Jun 26, 2018

Axios Login

Hello again from Aspen, where there's lots of talk of Big Tech and its role in our democracy.

1 big thing: The founding fathers vs. social media

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

When people think about the challenge that Facebook and Twitter pose to our democracy, they don't often think about James Madison and the Federalist Papers. But perhaps they should, argues constitutional scholar Jeff Rosen.

The big picture: Social media runs counter to the type of government Madison and others hoped to create, Rosen argues. The whole point of having a republic with representative democracy was to slow down deliberation so that reason could prevail.

"In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason," Madison wrote. "Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."

No time for deliberation: One of the ways that social media challenges the founders' vision, Rosen says, is by enabling politicians to harden their positions before they even have a chance to hear the other side.

  • Rosen says that the filter bubbles of social media are exacerbating the fact that Americans are already pretty divided along geographic lines.
  • "That’s the Madisonian dystopia," he says. "That’s the definition of factions."

A faceless debate: Another problem of shifting discussion online is the fact that you are arguing with the idea of an opponent vs. a real person. It's not political disagreement that's the issue, says Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University and executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program.

  • America, Liu argues, exists as a constant tension between the values of equality vs. individual liberty, of collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility, and of the rights of the many vs. the rights of the individual.
  • But shifting that online has had divisive consequences. Minds occasionally get changed over dinner or a glass of wine, but rarely via tweetstorm, according to several panelists at a different Aspen session, including Stanford University's Rob Reich.

Yes, but: Madison's point of view largely prevailed in the writing of the Constitution, but has been in retreat ever since, long before the internet.

  • And the trend toward more direct democracy has mostly been positive: We elect senators directly today (they were originally mostly chosen by state legislatures), and voting is now a right for all citizens, not just white male property owners.
  • Plus, one of the biggest vestiges — the electoral college — has come under intense criticism after recent elections in which the popular vote would have selected a different president.
2. The Supreme Court decision Silicon Valley is reading

Some argue that Monday's Supreme Court ruling in favor of American Express on Monday could make it harder for antitrust enforcers to take on big online platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Axios' David McCabe has a look at the ruling and how it can apply to two-sided marketplaces — a group that includes Uber and eBay, but also Google and Facebook (which link consumers and marketers) as well as Amazon (which connects merchants and customers).

Why it matters: The new ruling could make it more challenging to find anticompetitive behavior in many such businesses.

Go deeper: David has more here.

3. iOS 12 beta offers taste of this year's iPhone

Among the benefits of iOS 12 is you can make your own "Memoji." Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

You won 't be able to buy the next iPhone until the fall, but you can try out the software that will power it — for free. Apple on Monday released a public beta of iOS 12 .

Initial impressions: It's only been a short time, admittedly, but so far the iOS 12 beta has been both zippy and stable.

Key features of iOS 12 include:

  • Improved parental controls and the ability for adults to better manage their own screen time.
  • New tools for augmented reality.
  • Group FaceTime video chats with up to 32 people.
  • "Memoji" that let you create your own avatar that can be used in video messages and FaceTime. (See my attempt above.)
  • Improved performance.

What is and isn't in the beta: Memoji and the Screen Time tools are there, while the shortcuts app is not. Some features, like ARKit 2.0, require developers to build their own apps using the features — so expect them to show up this fall.

Important caveat: This is beta software, so there are bound to be bugs. Apple advises people not to use this on their main device.

4. Report: "Tense" meeting between gov't and tech on election

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Representatives from eight leading tech companies met last month with federal officials at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park to discuss ways to protect November's midterm elections, according to a New York Times report.

Why it matters: The companies at the meeting were a roster of industry power, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Two of them, Facebook and Twitter, have faced particularly strong criticism for failing to limit the spread of misinformation on their platforms during the 2016 presidential election.

What happened: Per NYT, the meeting was "tense," the companies did not receive much guidance or information from the government officials, and one company representative felt the industry was being left "on their own to counter election interference."

5. Segway-Ninebot capitalizes on scooter boom

Illustration: Caresse Haaser/Axios

With the rise of scooter-sharing startups, China-based scooter maker Segway-Ninebot is looking to remain the manufacturer of choice by expanding into commercial-grade vehicles, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

What's happening now: With a growing demand from scooter-sharing services, Segway-Ninebot says it’s developing an “Intel Inside” approach to its business as a commercial supplier, developing a few products that can be lightly modified for customers, global sales VP Tony Ho tells Axios.

The details, per Ho:

  • “When it comes to quality and some of the safety features, we believe that we know better than our customers,” says Ho, adding that the company does work closely with its customers to understand what these scooter riders need.
  • And while some startups like Lime and Bird say they’re using exclusive Segway-Ninebot scooter designs, Ho clarifies that these customizations are “superficials” — such as specific colors and tweaks to the brakes and lights, for example.
  • The company is working on its next generation of scooters specifically designed for commercial use, including better tires and lights, and a connectivity device that’s more integrated into the vehicle.
  • Segway-Ninebot is also planning to offer cloud-based software tools to make it even easier for business customers to set up and deploy scooters.

Yes, but: Segway-Ninebot may still face some challenges, including competition from other scooter manufacturers and trade tariffs.

Go deeper: Read the full story here.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Aspen Ideas Festival continues; I'm moderating a session on gender issues in tech.

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7. After you Login

In case you need a little restoration of your faith in humanity, check out this 15-year-old girl using her sign language skills to help out a fellow passenger on board an Alaska Airlines flight.