Jun 19, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Welsh-born priest and poet George Herbert once said: "Good words are worth much, and cost little." Today, Login used 1,265 of them (less than a 5 minute read).

1 big thing: Facebook's bid to make crypto safe for business

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's plan for its Libra cryptocurrency, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes, illustrates one of Silicon Valley's most durable principles: Tech revolutions tend to start with a radical idea but don't spread unless the idea is made safe for business.

Why it matters: If Facebook succeeds in its bid to domesticate cryptocurrency, following in the footsteps of open source software and the internet itself, it could outflank the global currency system and leave the social network as keeper of everyone's money.

The big picture: In the case of Libra, the original radical idea of cryptocurrency was digital money backed not by a government but by math.

  • Bitcoin introduced us all to the concept, but it hasn't gained traction for everyday users.
  • Facebook's innovation with Libra lies in rewriting the crypto playbook to make the technology more stable, easy to use, and less threatening to the status quo.
  • Libra will tie its value to that of a set of conventional assets, making it less volatile than Bitcoin.
  • Facebook's point of control will be through your digital wallet — the software front-end for the currency.
  • With Libra, Facebook aims to rebrand cryptocurrency from "that crazy Bitcoin stuff" to "here's an easy way to send money across borders and buy things online."

Flashback: In this effort, it is walking the same path that key leaders of the open source movement followed 20 years ago when they set out to rebrand "Free Software," which was a radical idea with strong principles limiting the privatization of code.

  • With the new "open source" name, looser licensing terms, and more business-friendly rhetoric, projects like Linux won the support of large corporations such as IBM and became centerpieces of today's tech infrastructure, embraced even by their former nemesis, Microsoft.

Don't forget: The internet itself has followed a similar route. The radical idea was a network that nobody owns and everyone can use.

  • In the '70s and '80s, as the network gestated within the university world, commercial activity was forbidden.
  • Until as late as the mid-'90s it was considered bad form for individuals to own more than one domain name.
  • In the early '90s the federal government gradually loosened the reins, allowing the internet's infrastructure to pass into private hands just as the World Wide Web began taking off.
  • The web made the internet safe for business, sparked the dotcom bubble and opened the door to Google, Facebook and lolcats.

The bottom line: Libra faces tons of technical, economic, political and social hurdles. But Facebook has 2 billion customers and a lot of spare cash, which gives it a better shot than most.

Read more of Scott's full piece here.

2. Tech workers are willing to relocate

Image courtesy of CompTIA

3 out of 4 technology workers would be willing to relocate for a new job, according to a new study by trade group CompTIA.

Why it matters: While there are tech workers in many places around the country, entrepreneurs say Silicon Valley remains one of the only places to find those with experience scaling a company from a startup to a large operation.

  • The ability to recruit people away from the Bay Area paves the way for companies to locate elsewhere.

What's happening: Nancy Hammervik, EVP of industry relations at CompTIA, says that the whole notion of work has changed dramatically over the past 3 decades, "from the one-company career worker to the job hopper to today where we see our nation’s tech workers not only empowered to switch jobs but open to moving to new locales for their career."

  • "Salary remains very important but today’s tech workers are also focused on living in a community where their salary goes the furthest," Hammervik tells Axios.

Other findings:

  • In deciding where to live, 82% of tech workers said cost of living was the top factor. Weather, commute times and affordable housing also ranked high in the survey.
  • More than 93% of women said job location is important, with 55% characterizing it as very important. Only 43% of men say location is very important.
  • Nearly three-quarters of women tech pros feel that income/salary is very important compared to about two-thirds of men.
3. Bill would open "biased" platforms to lawsuits

A new bill would open up platforms like YouTube and Facebook to lawsuits about content they host, unless federal regulators certified that their moderation of content was not "biased against a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint."

Why it matters: Axios' David McCabe reports this would be the most ambitious effort yet to limit platforms' longstanding protection from liability for user content they host (in 2017, Congress allowed lawsuits over sex trafficking).

  • It also represents an escalation by conservatives who have claimed, with only anecdotal evidence, that Silicon Valley companies are suppressing their views.

Details:

  • The Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), would strip large web companies of the immunity against lawsuits they are automatically granted under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
  • They would continue to be immune from legal liability, but only if the Federal Trade Commission verified they were moderating content in a way that was politically neutral.
  • That certification would only last for 2 years, but could be renewed. The law would only apply to companies over a certain threshold of monthly active users or revenues — smaller firms will remain immune.

Yes, but: Claims of systemic, intentional liberal bias at online platforms manifesting itself in their products have never been backed up by research or deep reporting.

  • Any attempt to change Section 230, seen as a foundational aspect of the internet economy, will be met with stiff pushback from major tech companies and their allies.
  • "Lawmakers should reject this legislation," said Billy Easley in a statement from Americans for Prosperity, where he is a policy analyst. The organization, an arm of the Koch political network, has resisted calls to harshly regulate tech firms.

Go deeper: A new attack on social platforms' immunity

4. AT&T files complaint vs. TV stations

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

AT&T will lodge a formal complaint with regulators against television station owners who AT&T says are refusing to negotiate terms for channels to be carried by its subsidiary DirecTV, David reports.

Why it matters: The Federal Communications Commission generally does not intervene in private negotiations between programmers and the pay-TV stations carrying their content. But regulators could get involved when there are claims, as AT&T is making here, that parties are acting in bad faith.

Details, according to a filing obtained by Axios:

  • AT&T's complaint is against 9 station owners with channels around the country, including network affiliates in places like Flint, Michigan, and Mobile, Alabama.
  • The channels have been unavailable on DirecTV and, AT&T said, ”in the midst of ongoing customer blackouts, the Station Groups still refuse to negotiate agreements that would permit AT&T to resume retransmission of these stations to customers across the country.”
  • “Notably, the ostensibly independent Station Groups all have deep ties to Sinclair [Broadcast Group],” said AT&T in its FCC complaint.

The big picture: There have been a number of disputes over the terms on which pay-TV providers like DirecTV or Comcast carry channels, a result of a television market that’s getting tighter as more people cut the cord.

  • AT&T itself almost blacked out Viacom channels earlier this year, before the 2 companies settled their dispute.
  • The alleged Sinclair connection is notable because the FCC previously effectively killed a proposed purchase of Tribune stations by the broadcaster, known for a conservative bent.
5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Shannon Spanhake, the CEO of parenting app Cleo, has stepped down after an investigation found she misstated facts on her resume, per Forbes.
  • Felicia Mayo, the head of diversity and VP of HR at Tesla, is leaving.

ICYMI

  • Read this piece by Casey Newton that looks behind the scenes at Facebook's content moderation contract facility in Tampa. (The Verge)
  • Quartz hired 3 Fiverr freelancers to write about Fiverr's IPO.
  • Niantic announced its long-awaited Harry Potter: Wizards Unite — a location-based, mobile augmented reality game — will launch in the U.S. and U.K. on Friday.
  • Samsung plans to launch its Galaxy Note 10 at an Aug. 7 event in New York, sources told CNET.
6. After you Login

Simone Giertz, the YouTube star known as the Queen of Shitty Robots, achieved a new level of royalty this week, turning a Tesla Model 3 into a truck.

Ina Fried