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The bank turning followers into money

Image: Karat
Karat cards

Good morning! This Friday, there's a facial-recognition bill heading to Congress, a credit card heading to influencers' wallets, and a really stupid tech name going on top of an arena in Seattle.

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People Are Talking

Quora is going all-in on remote work, CEO Adam D'Angelo said:

  • "Based on the experience of working from home so far, and weighing all the pros and cons, we are convinced that at least in our case, we are now in that future world where the benefits of remote work outweigh the costs."

Facebook needs to win back advertisers and users, its trust and safety policy head Neil Potts admitted:

  • "There is a trust deficit. You try to make a decision and people disagree and maybe that builds that deficit even deeper."

T-Mobile wants out of the job-creating conditions of the Sprint merger:

  • "The imposition of a specific hiring mandate is inconsistent with regulatory authority, not supported by the record, and burdensome, especially in light of the economic disruption created by the COVID-19 crisis."

COVID-19 is finally forcing the U.S. to catch up on contactless payments, Mastercard's Jorn Lambert told Protocol:

  • "I kind of compare it to the transition of music. You used to have CDs, and then those CDs we used to load up into an MP3 player, but, the physical was still always there. It's only later that we said, 'Who needs the CD? Let's just have the MP3 player.'"

The Big Story

What's inside the new facial recognition bill

As states, cities and companies took stands on the issue of facial recognition use by law enforcement, the (often explicit) message was always the same: Congress needs to decide on this.

Now, four Democrats are proposing to do just that. Sort of. The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020 (which I guess you'd call FRBTMA, a surprising acronym fail from Congress) proposes to ban federal agencies from using facial recognition and heavily incentivize state and local agencies to do the same, until Congress passes another law allowing some use of the tech.

  • FRBTMA actually defines recognition technology quite broadly, and includes things like voice recognition, gait analysis, and broadly anything that uses a person's physical characteristics to identify them.
  • Essentially, automated systems wouldn't be allowed to do much of anything with public camera footage. Any individual who believed they'd been surveilled this way would be allowed to sue the federal government.

The bill also lays out what it would take to overrule this bill: a specific law governing specific use cases by specific people, with specific systems in place for auditing and due process. Under FRBTMA, no "oh, actually, facial recognition is okeydokey after all!" law would be allowed.

  • The bill also withholds federal funding from state and local governments unless they're "complying with a law or policy that is substantially similar" to FRBTMA. It also prohibits federal spending on biometric surveillance systems.

In announcing FRBTMA, the four legislators made the same point many others have: that before we can have a real conversation about the pros and cons of facial recognition, the tech needs to get a lot better.

  • "Facial recognition technology doesn't just pose a grave threat to our privacy," Sen. Ed Markey, one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill, said. "It physically endangers Black Americans and other minority populations in our country."

By the way, if you haven't yet read Robert Williams' story about being wrongly arrested because of facial recognition, you should. His is the case that will get talked about through the rest of this debate, I suspect.

Fintech

The credit card for the internet-famous

My first instinct was to laugh when I read about Karat, the company building a credit card specifically for influencers. And when Will Kim, a Karat co-founder, told Wired things like "the traditional banking system is messed up. It's overlooking these vast swaths of underserved groups." Well, cue up a bunch of TikTokers saying woe is me, right?

But maybe Karat is onto something in its quest to become a full-service financial services firm for influencers.

  • It's unquestionably true that even as influencers become big business, the traditional system has no idea how to understand their business model.
  • Patreon CEO Jack Conte told me earlier in the year that this was part of the reason he started his company: "There's this emerging workforce that's having massive economic influence on the world, and no one's supporting them." He said he tried to use iTunes sales reports to get a loan to buy a house … and the bank didn't know what to do with that.

To be fair, there are some eye-rolling details in Karat's plan. It's targeting people with at least 100,000 followers, even though that's hardly a guarantee of income and success. Karat's system for determining creditworthiness is complicated, too: Wired said it's a combination of existing revenue, engagement, size and multi-platform success.

But if there can be an entire industry dedicated to serving the financial needs of small businesses, there can certainly be one designed to do the same for influencers.

  • And Karat's right about one thing: There's no better way for a fintech firm to go viral than to have a really cool-looking credit card.

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.

