Jun 7, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream (and 1150 more words) are all part of today's Login.

Be sure to tune in Sunday to "Axios on HBO" to see my interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai. "Axios on HBO" airs at 6 PM ET and PT.

1 big thing: Tech firms unfazed by antitrust threat

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big companies living under the shadow of looming antitrust investigations typically tread warily, careful not to give regulators too many ideas.

  • Judging by this week's corporate announcements, Big Tech isn't playing by that book, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Driving the news: Despite reports that regulators are interested in probing Big Tech's behavior, Google, Facebook and Apple charged ahead this week with acquisitions, software integrations and other grand new programs.

  • Google's Cloud division announced Thursday plans to acquire data analytics firm Looker for $2.6 billion.
  • Apple this week unveiled "Sign In with Apple" and is requiring iOS app developers that offer Google, Facebook or any third-party authentication to also offer its own single sign-in option.
  • Jeff Bezos said at a Las Vegas conference that Amazon plans to make even bigger bets on new business ventures, Wired reports, including its satellite internet project and plans for package-delivery drones.
  • Facebook is pushing ahead with its cryptocurrency plans, courting outside backers to help build trust in its digital payments platform, The Information reports.

Why it matters: In any normal week, these moves wouldn't be out of the ordinary. But coming mere days after the announcement of a bipartisan congressional antitrust investigation and reports of new regulator scrutiny, they raise questions about how seriously the companies take that prospect.

The big picture: Google Cloud is a third-place competitor to Amazon's AWS and Microsoft's Azure in the cloud market, and it's very likely this acquisition was in the works long before the antitrust rumblings in Washington.

  • Likewise, Apple has long been positioning itself as a privacy-friendly alternative, while Amazon's investment in satellites and drones isn't new.
  • And Facebook sees an enormous opportunity to seamlessly bundle mobile payments into social media apps.

Yes, but: Right now, those optics aren't ideal. Just as regulators are paying closer attention to charges of anticompetitive conduct that helped these companies amass significant market leverage in the first place, the companies are touting their market power or ambitions to scale their businesses even more.

  • The other side: All four tech giants have rebutted charges of monopolistic behavior in the past. And for companies of their size, this week's announcements are probably considered non-controversial.

Between the lines: "In an environment where antitrust agencies are paying close attention to you, you want to be careful, so it's interesting that we're seeing these moves," said Charlotte Slaiman, policy counsel at Public Knowledge and former staffer in the FTC's Anticompetitive Practices Division.

  • It's a key time for the DoJ and FTC, she said, in that news reports haven't indicated the specific scope they're interested in investigating.
  • As a federal staffer, "once you're in the investigation, you're pretty focused on the conduct you've identified, which is backward looking," she said, adding it appears the agencies haven't yet reached that point.
  • "When you're looking around broadly at what to investigate, then you'd be very closely attuned to the news. If the news stories coming out are related to the conduct you're already interested in, that will pique the interest on the inside even more."
2. Robocalls: The FCC strikes back

Photo: Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

That sound you're not hearing is the ring of all the robocalls you will never receive, once phone carriers take advantage of a new power the FCC just handed them.

Voting unanimously Thursday, the FCC commissioners approved a ruling that lets phone providers block robocalls by default, Marisa Fernandez writes.

Why it matters: Robocalls are one of the most universally complained-about issues in the U.S., with a total of 48 billion made in 2018 alone, per YouMail Robocall Index. Most major wireless carriers have already promised to implement standards that verify if a call is real or if it comes from a computer.

Details: The declaratory ruling, per the FCC, enacts:

  • Phone companies would be allowed to block calls for consumers by default.
  • Consumers could "white list" their contacts and opt-in to only receive calls based on that list.
  • Emergency and other vital calls would not be blocked.

"The unanimous vote from a frequently politically divided FCC shows how the agency was compelled to do something," said Marc Martin, chair of law firm Perkins Coie’s Communications practice. "How effective this action will be, however, remains to be seen."

  • For example, the "white list" option comes with a "risk of being overly broad and blocking legitimate calls," Martin said.

What to watch: The FCC is not mandating the service be free, but doesn't expect it to add cost for consumers. Phone companies will save money by not servicing as many robocalls and not dealing with as many customer complaints, the agency said.

What's next: Both chambers of Congress are working on more aggressive steps, like mandating phone companies to deploy authentication tech to prevent call spoofing.

Go deeper: 48 billion robocalls annoyed Americans last year

3. Social media rushes to unnecessarily defend Beyoncé

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Image

You’d think the Mark Stevens shoving Kyle Lowry incident would be enough courtside drama for one night. But there was a whole other incident at the same game on Wednesday night ... involving both Beyoncé and the family of a different Warriors owner.

Nicole Curran, the wife of Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, was sitting next to Beyoncé and leaned over to talk to Jay-Z. Per ESPN, after Beyoncé appeared on TV to be slightly less than pleased with the encounter, people online started directing hate and even death threats Curran's way.

The bottom line: Even though nothing of substance happened, the ensuing online harassment was enough to get Curran to deactivate her Instagram account.

My thought bubble: Mind your own business, people. Nothing happened, and even if it did, Jay-Z and Beyoncé can take care of themselves.

4. Battery startup lands first customer

Two years ago, I wrote about Amionx, which is trying to build safer batteries. Its technology works by adding a material to the battery that acts something like an internal fuse that can be triggered whenever a current, voltage or temperature threshold is exceeded. 

The latest: The still-small San Diego firm has finally landed its first customer, a large, well-known consumer electronics maker, who they can't name, but who plans to use the technology in multiple products. They are just at the beginning of the relationship, too, so products with their technology aren't likely to hit until at least next year.

  • The company is also in talks with other firms, including a luxury car maker as well as other makers of laptops, cell phones and power tools.

Why it matters: Batteries are increasingly central to all manner of digital devices, from phones to electric cars — and yet their very nature compresses volatile components into tight spaces, creating risks of fire and explosion.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Apple's WWDC and Amazon's Re:Mars both wrap up today.
  • U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios is in Japan this week representing the U.S. at the G20 Digital Ministerial. He will also deliver remarks at events bringing together American and Japanese tech industry leaders.

Trading Places

  • Postmates has hired former Apple engineer Ken Kocienda to be the principal software engineer working on the new platform for the company’s autonomous sidewalk rover, Serve.

ICYMI

  • Google unveiled more details on its Stadia streaming game service, which will launch in November. A $130 "Founder's Kit" includes a controller, Chromecast and three months of service. A separate free tier of the service will launch next year. (The Verge)
  • HTC released a new $1,600 eye-tracking VR headset, the HTC Vive Pro Eye. (VentureBeat)
  • An interview with Apple's head of accessibility on Voice Control and other features coming to iOS 13. (TechCrunch)
6. After you Login

Now this is a 5G phone.

Ina Fried