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The internet’s Supreme Court comes together

Source: NordWood Themes
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Good morning! This Thursday, Facebook appoints its overseers, inside the fight over the dot-org domain, and someone actually argues in favor of robocalls.

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People Are Talking

What comes after smartphones to reinvent society all over again? A huge change in how we get around, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida believes:

  • "The megatrend after smartphones will be mobility, and we will contribute to its evolution from the perspective of safety, security and entertainment."

You know that huge 5G network the FCC plans to let Ligado build in the U.S.? Dana Deasy, the DoD's CIO, isn't happy:

  • "This is a bad deal for America. There are too many unknowns and the risks are too great to allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed in light of the operational impact to GPS."

Andrew Cuomo tapped Eric Schmidt to help bring more technology to New York, and Schmidt says he already has big plans:

  • "The first priorities of what we're trying to do are focused on telehealth, remote learning and broadband. We can take this terrible disaster and accelerate all of those in ways that will make things much, much better."

The Big Story

The internet's Supreme Court gets its first 20 members

When Facebook announced its intention, way back in 2018, to create an independent oversight board that would deal with some of the platform's thorniest issues, I rolled my eyes. Too many projects like this end up like oil companies funding climate change research — sure, it's "independent," but everybody knows who's signing the checks.

To its credit, Facebook is trying to build something different. It announced the first 20 members of the board yesterday (there will eventually be 40), and it's a serious group of serious people with serious responsibility.

  • From prime ministers to judges to professors to activists to journalists, Facebook cast a wide net for board members. "We wanted to incorporate that professional diversity," Facebook's Fariba Yassaee told Protocol's Issie Lapowsky in an interview. The same was true of gender, language, location, and more.
  • Yassaee also told Issie that the board, which is funded with $130 million from Facebook but is a wholly separate entity called Oversight Board LLC, is deliberately outside of the Eye of Zuck. "Facebook can't make a decision to call the board off. They're a separate legal entity, and the trust allows for more than just Facebook to contribute funding."

You can read Issie's full story about the project at protocol.com. One thing that stuck out to me was that Facebook's clearly trying to build a model for the rest of the internet:

  • I've heard from a number of folks in recent months who are worried about smaller platforms – whether it's Twitter, Reddit, Discord, or countless others — that simply don't have the staff or resources to police their platforms like Facebook can.
  • In the long run, other companies could contribute to Facebook's new board, or crib its playbook and start their own. Which sounds crazy — Twitter letting Facebook oversee its platform! — but with all these platforms dealing with similar problems, such as disinformation and harassment, working together is starting to sound more appealing to many of these companies.

Facebook told Issie the board is on track to start hearing cases by the end of the year. Things are off to an encouraging start, but don't forget: The scale of Facebook continues to vastly outpace any group's ability to police it. As author and professor Siva Vaidhyanathan put it, "The Problem with Facebook is not that some photo came down that one time. The Problem with Facebook is Facebook."

Internet

How the dot-org world escaped being upended

ICANN's decision last week to kill Ethos Capital's $1.1 billion acquisition of the .org domain registry from the Internet Society marks the end of a contentious six-month debate. One that the Internet Society wasn't looking for to begin with:

  • "I actually did say when people approached me, like Jesus, this is really a terrible time, this is a bad time. I have other work to do," Internet Society CEO Andrew Sullivan told Protocol's Sofie Kodner.
  • But Ethos was offering enough money to create a permanent endowment for the nonprofit, which was hard to turn down.

Why would private equity want in on the .org game, anyway? One obvious possibility: Not long before the sale was announced, ICANN removed a cap on how quickly the Public Interest Registry (PIR) could increase rates for registering .org domain names.

  • "We have always suspected that the removal of those price caps was part of the reason for this purchase offer by Ethos Capital," Cara Gagliano, Staff Attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Sofie. "The removal of that restriction made the profit potential much greater."
  • That's why nonprofits spoke out against the sale. Girl Scouts of America, YMCA and others all voiced the same concern: Why should we trust a private equity firm to care about us more than money?

Uncertainty about Ethos Capital's motives did eventually resonate, with ICANN and others.

  • A turning point came in April, when California Attorney General Xavier Becerra got involved: "Little is known about Ethos Capital and its multiple proposed subsidiaries," he wrote in a letter to ICANN. Ethos Capital has "refused to produce responses to many critical questions posted by the public and Internet community," Becerra added.
  • In rejecting the sale, ICANN cited "a change from the fundamental public interest nature of PIR to an entity that is bound to serve the interests of its corporate stakeholders, and which has no meaningful plan to protect or serve the .ORG community."

