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October 14, 2020

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Today's Login is 1,396 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Apple's iPhone 12 bets may take time to pay off

The iPhone 12 Pro features both 5G support as well as a LiDAR sensor
The iPhone 12 Pro features both 5G support as well as a lidar sensor. Photo: Apple

With the iPhone 12, unveiled Tuesday, Apple has made some big technology bets that should boost demand for 5G networks as well as help spur developers to create more advanced augmented reality applications. However, phone buyers will probably have to wait for a payoff.

Why it matters: Many tech advances start out as chicken-and-egg problems, with developers waiting for a market to emerge while consumers don't yet see the value in spending more. Apple has the rare ability to push past that block. Because of its size and comparatively focused product line, its support of new technologies like 5G and lidar can vault them into the mainstream.

Driving the news:

  • Apple on Tuesday introduced four models of the iPhone 12, with starting prices ranging from $699 to $1,099, depending on model. (Technically those prices are only for the AT&T and Verizon models.)
  • All four models include support for a wide range of 5G networks, including Verizon's speedy but sparsely available millimeter-wave network.

The two Pro models add not only a zoom lens, but also a lidar sensor for depth sensing and advanced augmented reality capabilities.

  • Apple has already included such a sensor in the iPad Pro, but putting it in the iPhone means there will eventually be millions of lidar-equipped devices.
  • That could be a large enough market to start attracting app developers to take advantage of the technology — by offering more complex image layers or more precise map locations for AR apps, which place digital information over real-world images.

The big picture: Apple is investing in areas that it sees as key to the long-term future, but consumers who buy the latest iPhones are paying for those advances now.

  • The 5G network support and additional sensor add to Apple's costs, and you can be sure that they are being passed along one way or another. For example, while the new iPhones are roughly similar in price to the prior year's models, Apple is no longer including chargers or wired headphones.

Yes, but: Some of the other features that Apple has added to the new phones — including the faster A14 Bionic processor, larger image sensor and improved OLED display on the base model — will benefit people out of the gate.

What they're saying:

  • Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster: "[N]ow it's up to the carriers to make true 5G widely available," he said, making a similar point regarding lidar. "We've been waiting three years for this hardware to be added, and now the ball is in developers' hands to make compelling AR applications."
  • New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin: "We continue to think the iPhone 12 will drive a big wave of upgrades and switching."

2. More companies plan to let workers stay remote

A growing number of tech companies say workers need not ever come back to the office if they don't want to. The move comes as pandemic-related closures have already kept many tech workers out of the office for months.

Why it matters: Technology's spread into every corner of the broader economy keeps boosting demand for workers with tech skills. That pushes employers to accommodate tech talent wherever they find it.

Driving the news:

  • Dropbox said Tuesday it will become a "virtual-first" company that allows workers to telecommute. The company plans to open new drop-in offices called "Dropbox Studios" once it can do so safely.
  • Microsoft is letting more employees work from home permanently, as The Verge reported last week.
  • Twitter and Square, both led by Jack Dorsey, have said employees can work from home permanently, while Facebook said employees who want to permanently telecommute can request to do so.

Between the lines: Tech companies once lured workers with the fanciest offices and best perks. Now, companies increasingly feel they need a work-from-home option to stay competitive.

  • The move also allows workers to live anywhere and enables companies to recruit from throughout the country and world, rather than be tied to places where they have physical offices.

Yes, but: Workers who move from pricey areas like the Bay Area or New York may see their salaries cut to reflect their more affordable living circumstances.

The big picture: Flexible remote work policies may be helping companies retain employees, too, according to data from recruiting technology firm TopFunnel shared with Axios' Ashley Gold.

  • According to TopFunnel's data, Pinterest, Square and Twitter employees all became less likely to reply to recruiters after work-from-home-friendly policies were announced.
  • Facebook's early embrace of remote work has also resulted in its employees being less likely to reply to recruiters now.

