Apr 21, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I hope today's Login brings you as much joy as this kid got from his first taste of queso.

Today's Login is 1,442 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook tries to draw a clear line on virus protests

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Facebook's decision to take down event listings for certain protests against state and local pandemic measures is putting conflicts between public health and free speech into stark relief, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Driving the news: CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday on ABC that Facebook would treat some efforts to organize protests against social distancing rules as "harmful misinformation" and take them down.

The company later clarified that protests which specifically announced plans to flout distancing rule would be removed, while those that opposed the policies but obeyed them would be allowed to organize.

Facebook's perspective: The social network believes it has been consistent and clear about its intent to bar misinformation about the coronavirus as particularly objectionable because of its likelihood of causing immediate harm.

Yes, but: The right to peacefully protest government policies is constitutionally protected and widely cherished by Americans.

  • And yet: Some protest participants, according to reports, crossed the line from opposing the policies to violating them.

Why it matters: Facebook keeps finding itself acting like a government without either the machinery to do the job right or the accountability that it should bear.

  • Supporters of these protests, and some Facebook critics, argue that the company shouldn't be entrusted with making politically and legally complex decisions about who gets to use its platform to organize and who doesn't.
  • Public health experts, and other Facebook critics, argue that the social distancing rules are a matter of life and death for many citizens, and Facebook has a moral obligation to protect people's lives.
  • The press and the public will keep pushing Facebook to make tough choices on specific questions about specific protests, just as the company has been challenged on political advertising.

Between the lines: Facebook has long been trying to chart a difficult course between the wishes and demands of conservatives and Trump supporters, who argue that the platform squelches their free speech, and more liberal users and critics, who hold that Facebook has allowed lies and misinformation to flourish.

  • In a fraught environment in which Trump has tweeted his support for protesters to "liberate" their states from Democratic governors, the company's moves are sure to bring wrath from Republicans.
  • While the right will object for now, it's easy to imagine the shoe on the other foot in the future, with liberals outraged at Facebook stifling political opposition.

What's next: Facebook has invested time and money to create an independent content oversight board that's supposed to help it deal with thorny speech issues. This one might make a good maiden case for its docket.

2. Microsoft announces big open data push

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

Aiming to close what it calls a "data divide," Microsoft today announced a plan to make more data widely available so that the benefits of artificial intelligence aren't confined to a few large companies.

Why it matters: Machine learning has the potential to make governments and countries far more efficient but often requires an enormous amount of data, in addition to the necessary computing power.

What they're saying: "Fully half of all of the data created, every day, on the internet, is flowing to only 100 companies," Microsoft president Brad Smith said in an interview.

Smith said that those same companies, left unchecked, would be the beneficiaries of AI, while most others would likely fall behind: "Fundamentally, it's going to accrue to a handful of companies on the West Coast of the United States and the East Coast of China."

As part of the push, Microsoft is:

  • Publishing new principles that will guide how Microsoft approaches sharing its data with others.
  • Pledging to develop 20 new collaborations built around shared data by 2022. It's already working with the Open Data Institute and NYU's GovLab.
  • Investing in tools and templates that make it easier for other companies to share data.
  • In particular, Microsoft talks about making available its data around various social good projects.

Yes, but: While Microsoft is pledging to share data around issues like health and the environment, Microsoft and other companies are unlikely to share their most proprietary data sets, and it's those that will likely generate most of the profits in the AI era.

What's next: Open data efforts are getting the most interest right now from companies in Europe and the U.S., though Smith said eventually he'd like to see a truly global effort. However, he acknowledged it could take longer to get Chinese companies to join in.

  • "Just as Microsoft was a late adopter of open source, I'm not sure I expect China to be an early endorser of this," Smith said.

Of note: Smith said the coronavirus had an impact on the open data project, as it has on everything else, delaying the announcement by about a week.

  • "Like everybody, we asked ourselves, 'Are we going to stick with this or set it aside until after COVID-19?'" Smith said. "In the year 2030, we will almost certainly be spending a lot more time talking about the need for open data than we will be talking about COVID-19."
3. New: The Axios app has arrived

Photo: Axios

You know the old saying, "There's an app for that?" Well, until the past week, that actually wasn't true for something very near and dear — Axios itself. But thanks to our talented tech team (the one that builds tech, not those of us that write about it) we now have an app.

It offers a faster way to read newsletters and catch up on breaking news, as well as to get messages throughout the day with thought bubbles from our subject matter experts.

Why it matters to you: 

  • One convenient place: Now you can enjoy all your Axios newsletters and stories in one easy-to-access mobile location. 
  • It looks amazing: The app’s design is sophisticated, yet simple — allowing you to intuitively consume news in Axios’ signature Smart Brevity™ format.
  • Experience more Axios: The app captures our thinking on the future of news and newsletters — a watch-listen-read experience that includes more interaction with our journalists. You can sign up for push notifications for breaking news, and get exclusive updates from me throughout the day. 

Have thoughts on the new app? Please reply to this email, or send your thoughts to app@axios.com.

4. Google to make shopping listings free

Google said Tuesday that it won't charge businesses to sell goods in its Shopping section, beginning later this month in the U.S. and globally over the course of the year.

Why it matters: Google is trying to eliminate fees for its services to ease the burden on small businesses and publishers, two categories that rely heavily on its services and are hurting badly amid the coronavirus' impact on the economy.

What they’re saying: "Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free product listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google," Google commerce president Bill Ready said in a blog post.

Yes, but: This isn't totally altruistic. Google makes most of its advertising dollars from people engaging with media-company content on its platform or small businesses selling goods, so it makes financial sense for it to try to help out those industries in any way it can. The company has already committed millions of dollars in grants to small businesses and local news companies.

The big picture: Yelp, Facebook and others have also tried to cut fees or offer ad credits in the short term to help ease the pandemic's financial pain for their largely small-business customer base.

5. TED Conference moves digital

The TED Conference, which was already postponed from April to July, is now being shifted to an all-digital format.

Why it matters: Event organizers are scrambling to see what can be done in online-only formats. The TED Conference is an early test of how well the high-end events business can shift online.

Instead of taking place as a week-long event, TED organizers are spreading things out over eight weeks, beginning May 18.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Axios' Kim Hart moderates a virtual event on micromobility after COVID-19 today at 1pm ET/10am PT. RSVP here.
  • Earnings reports include Netflix and Snapchat parent Snap.

Trading Places

  • Twitch has hired Spotify's Tracy Chan as head of product and engineering for Music.
  • WeWork named Roger Solé as chief marketing officer. Solé has been Sprint's chief marketing officer for the past four years.
  • John Martinis, the head of Google's quantum computing efforts, is stepping down.
  • SAP said co-CEO Christian Klein will become sole chief executive, as the company's other co-CEO, Jennifer Morgan, departs. Klein and Morgan were named to share the top spot in October, when then-CEO Bill McDermott left, later to be named CEO of ServiceNow.


7. After you Login

This woman spreading peanut butter on her plastic-wrap-clad face looks ridiculous at first. But by the end of the video, you realize she is a genius.

Ina Fried