June 9, 2020
Good morning! This Tuesday, Microsoft's fast-tracked plan to kill the password, a fight over scooter data, and the first-ever streaming movie turns 25.
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People Are Talking
Xbox Series X production didn't change because of COVID-19, but Microsoft's Phil Spencer said his thinking about the product did:
- "We see the impact of people getting furloughed and layoffs. It's tough. And we are a leisure activity. We're not a requirement. We're not food. We're not shelter. So we want to be really tuned in to that as we launch. How can we make it as affordable as possible? How can we give buyers choice?"
Facebook's chief AI scientist Yann LeCun said people have the wrong idea about the company:
- "Facebook is a force for good in popular protest movements. Even if the platform can also be used by people we oppose. The Floyd murder video was published in FB, after all."
IBM is getting out of the facial-recognition business, and CEO Arvind Krishna urged Congress to legislate the space:
- "IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency."
- In related news, on Protocol: What the Democrats' police reform bill has to say about facial recognition.
The Big Story
From winning races to killing passwords
Companies have talked about ditching the password for years. Microsoft is making it happen. The company's passwordless tech was scheduled to be ready by mid-2021, but with the COVID-19 remote-work shift it's started the rollout early.
- Rather than use simple two-factor authentication, Microsoft is using other authentication approaches, such as biometrics, to eliminate passwords for its 150,000 employees.
- So far it's going smoothly, Microsoft's CISO Bret Arsenault told Protocol's Tom Krazit. "I think that this has shown people that internet-first is the right way to go," Arsenault said. "And it also makes things simpler, right? I mean, simplicity is security's best friend."
Arsenault would know. He's been at Microsoft for 30 years, protecting its secrets for much of that time. For a man who loves simplicity, he's lived a life that's far from it.
- Arsenault grew up on government assistance, nearly went pro as a skier, and took a sabbatical from Microsoft to race cars. His life experiences inform his work: "The idea of an airbag, that's how security should be, the user should be unencumbered by it but it should be omnipresent, omniprotective," Arsenault said in an interview at RSA in February.
- His time at the company is punctuated by one accomplishment after the next. He helped lead Microsoft to TCP/IP back in the 90s, built the company's first security incident response team in the early 2000s, and saved it from one of the most devastating cyber attacks in recent history.
- Still, he thinks this decade's password-free future is his most ambitious and influential project yet.
Read Tom's story about Microsoft's most interesting man for much more on Arsenault and Microsoft's work on passwords.
An insurance unicorn heads to the market
Suffice to say Lemonade's done a lot better than most SoftBank-backed startups have recently. The company, valued at $2 billion, filed to go public yesterday after a reported pump-fake last year. That means it's time for every reporter's favorite activity: reading the Risk Factors in the S-1!
Lemonade's pitch is pretty straightforward: It essentially believes it has built the most accurate and usable insurance platform on the planet. It's been successful with young people applying for their first policies, and wouldn't have to bite off much of the trillion-dollar insurance market to be a huge success.
- But so far, there's no money to be had. "We have a history of losses and we may not achieve or maintain profitability in the future," the company said in its S-1. By the end of this March it had a total deficit of $234.8 million, and the losses are increasing.
- Lemonade's path to profitability involves getting more money out of each user — which it hopes will happen as many of its young-skewing customers switch from renting homes to buying them, adding on new policies over time. But keeping those customers through such big transitions could be a challenge.
One of Lemonade's great strengths, the company believes, is a feature called Giveback. Once a year, Lemonade takes any unclaimed money from users' accounts and premiums, and gives it to a charity of their choosing. You know the deal: doing good and doing well.
- Lemonade views Giveback as a branding win — a way to build trust and keep people engaged and promoting the company — as well as a financial one. Who'd defraud their insurance company if it meant taking money from charity?
- But the S-1 warns that things could change. Regulators could decide Giveback is illegal, or shareholders could demand that money for themselves. Or, as the company grows, maybe new customers just won't care.
Lemonade is a poster child for a certain kind of tech company: the one that shows up to an old, bloated market everyone hates and tries to solve it with smart tech and good design. If it can do that to the huge, fusty insurance business, there's a lot of money in the Lemonade stand.
