Jul 2, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Just a heads-up: Login will be off tomorrow so we can celebrate our nation's birthday by staying at home and keeping far away from our fellow Americans.

Today's Login is 1,388 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Amid boycott, Facebook juggles activists, advertisers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As an advertiser boycott of Facebook over its tolerance of hate speech continues to snowball, the company has begun making small, incremental changes to mollify activists while it tries to buy time to evolve its content policies, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Driving the news: Sources tell Axios that the product and policy changes sought by the #StopHateForProfit campaign were long under discussion both inside Facebook and with some external groups. Meanwhile, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly told employees that the boycotting advertisers will be back before long.

What we’re hearing: Before the boycott started, Facebook had been in touch with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with whom Facebook and its COO Sheryl Sandberg have a longstanding relationship. The ADL often provides input on Facebook's policies, including its policies on hate speech.

Details: Facebook has been having private conversations about curbing hate speech with civil rights groups and marketing industry leaders for months.

  • After the company's decision in May not to remove a post from President Trump that many thought incited violence in the wake of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests, civil rights groups criticized Zuckerberg and the company for not taking action.
  • The leaders then decided to go public with a boycott to pressure the tech giant to move faster.

Driving the news: In the past few days, the company has ramped up internal and external communications about the boycott.

  • Facebook's global sales leader Carolyn Everson has been on calls with advertisers to assure them that Facebook has been listening to their concerns about hate speech and working to come up with solutions to address them, sources tell Axios.
  • Michael Kassan, founder and CEO of the powerhouse media advisory firm MediaLink, said he's been involved in several conversations with Facebook about this issue on an ongoing basis.
  • "I think Facebook is trying," he said, "I know the effort and the intensity is real and I know the intent is right. Whether they can act fast enough remains to be seen."
  • In a video town hall meeting with employees last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told staffers that he thinks the boycotts are a reputational issue more than a revenue issue and that he expects the departed advertisers to return "soon enough," per The Information.

Facebook has taken several steps over the past few days to publicly address the controversy over its policies. By the end of June, more than 400 companies, including major Fortune 500 firms like Unilever, CVS and Verizon, said they would join the boycott.

  • On Wednesday, Nick Clegg, the company's VP of global affairs and communications, penned a post describing the company's view of its progress on eliminating hate speech on its platforms.
  • Facebook also issued a blog post describing the work it's doing in response to the nine recommendations outlined by the #StopHateforProfit boycott organizers, which include the ADL, Color for Change, Common Sense Media and NAACP.
  • Facebook will meet with the boycott's organizers, as Reuters reported and a company spokesperson confirmed to Axios. That will happen Monday or Tuesday, the ADL confirmed to Reuters.
  • Last week, Zuckerberg said Facebook will begin labeling posts that break its rules but are deemed "newsworthy" because they come from public figures.

Between the lines: Facebook for many years was able to nip most controversies in the bud, often through private talks between aggrieved parties and Sandberg or other executives. The advertisers fleeing Facebook in droves may come back, but the boycott is a clear sign that the company doesn’t have the clout it once did.

What's next: Sources say that results from the company's third civil rights audit, which addresses many of the concerns from the civil rights groups, will be announced alongside more policy changes in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile: Facebook disclosed it discovered that in some cases applications had access to user data longer than they should have, although it says it does not know of any cases where the information was misused.

2. Dish is now in the wireless business

Courtesy: Dish Network

Dish Network is now in the wireless business, having closed its $1.4 billion purchase of Boost Mobile and other prepaid assets from T-Mobile.

Why it matters: The deal was a condition for regulatory approval of T-Mobile's Sprint purchase and is part of an effort to create a fourth national wireless carrier.

How it works: Some 9.3 million customers will be now sending their monthly checks to Dish. Dish will operate Boost, but utilize T-Mobile's network while it builds its own 5G network.

  • Boost is reviving an option where customers' bills go down over time if they pay them on time. A new "Shrink-It!" plan starts at $45 per month for 15 gigabytes of data, but goes down by $5 per month after three on-time payments and by an additional $5 after six on-time payments. (Boost offered a similar plan until 2014.)
  • A separate option will offer 10 GB of data and unlimited text and talk for $35 per month.

