Axios Login

A smartphone with different colored buttons floating above its surface.

October 03, 2022

Happy belated birthday to devoted Login reader Sharyn Saslafsky. Also, if you missed it, you should really check out this weekend's "SNL" sketch about the social network BeReal.

📸 Situational awareness: Kim Kardashian agreed to pay over $1 million to the SEC for not disclosing a payment she received for promoting a crypto asset in a June 2021 Instagram post, CNBC reports.

Today's newsletter is 1,046 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Stadia shutdown shows Google's struggle to innovate

Illustration of the Google "G" logo turning into a stop sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Google is increasingly looking like a giant that has a hard time innovating, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Driving the news: Google's decision to shut down Stadia, its three-year-old cloud-based gaming service, marks the company's latest failure to turn a technical breakthrough into a growing business.

Why it matters: Google faces a long-term fight with the rest of Big Tech's giants — Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Meta — for talent and revenue.

The big picture: From its earliest days Google built a culture that embraced bringing experiments to market fast — and shutting them down just as fast if they failed to take root.

  • This "throw everything at the wall to see what sticks" strategy helped jump-start several of the company's long-term hit products, including Gmail and Google Maps.
  • But the sheer volume of projects Google has shut down over the years — there's a website that tracks them all — also makes it that much harder for partners and customers to commit to the company's new ventures.

Flashback: Google's long roster of shuttered failures includes a bevy of efforts to catch up with Facebook and other rivals in the social-networking field.

  • That list starts with Orkut, launched by a single Google engineer in 2004 even before Facebook's launch, and culminates in the company-wide push behind Google+, which started in 2011 and was shut down in 2019.
  • Other prominent failures included Google Wave (2009), which pioneered a variety of document collaboration features, and Google Glass (2013), an augmented-reality breakthrough that failed to gain traction in the consumer marketplace.
  • Google has sometimes even shut down products that worked well and retained a vocal customer base because they stopped growing — like Google Reader, shut down in 2013.

Our thought bubble: Since the late 2000s, the only big new businesses Google has been able to grow — including the Chrome browser, the Android mobile operating system, and its cloud service — have been knockoffs or reactions to competitors' breakthroughs like the iPhone and Amazon Web Services.

Between the lines: Big companies typically use a recessionary period like the one the industry now faces to prune failing projects. If they're having trouble inventing new products they spend cash to acquire startup talent and ideas.

  • Yes, but: Google and its rivals now find their ability to buy up smaller, more innovative competitors hemmed in by a more activist regulatory machine in Washington.

The bottom line: Google has an enormous research unit and regularly refines and fine-tunes its core search and advertising services, but the company keeps flubbing efforts to add big new revenue streams based on bold new technology plays.

2. LGBT group returns donation from software firm

Trevor Project CEO Amit Paley, speaking at the Loveloud festival in 2018.

Trevor Project CEO Amit Paley speaks at the LOVELOUD Festival in 2018. Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images

The Trevor Project, which operates a crisis line for LGBTQ youth, said Friday it would return a $25,000 donation from Gaggle, a maker of software to monitor students' online activity.

Why it matters: The decision shows the challenges that tech companies and nonprofits face in trying to decide who to work with and under what circumstances.

At issue: Critics of the relationship, including Evan Greer of Fight For the Future, a digital privacy advocacy group, said they were concerned that software like Gaggle's can place LGBTQ students at risk by identifying online activity that can out students to parents and teachers.

What they're saying: The Trevor Project responded on social media saying that its general philosophy is that "having a seat at the table enables us to positively influence how companies engage with LGBTQ young people had initially agreed to work with Gaggle because it "saw an opportunity to have a meaningful impact to better protect LGBTQ students."

  • "In light of concerns about Gaggle's software having a role in negatively impacting LGBTQ students, we’ve made the decision to return the $25K donation from the company and end our engagement," the Trevor Project said in a statement. "We hear and understand the concerns, and we hope to work alongside schools and institutions to ensure they are appropriately supporting LGBTQ youth and their mental health."
  • Greer, who had been pushing for Trevor Project to sever ties with Gaggle, praised the organization in a tweet for "so swiftly doing the right thing."

3. Quick takes: Musk shows off humanoid robot

1. Elon Musk used a Tesla AI event on Friday to show off Optimus, a prototype humanoid robot that he hopes to one day sell for under $20,000.

  • Yes, but: Musk was vague on timing, saying there are a number of hurdles that must be overcome to "get this done within the next few months ... or years," per The Verge.

2. Journalists and activists in Mexico continued to be victims of attacks using Pegasus spyware in recent years, despite a pledge by the current president to stop using such software, according to a fresh report from Citizen Lab.

  • Why it matters: Pegasus, the controversial iPhone-hacking technology sold by Israel's NSO Group, has been used by law enforcement and governments around the world, with human rights activists and reporters often among the targets.

3. Intel has filed for an initial public offering of stock in Mobileye, spinning out the self-driving car company it paid $15 billion to buy back in 2017.

  • Between the lines: Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has been aggressively scaling back the company's far-flung ventures as the company seeks to regain lost ground in both processor market share and chip manufacturing technology.

4. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Activision Blizzard compliance chief Frances Townsend is stepping down. Townsend, who joined the company last year, was among the executives tasked with helping the gamemaker respond to allegations of sexual harassment.

ICYMI

5. After you Login

Check out this drone tour of Wrigley Field, the home field of the Chicago Cubs.

Thanks to Scott Rosenberg and Peter Allen Clark for editing and Bryan McBournie for copy editing this newsletter.