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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Walmart, the next tech giant

Image: Mike Mozart / Protocol
Walmart loading

Good morning! This Friday, Walmart's big moves into Big Tech, a startup competition for the future, and the rise of Business Emoji.

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People Are Talking

Twitter offered a bit more information on how many people were hacked:

  • "Based on what we know right now, we believe approximately 130 accounts were targeted by the attackers in some way as part of the incident."

Ron Wyden joined the chorus of people worried about Twitter security:

  • "Twitter DMs are still not encrypted, leaving them vulnerable to employees who abuse their internal access to the company's systems, and hackers who gain unauthorized access."

Bill Barr continued to blast China, and companies that operate there:

  • "All too often, for the sake of short-term profits, American companies have succumbed to [China's] influence — even at the expense of freedom and openness in the United States."

Know what your office needs to re-open? A disinfection robot, said Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise:

  • "I think that in any shared space or public space, there's just going to be a public health concern and a push to offer these assurances."
In an interview with Anthony Fauci, Mark Zuckerberg suggested he wasn't happy with how the Trump administration has handled the pandemic:
  • "It was avoidable and it is really disappointing that we still don't have adequate testing, that the credibility of top scientists like yourself and the CDC are being undermined."

The Big Story

The next big thing in Big Tech? Walmart

One bit of news that didn't get talked about enough this week: Walmart buying even deeper into India's Flipkart, putting $1.2 billion into the company at a $24.9 billion valuation. The tech industry in general is all over India right now — and Walmart wants in, too. (At this rate, it'll be investing in Jio by next week.)

The move speaks to a bigger trend for Walmart. It's easy to frame the fight over the future of commerce as Amazon vs. the fusty old retail companies. But that's not quite right. Walmart, after years of seeming to be behind the game, suddenly looks more like a tech giant.

  • Part of that is health care. Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note that Walmart, already the third-largest pharmacy in the U.S, is making moves in the insurance world and has interests in health tech. "As the lines between retail, health care, and tech blur, Walmart's growing suite of initiatives make it a sleeping giant to watch," they wrote.
  • With Walmart+ launching this month, it'll also have a competitor to Amazon Prime. And Walmart's offering might be more appealing to some, with its same-day delivery and gas discounts. The ongoing boom in online grocery shopping is a win for Walmart, too.

Walmart's always been a "get your crap together" company. It has a huge network of stores, massive sales and infrastructure, and monster market share: If any company was going to figure out the omnichannel, delivery-plus-stores and online-plus-offline future of commerce, it seemed likely to be Walmart.

It's not like it hasn't been trying: It bought Jet, and Bonobos, and Shoebuy, and ModCloth, and all manner of other companies and tech to try and crack ecommerce. More recently, it partnered with Shopify to open up the Walmart Marketplace to other businesses — a move I suspect is actually going to actually work.

But in 2020, as tech continues to charge into real-world businesses everywhere, Walmart seems to have a real chance to compete. Because as fast as tech moves, it hasn't won the world yet.

Startups

Extreme problem solving

Protocol's Shakeel Hashim writes: One of the perceptions of startups that aim to "do good" is that they'll struggle to provide the returns that investors would like. But at this week's Extreme Tech Challenge (hilariously abbreviated to XTC), a bunch of startups tried to prove that notion wrong.

  • This year's XTC was built around the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, and looked for startups tackling meaty problems such as agriculture, energy, and transport. More than 2,400 companies entered, with seven finalists pitching to top investors this week.

The winner was Genecis, which turns a company's organic waste "into a material that can be used within their business," its growth and partnerships lead Robert Celik told me. An example: It takes the yeast left over from insulin production at Novo Nordisk and turns it into biodegradable plastics that can be used to package the insulin. Cost-savings there are an obvious incentive for companies to use Genecis's tech, rather than carrying on with petroleum-based plastics.

Reimagining the profit motive so it can be used for good was the driving theme throughout many of the XTC companies. Dr. Xuemei Germaine, CEO of finalist MicroGen Biotech, said that was a key part of her company's product. MicroGen makes microbes that stop heavy metals from getting into crops — keeping them out of the food chain, where they can damage human health. But MicroGen's products also increase crop yield, and farmers get paid a premium for the healthier crops.

  • "There has to be a consumer drive," Germaine told me, stressing that her products weren't subsidized by governments.
  • Still, governments are helping the company indirectly. Part of the reason demand is high for MicroGen's solutions is because farmers need to comply with new regulations on heavy metals' presence in food: 70% of Latin American chocolate soon won't meet incoming standards, according to Germaine — which explains why Mars is working with MicroGen.
  • "When the government gets involved in highlighting and facilitating solutions that are good for people, it accelerates the process," XTC cofounder Bill Tai told me.

