November 26, 2019

Given that it's only a three-day work week for many in the U.S., I guess that makes today hump day.

Meanwhile, today's Login is a trim 1,067 words, a 4-minute read. (Coincidentally, "trim 1,067 words" is also what I often hear from my editor.)

1 big thing: Small social networks are in vogue

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Small is the new big when it comes to social networking, with a number of startups and established players seeking to cater to people that want to share photos, messages and other information — but only with a tight-knit group of friends or family.

Driving the news:

  • Monday marked the official launch of Cocoon, an app from two former Facebook employees. It aims to create a new sort of sharing experience for close family and friends.
  • Facebook confirms it has developed a prototype app that allows people to quickly share a photo in individual messages to a number of close friends. (The company says it has yet to decide whether to launch such an app, adding is not testing the prototype internally or externally.) Since last year, Facebook has been signaling an increased focus on features that let close friends stay in touch.
  • Instagram, also owned by Facebook, last month introduced Threads, which it bills as a "camera-first messaging app" for sharing with an intimate circle. Instagram also has a feature for sharing stories only with close friends.

Why it matters: Sharing information within tightly knit groups could lead to a friendlier social experience. (Without proper protections, it could lead to a false sense of security, though.)

While big social networks like Facebook and Twitter allow people to have hundreds of connections or more, researchers say that's not really how human social relationships evolved.

  • The so-called Dunbar number suggests that most people are capable of maintaining only about 150 connections at most.

A number of investors seem open to the idea of more tightly curated sharing, with Lerer Hippeau, Y Combinator, Susa, Norwest, Advancit, Foundation Capital, iNovia, Shrug, and SV Angel all contributing to a $3 million seed round for Cocoon that closed in May.

Yes, but: Others, including Path, have tried this, um, path before — with limited success at best.

What they're saying: In an interview, Cocoon co-founders Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell say they aren't really trying to create a different kind of social network, but rather improve upon the real world ways that families and chosen families stay in touch: weekly phone calls, multiple text message threads and shared photos.

  • The pair have been working on the project since leaving Facebook last year, having tested the app with a few dozen families in recent months.

Details: For now, Cocoon is a free service, and available only for iOS, though an Android app is at the top of the company's to-do list. Also, for now, people can only be in a single group, or Cocoon, but that will change over time as well.

  • Longer term, the pair hope they can create a service people would pay to subscribe to.
  • "Even if we wanted to we couldn’t do an ads business — the model itself would preclude that," said Cornell, Cocoon's chief design officer and a co-founder of UberConference.

Fun fact: You may never have heard of Cornell, but you have probably heard his voice. He sings the infamous, twangy "I'm on hold" song that greets the first participant on an UberConference call.

  • "Unfortunately, no matter what good I ever do in life," he says, he will be known for creating that music.

2. Google fires four as worker tensions mount

Google confirmed Monday that it has fired four workers for violating company policies on data access. Google had earlier put two of the employees on leave over the issue.

Why it matters: It's the latest salvo in an increasingly fierce battle between the company and employee activists.

  • Google grew up with a culture that famously promoted internal debate, but more recently its management has responded to leaks from company meetings with stricter policies.

What they're saying:

  • Google memo (per Bloomberg): "We've seen a recent increase in information being shared outside the company, including the names and details of our employees. Our teams are committed to investigating these issues, and today we've dismissed four employees for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies."
  • Google employee activists (via Medium): "With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation against workers engaging in protected organizing. This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won't stand for it."

Go deeper: Tech's new labor unrest

3. Texas and Nevada exit T-Mobile-Sprint lawsuit

Nevada and Texas announced Monday they are dropping out of the suit that seeks to block T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint. Texas said it got a number of commitments, including an agreement not to raise rates for 5 years and to ensure the state's rural areas have 5G coverage.

Why it matters: The lawsuit from the states is the main remaining hurdle to the deal's closure. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was the only Republican seeking to block the deal.

Yes, but: 14 states are still suing, with a trial set to begin next month.

"Today's deal does not resolve the fundamental anti-competitive concerns at the core of this case — that the mega-merger of T-Mobile and Sprint will reduce competition in the mobile marketplace," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

4. Report: Heavy screen use among infants, toddlers

Photo: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Children ages 1–3 are increasingly watching TV or using screen time in "high amounts," according to an analysis by the National Institutes of Health released Monday, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Why it matters: The World Health Organization and pediatric societies have recommended that preschool-age children get no more than one hour of screen time a day and should spend time being active. The average daily time spent using screens increased from 53 minutes at age 1 to more than 150 minutes at age 3, per the NIH.

The big picture: Parents rely on digital babysitters and device-led playtime to entertain their children. Last April, JAMA Pediatrics published a report showing screen time for children ages 0–2 more than doubled from 1997 to 2014.

The findings from the NIH were from more than 6,000 children conceived after infertility treatments and born in New York state from 2008 to 2010:

  • Children of first-time mothers were more likely to be in the high-increase group.
  • Children who don't attend daycare and were cared for at home had high interaction time with screens.
  • At ages 7 and 8, screen time fell to under 1.5 hours per day, likely due to changes related to starting school.
  • There are still only a small number of studies on the long-term effects of screen time on toddlers.

Noteworthy: New York has policies that ban infants from screen exposure in daycare centers. Regulations are not nationwide.

  • Approximately 5.1 million working families are spending $250 a week on child care, about 10% of the average family income, according to the Center for American Progress.

Go deeper: Screen time has more than doubled for babies, thanks mostly to TV

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Pawan Uppuluri, a 14-year Amazon veteran, is joining Glossier next week as chief technology officer.