May 17, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Good news for my East Coast readers: You are three hours closer to the weekend than those of us in Silicon Valley.

1 big thing: Snapchat's new filter engenders strong reactions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A Snapchat photo filter that lets people see themselves in highly feminized or masculine form has proven wildly popular. It's drawn a mixed reception, though, from people whose real-life journeys have taken them beyond the roles assigned to them at birth.

Between the lines: The filter has proved to be a surprisingly powerful tool for people to imagine themselves in another gender. It also has highlighted society's continuing challenges with understanding people who are transgender, intersex, nonbinary and gender non-conforming.

Driving the news: People around the globe were quick to not only use the filters on themselves, but also apply them to politicians, soccer stars and celebrities.

The big picture: While some in the LGBTQ community have been critical of the filters as making a joke out of a serious matter, others say the filters have allowed them to explore themselves in the safety of a digital world.

How it works: The filters, which are powered by machine learning and debuted late last week, transform a Snapchat user's hair, facial shape and other aesthetics to make them either more traditionally masculine or feminine.

What they're saying:

  • J.E. Reich, journalist, to Axios: "As a person who identifies as both queer and genderqueer (and who has not gone through any sort of medicalized transition), I found a sense of empowerment when using the 'genderswap' Snapchat filter. ... It was a way to encounter a concrete image of what I would look like if I decided to pursue hormone therapy, and the actualization of this gave me the courage to admit to myself how much I want to."
  • Kate Sosin, an LA-based reporter, to Axios: "As a transmasculine person who has not undergone hormone therapy, I have never been able to imagine my features changed by testosterone, and I was so curious to see myself that way. ... The other filter gave me a rare and odd opportunity to see myself grown up as my sex assigned at birth, which I haven't seen since I was in high school trying to perform that. I was also deeply curious about that." 
  • Dana Vivian-White, a non-binary speaker and trainer who serves on the board of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, suggested to Vice that most people are using the filter to play around rather than thinking about the realities of transgender or gender-non-conforming people. “Yet there’s a fine line between encouraging people to take gender less seriously and not considering trans realities or carelessly perpetuating misunderstanding about trans identities,” Vivian-White told Vice.

For the record: Snapchat declined to share statistics on use of the filters, but a spokesperson said the Lens team is working with others throughout Snap, including employee resource groups, to ensure its lenses are diverse and inclusive.

Our thought bubble: Different parts of our society are still in vastly different places when it comes to talk about gender. Some see it as a rigid binary to be enforced, others as a journey to be traversed, and still others as a source of humor. How one sees Snap's filter depends largely on the face staring into the selfie cam.

Go deeper:

2. FCC pushes robocall-blocking by default
Expand chart

Data: Robocall Index, American Community Survey; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

The FCC on Wednesday announced a proposal to combat robocalls that would let phone companies block calls for consumers by default and would allow consumers to opt in to receiving calls only from a "white list" of their contacts.

Why it matters: This is one of the most complained-about issues in America, Axios' Sara Fischer writes. The FCC gets roughly 200,000 complaints each year about robocalls. Nearly 48 billion robocalls were made in 2018, according to YouMail Robocall Index.

Details: The plan allows wireless carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint to automatically apply spam-blocking’s technologies to consumers wireless plans by default.

  • This is something carriers have been wanting to do for a while, but have hedged due to fear of violating government rules.
  • It would also give consumers the ability to block any calls that aren’t on their contact list.

Driving the news: While the problem impacts almost every cellphone user in America, data from Robocall Index shows that area codes from certain parts of the country are much more likely to be used for robocalls. 

How it works: Robocalls from certain areas in the U.S. don't necessarily reflect where the call is coming from — often scammers use a popular technique called "neighbor spoofing" that copies the local area code to entice answering.

Be smart: The FCC has been trying to deal with the robocall problem for years, but it hasn’t made much progress. Meanwhile, wireless providers have taken steps to establish a protocol called STIR/SHAKEN to authenticate calls.

What’s next: If the FCC proposal is approved, it could go into effect as early as the end of this year.

Go deeper: Read Sara's original story here.

3. Google economist calls search "tough business"

Google’s chief economist raised some eyebrows during a talk yesterday when he claimed that web search was actually a hard business to compete in — despite the company reaping massive profits for years from its search ad business, Axios' David McCabe reports.

What they're saying: “My claim is, if you look at web search, it’s really a tough business,” Hal Varian said at a conference presentation at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

  • "You can only sell 6% of what you produce," Varian said. "Because you’re producing all these organic and paid clicks, and it’s only the paid clicks that go to support the operation of the company, and competition is really intense for those clicks.”

That claim drew a skeptical response from incoming American Prospect editor David Dayen and Yale economist Fiona Scott Morton.

  • “In what sense is a company that earns $136 billion in revenue in a year a tough business?" Dayen asked.
  • Varian replied that Google had spent an estimated $75 billion in 2018 on costs associated with its revenue, the majority of which comes from its ad business.
  • "I don’t think it’s really the 6% that’s interesting if your marginal costs are really low, I think really we should be looking at markups and profitability," Scott Morton said. "That’s how we learn about economic performance."

The big picture: In addition to the multiple competition cases brought against Google in Europe, the company faces growing domestic complaints of anticompetitive behavior.

Meanwhile, executives from Yelp and News Corporation, both regular critics of Google, also posed questions to Varian at the conference.

Watch the session

4. How the new Huawei ban will hit home

Industries began tallying up the likely costs of President Trump's latest executive orders this week targeting Huawei, the Chinese telecom manufacturer that sits at the center of the U.S./China trade dispute.

Driving the news: Trump essentially barred all U.S. telecommunications firms from using Huawei equipment and blocked Huawei from access to U.S.-made goods as well.


  • Major U.S. telecoms don't use Huawei equipment, but roughly a quarter of smaller rural network providers do, according to a Financial Times story, and those companies may have to spend millions to replace those devices.
  • The Huawei ban could also make it even harder to bring 5G networks to less heavily populated U.S. regions.
  • In preparation for the likelihood of the U.S. shutting off its access to parts, Huawei "has been stockpiling critical US components for almost a year," the South China Morning Post reports.
  • With those moves, analysts suggested, Huawei can probably buy itself up to a year's time to build a supply chain to provide alternatives to the key U.S. components it obtains from companies like Intel and Qualcomm, per SCMP.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Maker Faire returns to San Mateo today through Sunday.

Trading Places

  • Xiang Hailong, Baidu's SVP of search, will leave his post as the Chinese search giant posted its first ever loss as a public company. (Bloomberg)


6. After you Login

Two words for you: Sheep pig. (Courtesy @41Strange on Twitter)

Ina Fried