Another slow news day ... may come some day but not today.
Today's Login is 1,391 words, a 5-minute read.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Given how many large companies were already planning to skip Mobile World Congress over coronavirus concerns, it's not a surprise the organizers canceled this year's event, as they announced yesterday. But the move does leave a big hole for this year and raises questions for the future.
Why it matters: The wireless industry is widely distributed. Key infrastructure players are based in Finland and Sweden, some of the largest phone makers are in South Korea and China, and key software and chip makers are based in the U.S. Barcelona is the one place everyone shows up together.
The state of play: For the short term, the whole industry is scrambling to cancel hotel and plane reservations, find alternative means of announcing new products and examine their contracts to see who is on the hook for what.
The large companies, of course, can get the audiences they need with reporters and travel to key vendors and clients. It's smaller companies that rely on Mobile World Congress who are more likely to get hurt by the cancellation — and have a tougher time absorbing any losses.
The big picture: This year's Mobile World Congress was to be a key launch pad for 5G networks and devices which are just beginning to roll out around the world. Plenty of phones were set to debut and, importantly, lots of carriers, device makers and other vendors were set to put pen to paper on their next deals.
What's next: The big questions are around next year and beyond. Giant trade shows are uniquely susceptible to momentum swings. (Comdex, anyone?) Their critical mass is a key selling point. It's what makes people put up with long lines, overpriced hotels and other inconveniences. A show's fall can start with the first loss of confidence and be tough to reverse.
Meanwhile, the GSMA says plans are already well underway for the 2021 event in Barcelona. And a global industry does need a place to meet, especially at a time when geopolitical tensions are running so high.
Andy Rubin. Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images for Wired
The narrative of Android's founder launching his own phone company was an irresistible one, but from its debut, it seemed like Essential was going to have a tough time living up to its name. On Wednesday, Andy Rubin's hardware company officially announced it was shutting down.
Why it matters: The startup reinforced the industry maxim that "hardware is hard," even when you raise hundreds of millions of dollars.
Context: Essential began with Andy Rubin debuting its phone at the 2017 Code Conference (promising attendees a free device). A filing that came out that night revealing tons of funding — seemingly enough to support Rubin’s vision of launching a whole new consumer electronics brand.
Between the lines: Essential's slow start from the gate was exacerbated by continuing revelations about Rubin's past, including a giant payout he received when leaving Google, despite claims of sexual harassment.
My thought bubble: Essential always wanted to be more than a phone company. But by starting with phones, it had to succeed there first — and it never did.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is introducing a bill that would create the Data Protection Agency, a new federal agency with the authority to ensure businesses are transparent about data collection and the power to take enforcement action against violations .
Why it matters: The U.S. has fallen behind Europe and California in regulating data and privacy issues, with responsibility split among several agencies, including the FCC, FTC and DOJ.
Details: In a statement, Gillibrand said that the agency would:
At the same time, Gillibrand said "the authority of state agencies and state attorneys general are preserved."
Between the lines: The move comes amid a global dialogue on privacy and just as the U.K. hands its communications regulator more authority over internet content.
Reality check: Gillibrand isn't alone in her desire. A pair of California Democrats introduced legislation last year that would also establish a new digital regulator.
What they're saying:
Separately: A new bill from Sen. Jeff Merkley and Sen. Cory Booker would set limits on federal government use of facial recognition, absent a warrant. The ACLU called it "a good first step" but said the bill has too many exceptions and "fails to fully account for the realities of this mass surveillance tool."
Editor's note: This item has been corrected to report that the senator proposing facial recognition legislation is Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), not, as we incorrectly first reported, Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
A Swiss company called Crypto AG sold encryption systems to governments around the world operated as a CIA front and enabled the U.S. to monitor those governments' secret communications for nearly 50 years, a remarkable Washington Post investigation revealed Tuesday.
Greg Miller, author of the Post story, says it's likely that there are other companies that are similarly compromised. Miller talked with Axios' Dan Primack for his Pro Rata podcast.
Our thought bubble: The Crypto AG revelations cut two ways.
Go deeper: Listen to Miller on the Pro Rata podcast.
Just because there won't be a Mobile World Congress in Barcelona doesn't mean you can't enjoy a cool new smartphone design.