The Transformation of Work Summit
Join us for Protocol's Transformation of Work Summit on June 23 at noon ET. A discussion of where in-demand skills meet job opportunity. First speakers announced: Congressional Future of Work Caucus co-chairs Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI). This event is presented by Workday.
The fight over who can see you scoot
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. About scooters. Which seems weird! You wouldn't sue the road for your car troubles, right?
But the city is unusually involved in the system. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation, mostly called LADOT, played a huge role in creating a standard called the Mobility Data Specification, or MDS, which provides cities with real-time information about the scooters on their streets.
- As I wrote a few months ago, there's been a long-standing fight over who gets data from scooter companies. Cities want more of it, so they can improve transportation systems and understand traffic flow; scooter companies want to give up less of it, so they can retain some competitive advantage and user privacy.
The ACLU is decidedly anti-MDS. The suit seeks to effectively kill the standard, ending all collection through MDS and destroying existing records.
- "The government's appropriate impulse to regulate city streets and ensure affordable, accessible transportation for all should not mean that individual vehicle riders' every move is tracked and stored without their knowledge," ACLU attorney Mohammad Tajsar said in a statement.
This isn't really a scooter fight: Most people's experiences on a Bird or Lime wouldn't change a bit if MDS went away, or was replaced by a less precise standard like the General Bikeshare Feed Specification. No, this is a privacy fight — about whether any government entity has the right to track people as they move, even without personal identifiers, even on a delay.
- The ACLU argues that it's not hard to take someone's start and end point, and figure out who they were and what they're doing. As we've seen many times, that's clearly true.
Melissa Waters is Instagram's new global vice president of marketing. She's worked at Hims and Hers, Lyft, and other tech companies.
Brian Hall is joining Google Cloud to lead product marketing. He was at Amazon until earlier this year — and his former employer is suing him, saying he violated a non-disclosure agreement that Hall says he was told wouldn't be enforced. In announcing the move, Hall also wrote maybe the greatest "some personal news" tweet of all time.
In Other News
- A new hustle: gaming matched donations for racial justice. Many companies have promised to match employee donations to social justice organizations. In Dropbox's case, for instance, every dollar is matched both by Drew Houston and the company — meaning any donation gets tripled. So employees are asking friends and family to Venmo them money, which they can donate and have matched. One source said they've seen it being done by employees at Microsoft and YouTube as well. And MSCHF is even trying to formalize the whole process.
- WeWork may be getting out of the apartment business. Bloomberg reported that it's looking into getting rid of its WeLive business, and figuring out what to do with real estate in D.C. and New York.
- Don't miss this story from New York Magazine about a man who was wrongly identified as the bad guy in a viral video, and what happened as things unraveled in front of his eyes.
- Joe Biden's campaign spent more than $4.9 million on Facebook ads last week, more than four times as much as the Trump campaign and in fact more than Trump has ever spent on the platform in a single week.
- Elon Musk told SpaceX to shift focus. With its astronaut launch complete, the company's next project is Starship: "Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship," Musk wrote in a letter to staff.
- An electric car battery that can last more than a million miles? That's what a Chinese company called CATL said it's built — which could be a big deal for everyone looking to sell, and buy, an electric car in the next few years.
- Twitter appears to be working on a revamped verification system, including a much easier way to request a blue check. And before you ask: No, I can't help you get verified.
One More Thing
The movie that invented the streaming movie
In 1995, a $150,000 movie called "Party Girl" didn't exactly set the box office on fire. But it turned out to be a seminal film in internet history: It was the first feature-length film ever streamed online. The Wall Street Journal has a great oral history of the movie on its 25th anniversary, in which among other things journalist Glenn Fleishman explains just how bad the streaming quality was: "It was black and white, maybe like ten frames a second if you were lucky, maybe slower. It was just this very herky-jerky thing … but it worked!" Oh, and if you're feeling nostalgic, you can now stream "Party Girl" on a bunch of streaming services. It'll look much better now.
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