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The new new rules of online politics

Image: Ian Ransley / Protocol
Republicans and Democrats

Good morning! This Friday, are Facebook's new politics rules enough? Is the Google antitrust case really coming? And is that a real Mario Kart in your living room?

Some housekeeping: Source Code will be taking a break for Labor Day, so we'll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday. Enjoy the long weekend!

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The Big Story

Social media buckles down for Election Day

We're now less than two months from Election Day, and everyone's starting to realize that it's not going to be your average first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Both Twitter and Facebook on Thursday put labels on President Trump's posts, in which he essentially urged people to try to vote twice. (Which, don't.) Twitter said two Trump tweets violated its rules "about civic and election integrity," and Facebook said, sort of coyly, that "voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the U.S., and the same is predicted this year."

Tech companies are working together, and with officials, to make plans for all scenarios for this election, as we wrote last month. But what Facebook does might matter more than what any other company does, and to that end, Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday announced a bunch of new policies:

  • Facebook won't allow new "political or issue" ads in the week before the election.
  • It'll remove posts or add notices for all content discouraging people from voting, delegitimizing the election result, or trying to prematurely claim victory.
  • It's limiting the number of times you can forward a message on Facebook Messenger, matching its policy for WhatsApp.

But is Facebook doing enough? Opinion on that is, as you'd expect, divided:

  • After the announcement, Ellen Pao tweeted that "Facebook is making superficial changes instead of addressing the core problem: an engagement engine that amplifies misinformation and hate for profit." The company should remove all political ads, she said, and simplify the process for both reporting misinformation and banning violators.
  • The Trump campaign, on the other hand, said Facebook went way too far. "When millions of voters will be making their decisions," the campaign's Samantha Zager said, "the president will be silenced by the Silicon Valley Mafia, who will at the same time allow corporate media to run their biased ads to swing voters in key states."

Whatever you make of the new policies, as always with Facebook, enforcement is the thing. And history says it won't go well. (See: Kenosha.)

  • With political ads, the word "new" is a loophole you could drive a motorcade through. Campaigns will surely just roll out a pile of new spots two Mondays before the election, problem solved.
  • And "get out the vote" ads will still be allowed, which will make for countless gray areas that are hard to litigate in a short time. Does Facebook have a good, consistent sense of where that line is?

There's a tricky logic behind all of this from Zuckerberg, though, which he ought to try to reconcile. He has always framed political ads as a net good for the political process, helping everyone be heard and get their message out. But somehow that now doesn't apply in the days right before people actually go to the polls? You can't have it both ways, Mark.

It's encouraging to see Facebook proactively trying to solve these problems and continuing to acknowledge that it really is influential in the democratic process. But critics continue to say that the problem with Facebook is … Facebook. Can the company fix its issues by tinkering around the edges, or is there something rotten at the core? The next two months will tell us a lot.

In related news: Pinterest, which cut off political ads in 2018, now won't even allow ads on politics-related searches. It's also giving staff time off to vote or work at the polls.

Apps

When one set of rules doesn't cut it anymore

It's pretty clear now that the most important moment of the Big Tech Congressional hearing in July was when Tim Cook admitted that Apple had made a special deal with Amazon and others to collect a lower commission on in-app purchases. "It's available to anyone meeting the conditions, yes," Cook said. And just like that, every developer's ears perked up.

  • Epic wants a special deal. News publishers want a special deal. The country of Russia is asking for a special deal!
  • The thing about having rules, and defending your frequently confusing implementation of those rules by saying "the rules apply the same to everybody," is that you'd better be right about that. And so it's hardly surprising that when Cook revealed the existence of a side door, everybody wanted in.
  • Of course, it's never really been a secret that Apple made some bizarre distinctions and exceptions. (Here's a good explainer.) But through Cook's answers, and things like the Epic lawsuit, the details are much clearer now.

Apple seemed to start listening to developers this week, though.

  • First it rolled out a change to its app update policies, so developers can fix bugs without being trapped by a huge policy change.
  • Then Thursday, The Information reported that Apple will delay the enforcement of its new policy of making developers get explicit permission to track people across their device. "To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year," Apple said.

This new friendliness can only go so far: I don't see Apple magnanimously dropping its commission fee to 10% anytime soon. But it's clear that, just like Facebook's finally reckoning with its outsize influence, Apple is starting to think more about the implications of its decisions. I guess a $2 trillion market cap makes you reflect on things?

Antitrust

The Google case cometh?

The long-awaited, much-rumored, super-hyped Google antitrust case may be coming this month. The New York Times reported that "Attorney General William P. Barr overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case" against Google, and that he wants to bring the case as soon as possible.

