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Jan 14, 2022

Axios Login

Wordle pro tip (aka what yesterday's puzzle revealed): A letter sometimes appears more than once in the word.

Today's newsletter is 1,158 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech giants play the blame game

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

With regulators around the world looking at reining in Big Tech, the companies in the crosshairs are increasingly eager to point out their rivals' sins.

Why it matters: Investigations in the U.S. and around the world are targeting Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. To make their case, regulators need to show the companies are squelching competition — a task the tech companies may be aiding with their infighting.

Driving the news: An increasing part of each company's game plan seems to be to try to shift the spotlight and hope that regulators will put their limited time and resources against some other target.

  • A top Google executive recently called out Apple for its control over iMessage. "Apple's iMessage lock-in is a documented strategy. Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equity as a core part of its marketing," Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer said in a tweet.
  • Facebook has criticized Apple and Google for the commissions they take on apps and in-app purchases.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook regularly derides Facebook for its monetization of customers' private information.
  • Last year Google and Microsoft ended a pact not to attack one another, leading to public criticism of Google by Microsoft, Google-commissioned reports attacking Microsoft, as well as a push by Google consultants to highlight Microsoft's power to reporters and regulators.

Yes, but: All the finger-pointing to protect individual companies' interests could just further blemish the entire industry in the court of public opinion.

  • What incriminates one company doesn't exonerate the others.

Between the lines: Industries that face a concerted threat from Washington often band together and send their trade groups into the fray to represent them as a united front.

  • With the tech giants, the opposite is happening: The Internet Association, which long represented the interests of many of the industry's largest players, dissolved last month.

The big picture: The government's campaign to limit Big Tech's power faces a big challenge in going after many targets at once, each of which has a different approach and grip on the market.

  • What's more, the companies do compete against one another at the edges, allowing each to make the case that they not only face competition from start-ups, but also from their peers.
2. Jan. 6 committee subpoenas tech companies

A mob of Trump supporters breaches the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee on Thursday subpoenaed Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter for records as part of its investigation of the Capitol insurrection, Axios' Shawna Chen reports.

Why it matters: The four social media companies have key information related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election and domestic violent extremism, the panel said.

  • Alphabet's YouTube served as a platform for communicating plans of the Jan. 6 attack, including livestreams as it took place, according to the committee.
  • Meta's social media platforms, most prominently Facebook, were reportedly used to spread conspiracy theories about the election, coordinate the Stop the Steal movement and share messages of hate and violence.
  • The Reddit community "r/The_Donald" gained traction before migrating in 2020 to the website TheDonald.win, which hosted "significant discussion and planning" for the insurrection, per the committee.
  • Twitter was also used to communicate plans and amplify allegations of election fraud, "including by the former President himself," the panel noted in a release.

The subpoena comes after "inadequate responses" to prior requests for information, the committee said.

What they're saying: "Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps — if any — social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence," committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement.

The other side: "We've been actively cooperating with the Select Committee since they started their investigation ... and are committed to working with Congress through this process," a Google spokesperson said. "We remain vigilant and are committed to protecting our platforms from abuse."

  • "Meta has produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested — and we will continue to do so," a spokesperson said.
  • "We received the subpoena and will continue to work with the committee on their requests," a Reddit spokesperson said.
  • Twitter declined to comment.
3. Firm to review Microsoft harassment policies

Photo: Getty Images

Microsoft said Thursday that it is launching a review of its policies and practices regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination, with plans to issue a public report expected this spring.

Of note: Microsoft says the report will summarize the results of any investigations of potential sexual harassment by board members and senior executives — including the board's look into allegations made against co-founder Bill Gates.

  • The inquiry is expected to review how the company investigated Gates, but it's not clear that any fresh details from that effort will be made public.

Driving the news:

How it works: Microsoft is bringing in law firm Arent Fox to conduct an outside review, noting that the firm has not done work for Microsoft on employment issues in the past.

  • Among the things the firm will assess are "the steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination."
4. Fortnite's sneaky iOS return

Fortnite has returned to iOS, thanks to a workaround through the NVIDIA GeForce NOW service, Axios' Megan Farokhmanesh reports.

Why it matters: Apple and Epic have spent a great deal of last year locked in a legal battle that involved Apple removing the game from its stores.

  • A judge ruled that Epic "failed in its burden to demonstrate Apple is an illegal monopolist" and is therefore not entitled to the other remedies it sought.
  • With NVIDIA's service — which runs through the Safari web browser — people will be able to stream a touch-friendly version of Fortnite on their iOS devices. (An Android version is also available.)

Yes, but: The game still isn't back on the App store.

What's next: A limited-time closed beta begins next week on mobile. Sign-ups opened yesterday.

  • "We're working alongside the team at Epic Games to develop an experience all Fortnite gamers and GeForce NOW members will enjoy," the beta's page reads. "The closed beta will be limited in time, but we do not have an exact timeline for how long it will last."
5. Take note

Trading Places

  • Mobile commerce site OfferUp named Melissa Binde as its new CTO. Binde was previously VP of engineering for Splunk.

ICYMI

  • The White House held a summit on open source security on Thursday, with Google and Microsoft-owned GitHub publicly offering up some suggestions following the meeting.
6. After you Login

If you like typography, check out this project from a Yemeni artist who creates city logos using words made to resemble various locales' landmarks.