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Too big to split?

Image: Enrico Magistro / Protocol
Too big to split?

Good morning! Greetings from Alexandria, Virginia, where I'm sitting on the floor of my living room because all our furniture is still in California. Glad to be back here with you, though, and thanks again to Shakeel for being an awesome host last week.

Also, pro tip: If you ever go on vacation, make sure your auto-responder is set to go to everyone, and not just to the people in your company. To everyone who emailed me last week and got stony silence … it's Outlook's fault. Also, sorry.

Anyway! This Monday, Facebook's working on making itself antitrust-proof, Twitter has a new plan for moderation, Congress is ready for another splashy tech hearing, and the military's building AR for dogs.

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The Big Story

Facebook: Good luck breaking us up now

The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee should publish its report on the tech industry this week, which every tech CEO should block their calendars to read carefully.

But Facebook's been preparing its "don't break us up" defense for a long time and, as The Wall Street Journal reported, it's recently been circulating a 14-page document explaining why breaking up Big Blue is "a complete nonstarter."

  • Facebook is primarily worried that the government could force it to split off one or both of Instagram and WhatsApp. It's quickly working on combining those apps' infrastructure, and seems to believe that the more integrated its many platforms are, the harder they'll be to split up.
  • As Tim Wu told the WSJ, though, "there is no 'it's too hard' defense." It's tough to imagine Rep. David Cicilline and co. being swayed by the argument that Facebook just can't figure out how to separate its apps.
  • Facebook's also prepared to make the case that the statutes of limitations have passed, that the FTC allowed the acquisitions years ago so they should be allowed now. That argument's not likely to get very far either.

Facebook's preparing to fight in court and in Congress, certainly, but it's also trying harder than ever to shed its title as The Ickiest Tech Company. It put out a long response to the Netflix documentary, "The Social Dilemma," that everyone in tech watched with a mix of eye-rolls and genuine interest.

  • The response swears up and down that Facebook's not just trying to get users addicted to Facebook and harvest their brain for ads, but the underlying theme here is something more interesting: Facebook was bad, it seems to say, but it's better now!

Within Facebook's leadership, there seems to be a clear sense that it's being penalized now for mistakes it made (and rectified) years ago. It'll surely argue the same in front of antitrust hawks.

Moderation

Twitter takes a page out of Wikipedia's book

It's really, really hard to run a platform with millions or billions of users that are all governed by a single set of rules. Twitter knows this as well as any company, and is running into The Wall of Edge Cases over and over as it tries to figure out its place in the upcoming election.

  • On Friday, Twitter told Motherboard that it may remove tweets or suspend users wishing for President Trump to die of COVID-19. (Facebook, in comparison, would be more permissive: You can wish harm on a public figure as long as you don't tag them.)
  • A quick Twitter search makes clear that plenty of that stuff is still out there. Anyone on Twitter can tell you that's not surprising. After getting flack for worrying about the President's feelings more than so many of the ordinary people on its platform, Twitter said: "We hear the voices who feel that we're enforcing some policies inconsistently. We agree we must do better, and we are working together inside to do so."

Details about a new Twitter moderation feature called Birdwatch also started to leak out over the weekend. It looks like Twitter's testing a tool for crowdsourcing moderation, letting people flag content and add notes. There's a form allowing users to explain why a tweet is misleading, and it gives a lot more leeway than the usual reasons for reporting a tweet.

Obviously there's a lot we still don't know about Birdwatch, but you know what this sounds like? Wikipedia, the only place on the internet that has figured out how to give users near-infinite control and still find a way to get most things right. Asking users to moderate themselves has a long and decorated history of going really, really badly. But it's a very Twitter-y move, actually, relying on the users to control the platform more. And it'll be a fascinating experiment.

Regulation

Here comes the next big tech hearing

Mark your calendars: On Oct. 28, six days before the election, Jack, Zuck and Sundar will testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee. That's according to our friends at POLITICO.