So what's next for the dot-orgs? Gagliano said Ethos could be thinking about challenging ICANN's decision. Or, now that the Internet Society made clear it doesn't want control of the PIR, ICANN could look for a more appropriate manager.

As for the Internet Society, Sullivan said he basically wants to pretend that this whole thing never happened. "What happens next is that we go back to the way things were," he told Sofie.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Pay Up or Else

When a switch to subscription turns hostile

Smart-home startup Wink announced on its blog yesterday a new $5 monthly subscription for its service. I assume what came next wasn't intended to sound like a list of demands in a hostage situation, but, well:

  • "Should you choose not to sign up for a subscription you will no longer be able to access your Wink devices from the app, with voice control or through the API, and your automations will be disabled on May 13."
  • In short: Pay $5 a month, or we'll brick your devices.

Wink's blog post said that the company is now supporting 4 million connected devices, and that "long term costs and recent economic events have caused additional strain" on its business. Rather than sell user data, Wink wants to charge for a subscription.

  • But the messaging was bad, and the timing maybe even worse: Wink is springing charges on people in the midst of a pandemic and huge economic uncertainty, and after the service has struggled with a number of issues in recent months.

The whole "that thing you bought won't work anymore" gambit doesn't tend to go well. Just ask Sonos. Reached for comment, Wink just directed me back to their blog post. But if I were a betting man, I'd say this plan will go away long before your Wink lights wink out.

Making Moves

Uber laid off 3,700 people, about 14% of its staff, mostly in recruiting and customer support. In a note to staff, Dara Khosrowshahi hinted there may be more to come. As for how bad things really are at Uber? We'll know more when the company reports earnings this afternoon.

Alison Kirkham is joining the Apple TV+ team to oversee unscripted content in Europe. She joins from the BBC, where she oversaw series like Planet Earth. The documentary scene is booming right now, and Apple clearly wants a piece.

H.R. McMaster is Zoom's newest board member. McMaster is a former army lieutenant general (a job for which he was named perfectly) and was President Trump's national security advisor a couple of years ago.

Zoom also hired Josh Kallmer, a longtime tech lobbyist, to run its policy and government relations team. Turns out Zoom is interested in improving its relationships in D.C.

Libra has a new boss: Stuart Levey, the former U.S. Treasury undersecretary and HSBC chief legal officer, will be the CEO of the Libra Association starting this summer. He told The Wall Street Journal that part of his job will be to help set standards and ground rules for the whole Libra community.

In Other News

  • On Protocol.com: Janko Roettgers reports that Google's planning to launch an Android TV dongle — potentially under the Nest brand — that will put it smack in the middle of the set-top box wars. First Pixel, now this? Google's definitely done being just a software company.
  • Microsoft is also continuing to push into hardware. It launched new laptops and new headphones, plus a bunch of new accessories — the $399 Surface Go 2, which is lighter and faster than the last model, is particularly intriguing.
  • Some of the most popular apps in the world went down for several hours yesterday, all for the same reason: a bug in the Facebook SDK, which crashed every time a user tried to open the app. By my count, that means AWS and Facebook are the two things that basically break the internet every time they go down.
  • Loon is adding its balloons to AT&T's network. The goal is to build a quickly deployable internet backup that can get up and running almost anywhere, whenever there's a natural disaster or a need for better connectivity.
  • Facebook built an app called Discover that turns the internet into a lo-fi, text-based thing — and makes it free for users to access. It's yet another example of Facebook's ongoing obsession with getting the developing world onto the internet (and thus onto Facebook).
  • How's this for a clever hack: A group of credit card skimmers figured out how to use website favicons to hide malware that would then display a fake payment form instead of a real one. It's hidden in plain sight, and users might never notice.

One More Thing

Meet the robocall fans

The latest case in the Supreme Court's set of virtual hearings (which is still going well, despite an unfortunate speakerphone toilet flush) was one you'd hardly think was controversial. Robocalling was on the docket! It's actually an interesting debate about what is and isn't free speech, but on the robocalls front I'll sum up my thinking using Justice Kavanaugh's thinking: "If you take a peek, just a peek, at the real world here, this is one of the most popular laws on the books. Because people don't like cell phone robocalls — that's just common sense. Are you against that common sense?"

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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