Aug 28, 2019

Axios Login

It was Axios night at the Giants game last night, and Jewish Heritage Night, so I was feeling twice blessed. At least I was until the home team went down to defeat 3-2. Still, it was nice to spend the evening with co-workers and Axios editor-in-chief Nicholas Johnston.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,374 words, ~5 minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook adds teeth to political ad rules

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As political ad spending for 2020 ramps up, Facebook is tightening its rules to make sure that groups running political or issue ads are legitimate and aren't gaming the system, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: With some high-profile examples of such evasion already emerging, the changes will make it harder for groups to dodge Facebook's political advertising review program.

Details: Facebook will require advertisers to supply more information about their organization, like their U.S. street address, phone number, business email and a business website matching the email, before Facebook reviews and approves their political advertising disclaimer. That information will become part of Facebook's public ad library.

  • In addition, advertisers must provide a tax ID number, Federal Election Commission ID number, or a government website domain that matches an email ending in .gov or .mil, if they want to be labeled as a "Confirmed Organization."
  • Smaller businesses without those credentials can meet the standards with a slightly different set of credentials.
  • Groups that do not meet the standards by mid-October will have their ads blocked until they comply.

Yes, but: So much money has already been spent on Facebook ads this presidential cycle that it's almost impossible to know how much money may have already been spent on ads with hidden purchasers.

  • Case in point: Just this week Facebook banned ads from conservative news outlet the Epoch Times, after NBC News reported that in the last month the company had funneled its Facebook ads through other dummy sites to hide their connection to its $2 million pro-Trump campaign.
  • By the numbers: Experts estimate that well over $1 billion will be spent on digital ads this campaign cycle, with the majority going to Facebook and Google. For context, that's about as much as analysts expect to be spent on local cable television ads this cycle.

The big picture: Facebook has become one of the most important marketing vehicles used in U.S. elections, but there are no laws that govern how online advertising should be bought or tracked. This means that federal election officials, lawmakers and the public have to rely on Facebook and other tech companies to police their own ads.

Our thought bubble: These requirements are a positive step towards transparency online. Since 2016, Facebook has taken the lead in building out a political advertising library. Its efforts requiring more scrutiny will likely be mimicked by other companies.

Be smart: Even though there are no legal requirements around online political advertising in the U.S., political ads on TV are regulated. But those requirements still leave room for organizations to hide their funding source.

What's next: Over the coming months, Facebook says it will make more enhancements to its ad library and will expand its policy to prohibit ads that expressly discourage people in the U.S. from voting.

2. High-end smartphone demand declining
Expand chart
Reproduced from Gartner; Chart: Axios Visuals

Smartphone sales continued their decline in the second quarter, dropping 1.7% from a year earlier, with demand for high-end phones dropping the most.

Why it matters: The data, from Gartner, suggests a tough environment as Apple, Google and Samsung all are set to introduce new high-end phones to the market. Samsung just launched its Galaxy Note 10, with Google set to introduce the Pixel 4 and Apple expected to debut a new crop of iPhones in the coming weeks.

A total of 368 million smartphones were sold in the second quarter, down from 374 million, Gartner said. Demand for mid-range and low-end devices was stronger as device makers added more features once found only in premium models.

Samsung and Huawei gained share in the second quarter, while Apple lost share from a year ago.

"To try to boost smartphone replacements, we've seen manufacturers bringing premium features such as multilens front/back cameras, bezel-less displays and large batteries from their flagship smartphones into lower-priced models."
— Gartner research director Anshul Gupta in a statement
3. Amazon's HQ2 could drain D.C.'s tech talent

Amazon is only just starting to post job openings for its second headquarters in northern Virginia — and local startup founders are watching with apprehension, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

The big picture: Amazon HQ2 has the potential to turn the D.C. region into a tech hotspot, but smaller companies are worried that the short-term impact of Amazon coming to town will be a brain drain.

Why it matters: Top-tier tech talent is already more difficult to find in the D.C. area than in tech hubs like San Francisco and New York. And "startups are worried that Amazon will lure away the talent because they can pay so much more," says Jonathan Aberman, dean of Marymount's School of Business and Technology.

The backdrop: The startup scene in D.C. is nascent compared to that in other metros, but it's growing.

The impact: Now, "the fear is that, at first, Amazon is just going to hire our people ... and technical workers who are skilled will become more scarce and more expensive," Lewis says. "But most of us feel like, at some point in the future, they'll start to shed talent and wealth."

But, but, but: That shedding might not happen. Amazon's presence in Seattle hasn't spawned a startup wave, like Uber or Facebook have in Silicon Valley, notes Axios' Dan Primack.

The other side: Some D.C. companies are welcoming the arrival of the behemoth.

  • "We want to hire more former Amazon employees," said Ethan McAfee, founder of Amify, which is located in Arlington, Va., just steps from the site of HQ2. "Now we'll have a lot more of those employees in Washington, D.C., and while Amazon is a great place to work, it's a very difficult place to work. And if there are 25,000, many will want to leave. Our goal is to be on that shortlist of the places they'll go."

The bottom line: Eventually, Amazon could be "a magnet for getting people in," says Aberman. "People who might not move to D.C. would move for a big tech employer."

4. Lego taps AI to guide blind builders

Photo: Lego

Aiming to make its signature bricks more accessible, Lego is testing the use of AI to translate its building instructions into spoken commands and braille so that blind users can get in on the fun.

The idea came from Matthew Shifrin, an expert Lego builder who was born blind. Matthew had a friend, Lilya, who would translate all of the Lego instructions from graphical steps into braille text.

What they're saying: Shifrin told Axios working with Legos helps blind kids in multiple ways. Building Lego sets not only provides a sense of mastery and accomplishment, but also helps people better understand the world around them.

"As a blind person, cultural landmarks are an abstract concept. I know that the Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of America, but have no idea how it's shaped. It's a woman holding a torch and a scroll, that's all I know. If I climbed it, to try and understand its shaping better, I'd get arrested. But if I build the Statue out of Lego, then I become intimately familiar with its shaping and am better able to understand the world around me."
— Matthew Shifrin

For Shifrin, it's also a tribute to his friend Lilya, who died two years ago. "I promised myself that I would not let this project rest, until Lego took action," he said. "I'm so glad that they've taken it upon themselves to make their sets accessible to blind children."

To ensure the directions were accurate, Lego tested them with Shifrin and children from the U.K. and Denmark. Lego is starting out with four sets, with an eye toward expanding the program next year. The effort builds on Lego's introduction earlier this year of braille bricks.

Go deeper:

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • TripAdvisor has opened a D.C. office and named Caitlin Brosseau as its senior director of U.S. Public Policy. Brosseau was previously held in-house positions at eBay and Pandora.


  • The U.S. Customers and Border Patrol agency has stepped up searches of foreign travelers' devices and is increasingly denying entry based on social media posts. (TechCrunch)
  • Facebook said Tuesday that first responders will be able to use its alerts to reach citizens in emergencies. (Axios)
  • More than 130 companies have asked for permission from the Commerce Department to continue selling to Huawei. (Reuters)
  • WeWork is buying rival co-working startup Spacious. (TechCrunch)
6. After you Login

As children head back to school, here is a story to warm every parents' heart.