  • Is it a political move? Maybe, but it's hard to imagine that a case being brought is a needle-mover for most voters.
  • Is it coming too fast? On the one hand, the Times reported that most of the lawyers working on the case opposed Barr's end of September deadline. On the other, this case has been simmering for years.

Two interesting, semi-related data points on all of this:

  • From the department of saying the quiet part loud: As Peter Kafka pointed out on Twitter, Bill Barr said in June that tech companies are "starting to censor different viewpoints" and that "one way this can be addressed is through the antitrust laws." There are plenty of legitimate antitrust cases against Google (and others), but they're currently being drowned out by claims of bias and censorship.
  • The Justice Department this week changed its policies for merger remedies for the first time since 2011, to consider things like private equity. It also now clearly favors breaking companies up over simply forcing them to change their ways.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from anywhere, to anywhere

A strong healthcare system can scale to meet increasing patient demands. At Philips, we're charting a new way forward by moving care beyond the hospital's walls with advanced virtual health capabilities that expand clinical reach and increase care team capacity.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

Suffice to say Evan Spiegel does not want to buy TikTok:

  • "For whoever purchases TikTok, it basically requires you to build the entire core technology from the ground up to support the service and to do so without any engineering talent … and without the core technology."

This recent digital transformation everyone's going through? Great for big companies and rough for startups, Box's Aaron Levie said:

  • "It's probably going to be harder to be a startup that's competing with us right now, because our customers are going to be focused on, 'How do we go to reliable partners that we're used to working with, that we understand and can trust?'"

Making "remote" or "distributed" offices work is less about physical space and more about how information moves, HelloOffice CEO Justin Bedecarre said:

  • "Employees may not know what they're missing when decisions are made. When information is disseminated, they may ask — was I not in the room? Did I not have the ability to be in the room because I was in Dallas?"

Leading a team remotely is hard, and it's definitely different, Verizon's Tami Erwin said:

  • "I think about coaching and developing my team. It's hard to coach and develop when you're face-to-face on video and you don't know whose kids are in the room."

Making Moves

Alvina Antar is Okta's new CIO. She joins from the same job at Zuora, and joins as Okta tries to position itself for the remote-work future.

Gavin Orleow is Intuit's new VP of Global Partner Channels. He'd been working on partnerships at Microsoft for almost two decades, and is now the guy to go to for all things QuickBooks.

Carrie Wheeler is Opendoor's new CFO. She's been on the company's board for the last year, but is now leaving TPG Global to join full time. Gautam Gupta, who's held a bunch of C-level jobs at the company, is leaving to start something new.

Cher Wang is now CEO of HTC. Again. Yves Maitre is leaving after less than a year as CEO, so Wang, the company's co-founder and chairwoman, is now back at the helm. Maitre blamed COVID in part for his departure, as it forced him to be away from his family for nearly all of his tenure at the company.

In Other News

  • Pour one out for the billionaires, who were hit hard by Thursday's market selloff. Jeff Bezos lost $9 billion, Elon Musk $8.5 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg $4.2 billion. Hope you're doing OK, guys.
  • Apple was ordered to pay its California store employees for the time they spend waiting for bag searches. Employees first sued the company in 2015 and have said they've had to wait as long as 45 minutes for searches.
  • Tech's favorite congressman wants a new job: David Cicilline is running for assistant speaker. He's going up against Tony Cárdenas and, reportedly, Katherine Clark.
  • Your next apartment might come with Alexa: Amazon launched Alexa for Residential, which is designed to let property managers integrate and manage Amazon's products across multiple units.
  • Google explained how it predicts your travel time. In a fascinating blog post, the company outlined how it mixes aggregate location data with DeepMind prediction algorithms to get a 97%+ accuracy rating — and even claims it can predict whether you'll be affected by a slowdown that hasn't even started yet.
  • Ever wondered how your data plan compares to those in other countries? The Markup's got a great new piece that shows how different nations compare on cost and speed — and if you're in the U.S., the stats aren't good. Australians are nailing it, though!
  • Here's your long-weekend activity: The remastered version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is out, and to quote Kotaku, it's "everything I could ever want out of a game."

One More Thing

Mario Kart IRL

For the next, I don't know, forever, when people say "why are you so convinced augmented reality is the future?" I'm just going to show them this new Nintendo video.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from anywhere, to anywhere

A strong healthcare system can scale to meet increasing patient demands. At Philips, we're charting a new way forward by moving care beyond the hospital's walls with advanced virtual health capabilities that expand clinical reach and increase care team capacity.

Learn more.

Update: This newsletter was updated to properly reflect Alvina Antar's new job — she is Okta's new CIO, but not its first CIO.

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 weekend, see you Tuesday.


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