posted about 8 hours ago on re/code
Quarterback Matt Moore of the Kansas City Chiefs rolls out against the Denver Broncos on October 17, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. | Dustin Bradford/Getty Images And the business might do the same thing for other topics. Pay for sports? Sure. Pay for sports news? No way. That has been the conventional wisdom in the media industry for years. Alex Mather says it’s wrong. And for now, Mather looks like he’s correct: The CEO of The Athletic says his sports news service has signed up more than 600,000 paying subscribers in less than four years and is on its way to a million. Mather’s company attracts quite a bit of attention from people in the sports media industry and the media industry in general because it may be the most ambitious subscription-only news service to launch in years. It also generates a lot of skepticism, with plenty of naysayers muttering about unsustainable costs and deeply discounted subscription offers. We’ll see how that plays out. For now, Mather and his co-founder Adam Hansmann — who met when they worked at Strava, a subscription app for serious cyclists and other athletes — get to argue that they’re successful because they’ve cracked the subscription business code: Make really good stuff and people will pay for it. You can eye-roll all you want at that, but there doesn’t appear to be much more to The Athletic’s business model than that. And the fact that it has convinced many people to pay for sports news in a world flooded with free sports news may mean there’s room to replicate this for other kinds of coverage. In fact, the idea that The Athletic’s business could expand beyond sports sounds like something Mather himself is thinking about. We discussed the notion in the most recent episode of Recode Media and Mather didn’t bat it away. You can read an excerpt of that conversation below or listen to the whole thing here: Peter Kafka Can you do this in other verticals? Can you do this with other topics? Alex Mather It can be done in other verticals. Whether or not we take that on, that’s a matter of time and us understanding what those specific opportunities are. Peter Kafka So that sounds like, “Yeah, we’re thinking about doing more.” Alex Mather It could be done. We are very confident that if you look at many other categories, it can be done. Peter Kafka What do you need for this to work in other categories? Because the conventional wisdom up until now has been, this works for business [news]. People need that information. They’re going to pay for it. Their companies are going to pay for it. And if it’s a really niche thing, like long-haired Persian cat fans, whatever ... if you’re a super hardcore fanatic and there’s no other information there, you’ll pay for it and that’s fine. Alex Mather Sure. Peter Kafka Sports wasn’t supposed to work because there’s supposed to be too much of it. So where else do you think this could work? Alex Mather I have a really simple answer there. We talk about our recipe, and it’s really just flour and water. It’s a passionate audience that’s truly passionate. Obviously sports fans are very passionate, and it’s a very big passionate audience so it’s a very, very big opportunity. But if you have passionate people and you have really world-class talent, you combine those things, people will pay for that combination. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be cooking. You know, the New York Times had success in cooking. It could be — you know, I love B2B. I loved your podcast with Imran [Amed] from The Business of Fashion — a wonderful product built around a very big industry. These are not small companies. These are companies breaking big stories, doing important work. There are so many categories, consumer, business, you name it. There are so many opportunities to build subscription businesses there.

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posted about 11 hours ago on re/code
A woman sorts packages at the Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York City, on February 5, 2019. | Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images “The quota system pushes you to really not work at a pace that’s normal, but at a pace where you’re almost running for the entire 10 hours.” Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, say they package about four online orders every minute. If they stop for a few seconds outside of their designated breaks, it hurts their performance evaluations. So they’re bending, twisting, running, and lifting boxes for 10 to 12 hours a day — just to get a package to a customer’s door within a day or two. That’s what Amazon warehouse employees in Staten Island who were surveyed earlier this year by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health had to say. The workers’ advocacy group is concerned that employees are developing musculoskeletal disorders from the intense work pace. Sixty-six percent of the 145 workers surveyed (a total of about 2,500 employees prepare orders at Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island) said they experience physical pain while performing their regular work duties and 42 percent said they continue experiencing pain when they aren’t working. When asked to map where they feel pain, more than a quarter pointed to their feet, and nearly as many also felt pain in their lower backs and knees. This graphic shows the potential impact of Amazon’s speed-obsessed culture — injuries that will likely get worse since the company has started offering free one-day shipping to its Prime customers. Source: New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health The percentage of surveyed Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island who reported pain in highlighted areas. The safety committee — made up of health experts, union leaders, and workers — said the pain workers described is likely a sign that they’re developing musculoskeletal disorders, which are injuries to the joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and tendons from repetitive strain and exertion. “I feel pain in my back, in my waist, because I do a lot of bending,” one worker told the committee, according to the report. “Even if you squat, you still feel the pain in your waist. It’s a full-body workout all day every day.” A large number of workers also said that their work conditions are psychologically distressing. Source: New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health A spokesperson for Amazon called the report “biased” and “unreliable” and pointed out that only about 3 percent of the workforce in Staten Island was surveyed. “It is an example of selective data skewed to support false statements by an organization that’s sole business objective is to misinform the public on Amazon’s safety record,” wrote Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty in a statement to Vox. “The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality working environment for the over 250,000 hourly employees across the US, including over 4,500 full-time employees supporting customers at our Staten Island fulfillment center.” Yet safety complaints about Amazon aren’t unusual. In 2016, the US Occupational Safety & Hazards Administration fined Amazon $7,000 for not recording about two dozen worker injuries at a warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey. “The company exposed employees to ergonomic risk factors including stress from repeated bending at the waist and repeated exertions, and standing during entire shifts up to 10 hours, four days a week and sometimes including mandatory overtime shifts,” the agency wrote in a 2016 brief. In 2018, the advocacy group National Council for Occupational Safety and Health listed Amazon as one of the most dangerous places to work in the US, based on its warehouse conditions. Amazon was included because of higher-than-average injury rates, unnecessary risks, and an unwillingness to address workers’ concerns, according to the report. The group also noted that seven Amazon warehouse workers have died since 2013 (mostly from accidents involving heavy machinery) and that the company’s “relentless demand” to fulfill orders leads to harsh working conditions. Amazon workers want something to change The latest report comes as Amazon workers in the Staten Island warehouse are trying to unionize. Some of them have said they’re afraid for their safety and only expect conditions to get worse with one-day shipping becoming more widespread. The $800 billion online retailer launched one-day shipping in May as part of an effort to get an upper hand on competitors like Walmart and Target. But the plan outraged some warehouse employees. Such a quick turnaround, they say, will take a toll on their health and put their safety more at risk. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is helping Amazon workers unionize in New York City, put it this way in a statement about the change: With two-day Prime shipping, Amazon fulfillment workers currently face speeds of 200-300 orders per hour in 12-hour shifts. They struggle already to maintain that pace. If Amazon plans to effectively double the speed, it must also address existing workforce needs and ensure its workers are safe. Increasing fulfillment speeds means they need to hire more workers, under more sustainable speeds that don’t put worker’s lives in jeopardy. The online retailer is also dealing with serious complaints from employees who describe harrowing work conditions at Amazon’s warehouses in the United States and across the world. In July 2018, Amazon workers in the US and Europe went on strike to protest what they described as hot, windowless, soul-crushing work environments. One of the warehouse workers surveyed in the New York study said Amazon’s strict quota system pressures workers to package 2,000 units in a day, four items per minute. “The quota system pushes you to really not work at a pace that’s normal, but at a pace where you’re almost running for the entire 10 hours. ... You’re constantly turning, bending, running. They say they make a big deal about safety, but when you’re working so fast, you’re not going to follow those mandates,” the worker said, according to the report. Meanwhile, Amazon is expanding one-day shipping to more than 10,000 cities across the US and to Japan and the UK.

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posted about 14 hours ago on re/code
Andrew Yang has raised millions of dollars from small contributors. Now he has a super PAC, too. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images It’s a test for the candidate, who says he wants to eliminate super PACs. A new super PAC is planning to spend over $1 million to back Andrew Yang’s campaign for the presidency, a surprising effort that could give Yang needed support but will also test his commitment to disempower these big-money groups. The group, called Math PAC, is being run by a well-regarded Democratic operative, Will Hailer, and this week began sending its first pieces of direct mail to voters, according to federal disclosures. The group expects to have a seven-figure budget and to do both paid media and voter outreach on Yang’s behalf in early primary states. The point is to “allow the movement behind Andrew Yang to catch up to elected officials — who were able to transfer years of war chests to their presidential campaigns,” Hailer told Recode. “We felt an opportunity to harness that so that a first-time candidate’s voice isn’t drowned out.” But Yang has been explicit about the harm posed by super PACs, which are unaffiliated committees that can raise money in unlimited amounts as long as they do not directly coordinate strategy with the campaign. A Yang spokesperson had no immediate comment, but Yang’s campaign platform calls to “eliminate super PACs.” Math PAC was formed last month. Super PACs have become toxic in Democratic primary politics, with everyone from Joe Biden to Cory Booker trying to cut outside efforts to back their campaigns. But because the groups are by nature unauthorized, candidates have limited ability to actually stop a super PAC from doing its work. Hailer said his group agreed that super PACs were a problem but that Math PAC’s work was essential to “make sure that we are enacting election reform measures that prohibit this type of work from happening.” While new super PACs will not be required to disclose their donors until late January, Math PAC is planning to reveal its donors before the mandated date. Yang has been notching between 2 percent and 3 percent support in most national and early-state polls. “He is running against governors, senators, and institutional actors that have these apparatuses that they can automatically tap into,” Hailer said. “So the only way to be able to give voice to an incredibly important conversation is to find ways to add value to that voice. And that’s what we’re hoping to do through the super PAC.” Yang has proven to be a surprisingly successful fundraiser for his own campaign committee, raising $10 million in the last quarter, a haul that surpassed some of those senators and governors — like Booker or Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Candidates like Yang have been able to raise substantial hauls this cycle by relying on small-dollar donors, lessening the need for high-dollar backers who can give to outside groups in excess of the legal maximum, which is $2,800. The top fundraisers last quarter, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have sworn off high-dollar fundraising events — Yang has done a limited number of them — even though that decision carries some vulnerabilities in a general election. There are reasons to think that a Yang super PAC, though, could raise a lot of money. Yang, the former head of Venture for America, has been tapping his network for high-dollar contributors for decades to back his nonprofit, and he enjoyed a special touch with some billionaires during those years. The group is asking some people who have worked with Yang during his career to serve as advisers. Hailer’s involvement, too, gives Math PAC some credibility. The former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, Hailer has advised candidates like Minnesota politician Keith Ellison and was at one point reportedly considered to be the next CEO of the Democratic National Committee, where he served as a senior adviser.

