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When ecommerce and e-scooters collide

Image: Lime
Lime Scooter

Good morning! This Thursday, the Justice Department laid out its plans to change Section 230, TikTok warned everyone about how bad a ban can be, Ridepanda wants to help you buy a scooter, and why Hulu shows you the same ad 100 times an hour.

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The Big Story

How the White House would change Section 230

Issie Lapowsky writes: The Department of Justice fired a warning shot against Section 230 on Wednesday, sending Congress proposed legislation that would limit platforms' protections under the law and create a carve-out for so-called "bad Samaritans" who purposely promote, solicit or facilitate criminal activity.

  • The proposal was almost immediately met with confusion by even some Section 230 experts. "I think this proposal is a mess, and I don't know if that's on purpose," said Blake Reid, a professor of tech policy at Colorado Law. "That is not a great way to run the railroad for a statute that governs a huge swath of activity that happens online."

The proposal is mostly just a rough sketch of what the DOJ wants out of Section 230 reform, but it's a useful guideline for future conversations on the subject. Here are some of the proposal's biggest asks:

  • Strict adherence to terms of service. The DOJ's proposal attempts to get at supposed anti-conservative bias on social media by specifying that platforms can't be held liable for filtering content that violates their terms of service. Meaning that when a moderation decision doesn't precisely follow their terms of service, they can be held liable.
  • A new definition of "good faith." The DOJ would create a definition that gives platforms precious little room for error. It would require them to publish their terms of service, restrict content only as it relates to their terms of service, give users "timely notice" about their content being taken down and, most importantly, not screw up.
  • Limits on content filtering. As written, Section 230 says platforms won't be held liable for good faith efforts to restrict content that is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable." The DOJ's proposal would strike "otherwise objectionable" from the law and add some new categories, including content that promotes terrorism, violent extremism or self-harm. It would allow much less wiggle room for platforms.
  • Carve-outs for "bad Samaritans." The DOJ's proposal would create a carve-out in Section 230 for platforms that purposely promote, solicit or facilitate material that they know or believe might violate federal criminal law. The DOJ can already go after platforms for actively participating in criminal activity, but this proposal would broaden that power by giving victims the ability to sue as well.

It seems wholly unlikely that Congress will move forward with these recommendations before the end of the session. But if the DOJ remains under Republican control, these issues aren't going to go away anytime soon.

Be sure to read Issie's story on Protocol for more analysis on what this all means, why it's so confusing and where we go from here.

Social

What a non-ban could do to TikTok

It's easy to think that the possibility of a TikTok ban — not the actual ban itself — might be good for TikTok, as everybody rushes to download the app before it's gone. But as TikTok continues to fight for its life in the U.S., Vanessa Pappas laid out yesterday what harm the mere possibility of a ban could do to the platform. It's grim stuff:

  • When Mike Pompeo first mentioned that president Trump was even considering a ban, back in July, Pappas wrote that TikTok "saw a significant drop" in its user base, with "a reduction of over 500,000 daily active users."
  • Competitive apps simultaneously jumped in popularity, and started signing big TikTok stars away from the platform. That's been bad for TikTok's global growth, too, because so much content comes from U.S. creators.
  • After Trump's executive order was issued, Pappas said about a dozen brands pulled out of ad deals for August, and TikTok lost $10 million of revenue just in that month.
  • "Since July 1, 2020," she wrote, "52 candidates have declined offers of employment with ByteDance and TikTok Inc. specifically due to the perceived uncertainty caused by the government's investigation of and threats against TikTok."

TikTok has been modeling what might happen if the app was banned, even temporarily, and it seems the point of no return comes really quickly. Pappas estimated that if TikTok were banned for two months, as many as half of TikTok's users would never come back; after six months, as many as 90% would never return. "Accordingly, even if the TikTok Ban is later lifted," Pappas wrote, "we would not be able to make up for lost ground."

But this filing should scare every CEO in tech. In a time where everything about tech is political, nobody's safe from threats and bans and governmental interference. And the threats alone could kill a business.

Mobility

The new new bike shop

One thing Lime, Bird and others have done is show people how useful scooters and e-bikes can be for navigating a city. But the next step for many people actually seems to be to buy one for themselves. Even Bird is getting into the scooter-selling game!

  • This was happening before the pandemic, but with people not wanting to touch what strangers have touched (or get in cars or on trains), it's accelerating.
  • Which is why Ridepanda founders Chinmay Malaviya (a former Lime employee) and Charlie Depman (a former Scoot employee) think they're launching at the perfect time.

Basically, Ridepanda is a shop for e-bikes, scooters and mopeds. But it's also a guide, rating rides it sells for safety and helping users figure out which style is right for them. Because, as Malavia put it, figuring out which one to buy is impossible.

  • "There's tons of noise, right?" Malavia said. "There is a lack of trust. There are a lot of good products, a lot of very bad products." We all know you can't trust regular online reviews, and the stakes here are super high both because these vehicles are relatively expensive and because buying the wrong one might literally kill you. (I've been trying to figure out which scooter to buy myself for months, and I can vouch for how awful this process is.)
  • Ridepanda wants to be a car dealership for electric vehicles. It'll help you find one, pay for it, service it, everything. And it says it won't offer products that it doesn't stand behind.
  • Depman said Ridepanda might someday build its own scooter or e-bike, but right now there are plenty of good options out there. Instead, it'll educate riders on the space, "sort of like the NerdWallet in our space," Depman said.

