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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

TikTok, Lego UX and the big business of social

Image: Oleksandr Panasovskyi / Protocol
TikTok, Lego UX and the big business of social

Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, including Google's secret home security superpower and Fanbytes CEO Tim Armoo's favorite things.

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As always, let me know what you think and what you'd like to see more of in our weekend edition. I'm david@protocol.com, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks! Onto the good stuff.

Best of Protocol

Google's secret home security superpower: Your smart speaker with its always-on mics, by Janko Roettgers

  • There's this balance between "keeping you safe" and "invading your space" that tech companies have been actively exploring (Amazon with Ring is probably the best example). Google's pushing the limits here by saying, "We'll tell you when something bad is happening, but only because our always-listening mic is now listening for even more stuff." Would you let your speaker listen for signs of domestic disputes? Or drug deals? How much privacy will people give up in the name of security? We're finding out.

Despite the pandemic, 5G still rolls on, by Mike Murphy

  • Nothing — not COVID-19, not crazy conspiracy theories, not an international trade war — can stop 5G's rollout. Carriers have billions of dollars invested in the project, phone manufacturers are building like crazy, and the infrastructure's still going up. The only real hitch I can see? Apple's next, presumably 5G-capable, phones are delayed a bit. But only a bit.

This congresswoman wants to save the US from the dark side of AI, by Emily Birnbaum

  • So far, tech has moved much faster than regulators in the United States. And artificial intelligence, which has come to mean anything and everything having to do with smart computers, is a particularly problematic example. But Congress, led in part by Robin Kelly, is pushing hard to change that. And as Kelly explains in this great interview, understanding and regulating AI is key to more than just staving off the robot takeover.

With Open Service Mesh, Microsoft takes direct aim at Google's Istio, by Tom Krazit

  • The battle between Azure, Google Cloud and AWS is one of the highest-stakes things happening in the tech world right now. And Microsoft pitching itself as "the Switzerland of service meshes," as Tom puts it, gives it an interesting advantage in a market that feels increasingly closed off. Microsoft continues to lean further into open-source software, too, which is always going to make developers happy.

Sonos CEO says Amazon is breaking the law by selling Echo smart speakers below cost, by Janko Roettgers

  • Watching the Big Tech hearing the other week, I kept wondering what the four startup execs who laid out so much of the bad Big Tech behavior at a hearing in January were thinking. One of them, Patrick Spence, said he was "encouraged," but also seems to be armed with new ammo. He said this about Amazon, but it seems to apply pretty broadly: "They just take money from their monopoly business, they just subsidize, subsidize, subsidize."

A MESSAGE FROM ITI

ITI

In 2020, it feels like the world is changing faster than ever before. Join us for conversations during the 2020 National Political Conventions on the policies and practices needed to build the future. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum will lead dynamic discussions on tech's role in enabling a diverse future workforce and enabling the economy of our future. Our first event on August 19th will host conversations with Representative Langevin (D-RI), former Pete for America investment chair Swati Mylavarapu, and TechEquity co-founder and former Obama campaign organizer Catherine Bracy, as well as many more policy and industry leaders. This event series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

Best of Everything Else

TikTok and the Sorting Hat — Eugene Wei

  • Instagram Reels came out this week, and while it looks and feels like TikTok, it's not TikTok. Why? Because TikTok's magic is about the algorithm and how it understands what you like and care about even when you maybe can't describe it yourself. This story gets at how it works — and why it's so hard to copy — better than anything else I've read.

The UX of Lego Interface Panels — Cave

  • What can we learn from the buttons and knobs depicted on tiny Legos? A lot more than you might think. There's a great UX 101 course inside this fun post, which goes from WWII planes to Dyson electric vehicles and from hydraulic pumps to space ships. No surprise that Lego designers are masters at fitting disparate parts together in a way that feels awesome.

Can Killing Cookies Save Journalism? – Wired

  • This piece asks a really important question: Does the data-hungry, super-personalized version of online advertising even work? Google and Facebook have made hundreds of billions convincing everyone that it does. But there's growing evidence that it may not — and that an internet without this kind of tracking can both be more user-friendly and more profitable.

Facebook slams Apple's App Store policies, launches Facebook Gaming on iOS without games — The Verge

  • This is a key story to follow in the coming weeks. Basically, Apple won't let game-streaming apps, from Facebook or Microsoft or whoever else, onto the App Store. But game-streaming is clearly the future of games, and there's a long history of gamers driving technological adoption. Seems to me, this is the rare policy decision that might actually change the devices people buy.

Jack Dorsey on Twitter's Mistakes — The Daily

  • Say what you want about Jack Dorsey, but he's much more willing to engage and be thoughtful in public than your average Big Tech CEO. This is a good dive into some of Twitter's mistakes over the last few years, what happens when your company becomes something really different from what you made it for, and how tech thinks about Trump.

One Person's Opinion

Timothy Armoo, Fanbytes CEO

There's TikTok. And Reels. And Triller and Byte and Crash and Dubsmash and Snapchat. And those are just the TikTok clones! Navigating the social landscape — and business — has never been more complicated. But that's what Tim Armoo, the CEO of influencer-marketing agency Fanbytes, does for a living.

For my conversation with Tim about the fast-changing world of social, and what companies and creators should be doing about the ongoing TikTok chaos, check out this week's episode of the Source Code Podcast. Here, as always, are five things Tim's been into recently.

  • Mr Beast videos. "I've always loved his approach to videos, and I'm getting addicted to the method behind his madness. Here is an example I love where he talks about his thinking behind videos. Some of his videos are insane."
  • Reddit. "During lockdown I got sucked into Reddit. Reddit is like a text-first TikTok: There is a niche for everyone, and that's very powerful. I've found that I've been spending a lot of time in subreddits learning new things."
  • "Alchemy," by Rory Sutherland. "Life, and specifically business, is pretty much a massive game of persuading people and this book is up there with some of the best books on the matter."
  • The Ecommerce Playbook podcast. "We've just launched our B2C department where we build our own products and scale them, so I've been learning a lot about ecommerce. Although our company is 40+ people, anytime there is a new initiative I look to learn as much as I can until handing it over. A lot of people think that if you're a CEO then you're less in the weeds, and I used to think this, however I've had to massively change my perspective. With this ecommerce department, I've been diving into learning through podcasts, and Ecommerce Playbook is my favorite right now"
  • Fairy lights. "Seriously. I recently got them in all different parts of my house, and after 9 p.m. when it gets dark, cool fairy lights make you more relaxed and make the day feel less harsh. I've been sleeping incredibly well, too, since implementing my blue fairy lights."

A MESSAGE FROM ITI

ITI

In 2020, it feels like the world is changing faster than ever before. Join us for conversations during the 2020 National Political Conventions on the policies and practices needed to build the future. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum will lead dynamic discussions on tech's role in enabling a diverse future workforce and enabling the economy of our future. Our first event on August 19th will host conversations with Representative Langevin (D-RI), former Pete for America investment chair Swati Mylavarapu, and TechEquity co-founder and former Obama campaign organizer Catherine Bracy, as well as many more policy and industry leaders. This event series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register 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 day, see you tomorrow.

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