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posted 1 day ago on re/code
The new Google Pixel 4 smartphone and cases are displayed during a launch event on October 15, 2019, in New York City. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images Google tried to make its Pixel 4 phone better at seeing black faces. But the company’s ends didn’t justify the means. On October 15, Google announced its latest phone: the Pixel 4. There’s been hype around this phone for months. Its features were the worst-kept secret in tech. So the stuff that Google said at the launch was kind of old news. But there’s one specific feature that’s gotten a lot of attention: using your face to unlock the phone. Facial recognition isn’t new in tech; iPhones have been able to do this since 2017. But a promotional video about the Pixel 4 suggested the company was trying to solve a problem: Facial recognition technology is notoriously bad at detecting people with dark skin. The technology often misidentifies them, or doesn’t detect them at all. The explicit promotion of this was a big deal: Google was basically saying, “We see you, and this phone was made with you in mind!” But then, the New York Daily News reported exactly how Google was making its tech more inclusive. Ginger Adams Otis — who, along with her colleague Nancy Dillion, broke that story — joins Reset host Arielle Duhaime-Ross to share what they learned: We found that in trying to create a biometric facial recognition feature, which would allow your face to unlock your phone, they needed to build a big database of faces so that they could — these are their words — “train the machine,” so that the technology recognizes all the different varieties of people that there are. And so to do that, they sent teams of people out to collect facial scans and the people collecting them — the for-hire workers — were not upfront or clear about what they were gathering the data for, what the people needed to do, what they were giving consent for, and in some cases they targeted specific groups with darker skin tones. This isn’t the first time researchers have taken questionable steps with regard to people of color in the name of something noble. Ruha Benjamin studies the intersection of race, science, and technology at Princeton University. In the second part of this episode, she explains the racial bias we often seen in facial recognition technologies and how the data collection practices of Google’s contractors echo a long history of scientists taking advantage of vulnerable communities of color. Racialized groups have been targeted and included in harmful experimentations throughout our country’s histories. Whether slavery or Jim Crow or mass incarceration, scientists and doctors have gone after the most vulnerable populations in order to hone various technologies and techniques. Listen to the entire discussion on this episode of Reset. Below, we’ve also shared a lightly edited transcript of their conversation. Subscribe to Reset on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Ginger Adams Otis, you’re a reporter for the New York Daily News, and along with your colleague Nancy Dillon, you broke a story two weeks ago about the work that Google has been doing to improve its Pixel phone. What did you find? Ginger Adams Otis We found that in trying to create a biometric facial recognition feature which would allow your face to unlock your phone they needed to build a big database of faces so that they could — these are their words — “train the machine,” so that the technology recognizes all the different varieties of people that there are. And so to do that, they sent teams of people out to collect facial scans and the people collecting them — the for-hire workers — were not upfront or clear about what they were gathering the data for what the people needed to do what they were giving consent for and, in some cases, they targeted specific groups with darker skin tones. Arielle Duhaime-Ross How did they go about gathering this information about people? Ginger Adams Otis Well, Google has acknowledged that they’ve done sort of voluntary requests for people, basically going up to them on the street and saying, “Hey would you like to let Google scan your face?” And they would offer a five-dollar gift card if you know if you wanted it. But in some cases they weren’t getting, I guess, the diversity that they wanted, so they had to broaden sort of their repertoire of how they were asking. Arielle Duhaime-Ross How long have you known that Google has been scanning people’s faces on the street? Ginger Adams Otis They started this project, as far as we know, probably back in January. But I think they had done an earlier iteration of it, and many tech companies do. I mean, they have to get faces. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Just the sentence, “They have to get faces”: It’s one of the more dystopian things I’ve heard recently. So walk me through sort of what is the ideal scenario for getting this kind of data from people: Someone just walks up to you on the street, and then what? Ginger Adams Otis I would think of best practices, and this is just going off of a compilation of talking to a bunch of different people would be that a private company looking to buy something from you or use something of yours, commodify you in essence, should be upfront about exactly what they’re doing and make sure you have fully informed consent. And that would require a full explanation and time to read the consent form before you say yes. And actually, we saw an iteration of the Google consent form, and they did a pretty good job of crunching it down into some tight points. So it is possible to let people fully know what’s going on. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Do you know what kind of device they were using for these face scans? Can you sort of describe how that works? Ginger Adams Otis We saw it actually ourselves. A team out gathering data in California and people would take the gadget was pretty sizable you know not tablet size but bigger than a small iPhone for example. And it had a circle on it and it would say sort of center your face and follow the dot with your nose. And you know they would be rotating their face from different angles and up and down. And the person has to hold it because you need a full like 3D scan. Arielle Duhaime-Ross And from your reporting we know that the company, Google, was targeting people of color and that they wanted to get data from their faces especially. What has Google said it was doing, and why did it need that kind of a data set? Ginger Adams Otis Google wanted all kinds of skin tones and faces and features, so they weren’t I don’t think specifically setting out just to target a certain demographic, but what they what is well known about this kind of technology is it is less reliable on darker skin because it doesn’t have enough practice. And Google said to us we really need to train the machine. Arielle Duhaime-Ross So, Google says that it was actually doing this to make its products more inclusive. That sounds like a noble goal to me in some ways. So, where did things go wrong? Ginger Adams Otis Well, they hired a firm, a hiring firm to bring in contractors. And they were kind of given some marks to hit in terms of quantity of faces scanned. They were given instructions you know to just get people to sign up. Get people to say yes. Skip by the consent form tell them it’s a game. Tell them it’s like a new kind of Snapchat or a minigame you know don’t outright lie but don’t get bogged down in the details because you know we need to keep this flowing. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Kind of sounds like people didn’t know what they were signing up for. Ginger Adams Otis Some people probably didn’t. The people that we spoke to that we saw in California after the team left, we’d ask them: did you know this was for Google and they were scanning your face? And they were like, “No, we didn’t hear Google. We thought it was just a game.” Of course, one of the stories that we heard and reported was that a team had been sent to Atlanta specifically to look for homeless people of color with the idea being they’re less likely to worry about why they’re being asked for their face. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Wow. Ginger Adams Otis The city of Atlanta is very upset. The city attorney actually wrote to Google. I spoke to the mayor of Atlanta, and their feeling is it’s not cool to prey on a vulnerable population and there’s issues of consent within some people who experience homelessness. Arielle Duhaime-Ross You mentioned that this whole project at least the parts that you were reporting on were done through a third party company where these workers visiting Google facilities were they dealing with Google managers. What’s the evidence tying some of these practices directly to Google? Ginger Adams Otis Our understanding from multiple sources is that while these people these for-hire workers were contracted through the company called Randstad most if not all of them worked out of various Google headquarters. They used the Google amenities Google cafeteria. They got on the Google bus. They got all of the fun Google stuff. And we saw some documentation that gave us indications of specific Google managers that were involved in key parts of this. Arielle Duhaime-Ross So you published this story sort of calling out Google for their contractors’ behavior. What is Google’s response to all of this? Ginger Adams Otis So they have acknowledged that they were out looking for people with darker skin because of known flaws in the technology. And, as you said, the goal is to make a better product as to sort of the methods — what we called the allegations of dubious tactics. Google said: We’re suspending this, we’re investigating. We put a premium value on transparency, and we’re going to check all of this out. Arielle Duhaime-Ross But the phone still went ahead and launched, right? So they’re still benefiting presumably from the data that they gathered? Ginger Adams Otis Sure. And in the consent form that we saw, which was again and iteration of an evolving document, the consent is for this project. But once they build that technology and use your face your data to build this product where that back in technology goes is not defined in the consent form. Arielle Duhaime-Ross What stands out to you about this story? When you take a step back, what do you hope people will take away from your reporting? Ginger Adams Otis Well, I think there’s several key things that everybody should really focus in on here, myself included, because I’m not a tech reporter by day. I’m a worker, people reporter. I think as people, we have to start thinking a little bit more critically about what’s our role in Big Tech because what Big Tech wants from us is our data. And in this case it’s literally part of our bodies. Are we for sale? And if we are going to be for sale, then are you negotiating a price or are you just going, “Oh, you want me to play a cool game? Okay, I’ll do it.” Arielle Duhaime-Ross What do you think of the five-dollar gift card? Does that seem like enough to you? Ginger Adams Otis That raises the point of if it’s not enough, what’s our price? Which is a scary kind of question to contemplate, but I think to me that’s almost like a smart way to make it innocuous. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Right, if you’re offering me a hundred dollars, I might start asking more questions. Ginger Adams Otis Right. Arielle Duhaime-Ross But five dollars seems kind of relaxed and kind of chill. Ginger Adams Otis Right. Yeah. You know, to Starbucks. All right, great. I’ll get a Tall. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Ruha Benjamin, you study the intersection of race, science and technology at Princeton. How do you explain the racial bias we often see in facial recognition technologies? How did we get here? Ruha Benjamin Part of what we’re seeing in the last few years is so many examples that are revealing that human beings have to teach computers how to compute. And so the input for computational systems largely shapes the output. If, say, a company has discriminated against women in its hiring for the last 50 years, and so the employee base in that company is overwhelmingly male and that is the data that’s being trained for a hiring system that’s looking for new employees, then that that hiring system is going to assume that this company is not interested in and of female applicants based on this precedent. And so history is helping to predict the future in this case. Arielle Duhaime-Ross When you read those stories in the New York Daily News, what was your gut reaction? Ruha Benjamin “Oh, here we go again.” So, racialized groups have been targeted and included in harmful experimentations throughout our country’s histories. Whether slavery or Jim Crow or mass incarceration. Scientists and doctors have gone after the most vulnerable populations in order to hone various technologies and techniques. Under slavery, we had J. Marion Sims who people call the father of gynecology who experimented on enslaved women to hone surgical techniques that we still used today some of the women were operated on up to 30 times without anesthesia. Some eventually dying from infections resulting from the experiments. Under Jim Crow, we had the US Public Health Service experimenting on black farmers who had syphilis and then denying them treatment once that treatment was known in order to continue to observe [them. This is] what many people know of this as the Tuskegee experiment. But it was a US Public Health Service-sponsored experiment. And then up until the present there’s a great book called Acres of Skin that looks at experiments that happened in Philadelphia in which a dermatologist saw all these prisoners and was just excited about the ability to use what he called Acres of Skin in his experiments. And so throughout each of these, it’s going after a vulnerable population. All of these were framed as something that was for the public good. Right. And so none of the people who are engaging in this thought of themselves as sort of sinister characters. They saw themselves as developing things that everyone would eventually benefit from. And so, in that way, Google’s experiment builds on a long tradition and it might seem not as severe in comparison but it sets a precedent in which we sort of turn a blind eye when it goes after people that are already vulnerable and who are likely to be harmed even when these technologies are developed well. I think it’s good that Google pulled the research and that there’s kind of widespread questioning of whether we actually want this precedent to hold. Arielle Duhaime-Ross I’m wondering how much responsibility should Google have in all of this. Should we be holding Google accountable for this, or should it be the third-party contractor that sort of went about gathering this data? Ruha Benjamin Absolutely. Google should be held responsible in terms of commissioning the research to begin with. My understanding is that some of those contract workers are the ones who actually kind of blew the whistle on this. And so in that way they were holding themselves responsible in a way that they didn’t necessarily have to. I do think that those who are commissioning the research who are posing the problem to begin with that the data is supposed to answer or dress should definitely be responsible. And at the same time I don’t think we should allow companies to only hold themselves accountable we do need a larger sort of public accountability whether it has to do with laws or governance that steps in. And that is part of the process because as we see when we just leave it to private entities to hold themselves accountable, there are all kinds of ways in which they fail to do so. Arielle Duhaime-Ross In your mind, what does it mean for a company like Google to be involved in something that’s so reminiscent of how scientists have treated black people in this country in the past? Ruha Benjamin It just brings to mind that we don’t learn our history. We think of ourselves as so radically different from our predecessors as you know the people who conducted this in hindsight we can see it so clearly. We shouldn’t be experimenting on people who can’t truly give consent because the institution that they are surrounded by is itself coercive whether it’s prisons or plantations. But now we have a hard time looking at our present reality with the same critical eye. And it also says something about who’s working at Google and who has real power to speak up and to say something when they see something going in the wrong direction and so part of it is the expertise around the table. I think the sort of institutional change has to be thinking about what forms of expertise are relevant to tech development. And historians, sociologists, political scientists, and others who would have likely called this out or had the power to call this out much earlier in the process — before it hit the news — should be understood as relevant and necessary to tech development, not an afterthought. Arielle Duhaime-Ross So, kind of wanting to close the loop here, I could see somebody reading this Google story and saying, “Hey, here is this company that is actually trying to fix this racial bias problem right. They were trying to get more black faces included in the database.” Is that a reasonable takeaway? Ruha Benjamin Just the desire to create an inclusive product doesn’t justify engaging in a coercive process to get to that end. We have to care about the means, partly because of that history I described. And because those who are being enrolled in this particular process of making Google’s product more inclusive that’s going to benefit Google in the end. Their bottom line is going to be that benefit, and likely these populations are not going to directly benefit from their engagement in this. We have to remember this is a company that is trying to sell goods and products, and the kind of inclusion rhetoric is often used to mask what is really at stake, who’s going to benefit, and who’s likely going to be harmed by making facial recognition software more effective. The fact is that these facial recognition systems beyond Google’s particular product are likely to be enrolled in surveillance projects, whether by police or ICE or other institutions. The irony is that the very populations who are being targeted for this. People with darker skin, homeless people, etc. are likely to be those targeted by these surveillance practices. And so the process could have been ethical, but the outcome could still be something we should question. Reset reached out to Google for comment for this episode and the company did not respond. Subscribe to Reset on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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posted 1 day ago on re/code
Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden at the Democratic debate this week. | Win McNamee/Getty Images Another sign of Silicon Valley’s divide. Elizabeth Warren is crushing Joe Biden when it comes to donations from employees at Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies — despite her pledge to break many of them up. Warren raised five times as much from Big Tech as Joe Biden did in the third quarter of this year, according to Recode’s analysis of recently disclosed fundraising records. It’s a sign of both how popular Warren is increasingly in Silicon Valley and of Biden’s own fundraising weaknesses in the industry. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-DpQSX");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-DpQSX");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-04RYo");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-04RYo");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() Warren collected about $150,000 from employees of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet between July and September — outpacing any other Democratic candidate. While measuring donations from a few tech companies specifically is an imperfect way to assess total support from the entire sector, it does offer one snapshot of the industry’s leanings. Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg outraised the rest of the Democratic field in total money, in that order. Almost half of Warren’s tech money came from Alphabet-owned entities like Google and YouTube. Although Warren has sharply criticized these companies, she has enjoyed a boom in tech support in recent months as Silicon Valley measured her up. Tech donors are not primarily driven by tech policy, but some Alphabet employees have previously told Recode that they actually think Warren’s positions could be good for their company and society. Warren’s success is even more impressive given that she has not done high-dollar fundraisers with her party’s most well-heeled contributors, including many fans in Silicon Valley who are desperate for access to her. Just this week, she pushed Silicon Valley even further away when she promised to not raise money from tech “executives” — and even to return qualifying donations that she has already received. Biden’s struggles here reflect his trouble tapping into tech wealth more broadly. While Biden has raised money in Silicon Valley from people with ties to the Obama administration and other wealthy individuals who call the Bay Area home, he has encountered challenges connecting with up-and-coming entrepreneurs and brand-name tech donors. The former vice president has visited the Bay Area twice for high-dollar fundraising events and is expected to return before the end of the year for a third trip. Biden brought in just over $30,000 from employees at those five companies in the third quarter. Other strong tech fundraisers include Buttigieg, who has visited Silicon Valley perhaps more often than any other candidate. (His husband, Chasten, is returning at the end of the month for a unique Hamilton fundraising event.) Buttigieg raised over $100,000 from Big Tech employees in this quarter. Sanders, who has also indicated that he’s open to the idea of breaking up big tech companies, collected almost $130,000 from company employees. And somewhat surprisingly, Andrew Yang, who has his own personal ties to the tech community, was the fourth-best fundraiser among Big Tech employees. Yang collected almost $90,000 from them during the third quarter.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leads a conversation on free expression at Georgetown University on October 17, 2019, in Washington, DC.  | Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Facebook Does it matter if you’re being transparent if you aren’t really saying anything? Mark Zuckerberg is on a transparency tour. Earlier this month, the Facebook CEO held a livestreamed version of the social media company’s normally closed employee Q&As. And on Thursday, he streamed a live talk at Georgetown University about the company’s decisions not to ban outright false political ads and about free speech in general. But all these attempts at transparency aren’t happening in a vacuum. The open Q&A was a response to The Verge publishing audio and transcripts from one of these internal meetings. The free speech talk came after Politico reported that Zuckerberg was having dinners with conservative pundits and after Facebook has received flak for letting President Trump post false political ads. And, perhaps more importantly, what Zuckerberg is saying doesn’t seem to be new or at all revealing. Does it matter if you’re being transparent if you aren’t really saying anything? What he did talk about were concepts we’re all very familiar with. On Thursday, Zuckerberg talked about the importance of free speech — giving people a voice — and how it brings people together. “More people being able to share their experiences and perspectives has always been necessary to build a more inclusive society,” he said. He said “together” 14 times in a 40-minute speech. He defended Facebook’s increasingly indefensible decision to publish political ads that contain lies, saying that to do otherwise would be putting too much power in the hands of tech company. It’s a continuation of Facebook’s “we’re a platform, not a publisher” line. “And while I certainly worry about an erosion of truth, I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judged to be 100 percent true,” Zuckerberg said on Thursday. “Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.” He also downplayed the impact of Russian interference in the 2016 election on Facebook and suggested the real concern was not the content but that Russian actors were posting it. “The solution here is to verify the identities of anyone who’s getting a wide amount of distribution and to get a lot better at identifying and taking down fake accounts,” he said. “So we now require you to provide a government ID and to prove your location if you want to run political ads.” It might be a good time to remember that Zuckerberg, after the 2016 election, didn’t believe that disinformation campaigns on Facebook had an impact on the election — a stance he gradually reversed. Zuckerberg also reiterated that Facebook is using AI to find and take down fake accounts — a drum he has been beating as a solution for Facebook’s many ills. He also mentioned again how Facebook is establishing an independent oversight board to hear appeals of the content moderation decisions Facebook does make (all the time). One thing that did seem to be new was Facebook’s origin story. Instead of a way to rate his fellow Harvard students’ attractiveness, Zuckerberg told the Georgetown audience that the idea arose amid uncertainty about the Iraq war, which shaped his “belief that giving more people a voice gives power to the powerless and pushes society to get better over time.” And of course, right before Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook with the noble goal of promoting free expression and giving voice to the powerless, he founded FaceMash with the noble goal of allowing his Harvard classmates to rate each other on their hotness. https://t.co/PYcr071Ek1 pic.twitter.com/05B2xybzMx— Will Oremus (@WillOremus) October 17, 2019 Overall, Zuckerberg strung a lot of words together that sounded nice and were inoffensive, but they fell far short of showing that Facebook is willing to make the real hard decisions it would take to make its platform healthy. “I believe in giving people a voice because at the end of the day I believe in people,” he said. (Some have suggested that Facebook could actually fix some of its problems by changing its algorithm so it doesn’t prioritize engagement, which often is highest among divisive topics like abortion and guns — and fake news.) Rather, it seems that all of this transparency is instead Facebook taking a defensive position as the good guy with nothing to hide. These attempts at transparency are really just a response to critics like presidential frontrunner Elizabeth Warren, who wants to break up the company. It also seems like a cover for not having fixed a whole lot since 2016. Facebook has yet to share the extensive information it promised about disinformation on the platform after the 2016 election. And foreign actors are still finding ways to exploit the platform. China has been using it in an information war over the Hong Kong protests. Networks in Iran have been spreading disinformation to the US and Britain. Facebook has since taken down the offending accounts and posts. Of course, people will be mad no matter what Facebook does. It appears that in reaction, Facebook is choosing not to do much of anything. Live from Georgetown -- Standing For Voice and Free Expression.Live from Georgetown -- Standing For Voice and Free Expression.Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, October 17, 2019

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posted 2 days ago on re/code
A scene from the third season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. | Courtesy of Netflix This wasn’t as bad as Q2. But things are only going to get tougher as Disney, Apple, and more streamers show up. Netflix has missed its subscriber numbers for the second consecutive quarter — a result that could worry Wall Street as the streaming company braces for a slew of competitors that are coming in the next few months. Netflix added 6.8 million subscribers in its third quarter of the year instead of the 7 million it expected. The company had told investors it expected to add 800,000 subscribers in the US and 6.2 million in the rest of the world; instead it added 500,000 US subscribers and 6.3 million internationally. Netflix blamed the domestic miss on a price hike “which has led to slower US membership growth.” Netflix also told investors that it expects to add 26.7 million subscribers by the end of 2019, which is a drop from the 28.6 million subs it added in 2018. But Netflix investors — an itchy bunch, who often pile and in and out of the stock for almost any reason at all — might have expected a bigger loss: They are pushing the company’s stock price up by more than 6 percent in after-hours trading. This quarter was significant for Netflix for three reasons: It was Netflix’s attempt to regain credibility after blowing its numbers three months ago, when it missed its goals by 2.3 million subscribers — and saw its US subscriber numbers decline for the first time since it started streaming 12 years ago. Just as important, this is Netflix’s last quarter before new streaming competitors show up, for real. On November 1, Apple debuts its Apple TV+ subscription service, and Disney’s Disney+ will start up less than two weeks after that. AT&T’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock will follow next spring. It’s entirely possible that none of those services will put a dent in Netflix’s subscriber numbers, but if they do, we may start to see evidence of that as soon as next quarter. Last quarter, Netflix told investors it underperformed because its “content slate drove less growth in paid net adds than we anticipated” — that is, Netflix’s offerings of TV shows and movies didn’t convince enough people to sign up or stay signed up. This quarter included Netflix’s flagship show Stranger Things, so those numbers should have improved this time around. But the real significance of that last argument is that it’s an admission that Netflix isn’t a must-have for some people — it’s a service they will drop and add depending on what Netflix is streaming. And as Disney and other would-be streaming rivals pull back some of the stuff they used to sell to Netflix so they can keep it for their own services (see: Friends to AT&T, The Office to NBCU), that pressure will only increase. Netflix is aware of this, and that’s why it has been spending billions making its own shows, like Stranger Things — which it says was watched by 64 million households in the first month it was out. But the company, which has argued — correctly, so far — that it would be able to grow as other subscription services, like HBO, also grew, now says that the coming launch of new services will be “noisy” and “there may be some modest headwind to our near-term growth.”