Both Genecis and MicroGen said they've seen increasing demand from VCs, who now realize how large the markets could be for some of these doing-good companies that are learning to focus on maximizing returns. "It needs to be economically sustainable," Germaine said. "Then we can solve the problem."

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

In the face of COVID-19, many healthcare providers turned to remote patient monitoring and virtual visits to continue caring for vulnerable patients while minimizing risk of virus transmissions and reducing the strain on scarce hospital resources. At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decade innovating - and we believe our homes are destined to play a central role in the healthcare system of the future.

Read more.

Work Chat

Your business needs an emoji strategy. Seriously.

Today's National Emoji Day! Which means … something. Anyway, to mark the occasion, I talked with Slack's Christina Janzer, who's been studying how people use emoji at work. Turns out it's more powerful — and more complex — than you might think. And if your company doesn't already have an emoji strategy, you might need one.

The first thing you need to know, Janzer said, is that there are four types of work emoji:

  • The status emoji: This is how you let your team know you're on a call or caring for the kids when it's impossible for colleagues to see what you're doing. It's become so popular Slack actually rolled out a whole set of WFH Emoji.
  • The doing-work emoji: New Slack employees are taught in their onboarding to use the eyes emoji to signal they're reading a document someone's shared. When they're done, they drop a green check mark. "It's an easy way to indicate something without using words," Janzer said, "without creating more notifications or cluttering up a channel."
  • The don't-misunderstand emoji: It's easy to be misread in a Slack message, or come off as accidentally rude. Emoji help communicate emotion and intention.
  • The feelings emoji: Sometimes you just want to let your coworkers know you're there for them. You probably don't want to type "big hugs!" but a heart emoji goes a long way.

Emoji can sound trivial and silly, Janzer said, but "we find it to be really useful for productivity purposes." Within Slack, she said, emoji usage has gone up 80% since the pandemic started, and the heart emoji is now the most popular one. And every business, whether you use Slack or not, would be smart to tap into the simple power of the emoji. Use them wisely, and they can move things along much faster than a flood of messages.

Personally, I am an aggressive user of the thumbs-up reaction emoji (Slack calls them reactjis, but I refuse), and the raised-hands whenever someone does something great. And if you've never done a poll where people vote with emoji, you're just missing out.

Making Moves

Ted Sarandos is the new co-CEO of Netflix. Reed Hastings said the move "makes formal what was already informal — that Ted and I share the leadership of Netflix." Sarandos will still be chief content officer. Greg Peters, Netflix's CPO, is now also the COO.

In Other News

  • Facebook updated its executive performance reviews to include diversity goals. Chief diversity officer Maxine Williams said it was a way to hold execs accountable.
  • From Protocol: Google banned employee-led voter registration drives, preventing groups such as the Black Googler Network from running long-held events.
  • Don't miss this story on the turmoil at Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan health care company. According to The Information, CEO Atul Gawande stepped down amid frustration from his board.
  • Tech billionaires are funding Biden's campaign. Recode reports that Dustin Moskovitz, Laurene Powell Jobs, Jeff Skoll and Mark Pincus have all donated hundreds of thousands. Safra Catz, meanwhile, is the only major Trump donor so far.
  • Want to be shielded from scams? T-Mobile's got you. Its new Scam Shield gives you a proxy number to help filter out robocalls — and lets you change your main number for free if it all gets too much.
  • From Protocol: Microsoft's big cloud gaming foray will be available for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers in September. But the company seems to care more about boosting Azure demand than selling Xbox subscriptions.
  • The EU launched yet another antitrust probe, this time into IoT and voice assistants. Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager specifically mentioned Apple, Google and Amazon in her announcement.
  • Instacart sued Cornershop, Uber's recently-acquired grocery delivery app, accusing the company of "brazen" IP theft. It claims Cornershop stole product images and information from the Instacart app.
  • Hulu borrowed a tactic from Facebook: It launched a self-serve ad platform, letting small businesses buy ads with a minimum spend of $500.

One More Thing

Goodbye 'password' passwords

The U.K. is putting together a law that would force internet-connected gadgets to ship with a unique pre-set password, or require users to create one before they can use it. And the passwords also have to be good. No more "123456," which is somehow still the most popular password in the world. No more "qwerty," no more "password," no more "iloveyou" (which until very recently was my Wi-Fi password, whoops). This is an extremely good idea — and a good reason to finally switch to a password manager, lest you have to memorize something like AD8fN%83}~Gh7 for every site you use. (No, that's not my new Wi-Fi password.)

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

In the face of COVID-19, many healthcare providers turned to remote patient monitoring and virtual visits to continue caring for vulnerable patients while minimizing risk of virus transmissions and reducing the strain on scarce hospital resources. At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decade innovating - and we believe our homes are destined to play a central role in the healthcare system of the future.

Read 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 weekend, see you Sunday.

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