Sep 1, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Situational awareness: Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are putting up $300 million to promote "safe and reliable voting in states and localities" amid the pandemic, the Center for Tech and Civic Life and Center for Election Innovation & Research will announce today.

Today's Login is 1,263 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook threatens to lock out news in Australia

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook warned Monday that if Australia goes ahead with a law to charge digital publishers for sharing news items, it will block people there from sharing all content from news sites.

Why it matters: That threat may make business sense. But it could end up creating an even more toxic social network, in Australia and any other country that makes a similar demand, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.

Catch up quick: Regulators in Australia released a draft code of conduct on July 31 for a consultation period that ended Friday. The final legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament "shortly after conclusion of this consultation process," the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission says.

  • The consultation process has been ugly, and has featured a lot of testy statements back and forth from Google, Facebook and Australian lawmakers.

Between the lines: From a business perspective, Facebook can clearly afford to make the move it is making. News isn't that large a generator of posts or revenue for the company there or elsewhere. The question is whether democratic societies can afford Facebook to take such a move.

  • Things might be fine on a news-free Facebook if users responded by simply posting cute photos of their kids, but that's unlikely to happen.
  • With legitimate news blocked, it's easy to envision a scenario where conspiracy theories, misinformation and highly partisan information replace independent, fact-based news.
  • Facebook is already suggesting it will act similarly if other countries adopt laws it dislikes. It alerted users Monday night that, starting Oct. 1, it's changing its terms of service globally to assert the right to block content to "avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts."
  • It's not just Facebook. Google has also warned users in Australia of a news blackout if the law is enacted.

Our thought bubble: As we've written, while it makes sense that different countries want to customize rules for online behavior, each such move further fractures the already strained global internet.

The big picture: If Australia adopts the law and it becomes a model for others around the world, publishers hope the approach would provide a significant boost to the news industry, especially local news, as it faces financial decline.

  • Facebook and Google collectively take in more than half of digital advertising revenue.

Yes, but: History shows that tech giants don't take well to this type of law, and would rather pull out of a country altogether than be forced to pay publishers on terms set by lawmakers.

  • Spain passed a similar measure in 2014 that ultimately caused Google News to leave the country.
  • France is considering a law that would require Google to pay publishers for featuring "snippets," or small previews of their content, in search. Like Australia, France has ordered tech firms to negotiate with publishers or face being regulated.
  • The EU passed a sweeping copyright law in 2019 that will require its member countries to adopt rules that would force tech giants to pay publishers. Google has threatened to pull Google News from the EU if member states comply.

Facebook has shown a willingness to create separate products that pay news publishers — including its News tab — but has balked at the notion of having to pay publishers broadly whenever news content is shared on their platform.

What they're saying:

  • In a blog post Monday, Will Eason, Facebook's managing director for Australia and New Zealand, writes that the legislation "misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organizations the government is trying to protect."
  • The News Media Alliance, meanwhile, said Facebook's threat is "simply an attempt to bully the Australian government" and says Facebook's misinformation problem would be made worse without professional journalism. "They should view news as an answer and not a problem," the group said in a statement.

What's next: In this game of chicken, it remains to be seen whether either Facebook or Australia blinks. If neither does, democracy could be the ultimate victim.

2. Scoop: OTF seeks inspector general investigation

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is asking for an inspector general investigation of the agency that funds it for breaching a firewall meant to protect government-funded media organizations from political interference, Sara reports.

The big picture: The move is the latest in a very messy fight between the OTF and the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), also under broader fire for its treatment of other organizations and agencies in its remit. Earlier Monday, journalists at Voice of America wrote a letter to their interim CEO contending USAGM’s new head was endangering VOA reporters.

Driving the news: In a letter to USAGM CEO Michael Pack and the State Department's Office of the Inspector General obtained by Axios, OTF interim CEO Laura Cunningham requests that Pack recuse himself from reviewing the OTF's funding and security matters in order to keep politics out of the process.

Details: The letter alleges that USAGM and Pack have attempted to undermine OTF’s integrity, security and effectiveness and prevent the group from achieving its goals, which center on advancing internet freedom abroad.

Between the lines: The letter provides fresh evidence to support charges that the USAGM is trying to dismantle the OTF and other government-funded media agencies.

Sara has more, including the full text of the letter, here.

3. All Raise launches push to help avoid "manels"


All Raise, a nonprofit that aims to boost gender diversity in tech and venture capital, is launching a speakers' bureau designed to get more women and non-binary people on stage at technology and business conferences.

Why it matters: All too often, tech conferences are dominated by male speakers and even all-male panels — or "manels." By one estimate, only 25% of tech conference speakers are women. And while conferences have shifted online, the gender and race dynamics haven't changed.

Details: The group says it already has more than 1,000 founders, investors and operating executives in its "Visionary Voices" database and aims to recruit more. It's also looking for conference organizers and media organizations that want to partner in the effort.

The big picture: It's more than just gender balance. According to a report from tech services firm Ensono, 68% of tech conference speakers are white men, with women of color making up just 14% of keynote speakers.

What they're saying: There's a big role for men to play too in solving the problem, All Raise CEO Pam Kostka told Axios.

  • Kostka said men who are invited to speak at a conference should press organizers on the event's diversity and who is speaking, insist on being part of a gender-balanced panel and also consider recommending someone else from an underrepresented group.
  • "Male allies are an extremely important part of this given that they currently hold the microphone," Kostka said.
4. DoorDash CEO doesn't slam door on unionization

DoorDash, like most other gig economy companies, is reliant on a business model whereby workers are categorized as independent contractors instead of as employees. But, unlike traditional independent contractors, "Dashers" don't have the ability to directly negotiate with the company.

"Axios on HBO" dug into this seeming discrepancy with DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, and also asked if he'd be open to Dasher unionization.

Watch the interview here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Samsung has scheduled a launch event this morning for its latest foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Z Fold 2. It starts shortly, at 10am ET.

Trading Places

  • Jennifer Jarrett, who has been Uber's head of corporate development and capital markets since 2019, is leaving the company, Axios' Dan Primack scooped yesterday.
  • Ziad Ojakli, a Ford alumnus who has been SoftBank’s head of government affairs for two years, is leaving the company Sept. 22.
  • Brad Porter, a former Amazon VP and distinguished engineer focused on robotics, is joining AI data training firm Scale AI as CTO.
  • Brian Boland, an 11-year Facebook veteran and a VP on the companies partnerships team, is leaving the company, per CNBC.


6. After you Login

Check out this award-winning photo that managed to capture a single strontium atom in action.

Ina Fried