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Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren clashed over what to do about Trump’s Twitter account at the fourth Democratic debate. | Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images Should the president be kicked off Twitter? It’s complicated. To say President Donald Trump has a penchant for firing off some weird, disturbing, and even dangerous tweets is an understatement. But should he be kicked off Twitter entirely? Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) thinks so, and many others agree — but not everyone. Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) clashed at Tuesday’s Democratic debate when the California senator tried to push her Massachusetts counterpart to call for the president’s Twitter account to be suspended. “Here we have Donald Trump, who has 65 million Twitter followers and is using that platform as the president of the United States to openly intimidate witnesses, to threaten witnesses, to obstruct justice, and he and his account should be taken down,” Harris said. She pointed to the manifesto released by the mass shooter at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in August, which mirrored some of the president’s rhetoric about immigrants. “I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House, that’s our job,” Warren replied. She tried to expand the conversation to a broader one about the power tech companies wield and her proposal to break up some of the major players, and she used the occasion to talk about her latest pledge not to take money from tech executives, which multiple candidates, including Harris, have made. But Harris kept at it, encouraging Warren to say it’s time to oust the president from Twitter. “It seems to me that you would be able to join me in saying the rule has to apply to Twitter the same way it does to Facebook,” Harris said. “Look, I think all of the rules should apply across the board. I don’t have a problem with that,” Warren replied. Calls to suspend President Trump’s Twitter account aren’t new. Multiple people and entities have made arguments for kicking the president off of the platform, saying that his tweets violate Twitter’s terms of service or include racist and violence-inciting attacks. Harris has been prodding the San Francisco-based company to make the move for weeks, in light of the president’s tweets regarding the Ukraine whistleblower and impeachment inquiry. Look let's be honest, @realDonaldTrump's Twitter account should be suspended.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 1, 2019 And beyond Harris, there have been questions about what Twitter should do about Trump’s communications on the platform since, essentially, the start of his presidency. On the one hand, he is the president of the United States, and his tweets are newsworthy. On the other hand, his tweets can be dangerous and could potentially incite violence. Twitter and other tech companies are increasingly under scrutiny regarding many of their business practices, including content moderation. The issue is only likely to heat up moving forward, including as the 2020 election approaches. But ultimately, Twitter gets to decide what speech it does and doesn’t allow — it’s a private company and doesn’t owe anyone free speech rights. It also doesn’t have to do what politicians or outside groups tell it. Kamala Harris’s push to get Trump off Twitter, briefly explained Harris started encouraging Twitter to oust Trump in late September, and she’s kept it up since then. On October 1, she sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey saying that the president had engaged in activity that “appears to violate the terms of the user agreement that your company requires all users on the platform” and encouraged him to take punitive action. She pointed to the president’s tweets calling the Ukraine whistleblower a “leaker,” “spy,” or “partisan operative,” and arguing he deserves to “meet my accuser.” She also highlighted tweets attacking House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and suggesting removing him from office would cause a civil war. ....If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress, @FoxNews— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2019 “I believe the President’s recent tweets rise to the level that Twitter should consider suspending his account. Others have had their accounts suspended for less offensive behavior,” Harris wrote. “And when this kind of abuse is being spewed from the most powerful office in the United States, the stakes are too high to do nothing.” Hey, @jack. Time to do something about this. https://t.co/es2fJ5PNRV— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 2, 2019 Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote at the time that Trump’s Twitter tirades revealed a “dangerously unfit president” on a “nonstop Twitter binge, lying about what’s going on in Congress, lying about what happened in Ukraine, and escalating his inappropriate conduct by threatening the country with a civil war and threatening his enemies in Congress with criminal charges.” But does that mean Trump should be kicked off Twitter? Not everyone agrees. Well before Tuesday’s debate, a reporter asked Sen. Warren whether Trump should be banned from Twitter. She chuckled and responded, “No.” Harris confronted Warren over the matter at Tuesday’s debate. That the California Democrat would try to take on Warren, now a 2020 frontrunner, on something during the night was inevitable — multiple other candidates undertook similar maneuvers. Harris did get some flak from observers for harping on this specific issue, though — whether Trump should be allowed on Twitter felt to some like a relatively small matter in the grander scheme of the debate. Kamala Harris going after Elizabeth Warren on banning Trump from twitter is one of the more pathetic stunts I've seen in a debate.— Jon Lovett (respookted on BOOth sides) (@jonlovett) October 16, 2019 Others, however, defended her. Twitter is arguably the most important media platform on the planet and Trump abuses it to incite violence and spread lies—not sure why folks are dismissive of Kamala Harris’ demand that Twitter enforce its own rules and kick Trump off— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) October 16, 2019 I am sorry if you are Latino you don’t think this is trivial. There is fear in my community after El Paso, we can’t blend in when Trump calls us out. So he weaponized his twitter account, she wants to take away that weapon #demdebate https://t.co/T45zqlsASj— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) October 16, 2019 There’s definitely a debate to be had about Trump on Twitter Specifics of the Harris-vs.-Warren debate aside, there have long been questions about what to do about the president’s Twitter habits. Trump actually said he would give up tweeting at one point during the 2016 election, and he, well, hasn’t. Some of the tweets are funny. (Remember “covfefe,” anyone?) Some of the tweets are market-moving. And they can also have real-world, and at times very serious, implications. Over the summer, Trump released a series of racist tirades against the so-called “Squad,” a group of four freshman Democratic members of congress who are women of color: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). In one series of tweets, he said that the women should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the women were born in the United States, and all four are US citizens. Trump’s attacks sparked concerns that his words could inspire attacks against the lawmakers, and House Democrats took a vote to condemn the tweets. Trump’s rhetoric about his opponents has inspired violence before: Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man who mailed pipe bombs to the president’s opponents and critics in 2018, was apparently inspired by the president’s words. Twitter has generally held that the president’s tweets merit keeping up, even if they are bad. In a 2018 blog post, Twitter laid out its stance on messages from world leaders. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” the company wrote at the time. “It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” Ahead of the debate, Twitter reiterated its stance, noting that it aims to be a forum for people to be “informed and to engage their leaders directly.” The company pointed out that in June it rolled out a new policy that amounts to basically a Twitter jail for world leaders — if a public figure puts out a questionable tweet, it will put a warning on it and make it harder to find — and listed out areas where it would take enforcement action on anyone, including politicians: promotion of terrorism, threats of violence, posting private information or intimate photos, engaging in child sexual exploitation, or encouraging self-harm. But, Twitter emphasized, in other cases involving world leaders, it will “err on the side of leaving the content up if there is a clear public interest in doing so.” Twitter has yet to put any public figures in its Twitter jail. We still have a lot to figure out when it comes to online speech Harris isn’t alone in calling for Trump to be kicked off Twitter. There are multiple online petitions calling for the platform to oust the president. But the debate is also just a minor part of a broader discussion about free speech, internet platforms, and what responsibilities companies have to police the content they host. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, internet companies get a type of sword and shield when it comes to content. They are shielded from liability for content users post on their platforms, but they also get to moderate that content as they so choose. When you hear someone complaining that by censoring a tweet or kicking someone off of Facebook or YouTube, they’re encroaching on their First Amendment rights, that’s not true: the First Amendment prevents the government from depriving people of free speech, it doesn’t apply to private companies. In fact, if the government were to try to tell companies what content to allow, it would probably be violating their First Amendment rights. There is debate about whether Section 230 has freed up tech companies from too much accountability, especially as scrutiny on Big Tech overall grows. The free internet is what has allowed the online world to flourish since its inception and given birth to some pretty neat stuff. But it’s also been a petri dish for some scary things as well. And then there’s another layer, specific to the United States and Trump, having to do with social media companies’ efforts to curry favor with the president. Trump, for example, consistently complains that Twitter is intentionally manipulating his particular follower count downward, even though it’s part of a broader effort within the company toward fostering a healthier conversation and clamping down on bots. Dorsey met with Trump earlier this year to try to explain it to him. Free speech on the internet as a topic of contention isn’t going away, not only when it comes to Trump but really with respect to everyone. Harris may have picked a bit of a small hill to die on during Tuesday’s Democratic debate, but the underlying issues of her argument are very real.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
Amazon is incentivizing Prime customers to buy individual low-cost items that come with free one-day shipping. | Getty Images Cheap single-use items, like $7 razors or a $4 makeup brush, now qualify for free shipping. Since 2005, Amazon has attracted hundreds of millions of customers to its Prime membership program by promising one thing — free and fast shipping, with products arriving within 48 hours or less. There had been numerous caveats to Amazon’s free two-day shipping program: For orders with some small items, Prime has required customers to spend a minimum of $25 before they qualify for free shipping, and orders, in general, can take longer than two days to reach a customer. In April, the e-commerce giant said that it was working to offer free one-day shipping to Prime customers. It has also eased off on its minimum purchasing requirement, Recode reported, encouraging customers to buy individual low-cost items that come with free one-day shipping. By slashing delivery time in half, it’s also a promise that could have a huge environmental impact. Until recently, if customers wanted to buy $7 razors or a $4 makeup brush, Amazon required them to bundle the products with additional items to hit the $25 minimum. This allowed the company to cut back on shipping fees by effectively ensuring that customers will spend more on products than Amazon will on shipping. With these changes, Amazon is trying to be the go-to retailer for household items that customers regularly need, in competing with the likes of Target, CVS, and Walmart, wrote Recode’s Jason Del Rey. This move seems predicated on one of Amazon’s core principles — customer obsession. After all, more than 100 million people already pay $119 annually to receive Amazon Prime’s free and fast shipping; expediting that service and expanding purchasing options will likely keep customers hooked on Amazon’s services. But cutting delivery times — as appealing as that sounds to buyers and Amazon — will likely come at the expense of the environment. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Vox. In September, CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company’s commitment to fighting climate change, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions to be carbon-neutral by 2040. He said Amazon would issue reports on its emissions regularly and set forth a timeline for the company to be run solely on renewables by 2030. (Bezos said Amazon currently gets 40 percent of its energy from renewables.) The announcement, when factoring in Amazon’s scale and scope as the largest retailer in the world, seemed ambitious. Still, a number of Amazon employees who’ve advocated for climate justice believe more could be done on the retailer’s part. Amazon’s Climate Pledge is a huge win for @AMZNforClimate & we’re thrilled at what workers have achieved in under a year. But we know it’s not enough. The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets. pic.twitter.com/vTMzGKahTR— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) September 19, 2019 Amazon likes to tout that its delivery services are an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional shopping. “Our research shows that delivering a typical order to an Amazon customer is more environmentally friendly than that customer driving to a store,” an Amazon sustainability representative wrote to Grist in an email last year. That is true to an extent. A 2013 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined that online shopping could create a smaller carbon footprint compared to in-person shopping. This depends on factors like customer location (cities or suburbs), choice of transportation (car or public transit), and the speed at which packages are delivered. If online retailers chose to optimize their supply chains and packaging, their services could actually benefit the environment more than brick-and-mortar stores, the study concluded. However, that goal becomes more difficult when speed and high demand for products are factored into the equation — an inevitable result of free one-day shipping on such a wide range of products. Delivery services can be efficient and cost-effective, but speedy delivery can create problems, Anne Goodchild, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering, previously told The Goods. “As we move towards faster delivery, it gets harder to consolidate,” she said. “When we’re not paying some sort of personal cost for the trip, I think it’s easy to overlook how much travel we’re adding.” Amazon outsources its delivery services to different providers, including UPS, the US Postal Service, and a number of standalone companies with contracted drivers. These contracted drivers operate vans that are smaller than freight vehicles, which means that they can carry fewer packages and have to return to the warehouse to pick up more. “As we move towards faster delivery, it gets harder to consolidate” And freight vehicles, specifically medium- and heavy-duty trucks, are responsible for nearly one-quarter of the carbon footprint in the transportation category, which is the top producer of US carbon dioxide emissions. If one-day shipping incentivizes more purchases, it’s likely that more fuel will be expensed to power more vehicles on the road. It’s also impossible to ignore the human costs and manpower needed to fulfill Amazon’s shipping promises. An investigation by Buzzfeed News found that contracted drivers worked under grueling conditions to meet their delivery goals; they were forced to skip meals, drove recklessly, and urinated in bottles to deliver more packages in less time. Even before Amazon’s one-day shipping option was introduced, people have already started to make more individual purchases for cheaper items, rather than combine them in one big order, according to Buzzfeed News. “There’s more demand created by the availability of these cheap products and cheap delivery options,” Miguel Jaller, a UC Davis professor of civil and environmental engineering, told Buzzfeed. In an article written for Vox last November, Jaller suggested two potential solutions to reduce online shopping’s environmental impact: Retailers should invest in more zero-emission delivery vehicles, and consumers should be more aware of their shopping habits. As part of Amazon’s climate pledge, Bezos said that the company will order 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, all of which should hit the road by 2024. Amazon does also offer environmentally beneficial options for buyers: Prime customers can choose one day of the week to get all their deliveries, which would reduce packaging and consolidate shipments. Discounts and Amazon rewards are also offered to Prime participants in the no-rush shipping program. Amazon Press Room Freight vehicles are responsible for nearly one-quarter of the carbon footprint in the transportation category. But these incentives — even if effective — do little to offset the major human and environmental cost of speedy delivery services. Jaller points out that e-commerce platforms aren’t going to make environmentally conscious decisions unless customers push them to: “Right now, the profit incentive is pushing retailers in the wrong direction. We can’t expect companies to act against their own interests on their own initiative. But as consumers, we can help to reshape the market.” Whether or not it’s reasonable to place corporate responsibility at the feet of consumers, it’s clear that Amazon is doubling down on services that encourage single-use shopping. With options like free one- or two-day shipping at their fingertips, customers are conditioned to expect quick delivery services, often ignoring the human and environmental costs that make it possible. Old habits die hard, and it’s unlikely that the advent of one-day shipping would bring about any change from a consumer point of view. Sign up for The Goods’ newsletter. Twice a week, we’ll send you the best Goods stories exploring what we buy, why we buy it, and why it matters.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images And it was all over the place. Democrats running for president had their most vigorous debate yet about the power of tech companies, finally bringing the long-simmering conversation about Big Tech into the mainstream of Democratic politics. The dozen Democratic candidates quarreled for almost 15 minutes at the fourth presidential debate about topics including digital privacy rights, the monopoly power of companies like Amazon, political fundraising in Silicon Valley, and whether politicians like Donald Trump should be banned from Twitter. It was the first time tech was discussed meaningfully on the Democratic debate stage — and a sign that the media sees the growing techlash as enough of a concern that candidates should be pressed on it on national television. The combat mostly centered on Elizabeth Warren, the new presidential frontrunner who has made her proposal to break up tech companies like Facebook a cornerstone of her presidential run. Many of her competitors said they were not willing to go as far as her, although several decided to take their own whacks at Silicon Valley from other angles. Beto O’Rourke offered the most direct criticism to Warren’s plan, even comparing her approach to Trump’s rhetoric about the press. “We will be unafraid to break up big businesses if we have to do that — but I don’t think it is the role of a president or a candidate for the presidency to specifically call out which companies will be broken up,” O’Rourke said. “That’s something that Donald Trump has done in part because he sees enemies in the press and wants to diminish their power. It’s not something that we should do.” Andrew Yang, the political neophyte running on tech-infused themes such as Universal Basic Income, said Warren was correct in diagnosing the problem, but that “using a 20th century antitrust framework will not work.” Cory Booker would only say that his administration would “put people in place that enforce antitrust laws” but declined to sign onto the proposal to break up the tech giants. He did use some of the harshest language on the stage, saying that tech companies were responsible for a “massive crisis on our democracy.” Tom Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire in his own right, indicated some openness to the idea that monopolies have to “be broken up or regulated” — but didn’t offer specifics about tech companies. The same went for Bernie Sanders, who also declined to address tech altogether, instead lamenting the consolidation of power across sectors from agriculture to media. Amy Klobuchar pushed her proposals to bolster enforcement agencies to more ably promote competition. And Julian Castro criticized “monopolistic trade practices” by companies like Amazon. But the most fiery back and forth came when Kamala Harris, a senator who represents tech companies from California, tried to outflank Warren on how she would hold Big Tech accountable. She shifted from the antitrust question and instead tried to press Warren on why she would not call for Twitter to ban Trump from the platform. Warren largely declined to engage on that terrain — which led to a messy back-and-forth that showcased two candidates largely talking past one another. “I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House,” Warren said. “Join me in saying that his Twitter account should be shut down,” Harris interrupted. Warren didn’t clearly say one way or another what her stance on Trump’s Twitter account was — mostly ignoring Harris’ attempts to interject. (Warren at one point said that “all the rules should apply across the board.”) Warren instead tried to talk primarily about her new promise to not take money from tech executives, an implicit shot at candidates such as Harris, who has enjoyed substantial support from tech companies, which also employ several of her family members. “You can’t go behind closed doors and take the money of these executives and then turn around and expect that these are the people who are actually finally going to enforce the laws,” Warren said. “If we’re going to talk seriously about breaking up Big Tech, then we should ask if people are taking money from the Big Tech executives.” Democrats may have been attacking tech from wildly different angles, but it couldn’t be lost on anyone that during the 15 minutes of debate, not one of them said anything even remotely positive about an industry so closely assigned with the Democratic Party just a few years ago.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
The ethics of DNA editing are being established yeasr after CRISPR technology has been available to the public. | Photo by Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images The first episode of our new technology podcast Reset focuses on DIY gene editing. Josiah Zayner is a biophysicist who made headlines in 2017 when he tried to edit his genome live onstage at a conference. Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify his DNA, Zayner whipped out a syringe and injected it into his arm. The whole thing was livestreamed on Facebook. But a year before that, Reset host Arielle Duhaime-Ross (then a science reporter at The Verge) watched Zayner perform a “full-body microbiome transplant” in a California hotel room. His goal was to fix gut issues and take control of his own medical care (he’d found traditional methods frustrating). “He set about killing the collection of microbes that live on and inside his body, and replacing them with microbes he’d collected from a friend. The first step was getting that friend to give up his microbes — via skin swabs and poop,” Duhaime-Ross explains on the first episode of Reset. To launch Reset, a new podcast from Recode and Vox in association with Stitcher about how tech is changing our lives, Duhaime-Ross revisited her 2016 story and interviewed Zayner once again. This time, as she explains below, they discussed what it means to be a biohacker in 2019 and where it might lead in the future. “Josiah can be cocky and he’s reckless, but during those three days in 2016, I connected with the part of him that’s driven by a desire to help people; the part of him that allows you to trace his anti-establishment attitude to his sense of justice. So after reading about everything that happened over the last few years — the law in California, the CRISPR stunt — I finally decided to talk to him again.” Later in the episode, Duhaime-Ross talks with California State Senator Ling Ling Chang, who wrote a bill that requires anyone selling a gene therapy kit — do-it-yourself CRISPR kits that Zayner sells himself— in the state to include a notice that warns customers the product is not intended for self-administration. Chang outlines that although CRISPR itself is not illegal, there’s a need for this kind of labeling to avoid backlash against biohackers and to prevent people from getting hurt. So if regulators are starting to dive into the world of biohacking, where does that leave biohackers, who tend to reject authority? To round out the discussion, Duhaime-Ross reaches out to Alex Pearlman, a journalist and bioethicist who’s leading an effort to help biohackers establish norms for their own community. Prior to attending Global Community Bio Summit 3.0 — an international biohacker conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts — Pearlman described an ethics workshop she had planned. Her goal is to get those inside the small-but-growing biohacker community to not only discuss their own ethics but also define some solid ones that can be shared and agreed upon across the entire group. So is it possible to be a responsible biohacker? Hear their entire discussion on Reset’s launch episode. Below, we’ve also shared a lightly edited transcript of their conversation. Subscribe to Reset on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Welcome to the very first episode of Reset. Today, we’re looking at the ethics of biohackers — the people who conduct real experiments at home outside of the confines of conventional science and without regulatory oversight. Right now, the technology exists for anyone to tinker with biology, including their own, in all kinds of ways. And as so often happens, those advances have come way before we’ve had a chance to discuss the right way to use them. But first, I want to tell you a story. In 2016, I was a science reporter at The Verge. That year, I published a feature about a guy named Josiah Zayner. He’d been on my radar for years because of an instrument he’d created, which is played by translating the movements of light-sensitive proteins into sound. See, Josiah’s a PhD in biophysics and a biohacker. So I called him and asked what he was working on. It was pretty interesting and I went to see him in California. The rest gets a bit weird. I spent three days watching him perform what he called a “full-body microbiome transplant” with the aim of fixing his gut issues. He was frustrated with the medical care he’d received and he was taking matters into his own hands. To do that, he set about killing the collection of microbes that live on and inside his body and replacing them with microbes he’d collected from a friend. The first step was getting that friend to give up his microbes via skin swabs and poop. Then Josiah killed his bacteria with antibiotics. With that out of the way, he repeatedly lathered himself in the saline solution full of his friend’s microbes. He also regularly took pills he’d packed with his friend’s feces. The entire experiment was extremely dangerous. Seriously, don’t try this at home. Also, given how Josiah went about doing the transplant (it was just him and there was no control to speak of) I never could figure out if it worked. As for Josiah, his experience with the microbiome transplant did nothing to dissuade him from self-experimentation. Today, he’s still a big part of the biohacker community, which is small but growing. He’s even viewed as a leader by some. But the outside world probably knows him best as the guy who tried to edit his genome in 2017. Onstage at a conference, Josiah used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify his DNA. He whipped out a syringe, injected it straight into his arm, and livestreamed the whole thing on Facebook. Theoretically, the gene therapy was supposed to make his muscles bigger. He got a lot of flack for it, from biohackers, academics, and the public. The stunt also got him attention from lawmakers. The medical board of California investigated him for practicing medicine without a license. State legislators went one step further. Josiah runs a company called The Odin that sells DIY CRISPR kits. The kits are popular among science enthusiasts because they let you do things like modify bacterial DNA at home. This summer, a California senator passed a bill that will require labels on DIY CRISPR kits that say they shouldn’t be used for self-administration. And a press release about the law linked to a story about Josiah. Josiah and I haven’t really talked since the microbiome transplant. But whenever biohacking comes up in the news, I think of him. Josiah can be cocky and reckless, but during those three days in 2016, I connected with the part of him that’s driven by a desire to help people; the part of him that allows you to trace his anti-establishment attitude to his sense of justice. So after reading about everything that happened over the last few years — the law in California, the CRISPR stunt — I finally decided to talk to him again. Josiah Zayner There always is a lot of hype around CRISPR but at the time in 2017, it was probably peak hype. Everybody was talking about how it was going gonna cure all these diseases and help all these people and I kept getting emails from people [asking] “Can I use CRISPR to cure me?” And I [thought], if this gene therapy stuff is so powerful and it’s so great like all the scientists, all the companies, all the journalists are saying, why isn’t anybody using it? What happens if I try to come up with a plan if I wanted to do CRISPR gene therapy on myself? What would what would be the process? So I decided to run a class on how to genetically modify yourself at this conference. Arielle Duhaime-Ross What exactly did you? You injected yourself with this gene therapy in front of a number of people and you filmed it, right? Josiah Zayner So I was livestreaming and I was thinking about injecting myself but it [didn’t] feel right. The audience was mystified by what was going on. So I finished up my little speech and I was gonna go on with my life but then somebody in the audience was like, “Well if it’s so safe and easy, why don’t you do it?” I had the DNA that I purified in a syringe on me and injected it into my muscle, which is standard during gene therapy. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Did it work? Josiah Zayner No, not that I could tell. I didn’t expect it just to be a one-shot thing that would do something different. It was more of a statement. I was trying to be an activist and push biotechnology forward. Arielle Duhaime-Ross So what was the public reaction like? Josiah Zayner You get the mean stuff just from people online who are just like, “Oh this guy’s a fucking idiot. He’s stupid. What the fuck. He doesn’t know what’s going on,” and all this stupid stuff. And then you get the scientists who are criticizing it. And I would ask scientists, “What part of what I did is not how people do gene therapy?” None of them could give me a straightforward answer. People were trying to judge it at face value as somebody who was just trying to get attention. After that reaction I got with the CRISPR injection, I realized that the things I do and say can have bigger consequences. People are actually paying attention to the things I do and the things I say and those can cause negative things to happen. I have to take that into account a lot more. That sucks but it’s also reality. We saw a lot of people copycatting. Arielle Duhaime-Ross What kind of copycatting did you see? Josiah Zayner People also trying to inject themselves with gene therapies. Some of the results were pretty negative. We saw people have immune response — swelling and immune reactions and all this bad stuff that shouldn’t normally happen and it was just like holy shit. Something bad can happen. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Was that scary for you? Josiah Zayner Yeah! I don’t want people to die and get hurt because they’re trying to copy something that I did. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Do you think any restrictions should be put on DIY CRISPR kits or biohacking at all? Josiah Zayner Obviously I don’t want people to get hurt. So we should try to make it so that people are receiving safe treatment. But there is like a huge DIY trans community of people who are trying to get hormones and things outside of the normal medical environments. It’s hard because once you start saying that you can only go through the proper channels, it can oppress certain groups of people. So the adult in me wants to be like, “No, we shouldn’t let people inject whatever they want themselves because somebody is going to get hurt.” But the compassionate person in me wants to be like, “Well we really want to provide everybody with the things that they need and deserve in their lives.” Arielle Duhaime-Ross A few years ago a scientist named Bill Halford performed an unauthorized herpes vaccine trial on human subjects. There was no oversight on the trial and some participants got sick. The FDA ended up launching a criminal investigation because of the way the trial was conducted. It definitely fell under the umbrella of biohacking: some guy comes up with an experimental, unregulated treatment and administers it to people in hotel rooms and coffee shops without going through the proper channels. Do you think the FDA was wrong for looking into that and pursuing the people responsible? Where’s the line? Josiah Zayner No. Totally. Some people said that they got better, though, from the stuff he administered. And you have to understand the FDA. Their goal is to make sure the least amount of people get hurt. They have to make sure that drug companies are able to make money because if they’re not able to make money then they can’t make drugs. And then they worry about making a drug that can reach the most amount of people. Does everybody get help though the current regulatory mechanism and scheme? No, not even close. Arielle Duhaime-Ross But in the case of Bill Halford, some people really did get very sick. You think that was okay? Josiah Zayner People in clinical trials get sick. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Yeah, but there are a lot more checks and balances when there’s just more oversight. Josiah Zayner If what Bill Halford did actually did work and created a cure, would that be good or bad? Arielle Duhaime-Ross I think that ultimately it would be really hard to judge because the way that the study was conducted, it was impossible to know if it was actually effective. The data that came out of that trial was bad data. Ultimately nothing from that trial was usable. Josiah Zayner I don’t think the only way to create medicine is through FDA-approved clinical trials. The FDA is good at what they do. But I think there also needs to be room for other ways. Here’s my question: how much is one human life worth? Maybe people would say it’s difficult to answer. Human lives are priceless. And you say, “Well how much is 10 human lives? A hundred? How much is every human life on Earth worth? Is it worth one other human life? Would we be willing to risk one human life to save every life on Earth?” Arielle Duhaime-Ross The other reason that you’ve been in the news quite a bit recently is because of a bill in California that’s supposed to go into effect in January. Josiah Zayner I found out after the bill was passed that Senator Ling Ling Chang in the 29th district of California which includes part of Los Angeles, she wrote a bill and it was passed it was signed by Gavin Newsom. And I think it goes into effect in January of 2020. Which was a bit confusing because it’s to sell a human gene therapies to begin with without FDA approval. Arielle Duhaime-Ross So will the bill actually impact your work in any way or your DIY experiments — the ones that you do for yourself? Josiah Zayner No, I don’t think it’s going to have a negative impact directly. I think all the impact is going to be indirect. I think this bill scares people. “Oh look at this company that’s selling possibly dangerous things, they have to put a warning label on their stuff.” It can inspire other states and even the federal government to start being more strict about genetic engineering and DIY genetic engineering. And that’s what scares me the most. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Would you ever sell a CRISPR kit that could be used on a living human being? Josiah Zayner Possibly! Not in this current regulatory environment. [But] there are countries that don’t have regulations against some of this stuff. So who knows? I’m not morally opposed to providing people tools to genetically modify themselves, especially if I think I can do it in a safe and effective manner. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Is it possible to be a responsible biohacker? Josiah Zayner According to the world, I don’t want to be a responsible biohacker because that just means working in a highly regulated lab that follows all these protocols and all these things just for the sake of doing them and tries to do science for the sake of publishing papers and getting grants and not for exploration and creativity. I hope other biohackers also don’t want to be responsible. But as long as you truly honestly think about it I hope that people come to the correct decision. But that’s the only responsibility that I think I care about. Arielle Duhaime-Ross The question of responsibility and boundaries in biohacking isn’t exactly new. After Josiah Zayner’s public CRISPR stunt in 2017, the FDA released a notice that said the sale of DIY CRISPR kits for use on humans is illegal. And that was basically it, until this year. In July, California’s governor signed a bill written by State Senator Ling Ling Chang Ling Ling Chang When a new technology comes along it generates a lot of excitement. And then there’s a rush to do something that society may not be ready for which generates like a perceived or potentially real danger. In a nutshell, this law simply requires that all sellers of gene therapy kits known as do-it-yourself CRISPR kits must include a notice before purchase and a label on the product to notify customers that these kits are not for self-administration. That’s it. The actual CRISPR is not illegal. Just when you sell it to self-administer. Arielle Duhaime-Ross And you feel that a label makes a difference? Ling Ling Chang Absolutely. On cigarette packets, they have warning labels all the time. Arielle Duhaime-Ross But cigarettes are not illegal. I get the sense that your bill is sort of like asking a drug dealer to put a label on cocaine saying that it shouldn’t be used on humans. Cocaine is already illegal. Why take this step? Ling Ling Chang We are just merely being proactive. This would be a civil issue and it could be brought to a civil court. There wasn’t much teeth on the FDA memo. But at least at the state level ... Arielle Duhaime-Ross So it’s just sort of an extra layer where California would also be able to jump in. Ling Ling Chang Absolutely. It’s merely to prevent potential unintended consequences that may generate backlash against the field. I’m a huge proponent of technological innovation. I’m an advocate for the potential of CRISPR in basic research in medical and biotech applications, but I think that we do have to take a measured approach. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Josiah’s worried that other politicians might follow in Senator Chang’s footsteps and regulate the heck out of biohacking. I don’t know about that. But my guess is that the law in California won’t be the last. But what if there was another way to set boundaries for biohacking? Alex Pearlman is a journalist and bioethicist. She’s leading an effort to help biohackers establish norms for their own community. This weekend, she attended an international biohacker conference in Cambridge called Global Community Bio Summit 3.0. Alex Pearlman I have heard from people all across the biohacking Community Bio spectrum that working without guidelines as the technology evolves is getting more and more difficult and they want to talk about how the community feels about their experiments. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Alex led an ethics workshop where biohackers talked about guidelines. Alex Pearlman So one of the goals of my workshop is to help facilitate a conversation where people from inside Community Bio talk about their own ethics and define some solid ones that are shared across the group. You’re talking about trying to create a set of norms for people who, by nature, tend to want to challenge authority. How are you going to get them to participate in this process? What’s important about any kind of list of ethics like this is that they’re largely aspirational . So this is about holding yourself and your community to the highest standard. It’s about defining, “What is that high standard?” There might be very intense pushback on basically everything that I have to say and I’m totally fine with that because I think that that’s not only part of the process but incredibly important in this community defining — not just for me, but for people who are watching them, for regulators, for policymakers, for themselves, for people who want to join the movement — what they’re about. Arielle Duhaime-Ross What Alex is proposing is an informal and voluntary method of self-regulation. She’s hoping that the biohackers who’ll attend her workshop will come up with norms that they feel comfortable sticking to. By the way, Alex knows Josiah, too. Alex Pearlman We go back a few years. I reported on him when he first injected himself in an attempt to edit his own genome using CRISPR. Arielle Duhaime-Ross So what’s your impression of him? Where does he fall in this whole biohacking landscape? Alex Pearlman His Twitter profile I believe still says “The Mad pirate king of biohacking.” So I think that he and me and other people do consider him to be a sort of leader in the movement for sure. Arielle Duhaime-Ross Have you talked to him about your workshop and the norms that you’re hoping to establish? Alex Pearlman He and I have gone back and forth on this but he’s not a fan of bioethicists or the concept of bioethics largely. He feels that a lot of times bioethicists, especially coming from academic backgrounds, are trying to infringe on innovation. Arielle Duhaime-Ross You’re one of those bioethicists, right? Alex Pearlman Yeah. I think it also comes from a limited viewpoint. We’ve agreed to disagree on this and it’s always a friendly debate. I’m really interested in the possibilities of all kinds of biotechnology to disrupt the health care sector. Right now we have a crisis of distributive justice in America when it comes to accessing health technologies and medication and basic coverage. And I think that biohacking is trying really hard to disrupt that system. And I am in favor of examining any possibility for looking at new ways to distribute health care. Arielle Duhaime-Ross It’s so interesting to hear you say that because I am certain that some people hearing you say that will go, “Wait, wait! You’re trying to establish norms and you’re talking about ethics and you want people to do health-based biohacking.” How do you square those two things together? Alex Pearlman I would feel very uncomfortable if biohackers started to wade into the pharmaceutical space and deliver health interventions to people without having any ethical norms. For one thing, I would think that it would be bad. There are a lot of groups of biohackers. Josiah is just one of them. The Open Insulin project [is another]. There are a ton of biohackers who are already trying to establish health interventions and create products that are copies of really expensive pharmaceuticals that already exist. That includes gene therapy like Libera. But it also includes things like epipens and abortion pills. Those kinds of of projects are super interesting but I hope that they will not be used to experiment on actual living human beings without some sort of ethical infrastructure around them. Arielle Duhaime-Ross What are your thoughts on the bill in California that was written by Senator Chang? Alex Pearlman I think it’s not really going to have an effect at all. If people want to use kits that are not meant for human use on humans, they’re probably going to do it anyway. It’s not a strong enough bill to have a significant impact on the field widely at all. Arielle Duhaime-Ross What’s the worst-case scenario if biohackers don’t end up adopting any set of norms? Alex Pearlman The worst-case scenario is they actively reject them, and then something really terrible happens — like someone dies. Subscribe to Reset on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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posted 3 days ago on re/code
Generation Z may use their phones all the time but they’re less comfortable with the idea of always being reachable on those phones. | Getty Images They’re less likely than millennials to be okay with always being reachable. Each generation is more connected than the last, but the latest generation, those born after 1998, wants to buck the trend. Members of so-called Generation Z are less likely than their millennial counterparts (66 percent versus 71 percent for women, and 57 percent versus 74 percent for men) to want to be “always reachable,” according to a new survey of 1,500 US residents by market research firm GfK Consumer Life. That puts them more in line with older US generations. About 60 percent of people of all generations in the US are okay with being reachable all the time. GfK interprets this as a potential sign of tech fatigue, but it could also be a different way of engaging with tech in the first place. Generation Z, the eldest of whom are 21 years old, are digital natives, meaning they’ve been raised with computers and on the internet. More experience with digital connectivity could make them less enamored by the novelty and more wary of its potential consequences. Rates of suicide and depression are on the rise among young people, and many blame tech for that shift despite no conclusive evidence drawing a connection. Still, even the people making technology are reconsidering its impact on our lives. Instagram and its parent company Facebook — which have vested economic interests in making you spend time on their platforms — have instituted features that let people cut back on screen time. But despite efforts of the “Time Well Spent” movement, the amount of time we spend on our smartphones is continuing to tick up. Indeed, men and women of Gen Z are much more likely than the population as a whole to find it difficult to disconnect from tech. Notably, millennial men poll about the same as all of Gen Z. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-nHEOw");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-nHEOw");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-GVBhp");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-GVBhp");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() Males and females of Generation Z do tend to differ from one another in one important way: optimism about tech. Gen Z women are markedly less likely than other generations and less likely than their male peers to be optimistic about technology’s impact on society. They’re also more worried than other groups about online safety and security and their personal information “getting into the wrong hands.” Perhaps they’re on to something.

