Oct 9, 2018

Axios Login

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1 big thing: Google and Facebook unveil tin ears

Facebook's Portal video chat device. Photo: Facebook

In separate announcements on Monday, Facebook and Google both showed an impressive level of tone-deafness to concerns about their dominance and lack of attention to privacy issues.

Facebook introduced two home video chat devices, known as Portal, whose nearly sole purpose is to be a microphone and camera in the home, ostensibly for video chat.

  • The device has Amazon's Alexa and streaming music support, but lacks features found in other smart displays.
  • The biggest criticism, though, was the fact that it's made by Facebook — a company that has some "trust issues," these days, to put it mildly. (It did make a point of touting Portal's built-in privacy features.)
  • Context: Facebook had been reportedly set to introduce Portal in May, but pushed it back amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal and attendant concerns.

Google, meanwhile, disclosed that its developer tools had made a huge chunk of Google+ data publicly accessible, but the Wall Street Journal reported that it had known about it since the spring and decided not to notify the public.

  • Google tried to soften the blow by saying it doesn't know of anyone accessing or misusing the data and, meanwhile, stressing that few people use Google+ anyway and most do so for only short periods of time.
  • Context: Per WSJ, Google sat on the information about the bug, fearing that going public would prompt greater regulatory oversight and lump the company in with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. On Monday, Google announced plans to shut down the consumer version of Google+ over the next 10 months.

Why it matters: Big Tech is trying to convince officials in the U.S. and Europe that it can clean up its act and needs only modest regulation. This isn't helping.

What they're saying about Google+:

  • Daisuke Wakabayashi (NYT) "Google must be thanking its lucky stars that Google+ failed so spectacularly -- saved them from dealing with the same issues that Facebook had to deal with. Increasingly clear that Google+ had many of the same vulnerabilities except for the fact that no one was using it.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): “Today’s report confirms that Google’s claims to value consumers’ privacy seem like nothing more than empty talk. Google must explain its unwillingness to disclose this breach and the FTC must conduct a fulsome investigation.  But to truly end this cycle of broken promises, we need a national privacy framework that protects consumers and empowers the FTC to hold companies accountable.”

What they're saying about Facebook's cameras:

  • The Verge's Nilay Patel: "I love the wacky hardware design of the Portal Plus, but there is no way I’m putting a Facebook camera in my home."
  • MarketWatch's Therese Poletti: "The worst tech device of the year is here."
  • Venture capitalist Niv Dror posted a tweet that was just an animated avatar of Mark Zuckerberg peering out of the computer.

The bottom line: You might think that 2018 would have taught the tech giants a thing or two about how to be sensitive to security and privacy concerns. You'd be wrong.

Go deeper: Axios' Sara Fischer writes on the global regulatory implications.

2. Google's hardware event

Google's Monday revelations will make for an interesting backdrop as the company unveils its fall hardware at an event in New York later today.

The bottom line: There's not much mystery left in terms of the Pixel 3, which has been extensively leaked, but there could be other surprises in store.

Why it matters: The key question is whether Google can take new steps to make hardware a more serious piece of its business. It recruited Rick Osterloh to head the unit back in April 2016. And while Google Home and Chromecast have emerged as significant product families, Google is still a small player in phones, tablets and laptops.

3. Bloomberg's fraying "secret chips" story

Photo: Bloomberg Businessweek

The denials and doubts continue to mount over Bloomberg Businessweek's bombshell story from last week that authorities were investigating server motherboard maker Supermicro for shipping equipment implanted with chips that China could use to spy on users.

Over the weekend, British and U.S. authorities said they had no reason to discount the denials from Apple, Amazon, Supermicro and the Chinese government.

The latest: One of the few named sources in the Bloomberg piece spoke on a security podcast about his own doubts about the story. Apple, meanwhile, has stepped up its own denials, as Mike Allen reported on Monday.

Why it matters: If the piece is a mistake, it's not a small one. Shares in Supermicro stock dropped more than 50% after the story, wiping away nearly $600 million in market cap. But this isn’t just about one firm’s fortunes — the kind of sabotage described in the story, if real, could compromise major institutions.

Go deeper: Axios' Joe Uchill has more here.

4. Forbes takes a blockchain leap

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Forbes, the century-old business publisher, is joining forces with Civil, a journalism blockchain network, to become the first major media company to experiment with publishing stories using a blockchain, Sara reports. 

Why it matters: Many publishers are skeptical of blockchain tech because it’s new and it’s difficult to understand. Forbes is sending a message to the industry that it thinks blockchain for journalism is the future. 

The big picture: Forbes is experimenting with publishing a sample of its content to the Civil Network. Eventually, it could migrate all of its published content over to the Civil blockchain.

Our thought bubble: Forbes loves to jump onto new tech trends early. Almost a decade ago it tried to transform itself into an open journalism platform during the "user-generated content" craze. There's little left today of that effort. 

Read more of Sara's story here

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Google's hardware launch event takes place in New York. (See above)

Trading Places

  • SoftBank Group made two hires for its D.C. staff: Brian Conklin, formerly of USAA, will be VP for U.S. government affairs and Christin Tinsworth Baker, formerly of Ford, will be a director of public affairs.


6. After you Login

Forget butt dialing. This Hawaiian animal hospital employee was getting repeated calls from a dial-happy gecko.