Microsoft, which recently announced a hybrid permanent work from home policy, was an outlier: its employees have been replying to outside recruiters at a higher rate than before.

  • My thought bubble: That could be a sign that Microsoft's workers, concentrated far from Silicon Valley in Seattle, are seeing additional opportunities in a work-from-home world that they can pursue without having to move.

3. Report: COVID is worsening internet freedom

Governments around the world have seized on the pandemic as an opportunity to expand digital surveillance and harvest more data from their citizens, according to a report out Wednesday from Freedom House, a democracy and human rights research group.

Why it matters: As Axios' Kyle Daly reports, privacy advocates have warned since early in the pandemic that the tech behind efforts to conduct contact tracing and enforce quarantines and other public safety protocols could be abused and made permanent, particularly in authoritarian countries like China.

What's happening, according to the report:

Dozens of countries have rolled out government-backed contact-tracing apps without effective laws to protect people from overly expansive data collection.

  • China, Russia, India, Singapore, Ecuador and Bahrain were among the countries that Freedom House found implemented apps that either send reams of data unchecked to government servers or make invasive data and health documentation demands.

Governments in at least 28 countries censored websites and social media posts to suppress information such as unfavorable health statistics and corruption allegations.

  • Many have also imprisoned those who speak out online against government mishandling of the pandemic, and some have at times imposed total internet blackouts on their citizens.

Of note: China was found to have the world's worst conditions for internet freedom for the sixth consecutive year, but the U.S. was not far behind — in seventh place, with internet freedom worsening for the fourth year running, Freedom House found.

  • Digital surveillance around the Black Lives Matter movement as well as disinformation and threats to social media companies pushed by President Trump contributed to the nation's poor showing.

4. Facebook says no anti-vax ads, but posts OK

Facebook said Tuesday that it will ban anti-vaccine ads in an effort to combat misinformation and support public health experts. However, Axios' Ursula Perano reports, the policy doesn't apply to the organic spread of anti-vaccine misinformation, including that spread by influencers.

Why it matters: The policy shift comes before the arrival of — and amid the continued politicization of — an expected COVID-19 vaccine.

What they're saying: "Now, if an ad explicitly discourages someone from getting a vaccine, we’ll reject it. Enforcement will begin over the next few days," Facebook said.

  • "Ads that advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines — including a COVID-19 vaccine — are still allowed."

The big picture: Americans' willingness to get a coronavirus vaccine dropped to 50% in late September, a dramatic 11-point fall from the previous month, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Go deeper: Facebook bans Holocaust denial on its platform

5. Clarence Thomas wants to reel in Section 230

A screenshot of Supreme Court oral arguments on C-Span
Photo illustration: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The longstanding but now hotly contested law that keeps online platforms from being held liable for what users post should be narrowed, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote Tuesday.

Why it matters: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a growing target of bipartisan ire. Thomas, arguably the most conservative member of the Supreme Court, is laying down a marker as the likely confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett looks set to tip the high court further right, Ashley reports.

Driving the news: Thomas wrote about Section 230 in a filing following the court's decision not to hear a Section 230-related case, MalwareBytes Inc. v. Enigma Software Group.

  • Thomas said his fellow justices were right to pass on the case — which centered on whether MalwareBytes, an internet security company, could be held liable for what Enigma Software said was a wrongful designation of its products as malware.
  • But he said the court should welcome the chance to scale back Section 230 through a different case.

What they're saying: Thomas wrote that internet companies have been granted "sweeping protection" and courts are reading more comprehensive immunity into Section 230 than was intended.

The other side: Internet companies and the law's authors have long argued that the purpose of Section 230 was to allow companies to moderate online content and remove material as they see fit.

Yes, but: Those defenses have a shrinking constituency in Washington.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Today is not a busy day on the tech calendar, but it is National Be Bald and Be Free Day, National Bring Your Teddy Bear to School/Work Day and National Stop Bullying Day, among other things.


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