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posted 4 days ago on re/code
Warren put up this billboard in downtown San Francisco earlier this year. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images It was only a matter of time before taking Silicon Valley money became verboten. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday ahead of the fourth Democratic debate that she will reject campaign donations from some tech executives and investors, a first-of-its-kind move that places Silicon Valley on the same footing as sectors traditionally reviled by the left, such as the fossil fuel industry. Warren’s announcement is one of the clearest signs yet of just how toxic tech companies have become in some quarters of the Democratic Party. Democratic candidates in 2020 have tried to steer clear of large donations from Big Oil and Big Pharma executives, and Warren — now her party’s frontrunner for the nomination — is comparing tech companies like Facebook and Google to those industries’ giants. The candidate said she would not accept contributions to her campaign of more than $200 from “executives at big tech companies, big banks, private equity firms, or hedge funds.” That adds to a previous pledge, adopted by much of the 2020 field, to not accept money from pharmaceutical and fossil fuel officers. The move is also a blow to the hopes of Warren’s elite fans in Silicon Valley, who are eager to mobilize their wealthy networks on her behalf but up to this point have only been able to make a personal contribution at the legal maximum: $2,800. Some have privately expressed hope that Warren’s strict position on forbidding “bundlers” — or high-dollar campaign fundraisers — would relax in the general election. But now things are trending in the opposite direction. Warren aides reportedly say that this plan will also apply retroactively and that her campaign will actually be returning donations from people who qualify that are in excess of the $200 level, which is the threshold for a contribution to be publicly disclosed. How each of the terms in Warren’s plan are defined will be key. What are “big tech companies”? What are “executives”? Warren’s campaign reportedly plans to cross-check past donations with publicly listed leadership teams at Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet and/or Google, Uber, and Lyft. Warren has actually enjoyed some of the highest support in the field from employees at companies like Google, though it’s unclear how many of those donations would qualify to be returned. Notably missing from that list are companies that are substantially bigger than Uber and Lyft, such as Oracle or Netflix, but that are not as politically divisive. And there also appears to be some wiggle room in terms of an “executive” who is not publicly listed on a company’s website under “leadership.” Warren’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Also undefined are terms like “big banks” and “private equity firms.” While Warren does not specify venture capital investors — the types of people who make landmark early investments in Silicon Valley — this new prohibition could apply to them as well, depending on how Warren defines her terms. Warren’s position makes her by far the most aggressive candidate in seeking to curtail tech’s influence on Democratic politics, rejecting an era of warm relations exemplified during the administration of Barack Obama. Many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have followed in Obama’s footsteps and have visited the well of Silicon Valley money repeatedly during their bids. Warren, though, obviously sees some political upside in her arrangement of raising small-dollar money while using high-dollar donors as a political foil, as well as in targeting Silicon Valley. After a leaked recording revealed that Zuckerberg saw Warren — who wants to break up companies like Facebook — as an existential threat, Warren in recent weeks has been picking fights with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and criticizing his company over its policy that allows politicians to publish misleading ads on its platform.

