May 29, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I am fighting a cold, so you might want to take some vitamin C before reading today's Login (which, in case you were wondering, came in at 1,170 words).

1 big thing: Recruiting Silicon Valley engineers for Uncle Sam

Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals

The effort to bring tech talent into the federal government may have started with the Obama administration, but the same U.S. Digital Service whose founders rescued is still at work today trying to modernize other areas of the federal government.

"We’re still here," says Matt Cutts, the former Google engineer who now leads USDS. "We’re still working on things that matter and we’re hiring."

Why it matters: The government has lots of old code running on mainframe computers and is looking for help moving systems to modern, cloud-based infrastructure.

  • While President Trump is a widely unpopular figure in many Silicon Valley workplaces, Cutts says that lots of tech folks see the potential impact they can have, regardless of who's in the White House.
  • In his recruiting pitch, Cutts doesn't play up the politics of D.C. Instead, he makes the case there's no place a single engineer or product manager can make as big an impact as working for Uncle Sam.

After Trump's 2016 victory, some participants in Obama-era gov-tech initiatives quit. Others, like Cutts, decided public service still made sense for them.

  • While Trump remains a factor for some recruiting targets, Cutts says a more common reason for Silicon Valley talent to say "no" is the move to Washington.
  • "And yes, you do have to pass a drug test," he adds.

Yes, but: You don't have to stay that long. The USDS hires people for as little as 3 months, with just under 2 years being the average tour of duty. There are currently 180 people at USDS, but Cutts says there's room for as many qualified people as he can find.

  • Cutts himself signed up for a 3-month tour and has now been with USDS for 3 years, rising to the role of director.

The big picture: Many who join do so because they are attracted to the notion of working on bigger, more impactful projects, he says. For example:

  • The recent overhaul of makes it easier for veterans to connect with the services they need, placing the 20 most-used services front and center.
  • In another case, Cutts points out the USDS helped an agency avoid wasting $100 million on hardware by relying on the cloud to manage peak traffic.

The bottom line: In many cases, he says, the barrier to government modernization isn't legislation or bureaucratic entrenchment, but a lack of technical talent.

"There are projects involving people’s lives and hundreds of millions of dollars at risk of not being delivered for lack of one UI researcher, a few engineers or one good product manager."
— Matt Cutts

What's next: Cutts is in the Bay Area for this week's Code for America Summit, looking to find as many recruits as possible — and perhaps even his own successor.

2. A third of teens sleep with their cellphones

Photo: Godong/UIG via Getty Images

Nearly a third of teens take their phones to bed when they go to sleep, according to a new study from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit promoting safe use of technology amongst kids.

Why it matters: Studies show uninterrupted sleep benefits overall health and digital devices interfere with this.

By the numbers:

  • 1 in 3 teens reports waking up at least once per night and checking their phones.
  • 1 in 4 parents — including me – check their phones at least once per night.
  • A majority of parents (61%) and teens (70%) check their phones in the half hour before bed, despite researchers' recommendations against doing so.
  • More than half of parents (52%) say they spend too much time on their phone. That's up 23% from 2016.
  • Kids agree. There has been an 11% increase in children saying their parents spend too much time on the phone (39% today vs. 28% in 2016).
  • By contrast, more teens today think they spend the right amount of time on their phone (47% now vs. 29% in 2016).

What they're saying: Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer tells Axios that he was particularly alarmed by the number of people taking their phones to bed when "we all know that devices are taking up too much of our time and that it is not healthy."

"If technology harms our health and relationships, we need to change our ways. It's as simple as that."
— Jim Steyer

Meanwhile, the Pokémon Company announced late Tuesday that it's planning to bring Pokémon Sleep to market next year, which will turn players' sleep habits into an element of Pokémon games. Assuming, you know, anyone still sleeps by then.

  • Whereas Pokémon Go incentivized walking, the new feature is designed to offer a reward for getting a good night's sleep.
3. What Intuit knows about you

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you file taxes with TurboTax, use the budgeting app Mint, or run a small business with QuickBooks, Intuit — the parent company of all of these services — knows at least as much about you as your bank does, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

Why it matters: The company can cross-sell its own products as well as products and services from third parties — like a Capital One Platinum Credit Card or a loan from Lending Club — based on what it knows about you.

Driving the news: Intuit said Tuesday it had agreed to buy analytics company Origami Logic, effectively doubling down on the use of customer data to enhance its marketing.

  • The acquisition will "accelerate Intuit’s ability to organize, understand, and use data to deliver personalized insights," Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi said in a press release.

Details: Whether you're a Mint user keeping a monthly budget or a DIY taxpayer who enjoys the ease of TurboTax, some of your information is shared across all of the company's platforms, per the company's privacy statement.

  • TurboTax, the Intuit product with the biggest household name, collects the sensitive details necessary to do your taxes: your Social Security number, where you work, your income, whether you own a home, what deductions you're eligible for, and where you bank.
  • By giving your information to TurboTax, you also give it to Intuit, which can share it with its other business lines. Intuit requires one account for all of its products, though signing up for one does not automatically sign you up for all.

Intuit has data-sharing agreements with JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo that allow customers to import their bank information more easily to Intuit's platforms. Even if your bank doesn't have an agreement with Intuit, you can sync your accounts using your bank login and password so that Mint can "scrape" your transactions, finding out what bills you have and when they're due.

But, but, but: What Intuit can do with your data without your permission is regulated, thanks to a rule that prohibits tax preparers from using your information to sell you other services without your permission.

Go deeper: Courtenay has more here.

4. Apple debuts first new iPod since 2015

Photo: Apple

Apple updated its iPod Touch on Tuesday with a faster processor (albeit the same A10 chip that powers the iPhone 7) and support for augmented reality and group FaceTime chat. The new iPod Touch starts at $199 for a 32GB model and goes up to $399 for a model with 256GB of memory.

Why it matters: It's the first update since 2015, CNN notes. The iPod Touch is no longer a top seller for Apple, but still serves a valuable role, especially as an introduction to mobile devices for kids whose parents aren't ready to get them their first iPhone.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Jesse Lund, who had been leading IBM's blockchain work with financial institutions, has left the company.
  • Walmart hired former Amazon and Google executive Suresh Kumar as CTO.


  • MacKenzie Bezos, Chris and Crystal Sacca, and Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson are among the latest to join a pledge to give away the majority of their wealth. (Axios)
  • Acting on a tip from FireEye, Facebook removed a number of posts, accounts and groups tied to "coordinated inauthentic behavior" linked to Iran. (Axios)
  • Zynga plans to sell (and lease back) its San Francisco headquarters for $600 million. (SF Chronicle)
6. After you Login

Check out some of the browsers that predate Netscape.

Ina Fried