their friends in front of an audience. But, he said, "I've just seen so many people thinking about it too late."

  • Moderation is tough in audio, both technically and emotionally. There's something about the intimacy of audio, Petersmith said, that makes words hit differently than they might in a Medium post. That's both part of its appeal and potentially a big problem.
  • He mentioned Patreon as a good example to follow: It has bright lines for what's not allowed at all, and then much more leeway to decide what it wants to promote and share around the platform. What's available and what's put in front of users are two very different things.

Audio deserves its space in every social app, for a variety of reasons: It works in the background, it doesn't really matter where you are, and we all have Zoom fatigue. It's also real-time and low-stress, which are two things that don't often come together online. "Turn the camera off sometimes" is becoming go-to remote work advice, and the same will go for life outside the virtual office too.

Privacy

Apple's bright privacy light

A lot of developers are anxious about what Apple's new privacy labels will do to business. I mean, when there's a big box in your App Store listing that says "Data Used to Track You," some would-be users are going to get nervous. Which is, of course, exactly the point.

  • Apple has maintained the features are simply about transparency, helping users understand what has typically been a deep dark secret about data collection. It's requiring every app submitted to the App Store from now on to include accurate information for the labels. (Apple's rules also apply to its own apps, after some back-and-forth with WhatsApp last week.)
  • But Apple also clearly has an opinion here. I mean, it's called "Data Used to Track You," not "Data That Could Be Used to Track You (But You Should Read the Terms of Service Because Every System Is Different)." Even the options are enormously broad: "Location" and "Identifiers" could mean a wide variety of things, but they're all together in the labels.

If you're a developer, you should continue to think about exactly what data you collect, and how you explain it. Because Apple's going out of its way to make data-collection look scary to your potential users.

  • Craig Federighi told Fast Company: "We absolutely expect that others in the industry will respond to the heightened expectations and demands of customers and improve privacy — and we think that's great." I think he's probably going to get his wish.

People Are Talking

Oracle may be "moving" to Texas, but Larry Ellison has other plans:

  • "The answer is no. I've moved to the state of Hawaii and I'll be using the power of Zoom to work from the island of Lanai."
  • (I should point out here that he owns most of said island.)

Pinterest and Françoise Brougher settled a gender-discrimination lawsuit for $22.5 million, and Brougher said she hopes it's just the beginning:

  • "I want more women to speak up, but more importantly, I want more women in the C-suite."

Timnit Gebru said that Google's non-response to her firing is indicative of bigger problems:

  • "I feel like most if not all tech companies are institutionally racist."

Building a delivery app for Venezuela wasn't as simple as copying Uber Eats, Yummy's Vicente Zavarce said:

  • "To ensure some of the restaurants we worked with had consistent Wi-Fi, we actually had to buy them hotspots, which they paid us back for in installments. When we were designing the app, we were very conscious about its size, to be sure that images and menus could load without eating up too much data."

A MESSAGE FROM SALESFORCE

Join us today at 9:30 a.m. PT/12:30 p.m. ET for a deep dive discussion into what lies ahead for this unprecedented medical, logistical, technical and political challenge. Protocol will host a panel conversation with ESRI's chief medical officer Este Geraghty, WHO's assistant director general Samira Asma Yale's director of the institute for global health Saad Omer and Direct Relief's VP of research and analysis Andrew Schroeder, as well as a sponsored keynote interview with Salesforce's Dr. Ashwini Zenooz. This event is presented by Salesforce.

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Making Moves

WeCommerce went public through a SPAC, giving Andrew Wilkinson and Tiny Capital its first public company. WeCommerce owns Pixel Union, Yopify and a bunch of other Shopify-related companies.

Roblox bought Loom.ai, a startup working on 3D avatars. The goal is to bring real-time facial expressions and emotions to Roblox characters everywhere. No chance that'll turn out creepy at all.

Jen Rubio and Stewart Butterfield announced they're having a baby. (And shared the news with an awesome picture straight out of a Christmas movie poster.) Congrats, you two!

In Other News

  • The EU will outline its Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act today. It's expected to prevent big tech companies from using businesses' data to compete with them, and to stop Big Tech from favorably treating its own products. Potential penalties for failure to comply: fines of 10% of revenue, or even breakups. The tech industry has lobbied hard against the rules.
  • On Protocol: California's attorney general is seeking a court order against Amazon, in an effort to compel the company to turn over information about its COVID-19 safety protocols.
  • Up to 18,000 SolarWinds customers may have been affected by its hack, according to the company, and internal communications at the DHS were reportedly accessed. FireEye said the hackers may have made a mistake by targeting FireEye, as the vulnerability may otherwise have gone undiscovered.
  • On Protocol: The FTC asked Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Amazon, Reddit, Snap, Twitter and Discord to share information on how they track personal information and target ads. Elsewhere in social, TikTok is headed to TVs.
  • Uber will start charging a "California Driver Benefits Fee," which is as much as $2 per Uber Eats order in San Francisco. Both it and Lyft will start guaranteeing drivers' earnings and providing health care stipends. Separately, California fined Uber $59 million for not answering questions about sexual assaults.
  • Baidu might make electric vehicles, Reuters reports. It's said to have held talks with Geely, GAC and FAW about partnerships.

One More Thing

The holiday recipe takeover

Starting today through the New Year, we'll be featuring some tech execs' favorite holiday food stories and recipes. Want in on the action? Send yours to akramer@protocol.com, or just reply to this email!

First up, its Amazon public policy VP Brian Huseman's cookies: "I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and a favorite family holiday tradition was for my mom, my brother and I to get together to bake cookies. We particularly liked Hello Dolly cookies (I wasn't sure where the name came from when I was young, but research now tells me it came from the musical). As was appropriate in rural Oklahoma at the time, we used old-fashioned sweetened condensed milk. Christmas season doesn't start in my family until the first batch of Hello Dolly cookies come out of the oven!"

Want to make Brian's go-to cookies? Here's the recipe. Let us know how they turn out!

A MESSAGE FROM SALESFORCE

Join us today 9:30 a.m. PT/12:30 p.m. ET for a deep dive discussion into what lies ahead for this unprecedented medical, logistical, technical and political challenge. Protocol will host a panel conversation with ESRI's chief medical officer Este Geraghty, WHO's assistant director general Samira Asma, Yale's director of the institute for global health Saad Omer and Direct Relief's VP of research and analysis Andrew Schroeder, as well as a sponsored keynote interview with Salesforce's Dr. Ashwini Zenooz. This event is presented by Salesforce.

RSVP today

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and 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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