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June 21, 2018

Good morning ... Situational awareness: Intel announced this morning that Brian Krzanich resigned from his position as CEO and as member of the board, after the company found he violated Intel’s non-fraternization policy. The board has appointed CFO Robert Swan as the interim CEO.

1 big thing: Big Tech still struggles with Trump

Tech leaders meet with President-elect Donald Trump in 2016

Tech leaders met with President-elect Donald Trump in 2016. Photo: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

For tech executives, the Trump administration's child separation policy provided a moment of clarity when the choice to speak out was relatively easy.

But after Trump's executive order on Wednesday, companies were once again struggling to figure out how to respond. The executive order itself turned down the heat for the moment — but also raised more questions than it answered.

"The policy doesn't seem clear at this point, so not sure what we'd be commenting on," one Big Tech company spokesman told Axios. "Will let you know when it's more clear..."

Familiar pattern: This has been an all-too-common experience, according to insiders at several of the tech companies.

The toughest challenges:

1. When to weigh in: Figuring out when to speak out has been a challenge since the president took office — and even before. Remember the scene as tech executives descended on Trump Tower?

  • For the most part, companies have spoken loudest on matters that affect their company's business or employees directly. Protecting Dreamers has been a top issue along with other immigration policies and LGBT issues. Many also spoke out after the 2017 Charlottesville rally that turned deadly.

2. Subtlety is tough: Nuance has been a challenge in an increasingly soundbite-driven political environment.

  • Microsoft, for example, tried Tuesday night to lay out a complex position on immigration at a time when all many wanted to hear was how loudly it would condemn President Trump and if it would respond to calls to end its contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

3. Saying vs. doing: Some of the most effective attempts have been the concrete actions tech companies have taken, from joining lawsuits to refusing to take part in government efforts. But, one tech executive said, that's tough in a world where "what gets people excited is who says what first."

  • Or, as another person put it to me, it's one thing to speak out, but it's another "to do so in a way that is meaningful and authentic, and not lip service or grand-standing."

4. Internal vs. external: It's not just outside pressure that tech companies are dealing with, though there is plenty of that. Employees also often push their leaders to live up to the change-the-world idealism they believe their companies represent.

5. Business concerns: Companies also have to balance how much to challenge an administration that still controls issues ranging from trade conditions to antitrust regulation to merger approval. That's why big government contractors and heavily regulated companies don't pipe up as much.

  • For instance, the big four telecom firms have been the least vocal in opposing Trump, even failing to speak out over the child separation policy.

Go deeper: Axios has lots of coverage on the executive order, including an analysis of the situation, reaction from lawmakers and a look at just what the order does and doesn't do.

We also have an exclusive Axios/Survey Monkey poll that shows Americans now rank immigration as the most important issue facing the nation. And a look at what's in the two immigration bills getting a vote in the House today.

2. For one immigrant CEO, speaking out is personal

LittleBits CEO Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir. Photo: LittleBits

While many tech executives struggle with how much to speak out about Trump's immigration policies, LittleBits CEO Ayah Bdeir said the choice is both straightforward and personal.

Her story: These days Bdeir runs a company that helps teach kids to build robots. But when she was a child, Bdeir's family was forced to flee Lebanon several times, landing in the U.K. and Canada before eventually coming to the U.S.

What she's saying: Bdeir said she feels called on to both oppose the administration's policies and to let migrants know they are not alone in their fight.

"I think that it is cowardly to not speak out if you are against this," Bdeir said, noting that companies can always hide behind notions of not mixing business and politics, or concerns about angering clients or customers. But, she added, "when you don’t speak out on something that is so fundamentally wrong you are complacent."

What she's doing: Bdeir is putting her money where her outrage is, donating 20% of this week's direct sales to ACLU efforts to help immigrants.

Yes, but: She, like everyone else, is struggling to figure out what happens to those families who have been separated and what will happen under the new executive order.

"It is unfathomable that it went for so long, and even now we have an executive order that I don’t know what it means," she said.

Go deeper: Bdeir blogged more about this topic.

3. Bipartisan call for Google to reduce Huawei ties

A bipartisan group of 2 senators and 3 representatives sent Google a letter on Wednesday calling on the company to reduce its ties with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei.

What they're saying: The company's "strategic partnership" with the company "could pose a serious risk to national security and American consumers," wrote Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, along with Reps. Liz Cheney, Dutch Ruppersberger and Mike Conaway.

Why it matters: This issue surfaced after concerns that Facebook had been allowing device makers, including some from China, access to customer data in order to build Facebook experiences into their devices. People then pointed out that Google, Twitter and others had also worked closely with device makers.

Yes, but: As I have been noting for a while, there is no evidence Chinese device makers, or any others, misused the access they had. In Google's case, Huawei is basically just running the widely-used Android operating system along with various Google apps.

The bottom line: While there isn't much that Republicans and Democrats agree on these days, concern over China has been a uniting force, at least among some in both parties.

Google's response:

We look forward to answering these questions. Like many U.S. companies, we have agreements with dozens of OEMs around the world, including Huawei. We do not provide special access to Google user data as part of these agreements, and our agreements include privacy and security protections for user data.

Go deeper: Here's the full letter.

4. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • GameStop named Dawn Henry the VP of ThinkGeek, per Variety.
  • DigitalOcean, a cloud platform for developers, named former Citrix CEO Mark Templeton as its new CEO.


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