Dec 6, 2019

Axios Login

"You guys got it all wrong." In "Axios on HBO's" first-ever special, Joe Biden accuses the media of misjudging how liberal the Democratic Party really is and dismisses the idea that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the new party. "The party is not there. The party's not there at all."

Catch a sneak peek (here) and watch the full interview this Sunday at 6:30pm ET.

Meanwhile, today's Login is 1,506 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's liability shield becomes trade-deal flashpoint

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

New opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week left the tech industry at risk of losing a cherished trade deal provision that could help cement its liability shield, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Driving the news: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms from liability for content their users post, and Pelosi cited the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement's extension of its principles to U.S. trade partners as a sticking point for getting the trade deal through Congress.

The big picture: While tech companies have been pushing to extend their Section 230 protection to other countries, the provision has faced new criticism from a collection of industry groups, advocacy organizations and lawmakers amid a debate on revising or eliminating the law.

Why it matters: If Congress ever wants to change Section 230, it will be easier if the law's provisions aren't also woven into an international treaty.

What they're saying: Pelosi's position was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

  • "There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial Section 230 liability shield in our trade agreements, particularly at a time when Congress is considering whether changes need to be made in U.S. law," a Pelosi spokesperson said.

Tech industry groups the Internet Association and the Consumer Technology Association both called for the provision to remain in the trade agreement.

But the content industry, labor unions, anti-trafficking advocacy groups and lawmakers have been clamoring to get rid of the provision in trade agreements.

  • Content groups, like the Recording Industry Association of America, have opposed including the provision in trade agreements in part due to fears that other countries could implement the law in a way that endangers copyright protections.
  • UNITE HERE, a labor union that counts hotel workers among its 300,00 members in the U.S. and Canada, penned a letter to Pelosi to voice its "strong opposition" to the "cynical inclusion" of the 230-like language. The group called out Airbnb specifically.

Between the lines: The tech liability shield was not one of the four major concerns Democrats highlighted with the trade agreement earlier this year — enforcement, labor, environment and drug pricing.

  • People familiar with the administration's thinking on the negotiations said it isn't viewed as one of the key points that will make or break the deal.

What's next: The USMCA was signed a year ago, but approval by Congress has awaited a deal that might satisfy Democrats in the House, Republicans in the Senate and the Trump administration — as well as their counterparts in Mexico and Canada.

Our thought bubble: Trade deals are always messy compromises, and the sheer lure of boosting commerce all around often overrides different interests' priorities.

Go deeper: A new attack on social media's immunity

2. Uber report counts 6,000 sex assaults in 2 years

Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images

In a long-awaited safety report, Uber disclosed on Thursday that during 2017 and 2018, U.S. users reported nearly 6,000 incidents of sexual assault of various kinds.

Why it matters: Uber (along with rival Lyft) has been criticized over the years not only for the occurrence of sexual assault and violence on rides, but also for its handling of these incidents, including attempts at downplaying or hiding them, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

  • In 2017, the company pledged to release a report about what it calls "safety incidents" following several months of turmoil that led to the replacement of CEO Travis Kalanick with Dara Khosrowshahi, who has vowed to drastically change Uber's culture.
  • Rival Lyft, which has faced its own criticism for these same issues, also vowed at the time to release similar data (and even collaborate with Uber). Axios has contacted the company about its plan for a report.

By the numbers:

  • Total number of sexual assault incidents: 2,936 in 2017, and 3,045 in 2018. Riders were 45% of the accused in those cases.
  • Total number of fatal physical assault incidents: 10 in 2017, and nine in 2018. Of the total, seven were drivers.
  • Total number of motor vehicle fatalities: 49 in 2017, and 58 in 2018.
  • Total number of rides: 1 billion in 2017, 1.3 billion in 2018.

Uber also included detailed descriptions of its safety policies and processes, including the number of driver applications it has turned down and how many it has deactivated for their behavior.

What they're saying: So far, advocates have praised the company for releasing its report, and are calling on more companies to do the same.

Go deeper: Read the full report.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 via 1-800-656-4673 or chat. Learn more at

3. Qualcomm makes another run at PCs

A thermal image above Intel- and Qualcomm-based laptops showing the difference in heat being generated. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Qualcomm announced its latest bid to break into the PC market on Thursday, announcing two new chips aimed at the low-end and mid-range of the notebook market. It's the latest in the company's years-long quest to expand from phones into computers.