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Many in Hong Kong want autonomy from the Chinese government. | Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images The move has helped spark a fiery debate playing out on the search giant’s internal mailing lists. The fight between pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and the Chinese government is now playing out on the internal message boards of one of the world’s largest tech companies. Google employees have set off a fiery company-wide debate in recent days by posting messages of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters in mailing lists and message boards visible to Google’s roughly 100,000 employees. Many are frustrated with the company’s decision to remove a pro-Hong Kong protester mobile game, The Revolution of Our Times, from the Google Play store and feel the company should have handled the situation differently. The issue was important enough to be addressed by leadership at the company’s most recent all-hands “TGIF” meeting, according to several sources. And the discussions have stoked tensions between employees who support the Hong Kong protesters and believe that tech companies like Google have an ethical imperative to support democratic movements, and some pro-Chinese government employees who say that such discussions are inappropriate on internal listservs. The Hong Kong debate comes only a few months after Google specifically told employees it was changing the rules of its office culture and that workers need to spend less of their time engaging in political debates at work. In the past few days, employees have been posting a torrent of messages in support of Hong Kong protesters on Memegen, a popular employee-run internal message board where colleagues regularly comment on current events and company policies. Since last week, dozens of memes about the Hong Kong protests have racked up thousands of upvotes, a mark of approval similar to a “Like,” from colleagues, according to posts reviewed by Recode. One popular meme with hundreds of upvotes features a picture of protesters crowding a square in Hong Kong, with the words “#FightforFreedom #StandwithHongKong” up top and “Keep going!” at the bottom. Other posts criticized Google’s recent decision to take down pro-Hong Kong protester content from its platforms. One Google employee who asked not to be named told Recode that the company could have better handled the removal of The Revolution of Our Times, which allows players to participate in virtual recreations of the pro-democracy demonstrations. Google pulled the game, saying it violated a Play Store policy that bans monetization of “sensitive events.” The employee said Google could have reached out to the developer about monetization concerns rather than “simply banning” the game, which they said donated most of its proceeds to charity. “We have a long-standing policy prohibiting developers from capitalizing on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game. After careful review, we found this app to be violating that particular policy and suspended it, as we have done with similar attempts to profit from other high-profile events such as earthquakes, crises, suicides, and conflicts,” a Google spokesperson wrote in a statement to Recode. Google is just one of several tech companies that have made controversial decisions related to the protests in Hong Kong. Last week, video game company Blizzard banned a prominent player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protests. (Blizzard reinstated the player a few days after a dozen employees walked out of work over the issue.). Apple also recently pulled a pro-Hong Kong protester map tool from its App Store, citing concerns that it could enable attacks on Chinese police. Meanwhile, some Google employees who seem to disagree with the Hong Kong protesters’ cause have tried to shut down their colleagues’ discussions about Hong Kong, characterizing them as irrelevant to the workplace, uninformed, and offensive. These comments, also reviewed by Recode, use a common line of reasoning from the Chinese government and its supporters: that the issue in Hong Kong is more complicated than Westerners portray it to be and that protesters who fill the streets do not represent a consensus of Hong Kong residents (the Chinese government itself, though, has been accused of spreading disinformation about the protests). From a business standpoint, the actions of companies like Google, Apple, and Blizzard seem as though they’re meant to appease the Chinese government — which makes sense. As Recode’s Peter Kafka has written, upsetting China’s leadership would undoubtedly impact Apple’s ability to do business in the country. That’s a risk that companies like Apple can’t afford. The iPhone maker is a rare US tech giant that’s doing well in the country, which represents its third-largest market with over $44 billion in annual sales. Meanwhile, other tech companies are still trying to crack the Chinese market, like Google’s highly controversial attempt to build a censored search product for the country (which the company has since said it has canceled). But from a political standpoint, tech companies’ seeming willingness to placate China is attracting scrutiny from the public and politicians on both sides of the aisle, who have rebuked companies for putting foreign profits over protecting protesters’ freedom of speech in the China-Hong Kong debate. And now, as these internal Google discussions prove, tech companies are facing dissent from within their own ranks. “Google used to be a company that adamantly supported democracy, but will it abandon Hong Kong?” one employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told Recode. “It’s time for Larry and Sundar to take a stand.” Freedom of speech versus cultural sensitivities While most employees who have posted on Google’s internal message boards vehemently support Hong Kong protesters, a minority of employee commenters have defended the Chinese government. In one email on the popular listserv Industryinfo, where Googlers regularly post links to tech headlines, one employee posted a link to a news article about how Google removed The Revolution of Our Times. The first employee to reply to the thread immediately questioned the post’s legitimacy, arguing that the article didn’t belong in the listserv. The employee argued that if the poster had an issue with Google’s decision to remove the pro-Hong Kong protester game from the Play store, they should file a private complaint with the team working on it instead of sharing a news article. “I would say it is not a IndustryInfo news,” wrote the commenter. “You’d do better to file a bug to Google Play team if you think content is not sensitive; however, I personally believe it is sensitive.” Another employee fired back, defending the post’s relevance to the mailing list. “A major industry player — such as Google — censoring content is absolutely *information* about the *industry,*” the employee wrote. Another employee on the thread questioned whether Google’s decision to pull the app was akin to a country pulling a Nazi app in a country where it’s illegal to post such content — an idea that was critiqued by another commenter who asked, “Did I miss the part where pro-HK apps became illegal in the US?” For many Google employees defending free speech, China is an especially sensitive subject, given Google’s controversial Project Dragonfly, which was a secretive attempt to develop a custom version of its search engine for China that would blacklist phrases like “free speech.” After the project became public, the company faced internal and external pressure not to build a search product on such terms, and Google eventually said it’s halting its efforts. Historically, Google has allowed and even encouraged debate on political issues like Project Dragonfly, no matter how big or small. Back in 2008, Google had a huge debate over a “Free Tibet”-themed pie that a company chef served in the corporate cafeteria. The chef was suspended but later reinstated as debate about the incident spurned a then-record-setting 1,000 internal emails in a single day. But as Google has grown into a bigger company and attracted intense political scrutiny, it’s started cracking down on its rules around speech. In August, the company updated its policies, banning employees from discussing politics at work unless it was relevant to the company’s policies or working conditions. “While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not,” the guidelines state, while at the same time saying that employees are “free to raise concerns and respectfully question and debate the company’s activities,” as it’s “part of [Google’s] culture” to do so. Clearly, these new rules aren’t enough to deter Googlers from debating the protests. Overall, back-and-forth at Google around the Hong Kong protests represents a broader geopolitical battle that’s now being debated among the workforce of US tech companies. It’s a fascinating look at how divisive the industry’s policy decisions in China are. And it raises questions about whether companies like Google and Apple are most accurately described as US firms or nation-states of their own, balancing the global interests of their many constituents — both American and, increasingly, Chinese.

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posted 4 days ago on re/code
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at an August 2019 campaign event. | Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images Tonight’s debate will signal whether Warren thinks Facebook — and the rest of tech — may finally be an issue voters care about. For the past few years there has been a loud and contentious debate about the need to reform and regulate Silicon Valley. But it hasn’t come up during the three Democratic presidential debates this year: Aside from a quick aside about American workers’ jobs, the subject of technology has been almost entirely absent from the debate stages. There’s a decent chance that changes Tuesday night. That’s because Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been a consistent critic of big consumer tech companies for months but hasn’t made them a focus of her campaign, has spent the last couple weeks going directly at Facebook. And if she’s not ready to start talking about her plans to reform and/or breakup the big tech companies in Westerville, Ohio on Tuesday, then maybe we should conclude that none of the Democrats running for President think American voters really care about this stuff. Republicans already seem to think it works for them: Donald Trump loves using Twitter and his campaign spends heavily on Facebook, but he and his party spend a lot of time complaining that Big Tech is out to get them. To recap: Warren has criticized Facebook, along with Amazon and Google, on antitrust grounds for years. But she hasn’t spent much time focused on the tech companies during her campaign this year. Things changed on Oct. 1, when The Verge published comments from an internal Facebook meeting during which CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it would “suck for us” if Warren was elected and pursued an antitrust case against the company, describing it as an “existential” problem. Since then Warren has aimed directly at Facebook — often using Twitter to do so: What would really “suck” is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy. https://t.co/rI0v55KKAi— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 1, 2019 Warren has ratcheted up her attacks since then. A week ago and without offering evidence, she accused Zuckerberg of making a backroom deal with Donald Trump that led to a Facebook decision to let politicians run misleading ads on the platform. Then her campaign tried to illustrate her charge by running a (sort-of) deliberately misleading ad on Facebook, then tweeting about Facebook’s approval: We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook’s ad platform to see if it’d be approved. It got approved quickly and the ad is now running on Facebook. Take a look: pic.twitter.com/7NQyThWHgO— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 12, 2019 Facebook, for its part, has argued that TV broadcasters don’t ban misleading ads from politicians. “We agree it’s better to let voters — not companies — decide,” the company’s public relations reps wrote on an unsigned tweet Saturday night: @ewarren looks like broadcast stations across the country have aired this ad nearly 1,000 times, as required by law. FCC doesn’t want broadcast companies censoring candidates’ speech. We agree it’s better to let voters—not companies—decide. #FCC #candidateuse https://t.co/WlWePjh1vZ— Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) October 12, 2019 The debate about Facebook’s responsibility when it comes to paid political speech — and whether Facebook thinks it should be regulated by the same rules the Federal Communications Commission uses to oversee broadcast TV stations — could be a nuanced and interesting one if it comes up onstage on Tuesday. But the hunch here is that Warren doesn’t want to spend a lot of her time talking about FCC election regulations. I’m guessing that what she really wants to do is use Facebook as a proxy for what she thinks is a general distaste voters have for giant tech companies — especially companies voters may already blame for helping to elect Trump in 2016. You could also argue that Warren has been laying into Facebook in the run-up to Tuesday’s debate simply because of the news cycle — if The Verge had surfaced those comments about her six months ago, she would have jumped on them back then. Ditto for Facebook’s decision to allow misleading ads like the one the Trump campaign has aimed at Joe Biden. And Warren’s plan to break up Facebook and other big tech companies o, indeed, one of her many, many plans. (Here we should point out that Warren, like all of the Democratic candidates, spends a lot on Facebook ads — but nothing close to what Trump is spending). But if Warren thinks her anti-Facebook campaign has real traction — and that the techlash isn’t simply something that only concerns tech workers in Silicon Valley, politicians in Washington, and the national media — then this is the time to test that theory. And if she does, then Zuckerberg and his fellow moguls may really have to start worrying. Republicans from Donald Trump on down have been happy to bash tech companies for the past year, primarily over charges (without real evidence) that tech companies are censoring conservatives. If Warren and/or her fellow Democrats are willing to join in, it may not matter that both sides are mad at tech for different reasons. Big Tech would still be in for a very long fight.

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posted 5 days ago on re/code
All eyes are not on Microsoft. | Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images Microsoft is trying to crush Slack and Zoom by essentially giving away Teams for free. The companies making the software many office workers depend on are at war with each other. And while battles over workplace communication software may sound mundane, they reflect a larger, more pressing debate about US antitrust laws and how they should be applied to tech companies. Over the past year, Big Tech has faced a regulatory reckoning of sorts: Local and federal regulators in the US are investigating some of the biggest tech companies in the world — Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook — for anticompetitive behavior. Notably absent from this list is the biggest tech company, Microsoft, which previously spent about a decade in antitrust regulators’ crosshairs. Microsoft is in fact currently waging a potentially unfair campaign to crush two of its smaller competitors in the workplace communication software industry, Slack and Zoom. But regulators aren’t focusing on it because they have more serious tech antitrust issues to deal with (like Facebook possibly facilitating the destruction of American democracy). Slack, founded in 2013, makes office chat software that’s beloved by the media and tech industry. Zoom, also launched in 2013, is touted as the best videoconferencing software out there. Both offer services necessary to the modern workplace, and Microsoft is aiming to beat them with the Teams software it debuted in 2017, which combines Slack’s and Zoom’s chat, file sharing, and videoconference features into one product. Crucially, for companies that already subscribe to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office 365 suite for staples like Excel, Word, and OneDrive, Teams is essentially free — meaning it’s less likely they would shell out additional money to pay for access to Slack or Zoom. Still, Zoom and Slack are growing at breakneck speeds, even among coveted enterprise customers. Zoom had 466 companies spending more than $100,000 annually as of the end of the second quarter, more than double the same period a year earlier. In the same quarter, Slack reached 720 organizations spending $100,000+ a year, up 75 percent year over year. For now, more than 77 percent of customers with Office 365 also had subscriptions to so-called “best-of-breed apps” like Slack and Zoom, a number that has been ticking up, according to data from Okta, a secure login company. But there’s early data showing that growth might be in jeopardy as we approach a potential recession and the economic uncertainty that comes with an election year. Overall IT spending is expected to slow down as the year’s end approaches, according to the latest survey data of company software decision makers by market research firm ETR. The study found that adoption of new software is slowing to pre-2018 levels and that “redundancy is coming to an end” — which could apply to companies that pay for both Office 365 and Slack or Zoom. Already, Teams’ market share trounces that of the older Zoom and Slack, with 60 percent of businesses of all sizes saying they use or plan to use Teams this quarter. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-6JuDZ");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-6JuDZ");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() Additionally, some 11 percent of companies said they plan to decrease spending on Slack; just 3 percent say they are reducing spending on Zoom and 2 percent on Teams. The findings were similar among small and big companies alike. “Whenever a company goes into a keep-the-lights-on environment, that will always benefit megavendors who bundle and give away software for free,” Thomas DelVecchio, founder and chief executive officer of ETR parent company Aptiviti, told Recode. “Anytime there’s concern about a recession, the Fortune 500 is going to slow down IT spend.” What he’s saying is that if and when there’s a downturn in the economy, Microsoft is positioned to dominate. That’s because while many argue that Slack and Zoom are better products, it’s hard to argue with free. And as Microsoft pours money and ingenuity into Teams, it’s becoming more comparable to the software it’s copying, eroding the argument that companies will pay extra for notably better software. But Slack maintains that even when companies have subscriptions to both Teams and Slack, they actually end up using Slack more. Slack also contends it is better at scaling for larger enterprise customers because it uses “channels” that are more broadly accessible to the whole company. For what it’s worth, Microsoft said the same thing but argued that its more siloed “teams” model is more efficient for big companies. Zoom declined to comment. Still, these products seem pretty similar on the surface. “What you have is a very solid quantitative argument for why to go with Microsoft,” Craig Roth, Gartner’s research vice president, told Recode. User experience is harder to measure. Roth said, “There’s something in it they just like better and it’s hard to quantify what that is. But try telling that to the CFO who has to pay the bill. It’s hard to put a dollar figure on user experience.” What they can put a dollar figure on is security, and that’s an area where Microsoft is perceived to have the upper hand, thanks in part to the amount of resources it can allocate to the issue. In July, Slack reset thousands of user passwords after reporting new information from a 2015 security breach. Also in July, software engineer and security researcher Jonathan Leitschuh discovered a flaw in Zoom that could give hackers access to webcams (the issue has since been fixed, according to Leitschuh). Zoom also has a high number of R&D and product personnel in China, which it says in its IPO filings could expose it to “market scrutiny regarding the integrity of our solution or data security features.” All of these challenges might be easier to address were it not for a fast-moving battle against a company offering the same thing for free. But here’s why the government isn’t going after Microsoft for antitrust Although Microsoft has gotten in trouble for practices similar to its approach to competing with Slack and Zoom, this situation is a bit different. Back in 2000, the United States District Court ruled that Microsoft had maintained its Windows monopoly through anticompetitive behavior. By bundling its Internet Explorer browser on its PCs and making it difficult to install its competitor Netscape, it was able to maintain its operating system monopoly and box out competition. There was no benefit to the consumer. The ruling was later appealed and its penalties defanged (Microsoft wasn’t, as originally ruled, forced to break up) but the finding that Microsoft violated antitrust laws held. A final settlement forced Microsoft to open its API to third parties but, importantly, it did not prevent it from bundling software in the future. Almost two decades later, as lawmakers bring a new wave of antitrust investigations against Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, Microsoft’s behavior just isn’t as pressing a concern. “Their operations are affecting democracy in a really direct way: Destroying journalism, destroying the essence of what truth is,” Daniel Hanley, a policy analyst with the Open Markets Institute, told Recode, in reference to companies like Google and Facebook. “Microsoft has tried with search, but they’re not as bad as that yet. [The others] are more of a systemic threat to our republic than Microsoft is right now.” More importantly, an antitrust case against Microsoft likely wouldn’t win because of current regulations. “Microsoft is engaging in anticompetitive behavior, but the case would never succeed because the courts have restricted antitrust laws to the most blatant of circumstances,” Hanley said. “The courts are actually creating a deterrent effect for anticompetitive enforcement because you’re making it so difficult to bring a case, which is not how it’s supposed to work. Antitrust laws are supposed to be a deterrent for anticompetitive behavior.” Probably as a result, neither Slack nor Zoom are making the case to lawmakers. “We are — one — doing fine on the enterprise front. If it wasn’t the case, maybe we would take a different tack,” Slack’s head of product Ilan Frank told Recode. “The second thing is that we feel that us focusing on our customers is a much better tack from an organization perspective and for delivering on our mission to make people’s working lives more simple and productive.” According to Tom Campbell, a law and economics professor at Chapman University and a former director of the Bureau of Competition at the Federal Trade Commission, in order to win an antitrust case against Microsoft you’d first have to prove Office is a monopoly. And its high market share isn’t enough. You’d also need to show Office has market power, meaning there’s such a high barrier to entry for competitors that Microsoft could raise prices without fallout. That’s unlikely because there are plenty of competitors to its products. You’d also have to show exclusionary behavior. Offering Teams for free is certainly exclusionary, but Campbell says that would be countered by its pro-consumer benefit. Antitrust law focuses on consumer good, and consumers love free. To defeat Microsoft in an antitrust case, Campbell said, “would require a change in the perspective of the settled American antitrust law for more than 50 years that the antitrust laws do not interfere with innovation that benefits consumers.” Hanley thinks, however, that current US investigations of other major tech companies could lead to rulings that would someday be applied to Microsoft. “Enforcement agencies only have so much staff,” Hanley said. “What I’m hoping is these investigations [into Google, Amazon, and other tech giants] are a turning point toward moving back to prosecuting anticompetitive practices.”