Go deeper: Dish chairman Charlie Ergen says history will vindicate him on 5G

3. Critics want antitrust scrutiny for Google-Fitbit deal

A coalition of consumer groups is asking regulators around the globe to take a deeper look at the antitrust implications of Google's planned purchase of Fitbit.

Why it matters: The EU has until July 20 to decide whether to allow the $2.1 billion deal, which was announced last November, while other key regulators also have the authority to investigate or block the deal.

What they're saying: In a letter, the groups say the deal is "a test case for how regulators address the immense power the tech giants exert over the digital economy and their ability to expand their ecosystems unchecked."

"More specifically, this merger is a test of regulators’ resolve to analyse the effects on competition of a tech giant acquiring a vast amount of highly valuable data through a takeover. Google could exploit Fitbit's exceptionally valuable health and location datasets, and data collection capabilities, to strengthen its already dominant position in digital markets such as online advertising."
— More than 20 nonprofit organizations from around the world, calling for a deeper look at Google's Fitbit purchase

Who's involved: Signatories of the letter include: Omidyar Network, Public Knowledge, Color of Change, Public Citizen and Open Markets Institute in the U.S. as well as groups in Mexico, Europe, Latin America and Australia.

4. CEO says Nextdoor to address racial profiling

Nextdoor, the hyper local social network, is seen on a computer screen in March 2020. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar vowed to update the site's moderation policies and recruit more Black moderators after the hyperlocal social network came under fire for removing posts related to Black Lives Matter while tolerating racist messages, per NPR.

Why it matters: The service, where more than 265,000 U.S. neighborhoods swap roofer recommendations and lost-dog tips, is getting a hard lesson in the perils of content moderation that have dogged bigger social networks Facebook and Twitter, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

What's happening: Nextdoor posts are moderated by volunteers. Friar told NPR the moderators were deleting posts about Black Lives Matter because they were following old guidelines that national issues shouldn't be discussed on the neighborhood forum.

  • Those rules have been updated to explicitly allow conversations about racial inequality and Black Lives Matter, Friar said.

Details: Nextdoor is planning to offer bias training to moderators, trying to recruit more Black moderators, and increasing removal of racial profiling posts. Friar also told NPR that its artificial intelligence-driven moderation tools are being tweaked to detect racist posts.

  • In June, Nextdoor pulled its controversial "Forward to Police" feature that lets users send posts directly to local police. There have long been concerns that the tool aided racial profiling by prejudiced users, per Engadget.
  • Nextdoor has also been criticized for its cozy relationships with police departments.

Our thought bubble: National conversations are inherently local. Nextdoor's hyperlocal nature has the potential to foster much-needed dialogue about racial inequality on a more personal level, especially during the pandemic, when neighbors aren't able to physically gather.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Match Group added four members to its board of directors as the company completed its separation from InterActive Corp. Joining the board are ExecOnline CEO Stephen Bailey, NBA digital executive Melissa Brenner, Artsy co-founder (and Rupert Murdoch ex-wife) Wendi Murdoch and actor Ryan Reynolds.

ICYMI

  • Twitter removed a picture from a tweet by President Trump following a copyright complaint from the New York Times, Sara scooped Wednesday. (Axios)
  • The CEOs of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook have agreed to testify at a hearing at the end of the month as part of a congressional antitrust investigation into the power of online platforms. (Axios)
  • Peter Thiel-backed Anduril Industries, which specializes in government and military tech, landed $200 million in fresh funding, valuing the company at $1.9 billion. (Bloomberg)
  • A new report suggests that the pandemic has delayed this year's iPhone development some, but that Apple should still be able to deliver a crop of 5G-capable phones this year. (Nikkei)
  • With so many people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, more cyber criminals are using "brute force" attacks to break the passwords of employees signing into their company networks remotely. (Axios)
6. After you Login
Screenshot: Ina Fried/Axios

Actually, Google, that would be the case against including a voice assistant in every product.

Ina Fried