  • Apparently they all volunteered to show up rather than needing to be subpoenaed.
  • The CEOs also pushed for a later hearing date, which was summarily rejected. Like it or not, this is an election issue.

On the docket? Section 230, data privacy, and media consolidation. "I fear that Section 230's sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling the true diversity of political discourse on the internet," Sen. Roger Wicker said last week when the committee voted to subpoena the CEOs. "This is not a partisan issue."

It all sounds like a recipe for a lot of yelling about "anti-conservative bias" on social media, with some actually substantive conversation thrown in for good measure. But last time Big Tech's big names took the stand, it changed the conversation about antitrust and tech companies, and not in those companies' favor. Jack, Zuck and Sundar better be ready for this one to get ugly.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

Chuck Schumer has serious issues with law-making over Zoom:

  • "A virtual hearing is virtually no hearing at all."

Want your board to work better? Let them talk to your team, Daniel Ek said:

  • "I will often pose strategic questions to the board: 'Hey, I'm really struggling with this.' Rather than having them interact solely with me, I actually ask them to go figure out problems with the people directly involved in that project."

Europe is booming as a tech hub because Europe is much more than a city or two, Accel's Sonali De Rycker said:

  • "It's a collection of different ecosystems, different locations, different hubs. At any point in time there are 15 to 20 cities that are relevant, and they've all sort of reached this tipping point."

Why are car companies getting into batteries? Same reason Apple makes its own chips, GM's Ken Morris said:

  • "We've got to be able to control our own destiny."

Coming Up This Week

We might get more clarity on the false-started WeChat ban, after the government appealed the injunction preventing the ban. That fight will heat up fast. And someone's going to buy TikTok! Just kidding, that's never going to happen.

Conference Season continues: Fast Company's Innovation Festival, the WSJ CEO Council Summit, the LA Blockchain Summit and Slack Frontiers are all virtual and all running this week.

In Other News

  • ByteDance's head of global content policy worked as a Chinese diplomat. As part of his job at ByteDance, Cai Zheng wrote policies for acceptable TikTok content, raising questions as to whether his former job might have influenced TikTok.
  • Ex-Uber VP Emil Michael launched a SPAC. Eric Schmidt, Shervin Pishevar and Betsy Atkins are special advisors.
  • Vaccine clinical trials have been hit by ransomware, The New York Times reported. EResearchTechnology, which sells software used in trials, was attacked: Patients weren't affected, but the attack meant researchers had to resort to pen and paper.
  • Google said Indian developers must integrate Google Play billing for in-app purchases by March 2022, six months later than it said last week. That shift came after widespread backlash in the country, capped off by Paytm launching its own "mini app store" today with a 0% fee on payments made using certain payment methods.
  • London refused to renew Ola's taxi license. Authorities said over 1,000 trips on the app were made by unlicensed drivers, and that Ola did not immediately report them. The company can continue to operate while it appeals.
  • Regal owner Cineworld is closing all its movie theaters in the U.K. and U.S. The decision came after the new James Bond movie was delayed, and it may turn out to be a seismic moment in the shift to streaming: Cineworld's shares plunged 30% this morning.
  • Samsung is using Huawei's troubles to its advantage. After winning a contract with Verizon last month, it looks like it might finally become a credible telecoms equipment challenger.
  • The U.K. missed almost 16,000 COVID cases, and it seems to have been because of a problem in Excel: The government's spreadsheet reportedly reached its maximum size. "The technical issue has now been resolved by splitting the Excel files into batches," The Daily Mail reports.

One More Thing

Finally, AR gets its killer app

It's called Doggles. It's AR for your dog, and it's being designed for the military to help soldiers communicate with canines: see what they see, talk to the dog as it explores, use cues to help guide it, and more. Forget placing fake sofas in your real living room or stabbing zombies in their undead faces, this is the future I'm looking for.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

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 day, see you tomorrow.

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