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posted 5 days ago on re/code
The last day of the Saudi conference last year, which was marred by last-minute cancellations. | GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images Saudi money? Yes. Saudi conference? No. The challenge at last year’s investment conference in Saudi Arabia was convincing Silicon Valley celebrities not to abruptly cancel. The challenge this year is to convince them to show up at all. The glitzy Riyadh gala marketed as “Davos in the Desert” is trying to recover from the Saudi government’s brutal murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi one year ago and the excruciating meltdown of the conference that unfolded in its aftermath. Nearly all tech leaders offered last-minute cancellations and mea culpas as details about Khashoggi leaked out. This year, in a sign of the new strains between Silicon Valley and Saudi Arabia — and of just how sensitive tech leaders are to media crises — tech CEOs and investors are snubbing it altogether. Tech’s elite may have decided not to jet into Riyadh for the Future Investment Initiative at the end of this month, but they have also made a more fundamental decision to keep taking Saudi money. Saudi Arabia has suffered no real consequences in Silicon Valley from the killing of Khashoggi — beyond the terrible optics of being caught on camera smiling at a luxe conference directly after it. An early copy of the speaker list for the Saudi conference, dated in mid-July and obtained by Recode, shows almost no US tech names among the 70 people who are confirmed to speak at the conference. While the speaker list shows that major players from Wall Street and investors from other parts of the world are indeed planning to be showcased at the Saudi retreat, the Silicon Valley titans that highlighted the agenda just one year ago are nowhere to be found. Robert Mogielnicki, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said the American snubbing of the conference mattered less than the fact that Silicon Valley companies like SAP and Amazon Web Services continue to expand in Saudi Arabia, legitimizing the kingdom as a global financial player. “Even if there’s not high-profile representation from some of these firms, that’s a public face for one or two conferences,” he said. “There are multibillion dollar projects still ongoing or in the pipeline.” But perception does matter in global politics, especially for the Saudis. “To have a conference built around three tech-focused themes and not to have a substantial presence from the American technology community, and also European tech as well, I think will be problematic,” Mogielnicki said. “It’s a very visible platform to make some symbolic gesture, and ideally you would want some of the global tech titans in the crowd when you’re making that announcement.” That roster, confirmed by Recode, of no-shows who planned to go last year includes: Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO of Uber. Steve Case, the former head of AOL who is now a prominent venture capitalist. Andy Rubin, the controversial founder of the Android operating system. Vinod Khosla, the outspoken and eccentric venture capitalist. David Bonderman, the co-founder of TPG. Brad Keywell, the co-founder of Groupon. The CEOs of several SoftBank portfolio companies, such as Herman Narula, the CEO of Improbable, and Michael Marks, the CEO of Katerra. Two other prominent Silicon Valley leaders, Sam Altman and Marc Andreessen, didn’t attend last year’s conference but were announced just before the event as advisory board members to Neom, a future built-to-spec city in Saudi Arabia. Both of them are now no longer listed as Neom advisers and neither is attending this year’s conference. But in keeping with the new hush-hush culture surrounding this year’s event, representatives for other Silicon Valley leaders who originally planned to attend last year wouldn’t answer questions about whether they’d be at the conference: For instance, Arianna Huffington, Travis Kalanick, and Peter Thiel (or their representatives) didn’t return requests for comment. A spokesperson for the conference said in a statement that its speakers and attendees would come from “some of the world’s leading businesses and investment institutions and most innovative technology companies.” Some new tech names have surely been added since July; the conference now boasts over 200 planned but unannounced speakers. But other speakers have dropped out, too. One person from tech who was listed on the July speaker agenda told Recode that he had recently canceled. “It doesn’t seem that it’s the right place to be. It’s always a balance between the Western world values and local culture which you need to respect. But there has not been too much progress,” this person said, adding that he didn’t believe “that things will improve.” The Saudis have also advertised some “confirmed speakers” who were not, in reality, confirmed. Kai-Fu Lee, the former head of Google China, is listed on the July program as a confirmed speaker. But a person familiar with his schedule said he has never committed to attending the event, largely because of the drama surrounding the Saudi conference last year, which forced him to pull out. The other confirmed tech speakers on the July agenda include Jim Breyer, famous for leading one of the first investments in Facebook; and Rajeev Misra, the head of SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Questions abound about the plans of Misra’s boss, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, who is in the process of trying to convince the Saudis to back his second $100 billion Vision Fund. SoftBank officials declined to comment on whether Son would attend the conference. Most folks who attend the Saudi conference typically have — or seek — some ties to Saudi money. Confirmed speakers include executives from global investment banks vying for business around the IPO of Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s massive state-owned oil company. Other speakers reflect the reality that while American business may have drawn away from the Saudi government, other countries have flocked to Saudi Arabia in recent years. Only 17 of the 70 confirmed speakers, as of July, hail from the United States; 10 come from India and eight from China. Sources say that Chinese investors in the past year have been especially present in Saudi Arabia, backing Saudi startups and venture firms at a more aggressive pace as the US business community grows skittish. “There is a recognition on the part of Saudi Arabia — in bringing in tech interests — that it’s going to have to be more of a diversified effort and it’s going to have to bring that in from other sources: from Russia, from Asia,” said Mogielnicki. He says the Saudis now must reckon with the fact that they’re “going to have to generate some interest from some other circles here.” For some American leaders, the conference — now in its third year — “doesn’t feel as relevant,” as one person put it. Some leaders attended the 2017 and 2018 events out of “curiosity” and a desire to integrate the Saudis into the world of high finance, the person said. Now that has happened. Relationships have been forged. It’s just not worth talking about them. Keeping it quiet Those from Silicon Valley who are attending are trying their hardest to keep their visits on the down low. Family offices of American billionaires and millionaires who are trying to increase their exposure in the Middle East are still expected to show up and blend in among the thousands of attendees. So are some lesser-known venture capitalists, even if the senior partners from marquee firms are absent. Other business leaders are expected to possibly get cute with attendance by not technically showing up at the Future Investment Initiative but by taking meetings around Riyadh in the days before or after the conference runs. This way they are not listed as a speaker and under the klieg lights of media scrutiny but still get the exposure to other dealmakers. In an age when there is more attention than ever paid to Silicon Valley’s relations with foreign dictatorships, few want to risk the negative PR of being associated with the Saudis. And with some sensitivity to that reality, the Saudis have taken unusually extensive efforts to shield their event from media scrutiny. The conference’s website doesn’t list any details of this year’s event on its “Partners” or “Programs” tabs, merely saying that the information will be coming “soon.” This is highly unusual, given that the event begins in less than three weeks. Getting away with murder Conference or no conference, there is little concrete evidence one year after the killing of Khashoggi that Saudi Arabia has suffered any serious consequences from theoretically outraged, socially minded tech leaders. While some venture capitalists say they are now asked more about their foreign ties, scrutiny of Saudi funding has largely receded. The SoftBank Vision Fund — which is the Saudis’ principal investment vehicle into American startups — has continued to win deals in Silicon Valley, with portfolio company CEOs in interviews largely avoiding comment on Saudi involvement. Outside of the Vision Fund, Saudi Arabian-based venture capital firms have made at least 26 direct investments into American startups in the last three years, according to data from PitchBook. In fact, more Saudi spending appears en route. The Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, the country’s $320 billion sovereign wealth fund, said earlier this year that it was planning to open an office in San Francisco as part of its effort to develop closer ties with Silicon Valley. It has not yet done so, though, and there has been no update on the timing of that plan. In the meantime, Sanabil, which is a division of PIF, is likely to open an office on Sand HIll Road, according to a person with knowledge of their plans. Sanabil is also beginning to invest in venture capital firms as a limited partner, according to a second person. The only consequences that might come are because of the Saudis’ increasingly poor track record. Several investors who are critical of the Saudi footprint in Silicon Valley argued that it would not be a newfound sense of morals that would lead to any rejection of Saudi cash. Instead it would be purely a selfish realization that Saudi and SoftBank money is bad for companies, a point driven home by every new Saudi startup flameout — such as SoftBank-backed WeWork. In short, as one investor put it, WeWork has hurt the Saudis’ influence much more than Jamal Khashoggi. “We often get asked where our money comes from, and it’s a competitive advantage for us,” said Ali Partovi, the head of Neo, a VC fund and mentorship program. “Startups are choosy about their investors, and smart startups prefer VCs known for mentorship and connections over losing money and murdering journalists.”

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posted 5 days ago on re/code
Interim Archives/Getty Images And what about the environment? As Amazon has grown from an online bookstore into an everything store, it has tackled product category after product category on its way to e-commerce domination. But there’s an area where Amazon’s growth has been noticeably restrained: low-priced goods where the cost for Amazon to ship them is higher than the price a customer pays for the item. Until now. Over the last few months, Amazon has removed several barriers that previously made it difficult for customers to purchase a single sub-$5 item on its own. The result is a flood of low-priced items — a $2 roll of dental floss or a 75-cent makeup brush — made available to Prime customers with free one-day shipping. The changes could have huge ramifications for retailers like Target or CVS, where one-off purchases of consumer packaged goods are common. At the same time, the moves could also add to complaints that Amazon engages in anticompetitive behavior, though current laws typically protect companies that keep prices low for consumers. An Amazon spokesperson did not provide a comment on possible anticompetitive concerns. Instead, she said, “We know customers love our vast selection, low prices, and free one-day delivery with Prime and we are always innovating to improve their experience.” Until recently, someone looking to buy a single item like a stick of deodorant would have to jump through some hoops on Amazon to get it — maybe they’d have to buy a four-pack of deodorant in order to make the economics work for Amazon. Or maybe they’d have to pair a single stick of deodorant — as a so-called “add-on” item — with other goods in an order to hit a $25 minimum before Amazon would qualify the purchase for Amazon Prime fast shipping. But Amazon has now essentially removed its “add-on” program and is also starting to place wholesale orders for cheap items it once turned away due to profitability concerns. Analysts at Edgewater Research noticed the changes and wrote in a September research note that Amazon had “essentially turned off its Add-On program in recent months.” The category of products likely to be most impacted by the changes? Consumer packaged goods — or CPG items — which encompass everything from deodorant to toothpaste to shampoo. These are items that are common purchases in supermarkets, Walmarts, Targets, or pharmacy chains like CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens. But they have been difficult for Amazon to sell profitably unless customers were willing to order other items with them. Now, however, the combination of these changes, coupled with Amazon recently speeding up Prime shipping from two days to one, means that Amazon could become the go-to retailer for a category of regularly consumed household items that it has yet to deeply penetrate. Say you want a single stick of Suave deodorant for $1.99 or a single package of dental floss for $1.79 or even a 75-cent “crease brush” to apply eye shadow. If you’re an Amazon Prime member in the US, you can now get each of them on their own — tomorrow — for no added shipping fee. For Prime customers, the convenience of getting such a cheap item delivered so quickly is one that is likely unmatched. And for brands, the initial sales bump is welcome. “In many cases, we’re seeing low-priced items grow faster than high-priced items [on Amazon] for the first time in years,” said Chuck Linden, executive vice president at Crayola, the popular maker of crayons and other writing instruments. But for competitors like Walmart and CVS, Amazon’s ability to sell a 75-cent item that comes with free next-day shipping should be concerning. “There’s no way that shipping costs are less than 75 cents, and there’s no way any other company that wants to sell a makeup brush could deliver that for free,” said Sally Hubbard, a former New York State antitrust enforcer who now works at Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank. “It’s not possible and it highlights how pricing strategies can be used to drive rivals from the market. But antitrust law currently misses this anticompetitive conduct with its obsession on low prices,” she told Recode. One lingering question for brands like Crayola, which are suddenly supplying Amazon with low-priced goods that the e-commerce giant is likely losing money on when factoring in shipping costs: Will Amazon eventually go back to the brand and ask to be made whole? It is not uncommon for retailers to pressure their brand suppliers for money, for example to offset the cost of a marketing boost needed to unload a slow-selling product. But Amazon is notorious for the frequency of such requests, whether it be trying to renegotiate terms with its vendors or asking manufacturers to write big checks if Amazon realizes after selling a certain product that it is losing money on those orders. Will that happen here now that Amazon is starting to sell tons of low-priced items in a way that seems unprofitable? One former Amazon executive certainly thinks so. “It’s been great for the manufacturers; they’re experiencing sales growth,” said Andrea Leigh, a former longtime Amazon executive who is a vice president at Ideoclick, an agency that helps brands sell and advertise on Amazon. “But I want to warn them all not to get too comfortable. In six months, Amazon is going to come back to you asking for money and could hold the brand hostage.” Last year, Leigh said Amazon approached brands that work with Ideoclick and requested hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for losing money when selling some of the their goods. When the suppliers declined to pay up, Leigh said, “Amazon paused the whole account,” not only the specific products in question. “It’s called going on a pause ... a vendor pause.” Basically, that means Amazon will temporarily stop selling a brand’s products. The new initiatives related to low-priced goods also have the potential to anger some Amazon employees and maybe anyone worried about climate change. Over the last year, a group of these workers — dubbed Amazon Employees for Climate Justice — have publicly and privately urged the company to reduce its negative impact on the environment. Last month, CEO Jeff Bezos announced several climate-related initiatives the day before more than 1,000 Amazon employees were set to walk out in protest, but the group is still pushing for more change. Now, these workers — and consumers — are going to face a new reality where Amazon is shipping a single stick of deodorant through its supply chain and onto a fuel-guzzling truck in order to grab a bigger share of the retail market. It’s all a reminder that Amazon’s size and power mean that when it makes seemingly innocuous changes, like letting you buy a tube of toothpaste with free next-day shipping, it triggers a series of consequences: for brands selling on its platform, for traditional retailers trying to survive, and, potentially, for this planet.

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
Shea Serrano. | Josh Huskin It lets him pull off a very cool trick in his new book, Movies (And Other Things). Shea Serrano is a great talker. And a great writer. Those two facts are connected. Serrano, a bestselling author whose newest book Movies (And Other Things) is out this week, writes about basketball, movies, race, and a grab bag of topics in a casual, just-thought-of-this style that looks easy to do but isn’t. Like lots of other things that appear effortless, Serrano’s writing takes lots of work. And that work starts by him talking. Before he sits down to write, Serrano starts a conversation with his wife Laramie, or a friend, and chats about the ideas he’s interested in typing up. It’s the ensuing conversation, the former public school teacher says, that he tries to replicate when he actually sits down to write. “If I can take that and get it on the page somehow, then when you’re reading it, it doesn’t feel so much like this is a guy standing on the mountain throwing lightning bolts down,” he told me on this week’s episode of Recode Media, which you can listen to here. Serrano’s style would work well in any era, but it’s particularly well suited to the time we’re in, evoking the now-there’s-this barrage of stimuli you get when you unlock your phone. And the approachable prose, along with the fact that he’s often writing about seemingly innocuous stuff, gives him the ability to do something extra-difficult: Serrano often slips in perceptive and provocative ideas about race and class, right alongside topics like The Best Gangster Movie Moments. In his essay about the low-brow, highly popular movie Friday, for instance, Serrano takes a diversion to talk about the effect that seeing a movie with a primarily black cast, made for a primarily black audience, had on his Mexican American friends and family. It’s an idea I would have never thought of — and one I might have been much less interested in engaging in had Serrano taken the topic head-on. Slipping it in as an aside is like a magic trick. Serrano talked to me about this writing process — as well as his personal story, his favorite movies you may not have seen, and his remarkably effective use of Twitter — in our conversation. Here’s a sample of our chat: Shea Serrano I want it to feel conversational, but also I wanted it to be sort of informed and nuanced. That’s important. It doesn’t work if you’re just like glancing at an idea but not getting quite there. So there’s some work that goes into it ahead of time, but as far as deciding when to do it or where to do it, it’s a byproduct of the way that I write all this stuff. Which is before I write anything down —it doesn’t matter what it is, a book chapter, an essay, an article, whatever — before I write it down, I’ve got some notes that I take and then I take those notes, and I have a conversation — like an actual conversation with an actual person, and in most cases it’s [my wife] Laramie because she’s around the most. Every once in a while it’s a cousin or a friend of mine, [and] I’ll be like, “Hey, let me run this idea by you.” And then we’re just going to have a conversation. “Yeah, we’re going to talk about the movie Friday. We’re going to talk about the movie Selena, or we’re going to talk about Joker,” and we’ll have a conversation and I’ll have my notes and I’ll be, you know, throwing this stuff out. And you’ll say some stuff back, much like what’s happening here. And then I’ll take all of the stuff that we just did in my head, sort of catalog it all, and then write it out. So if I was writing a biography of some sort, I would take this conversation that you and I just had about [my] career, because you’re asking questions, you’re pushing in certain directions, and you’re making it more full. If I can take that and get it on the page somehow, then when you’re reading it, it doesn’t feel so much like this is a guy standing on the mountain throwing lightning bolts down. It feels like I’m having a conversation. Peter Kafka So you have a very conversational style. I really appreciate it. And it sounds easy. Or it looks easy, but it’s a hard thing to do. Because you see people doing it poorly all the time. Shea Serrano Yeah. Peter Kafka Bill [Simmons, who hired Serrano to write for his site The Ringer] sort of nailed that. But when it comes to stuff like race and class, I find that ... people don’t write about it. They go, “I don’t want to write about it. I don’t want to touch it. I don’t see color. Why is this being introduced into my sports?” Or whatever it is. Or, “Why are you introducing politics?” Or, it’s specifically a piece about politics and sports or politics and race. And you’re doing a thing where you’re delivering interesting, provocative, useful ideas, but you’re sort of bringing them in the side door sometimes. Shea Serrano Yeah. Peter Kafka It’s not really a question. I’m just impressed with it because I think there’s stuff in there that if you wrote it a different way or inverted it and said, “This is a story about race and the movies,” a lot of people would tune out. Shea Serrano Yeah. It doesn’t work like that because people ... I can’t speak for everybody, but I don’t talk that way. I can tell just hanging out with you, you know, we’ve been in here for 30 minutes. You don’t talk that way. There’s never a straight line of stuff. It always goes off into the side a little bit, and when you get off into the side a little bit, that’s when the interesting stuff works. If we’re talking about what’s your favorite whatever, you’re not just going to go, “Oh, my first favorite is this. My second favorite is this. My third favorite ...” Peter Kafka “I happen to have all those answers cataloged in my head.” Shea Serrano Yeah. You’re going to hit like one or two and then you’re going to remember a thing and you’re going to start talking about that and it will lead to something else. Peter Kafka You know who doesn’t do that? Politicians. Shea Serrano Yeah. Peter Kafka And then people who answer questions professionally for a living, like a lot of people who come in here: “Well, I’m glad you asked me that.” Then they have the canned thing. Shea Serrano Yeah, exactly. And when you’re doing it the other way, when you’re just sort of following where your nose is taking you, you get into the interesting stuff and then it makes sense for me to be like, “I’m going to talk about this movie.” And then there’s some other stuff going on because you can see how we got there and how we’re going to get out and get back to the movie.