Why it matters: Though smaller than the smartphone market in units, the PC business remains lucrative, and getting even a modest share of it would be a nice boost for Qualcomm and a considerable threat to Intel.

Qualcomm's pitch is a compelling one: Combine the power of the a computer and the always-on connectivity of a cell phone, then throw in all-day-or-more battery life.

The problem is, the computers based on such chips have generally fallen short on both compatibility and performance. It's hard to imagine adding lower-end variants of Qualcomm's existing chips will solve either issue, though perhaps customers will be more forgiving of those tradeoffs in a lower-priced machine.

Dueling demos: In a meeting room at the Grand Wailea resort, Qualcomm pointed a thermal camera at Qualcomm- and Intel-powered laptops as they simultaneously ran 4K YouTube, Photoshop and a video conference call, showing visibly just how much hotter the Intel-based machine was running. The added heat, Qualcomm says, would almost certainly translate to lower battery life.

Intel, meanwhile, set up demos of its own at a suite at the nearby Andaz hotel, showing the recently introduced Qualcomm-based Surface Pro X and Intel-based Surface Pro 7 doing a variety of tasks. Intel says the Surface Pro 7 is faster at productivity tasks like converting a PowerPoint to PDF, quicker at creative tasks such as editing photos and offers higher frame rates in games, while the Surface Pro X offered only slightly better battery life.

My thought bubble: If Qualcomm wanted a place in low-end machines, a natural spot would seem to be the Chromebook market, where the company would just need to deliver a good browsing experience. Early Chromebooks ran on a range of processors, though recent models have focused on PC chips from Intel and AMD.

Disclosure: Reporting for this article took place at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit in Maui, where I moderated a session on Wednesday. Qualcomm paid for my travel-related costs.

4. DHS drops controversial facial recognition plan

A facial recognition system at Dulles International Airport. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

The Department of Homeland Security has backtracked on a plan to require every person, including U.S. citizens and green-card holders, to submit to a facial recognition screening before entering or leaving the country, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports.

Why it matters: Facial recognition has emerged as a lightning rod for privacy controversies. As some cities pass bans on the technology, the federal government has pushed forward — but this reversal shows the limits of public appetite for its use.

What's happening: Foreign nationals are already photographed at the border to verify their identity. U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been able to opt out of the process — but DHS recently proposed making the screening mandatory for all.

  • Customs and Border Patrol confirmed to TechCrunch Thursday that U.S. citizens will still be allowed to "voluntarily participate in the biometrics entry–exit program."

What they're saying: After the plan to expand facial recogntion was revealed earlier this week in a TechCrunch report, privacy advocates in government and civil society raised an alarm.

What's next: Sens. Chris Coons (D–Del.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) put forward a bill last month that would require that law enforcement get a warrant before using facial recognition technology.

Go deeper: China's move on facial recognition standards

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, who has been on a leave of absence for the past six months, is joining parent company Google to work on AI policy issues, per the Financial Times.
  • Sue Desmond-Hellman is stepping down as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation after 5 years, to be replaced by Mark Suzman, who has been the organization's strategy chief.
  • Technet said Silicon Valley Bank CEO Greg Becker will be its next chairman, serving a two-year term starting Jan. 1.


  • Our story in Wednesday's Login on Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepping down from their roles at Google parent Alphabet incorrectly stated that they could pass their super-voting shares to their heirs. Under Google's stock structure, these shares will convert to regular voting shares when the founders die. We've revised the story on our website.


  • Apple confirmed that the iPhone 11 is collecting location information even when users turn off that option because of its ultra-wideband chip and says it will give an option to fully turn off in a coming update. (TechCrunch)
  • The DOJ announced charges against a pair of yet-to-be-apprehended Russian hackers it says are responsible for malware that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. (Axios)
  • Former employees say the work culture at luggage startup Away was "toxic." (The Verge)
  • Former Razer employees say the gaming hardware company's CEO berated his staff. (Kotaku)
  • The physical danger of screen time. (Axios)
6. After you Login

"It's the perfect texture for running," a woman says of the snow, just before, well, watch the clip.