This is going to be a trend. It's the next phase of dropshipping, really: Name brands and retail stores are being replaced by huge marketplaces full of stuff supplied directly by manufacturers, and it's so hard to know what's good and what's junk. There's room for a whole class of companies just curating and recommending stuff, across every category. Earning trust can be just as valuable as making a product.

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

ChinaDaily, a state-run publication, had some choice words about the TikTok deal:

  • "China has no reason to give the green light to such a deal, which is dirty and unfair and based on bullying and extortion. If the U.S. gets its way, it will continue to do the same with other foreign companies. Giving in to the unreasonable demands of the U.S. would mean the doom of the Chinese company ByteDance."

The U.S. has always played a primary role in the tech landscape, but Senator Mark Warner said that's slipping away:

  • "We flooded the zone with engineers. We had the best schools, we had most of the companies. It got built in as an assumed advantage, and we kind of got lazy about it."

A group of civil-rights organizations filed an amicus brief saying Uber and Lyft have systematically failed to protect drivers of color:

  • "It is critical to recognize the unjust class and race hierarchies that feed into illegal employer practices like misclassification. The reality is that ultra-powerful corporations like Lyft and Uber have amassed their incredible wealth precisely by denying basic protections to poor people of color excluded from decent jobs."

U.S. bans and rhetoric continue to hurt Huawei, chairman Guo Ping said:

  • "Non-stop aggression from the U.S. government has put us under significant pressure. Right now, survival is the goal."

Making Moves

Mike Morhaime has a new gaming company called Dreamhaven. The former Blizzard CEO also hired a number of Blizzard developers to run Dreamhaven's two internal studios, and said he wants to build a very different kind of development company.

Coinbase added to its executive ranks. It hired Shilpa Dhar from Venmo and Ravi Byakod from Adobe, and the two will run a new "Platforms" team at Coinbase. Frank Yoo also joined the company from Google, and will be Coinbase's VP of design and research.

Nilka Thomas is Lyft's new Chief People Officer. Thomas heads back to the company after leaving in February to be CPO at SeatGeek.

In Other News

  • Facebook will allow political ads again starting November 4, following a pause during the run-up to Election Day. But it won't allow ones that claim victory before the final results are declared. That's if it can find them, at least: Avaaz found that super PACs have been able to run hundreds of misleading ads on Facebook recently. Meanwhile, Facebook's oversight board will reportedly start accepting cases in October, though it's unlikely that it will make any rulings before the election.
  • Don't miss these leaked audio recordings of Facebook's all-hands meetings, published by The Verge. You can hear Mark Zuckerberg handle employees' criticism of Joel Kaplan, their requests for free food, and his enthusiastic support for sunscreen.
  • Facebook said it won't pull out of Europe, after reports said it would if standard contractual clauses couldn't be used for EU-U.S. data transfers. But head of global policy Nick Clegg did say that the data transfer issue could have a "profound effect" on the company.
  • Gig economy companies have spent at least $170 million backing Prop. 22, about worker status, with Lyft's $48 million leading the charge. Despite less than $10 million spent campaigning against it, that makes it the most expensive ballot measure in California history.
  • California will ban new sales of gas-powered cars by 2035. The news came just in time for Volkswagen's announcement of its new Tesla competitor, the ID.4.
  • Tesla sued the U.S. government over import tariffs on Chinese goods. It said the imposition of the tariffs was "arbitrary and capricious."
  • Amazon will label certain products "Climate Pledge Friendly." They have to meet one of 19 sustainability certifications, and Amazon says over 25,000 products already qualify.
  • Echelon launched "Amazon's first-ever connected fitness product," the EX-Prime bike, which it said was "developed in collaboration with Amazon." But then Amazon said it had nothing to do with it, and told Echelon to stop selling it. Echelon clarified that it built the bike to sell exclusively on Amazon, which seems like a very different thing.
  • Two Shopify employees went rogue and stole customer data, the company said. Between 100 and 200 merchants' customers were affected, with names and addresses stolen.
  • Four of the six eBay employees involved in the cyberstalking case said they would plead guilty. The two executives allegedly involved — James Baugh and David Harville — continued to claim innocence.
  • Peter Thiel is launching a SPAC. Bridgetown Holdings, created by Thiel and Richard Li, is looking to raise $575 million to buy a tech, financial services or media company in Southeast Asia.
  • Microsoft has a smarter sync system for web apps that it's calling Project Nucleus. The company says it will improve filtering, sorting or scrolling of big data sets.
  • Apple launched its online store in India, selling the "made in India" iPhone SE and 11. It's been a long time coming, and was only allowed after the Indian government relaxed regulations.

One More Thing

And now, the same ad for the 550th time

My wife and I watch a lot of HGTV. And I swear to you, if I have to watch that stupid AT&T 5G ad one more time, I'm going to lose my mind. You may not know the ad, but you know the feeling, right? You're watching a show, and in every ad break, you get the same ad or two. Over and over and over and over again. Turns out, The Wall Street Journal found, the entire streaming ad industry is to blame, because fragmentation ruined everything. Give me the old commercials!

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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