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
Apple CEO Tim Cook on a 2018 visit to Beijing. | Visual China Group/Getty Images Apple’s decision to remove HKMapLive, an app used by Hong Kong protest organizers, from its Chinese app store is drawing scrutiny. Apple has been more successful in China than any other consumer tech company. Now that’s a problem for Apple. On Wednesday, Apple said it removed HKMapLive, an app used by protest organizers in Hong Kong, from its Chinese app store. The app, which lets users track police activity, “violates our guidelines and local laws,” Apple said. The company says it made the decision on its own accord and not because the Chinese state-owned People’s Daily had been publicly criticizing the app. “Over the past several days we received credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a company memo on Thursday. “This use put the app in violation of Hong Kong law. Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our App Store guidelines barring personal harm.” That followed Apple’s September 30 removal of the Quartz News app because it “includes content that is illegal in China,” according to a note the news publisher says it received from Apple. Apple isn’t the only big company making decisions that look like they’re meant to appease China as that country’s standoff with Hong Kong protesters heads toward its eighth month. This week, the video game studio Activision Blizzard punished a player who had won a tournament for one of its video games after he publicly supported the protests. The NBA has both apologized and unapologized after Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted a message on behalf of the protesters. And Google has taken down a game app that lets players take on the role of protesters. (The Wall Street Journal reports that Google did so after Hong Kong police complained; a company representative says it didn’t receive a request from any government agency but took down the app on its own because the app violated its rules about exploiting sensitive news.) But Apple is in a particularly difficult position, due to the company’s success in China: Unlike several other big consumer tech companies, which either do little business in China or none at all, Apple has thrived in China. The country is Apple’s third-biggest market, which generates some $44 billion a year in sales. And Apple’s supply chain, which lets it produce the hundreds of millions of iPhones it sells around the world each year, is deeply embedded in China. Meanwhile, Apple has gone out of its way to promote itself as a tech company with deep commitments to social issues like privacy and environmentalism. And CEO Tim Cook has been outspoken about his disagreements with the Trump administration on trade wars, immigration policy, and Trump’s support of neo-Nazis. So on the one hand, Apple is the woke consumer tech company that cares about you, your privacy, and the rest of the world. On the other, Apple is deeply enmeshed in a country that supports (state-approved) capitalism but not civil liberties. Meanwhile, many of America’s biggest tech companies don’t have this problem because they’re barely in China or not in China at all. Almost all of Google’s sites and services, for instance, are blocked in mainland China. Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix aren’t there at all. Amazon has a very small presence. But that’s not due to lack of trying. Google spent years trying to work with China before bailing in 2010. And when news broke last year that Google was trying again and had begun work on a secretive project to build a censored search engine for the country, outcry from the public and its own employees pressured the company to halt the project, at least for now. Amazon spent more than a decade trying to crack the Chinese market with very little to show for it today. Facebook, which has been blocked in China since 2009, also spent years of courtship to get back in, including multiple visits from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who also made a public pledge to learn Mandarin. In 2016, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was hopeful that he could work with Chinese regulators; this year he said that wasn’t going to work — “We will be blocked in China for a long time.” This week’s news suggests that those guys may be lucky they’ve failed to get in. Aside from ethical concerns about compromising with Chinese authorities to get access to the country’s billions of consumers, working with China could become bad for your brand, as politicians and commentators pile on the companies who do it. “Dealing With China Isn’t Worth the Moral Cost,” says the New York Times columnist and former tech reporter Farhad Manjoo, who calls the country “a growing and existential threat to human freedom across the world.” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio accused China of “using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally.” Just as concerning for big internet companies is that China now looks like it’s willing to punish companies for things that happen outside of the country: Daryl Morey’s supposedly incendiary statement was made on Twitter, a service that’s not available in China. Imagine what would happen if YouTube, which struggles to deal with the millions of problematic videos its users upload each month, had to take responsibility for pro-democracy messages its 2 billion users made, too. Plenty of US companies work in and with countries that require them to make moral compromises. Facebook, for instance, finds itself frequently pulling down videos and posts because they upset Turkey’s censors; Netflix took down an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act in Saudi Arabia because it was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The standard argument these companies all make is that those countries are better off when they have access to their products. This is Apple’s argument, too. “We believe our presence in China helps promote greater openness and facilitates the free flow of ideas and information,” Cook told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in a December 2017 letter. “We are convinced that Apple can best promote fundamental rights, including the right of free expression, by being engaged even where we may disagree with a particular country’s law.” Left unsaid in Cook’s letter is that Apple has to do business in China. Unlike tech companies that haven’t broken into the country or only do minor business in it, Apple is now so deep in China that leaving it could be catastrophic. Even if the company was willing to forgo the $44 billion a year in sales it makes in China, it can’t leave the deep network of suppliers and assemblers that build hundreds of millions of iPhones every year. Earlier this year, in response to the escalating US-China trade war, Apple floated the idea that it could move some of its production outside of China to hedge its bets. But it was only willing to suggest that it would move a third of production. So even if Apple decided to make the wrenching decision to get out of China today, it couldn’t. It is stuck there, for better and for worse.

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posted 9 days ago on re/code
ICE agents arresting an immigrant from El Salvador. Increasingly, tech companies’ contracts with the immigration agency are coming under fire by its own employees. | Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post/Getty Images Employees are demanding the company cancel its $200,000 contract with the immigration agency. GitHub, which hosts an important platform for software developers, is the latest prominent Silicon Valley company to be embroiled in controversy over its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Wednesday, GitHub’s employees began publicly pressuring their company’s leadership to stop working with the immigration agency over human rights concerns. GitHub CEO Nat Friedman wrote in an internal letter on Tuesday that the company plans to renew a contract worth $200,000 with ICE to license its GitHub Enterprise Server — an amount that Friedman called “not financially material” for the company. GitHub’s contract with ICE was private until Friedman’s note began circulating publicly on Tuesday evening. In the letter, Friedman said he strongly disagrees with the Trump administration’s “terrible” immigration policies. But, ultimately, he said, the company will continue to provide the agency with software because it doesn’t believe it should “unplug technology services” when government customers use them to do things the company objects to. ICE’s role in separating families at the border, putting children in cages, and deporting refugees back to dangerous places has alarmed humanitarians, politicians, and many tech workers who believe the tools they build should not be used to power the agency’s activities. In recent years as part of a growing “No Tech for ICE” movement, tech workers at companies like Microsoft (which owns GitHub), Palantir, and Amazon have all pressured their companies internally and publicly to stop working with the agency and its partners. Friedman’s letter addressing employees’ concerns was first leaked to the activist group Fight for the Future, before the company posted a copy of the letter on its blog. And now, employees are striking back by signing a letter demanding the company cancel the contract completely, as first reported by the Washington Post. The letter began circulating on Wednesday, gathering around 150 signatures in less than an hour, according to the Post. “We implore GitHub to immediately cancel its contract with ICE, no matter the cost. Now is the time to take a stand, or be complicit,” reads the letter, which goes on to say, “Software, provided by companies like us, is a critical part of the toolkit [ICE] use[s] to conduct invasive surveillance.” In his letter to employees, Friedman said GitHub would be donating all its proceeds from the ICE contract, plus $500,000 toward nonprofit organizations working to support immigrant communities. But GitHub employees who signed the letter do not support that concession. “We cannot offset human lives with money. There is no donation that can offset the harm that ICE is perpetrating with the help of our labor,” their letter says. The rationale Friedman used to defend the company’s contracts with ICE, despite his personal disapproval of the agency’s immigration policies, is similar to how other tech companies have defended its contracts with ICE in the past. Palantir CEO Alex Karp has said that it’s not up to companies, but governments, to democratically decide policy. And in June, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, himself an immigrant to the US, tried to downplay his company’s work with ICE while maintaining its multimillion dollar contract with the government agency. “They all say they care about immigrants, they all point to their history caring for immigrants, they all vow to donate money for immigrants rights — and then when it comes time to actually stop collaborating with a regime engaged in a wholesale war against immigrants, they waffle and say it’s better to have a seat at the table,” Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign director for immigrant rights advocacy group Mijente, told Recode on Wednesday in response to the public revelations about GitHub’s work with ICE.

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posted 10 days ago on re/code
The Trump campaign is running a false ad about Joe Biden and Facebook says it’s a-okay. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images So are YouTube, Twitter, and most news networks. President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is running a false ad about former Vice President Joe Biden on Facebook, and there’s nothing the company is going to do about it. It doesn’t bode well for what’s to come in 2020 and social media platforms’ willingness to act on the spread of misinformation. The Trump campaign has released a 30-second video ad accusing the former vice president of promising Ukraine money for firing a prosecutor investigating a company with ties to Biden’s son, Hunter Biden — essentially, the false conspiracy at the center of the impeachment inquiry President Trump is now facing. CNN refused to air the ad because there is no evidence for the claims it is making. But not Facebook — or multiple other tech platforms and media outlets like YouTube, Twitter, MSNBC, and Fox, for that matter. Instead, the Menlo Park, California-based company is going to let it stay — and rack up millions of views in the process. The Biden campaign asked Facebook to take the ad down, but the platform said it’s a no-go. The New York Times first obtained a letter from Facebook to Biden’s camp on Tuesday responding to its request to remove the video, explaining that despite its false claims, it doesn’t actually violate any of Facebook’s policies. “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter. Biden’s camp slammed the decision. In a statement, spokesperson TJ Ducklo called Facebook’s decision “unacceptable” and said that allowing the video to spread “poisons the public discourse and chips away at” democracy. “Whether it originates from the Kremlin or Trump Tower, these lies and conspiracy theories threaten to undermine the integrity of our elections in America,” he said. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is running against Biden for the 2020 Democratic nomination, earlier this week criticized Facebook over its policies related to the veracity of claims made in political ads. The episode portends an ominous future for political advertising heading into the 2020 election and what politicians will and won’t be allowed to claim about their opponents online. The Senate Intelligence Committee just released the second volume of its investigation into influence operations on the 2016 election and warned that there is more to come. Social media companies seem hell-bent on taking a hands-off approach to policing political advertising, even if it includes straight lies. When it comes to political advertising, fake news is still news — and money Facebook is not the only platform to let the Trump campaign’s Biden ad stand. As NBC News’s Dylan Byers noted, plenty of others are following suit: These are the media/tech companies that have banned Trump’s misleading Biden/Ukraine ad: • CNNThese are the ones that have not banned it:• Fox News• MSNBC/NBC• ABC• CBS• Facebook• Google/YouTube• Twitter— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) October 9, 2019 A spokesperson for Facebook in an email explained that under the company’s policies, politicians are ineligible from its fact-checking program. It’s not a practice that’s unique to Facebook. As Recode’s Teddy Schleifer recently outlined, social media companies’ policies, broadly, are that politicians can pretty much say whatever they want online, because it counts as news: Although platforms say they will enforce their rules against politicians if they must, they will continue to be far more permissive places for candidates than they are for regular posters — who they also continue to struggle to effectively moderate. Facebook in its letter to the Biden campaign, which Vox also obtained, outlined many of its policies around political advertising and content moderation. It highlighted its “standard for transparency” around Facebook pages and political ads so that people can see who is running them (though, of course, that doesn’t really solve the false information problem). And the company noted that during the 2018 midterms, it rejected one of Trump’s ads for violating its “sensational content” policies. But Facebook is also making clear, time and time again, that it doesn’t have any intention of making sure the content on its platform is true. In July 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg raised eyebrows when he said in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher that he didn’t believe the platform should take down content that denies the Holocaust happened, even though he finds it “deeply offensive.” And in May, the company refused to take down a video that was doctored to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear drunk. After coming under fire for the decision, Facebook demoted the video and made it harder to find, but it didn’t take it down entirely. Harbath, in her letter to the Biden campaign, explained some of the company’s reasoning: If a politician seeks to share a viral hoax — like a link to an article or a video or photo, that has been previously debunked, we will demote that content, display related information from fact-checkers, and reject its inclusion in advertisements. That is different from a politician’s own claim or statement — even if the substance of that claim has been debunked elsewhere. If the claim is made directly by a politician on their Page, in an ad or on their website, it is considered direct speech and ineligible for our third party fact checking program. Facebook’s reaction to its role in spreading misinformation and influencing politics has consistently disappointed, and this latest episode with the Biden campaign signals the issue is likely to persist.