Slide Decks

PowerPoint's on the outs, but the deck won't die

Georg Petschnigg knows all about PowerPoint. He used to work on it, back when he was at Microsoft. Now, Petschnigg is at WeTransfer, after it acquired his creative apps company FiftyThree in 2018. Petschnigg realizes a lot of people are fed up with PowerPoint, and that companies are ditching decks in favor of longform writing a la Amazon's six-pager policy. But he is convinced slides don't need to die.

  • "The panel-based flow of a story is one of those things that we've used to make sense of things," he said, pointing to comic books, cave paintings and storyboards as evidence.
  • Plus, he says, if you give someone a piece of paper or a huge whiteboard, "the first thing people do is divide up the space if they want to organize their work."

WeTransfer launched Paste 2.0 last week, which is sort of like PowerPoint but much more like a simple website builder, giving people simple tools for adding and organizing all kinds of information.

  • Rather than using complicated templates, Paste just has a few simple drag-and-drop ones. It's mostly an empty frame for "bringing together a production schedule from Google Sheets, a Figma file, really getting a comprehensive snapshot of what people are working on," Petschnigg said.
  • All Paste decks are meant to be collaborative, shareable and accessible to your whole team. It's even laid out like Slack, grouping things by channel and team rather than by files.

Paste is part of a really interesting group of products trying to make decks simpler, nicer-looking and just ... better. Prezi built a whole business on a new way to engage with slides, for one. But with Paste, and products like Pitch, we're seeing a whole different idea: decks as pseudo-workspaces, where you can communicate and collaborate and actually work rather than just format.

  • PowerPoint has a decades-long head start, though, and a lot of muscle memory to overcome. "You can't be a better PowerPoint," Petschnigg said. "PowerPoint is pretty darn good at being PowerPoint."
  • But he said the pandemic has opened a window to new things: "These are moments where people start reflecting on their work practices, and there is an opportunity in that moment."

Making Moves

Sidewalk Labs laid off more than half its team in Toronto, about 20 people, after the company gave up on its smart-city plans there.

Suzette Kent is stepping down as the U.S. government's CIO in July. She hasn't said what she'll do next, or who will replace her — though her deputy Maria Roat seems to be the leading candidate.

Sunil Rayan is joining Disney to run Disney+ Hotstar in India. He'd been working in ads and games for Google since 2012.

In Other News

  • Verizon's joining the Facebook ad boycott, becoming by far the largest company to do so. Was that decision made easier by the fact that Verizon operates a huge ad network that would surely benefit from a Facebook falloff? *Nods vigorously.* But it's still a big move.
  • Amazon will pay more than $1 billion for Zoox, according to The Information. No precise details in that report on exactly what Amazon would do with a 1,000-person driverless car startup, but you've gotta think that it has a lot to do with automated deliveries.
  • On Protocol: Amazon is diving into the no-code software market with a product called Honeycode, which is objectively a terrible name but a very smart way to get more customers on to AWS using tools barely more complex than a spreadsheet.
  • FC Barcelona started selling a digital token to the club's supporters, and made $1.3 million in less than two hours. Then the coins promptly tripled in value. The tokens will supposedly give their owners more input into how the club is run and a way to buy merch. But I'm guessing it's mostly the second thing.
  • Waymo and Volvo are partnering on a fleet of robo-taxis, putting Waymo's driverless tech into "an all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride hailing services." Which I think will look a lot like … a car? But we'll see.
  • Comcast jumped on board with Mozilla on its DNS-over-HTTPS project, after testing it for the last several months. It's a big win for internet privacy, and a slightly surprising move for Comcast, which had bristled at a similar plan from Google last year.
  • On Protocol: EatOkra, an app for discovering Black-owned restaurants, has seen incredible demand in recent weeks. And it's suddenly grappling with big-company problems as it tries to keep up.

One More Thing

When good stadiums get bad names

Brand names are all over sports arenas. There are a few good ones — Citi Field is cool, Coors Field works, Oracle Arena was a great name — and a lot of bad ones. And then there's the new arena in Seattle, which Amazon bought the naming rights for. But it won't be Amazon Arena, because that would sound good and make sense. Instead, it'll be called Climate Pledge Arena, which Jeff Bezos said should be "a regular reminder of the urgent need for climate action." Never mind that Climate Action Arena, or Carbon Arena, or Clean Air Arena, or literally any number of things would have been a better name. Luckily for Bezos, as long as Vivint Smart Home Arena still stands, he'll only have the second-worst tech-named arena in sports.

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. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Sunday with our new weekend edition of the newsletter.

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