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posted 10 days ago on re/code
Christina Animashaun/Vox  Working from anywhere: the good, the bad, the lovely. From their ersatz offices in coffee shops, coworking spaces, and living rooms, a growing number of remote workers are quietly remaking the way we work and live. Take Eden Rehmet, who was able to parlay her wages working in trade services at a New York City commodities broker into buying a home and opening a small business upstate. Rob Osario, a web developer, works remotely from Brooklyn half of the week to skip a commute to his Manhattan office. And interior designer Meg Lavalette gets the best of both worlds by living and doing the majority of her work in rural upstate New York, while traveling to New York City every other week to meet with clients. All of them told Recode that apart from a few downsides, they have improved the quality of their lives by working remotely and releasing their tether to specific places near their employers. While remote work has blurred some of the boundaries between their work lives and their personal lives, they say they’re happier and often more productive than they’d been at traditional offices. Depending on how you measure it, remote employees like these make up anywhere from 5.3 percent (those who typically work from home) to nearly two-thirds (who work remotely ever) of the US workforce, a number that has been rising since the advent of a reliable and robust home broadband connection earlier this decade. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-gKWff");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-gKWff");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() The changes remote work has introduced have happened so gradually you may not have noticed. But its growing popularity is remaking how we work, the tools we use to work, how we communicate at work, and even the hours we work. It’s also connected to population shifts from big cities to less populated areas, and it’s upending sectors of commercial real estate, both in terms of how spaces are designed and where they’re located. What was once a rarity among a select set of workers is quickly becoming a defining feature of the future of work. The ups and downs of remote work When the Great Recession hit back in 2008, many US companies downsized their office space to save money and began allowing, or even encouraging, employees to work from home. But what was born from necessity has stuck around long after the economy rebounded. It turned out that remote work has benefits besides cheaper office rent. While the broad impacts of remote work have yet to be measured across industries and for extended lengths of time, initial studies have found that it can increase productivity and lower employee turnover. A recent Harvard Business Review study of US Patent and Trade Office workers found their output increased by 4.4 percent after a transition to remote work, with no significant increase in having to rewrite patents due to appeals. And a Stanford study of a 16,000-employee Chinese travel agency found that remote work increased employee satisfaction and helped halve the agency’s previous employee attrition rates. “There’s less distraction from people talking in the office,” Rehmet, who was the first in her office to work remotely, said. “I’m more productive. I have the ability to concentrate and create my own environment.” Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images Inside a coffee shop in Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, California, a man writing code has transformed a cafe table into a standing desk. Osario, who’s a lead developer at the Council of Foreign Relations, says he’s just as productive at home. “If I’m in the office, there are coffee breaks, interruptions, socializing — that’s not happening at home.” Lavalette, who owns an interior design business called LAVA Interiors, says she’s markedly more productive working remotely. “It’s required me to be more organized and thoughtful about my schedule,” she said. In its State of Remote Work survey, social media management company Buffer found that 99 percent of remote workers would like to continue working remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their careers, and 95 percent would recommend it to others. This type of work has also been a boon for parents who need more flexibility in their schedules to accommodate child care, school events, and sick kids, though trying to work from home with children has its own pitfalls. In general, companies’ growing acceptance of remote work signifies wider acknowledgment that it’s important to offer employees flexibility and more options for balancing work and their personal lives. And in a near full-employment economy, to be competitive in recruiting the best talent, employers are under pressure to offer remote work as a perk. Countless startups operate remotely from their launch. The computer manufacturer Dell, which is headquartered in Texas, wants to have 50 percent of its workforce working remotely at least some of the time by next year. Amazon recently hired 3,000 remote customer service workers, putting it in the top 10 for most remote jobs listed in 2018, above other well-known remote-friendly companies like UnitedHealth Group, Salesforce, and SAP. “It became a strategic initiative rather than just a tactical one,” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, told Recode. “I don’t look at it as a perk; I look at it as a requirement,” Osario, whose team has increasingly moved remote even though his overall organization hasn’t, said. “Whoever I work for next, if they tell me I can’t work remotely, I’m not working for them.” Osario is surprised more people don’t work remotely. “Everyone who has to crack a laptop potentially has the freedom of working remotely,” he said. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-QGjLs");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-QGjLs");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() Remote work does have its share of problems. Some people dislike working in the same place where they live and relax, and it can be difficult to create and maintain a company culture without people being in the same room. “For some situations, it’s good to have a face-to-face connection,” Rehmet said. But she added, “I still talk to everyone every single day.” Also, when people are always connected through technology, it can be hard to stop working. “I think it’s hard as a business owner who also works remotely because I do sometimes work on weekends. That’s just what it takes sometimes,” Lavalette said. The Buffer survey cited the most common downsides to remote work are the inability to unplug, loneliness, and difficulty collaborating. That same flexibility remote work enables can create an always-on culture. Perhaps surprisingly, working at home can lead to longer hours than they would have in a traditional office setting. “The good news is the 9-5 boundaries have broken down; the bad news is the 9-5 boundaries have broken down,” Steve King, partner at small business consulting firm Emergent Research, told Recode. “Most people so far are happy to make that trade-off, to have flexibility in how they live life and work in exchange for sometimes knowing that at 9 o’clock at night you’ll be answering emails.” How we work Remote work has come to mean a spectrum of somewhere between always in the office and always remote. The constant is that there is choice. But while remote work is becoming increasingly common, it’s still only an option for certain kinds of workers. First, remote work requires reliable, secure at-home broadband connections that can power video conferences. Because much of rural America lacks broadband internet, remote work is restricted to areas with access to that tech. And the growth of remote work has been mostly concentrated among knowledge workers, who tend to be more educated and wealthier, though more manual or in-person labor has elements that can be — and are being — done remotely. “In reality, whether you’re nine feet, nine floors, or nine miles away, you’re probably communicating with colleagues remotely” Technology advancements enabled remote work, but now remote workers’ demands are driving technology forward. New workplace communications software is coming out seemingly every month, promising to be the next, better, and more productive Slack. Video conferencing software company Zoom went public this spring, and video hardware makers are promising better and better cameras and viewing experiences, all in the hope of making video communication more natural. It’s important to note that these same technologies are all used in-office, too. “In reality, whether you’re nine feet, nine floors, or nine miles away, you’re probably communicating with colleagues remotely,” Lister said. “The tools to make sure everyone succeeds are the same tools you need for working remotely.” The type of work people do has also changed as companies seek to cut costs and time in order to be more agile. “We used to sit in our silos and do work,” King said. “Now it’s more cross-functional. If you’re working on marketing, you’d better have IT involved. If you do the marketing right and increase sales, you’ve got to have the supply chain involved.” Working between departments, which may already be located in other offices, requires flexibility and remote communication because it’s unlikely all of these teams can be in the same place at the same time. And when people have the choice, they’re opting out of commutes: The fastest-growing commute is not having one at all. “This is New York City. Who wants to deal with being packed like sardines on the subway every morning?” said Osoria. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images Morning commuters crowd into a Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway car. When Lavalette does take the bus into the city, she spends that time sketching designs on her computer and sending emails. “I’m not wasting time doing a commute every day,” she said. “It was such a time suck, whereas now I can be a lot more productive.” Physical office space Remote work, in addition to causing office attendance to decline, is having a profound effect on the design of physical offices that goes beyond just better wifi and more power outlets. “Home has become the place for concentration,” Lister said. “Companies are completely transforming workplaces to be places of collaboration.” According to Julie Whelan, head of occupier research at real estate firm CBRE, only about 50 percent of office space is now dedicated to “heads-down work,” which once took up the vast majority of office space. That means fewer walls and more meeting spaces. Whelan sees four main types of space necessary for a modern office: focus space, collaborative space, private space for private conversations, and social space. In a lot of ways, the office now “feels more like home,” Whelan said, with “softer finishes, colors more neutral, not typical grey cubicles everywhere.” Lavalette is also seeing this shift in her own interior design work. “People are investing more in the comfort and luxury of their homes because they’re spending more time there,” she said. As for offices, she’s swapping in rugs instead of carpets or bare floors, vintage and custom desks instead of industrial furniture, and adjustable halogen or LEDs instead of fluorescent lights. “I’m using more of a residential approach in my office design,” Lavalette said. “It is making the office feel more like home instead of a workspace.” All these upgrades are a way to get people into the office — and to work for a company in the first place. “It’s an outward sign of how you value employees,” Whelan said. “It tends to be what a lot of younger employees are expecting.” Remote work has also contributed to the expansion of coworking spaces like WeWork, where remote workers can go to get some of the structure and amenities of an office without having to show up five days a week. “Whether you believe WeWork is a real business, after all the drama surrounding its IPO, there’s a huge demand for coworking spaces,” Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, a freelancing platform that went public last year, told Recode. “You see more and more people in coffee shops and libraries, but also more in coworking spaces.” MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images People gather around a speaker during a lunchtime seminar at a WeWork coworking space in Washington, DC, in 2013. These spaces allow office renters to forgo traditional 10-year leases in exchange for shorter-term leases, from three to five years or even on a monthly basis. This type of flexible office space now makes up nearly 2 percent of all office space in the 40 markets CBRE measures and is expected to grow to 13 percent by 2030. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-eqe2m");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-eqe2m");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() That means companies leasing office space are not as locked in as they were previously. It also means more uncertainty for building owners as well as coworking spaces in the event of a recession, though Whelan says companies forced to downsize during a recession will move into these spaces and would create more demand for them. Where we live Ten years ago, even as technology came online that would enable people to work from anywhere, people continued to cluster in the biggest cities in what King calls the “paradox of place.” That’s changing. As King put it, “The societal impact of remote work is, we’re finally starting to see what was promised in the first internet boom: more flexibility in where we live.” After years of growth following the recession, America’s three biggest metro areas are now shrinking. Part of the reason is that Americans, particularly millennials, are “moving toward sun and some semblance of affordability,” Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic. Those areas include smaller, secondary cities, as well as rural areas. Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post via Getty Images Detail of office space at the home of David Cottrell and his wife Kristen Moeller near Deer Creek Canyon Park, Colorado. Working remotely helps workers compensate for stagnating wages by making city salaries go further in less expensive locations. (A study by Owl Labs, a company that makes smart videoconferencing cameras, found that more than a third of workers said they would take a pay cut of up to 5 percent in exchange for the ability to work from home some of the time.) Remote work is also helping to bring in money and talent to smaller communities, some of which are even incentivizing remote workers to relocate there. Vermont is offering $10,000 grants to encourage people from out of state to spend their time — and money — in the state. Utah is offering businesses grants to create remote jobs in less economically prosperous parts of the states. Massachusetts is proposing to reduce traffic by giving people $2,000 tax credits to work from home. “What we’re starting to see is people saying they can’t deal with the cost of living, congestion, or they have other constraints in their lives and they say, ‘I want to be out of San Francisco,’” Kasriel said. (San Francisco has some of the highest cost of living of any city, meaning that even highly paid tech workers can’t afford to buy homes.) Kasriel believes the shift is happening now for two reasons: Millennials, who are more amenable to remote work, are aging into management positions where they’re able to decide if people can work remotely, and a tighter labor market is forcing employers to acquiesce to employee demands. Rehmet, who had attempted to leave her job when she was offered the ability to work remotely, is now able to afford a mortgage for a fifth of the $2,500 she was paying monthly for rent in Brooklyn. “What we were spending on general existence dropped substantially,” she said. She also sees the move as a way to revitalize her area upstate, where she opened a bar and restaurant called Hollow. “These are communities that have been hit by hard times through the financial crisis and through outsourcing and through manufacturing and things like that going away,” she said. “Working remotely really provides an opportunity for people to move back into a more rural existence that otherwise wouldn’t be an option.” !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-0Kn3Y");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-0Kn3Y");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham recently wrote a book about how working remotely enabled him to leave urban Baltimore for small-town Minnesota. “My wife and I had 2-year-old twins. We were living in a 950-square-foot row house. I was commuting three hours every single day for work. We had no time, no money, no space, and were trying to figure out what to do,” he told Vox of his situation in Baltimore. Moving to Minnesota halved his mortgage payments. What the future brings As remote work becomes more common, its effects are going to increase. “Multiple trends are driving the growth of remote work, and these trends, if anything, are getting stronger,” King said. “So we’re confident remote work will increase in the coming years.” Lister estimates that by 2025, some 70 percent of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month. “I think the percentage of people with compatible jobs will expand as knowledge-based work continues to edge out jobs that require a physical presence,” Lister said. And current acceptance of the practice will only make it more ubiquitous over time, Whelan told Recode. By 2025, some 70 percent of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month “The idea of anyone needing to work from one location every day 40 hours a week will seem even more antiquated than it already does today,” she said. What is now an incentive or perk will soon become a necessity, especially as aging boomers and millennials alike both try to square their desire to travel with the need to make money. If remote work is the product of demand for a better work-life balance, the future could tip in favor of the life side of that equation. “You can run off and do exciting things you couldn’t do otherwise,” Rehmet said. “That’s what life’s about.”

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posted 10 days ago on re/code
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a labor union event in October 2019 | Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images “I think there is a real possibility that these companies get broken up.” Tech CEOs and their underlings have spent the past few years apologizing in Washington. Google paid a fine. Facebook paid a very big fine. Donald Trump is yelling at Silicon Valley. So is Elizabeth Warren. But will anything else come out of the techlash? Several investigations are targeting big tech companies, and lawmakers have proposed lots of legislation. But there’s also plenty of inaction, and no clear sign that regular people are upset with Big Tech — or at least, there’s no clear sign they are willing or able to stop using Big Tech’s products. Which makes we wonder if anything really significant will come out of the techlash that fundamentally changes how tech companies operate. Ben Smith doesn’t wonder. The editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News thinks the techlash is real, and that politicians and regulators are gearing up for a lengthy battle. And he thinks that the tech giants, as powerful as they are, may be in real trouble: “I’ve almost never seen a situation in which you have an industry this powerful and important with no friends ... I think there is a real possibility that these companies get broken up.” Smith made that type of prediction in a conversation I had with him at the Texas Tribune Festival, which you can now hear as a Recode Media podcast. We covered a lot of ground on this one, from the way political coverage has evolved following the 2016 election — “I think the moment has really changed” — to the painful layoffs his company went through earlier this year, as BuzzFeed retrenched after years of go-go growth — “I think it forced us to think about, what are we really good at? Where are we winning, where are we playing to win?” You can read a snippet of our conversation about Big Tech vs. Washington below, and you can listen to the entire chat here. For context: This passage follows a discussion about recent moves by Facebook and Snap — but not Google — to pay some publishers directly for the right to display their news stories, and the media’s relationship with tech giants in general. Peter Kafka: For years, and years, and years, Google didn’t do this, and Facebook didn’t do this. And, we were at a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg when this was bandied about a year ago, and he just gave us this blank fish look when we asked about it. Cut to now, and they’re doing it. Ben Smith: And I think Google, right now — if you talk to the guy who runs news at Google, Richard Gingras — will give you a long, long and thoughtful explanation of how this is against their values and their principles, and they’ll never do it. Just the same way they were explaining how taking Alex Jones off the platform was, you know, they would love to, but it was against their principles, and they could never do it. And, that’s just true until the day it’s not. Peter Kafka: The thought among the media guys was always, “Well, they have to [work with media companies and pay media companies] because we’re so important to them.” And, we’re not important to them. Right? We’re just a piece of data in their corpus. They ... Ben Smith: I think the media guys were right. It just took a while. Peter Kafka: Were they right? Or is it just, politically now, this is just a way to get media organizations, which are influential and, by the way, cover you ... Ben Smith: Yeah. Peter Kafka: ... to be less angry at you. Ben Smith: I love how people in the tech world say “politically”, like it’s an afterthought. Peter Kafka: It has been, in Silicon Valley. Ben Smith: It has. Peter Kafka: Up until ... Ben Smith: When? Peter Kafka: Say, 2016. Ben Smith: Yeah. Not anymore. I mean, I think another way to view it is that, there might turn out to ... If they make decisions that are like, “Hey, we’re going to try to destroy this very important American industry, the news industry,” that that might have consequences for them. I don’t think that’s crazy. I think that’s starting to be true. Peter Kafka: But, you could say that for any industry [tech has] disrupted and continues to disrupt, and generally they plow ahead. Ben Smith: Well, they do, but I think you’re starting ... I just think obviously there’s been a huge change in the climate in which they’re operating. Peter Kafka: You’re a techlash believer. You don’t think that’s something that we’ve cooked up in New York, in Washington? Ben Smith: I’m not a techlash believer in the sense that, it’s not driven by polls ... I think people misunderstand the notion that there’s a political backlash — like, “now everyone on the street hates Amazon.” Peter Kafka: Everyone loves Amazon. I mean, Amazon would be the most disruptive company there. Ben Smith: The backlash is that, the people in Washington who actually make regulatory decisions ... Democrats see these companies as sort of unscrupulous capitalists who, by the way, elected Donald Trump. Republicans see them as a liberal conspiracy to screw them. And so, I’ve almost never seen a situation in which you have an industry this powerful and important with no friends. I think it’s incredibly different. Apple was the exception to this, actually, but the others are just in this crucible in DC. It’s really brutal. Peter Kafka: But, by the way, the Republican answer to what the problem with tech is and the Democratic answer to what the problem with tech is, they’re not even remotely speaking the same language. That’s why I think, actually, nothing will happen. Ben Smith: No, I don’t think that. I think that’s totally wrong. If you talk to, like, Elizabeth Warren — and Bernie Sanders — camp people who have recently gone in and met with the Justice Department lawyers who are deciding whether they want to try to break these companies up or just impose a new regulatory regime, they’re totally on the same page. Peter Kafka: But, if you go talk to Josh Hawley, he’s talking about the fact that Facebook is supposedly suppressing free speech ... Ben Smith: Oh, yeah. Peter Kafka: ... and it’s totally made up ... Ben Smith: Right. When they go and they either attempt to pass some major regulation or to break up the companies, Elizabeth Warren will go out and say, “The reason we need to do this is because markets need to operate differently,” and Josh Hawley will go out and say, “The reason we need to do this is because this is a liberal conspiracy to suppress speech.” Peter Kafka: And, you think they will end up in the same place, and there will be actual regulation and real, meaningful effects? Ben Smith: I think there is a real possibility that these companies get broken up. Google in particular. I think that’s not a joke.

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posted 11 days ago on re/code
Wall Street is sending Silicon Valley a message. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images Can you smell it? A gloom is enveloping Silicon Valley. Tech startups imbibe cash and run on optimism. Lately they’re running short on both. In the latest example of this new reality, Postmates, the food-delivery startup valued at over $2 billion that was expected to go public in 2019, recently told its IPO advisers that it is delaying its initial public offering due to market conditions, according to people familiar with the matter. Postmates is just one of over a dozen startups worth over $1 billion that was expected to IPO in 2019. But as the end of the year approaches, a gloom is enveloping Silicon Valley, and it’s making for unusual shows of contrition, internal debates in board rooms, and insurgent attempts to change the Wall Street system that keeps delivering bad news to Silicon Valley. Tech’s highest-profile startups have largely bombed on the stock market since they went public this year: The value of Lyft has been cut in half. Its rival Uber is down over 25 percent. Slack and Peloton are trading well below their IPO prices. And, of course, WeWork’s ambitions crashed into reality when public investors balked at the company’s price tag, leading the company to pull its IPO altogether rather than post its own gnarly red ink. Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann said on Friday at a startup conference that the company was closely watching the macroeconomy and indicated that other startups has caused them to second-guess their timing. “The reality is that we will IPO when we believe we find the right time for the business and the right time in the markets. And if you look at the markets right now, they are, I believe, a little choppy,” he said. “They’re a little choppy when it comes to growth companies specifically.” Asked if Postmates would go public in 2019, Lehmann said that, “it depends more on the macro than it does on our readiness.” But a 2019 IPO as of now appears unlikely — and Postmates is at least preparing for the delay. Postmates recently distributed paperwork to shareholders saying that it is pushing back the start of its expected lockup period to about midway through the first quarter of next year, according to people familiar with the matter. That’s at least the second time that Postmates has pushed back the deadline. Postmates’ decision does make some sense considering how other tech startups have fared in 2019. Yes, some unsexy, profitable software companies are doing fine. But an IPO narrative is set, fairly or unfairly, by the sector’s marquee consumer companies. And it’s clear as 2019 wraps up that the rest of the world does not believe in Silicon Valley as much as Silicon Valley believes in itself. The 32 tech companies that went public in 2019 have only appreciated in value by an average of about 5 percent, according to Renaissance Capital, which tracks IPO performance. In 2018, that stat was about 13 percent. And in 2017? A 94 percent return rate. But you don’t need to read IPO stats to see the mood changing. Frustrations manage to manifest themselves in new ways every day in Silicon Valley. In the most concrete demonstration yet of Silicon Valley’s growing dissatisfaction with the ways in which companies go public, hundreds of investors and founders gathered last week in downtown San Francisco to discuss alternatives to the traditional IPO. For over seven hours, Silicon Valley’s bumper crop of startups imagined a future with Wall Street banks controlling less of their futures, part of a symposium to extol the virtues of what are called direct listings, or “a Simpler and Superior Alternative to the IPO,” as the agenda for the closed-door meeting described them. (Here’s how direct listings work.) On Monday, the person who is singularly most responsible for the recent run-up in startup prices, Masayoshi Son, expressed a rare pang of regret. The head of SoftBank, whose Vision Fund is plowing over $100 billion into young companies, said he is “embarrassed and flustered” by his track record in investing. And the famously optimistic investor — who pushes the founders he backs to be “crazy” and grow to the brink — is now preaching a new message after the IPO flops of SoftBank’s biggest startup bets: Uber and WeWork. “Recently, I’ve been telling founders to ‘know your limit,’” Son said in an interview with Nikkei Business. “Knowing your limitations will help unleash limitless possibilities.” And over at Postmates, company leadership has been pumping the brakes amid some internal debates over the ideal time to go public. Postmates confidentially filed its paperwork for an IPO in February but has yet to “flip” its prospectus and formally kick off IPO proceedings. That’s an unusually long time to sit in limbo. Postmates declined to comment. But for all the moves beneath the surface, there are deeper cultural and financial reasons that suggest this new gloom won’t actually change anything. Silicon Valley abhors doomsayers and runs on some collective delusion: Yes, the IPO market might be bad for most companies, but not my company. Investors and startup founders are inclined to wax philosophic about the future of technology, clinging to rosy projections meant to inspire, brand themselves, and make them money. Tech leaders’ fundamental optimism might be genuine, but it is also socially scripted. Meanwhile, none of the fundamentals of Silicon Valley deal-chasing have changed: Each individual venture capital firm is still desperate to win the favor of the next great company, pushing up valuations in what could be seen as a Tragedy of the Commons. Those ballooning valuations are only pierced when they’re rejected by Wall Street in an IPO. Even if American startups are overvalued, few individual investors — acting in their own self-interest — are willing to retrench. And 2019’s IPO disappointments aren’t likely to change their minds.

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