Jun 13, 2019

Axios Login

Ina Fried

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1 big thing: Spotlight shifts from product launches

Andy Rubin debuts the Essential Phone at Code Conference 2017. Photo: Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Not that long ago, what people wanted from a tech conference was to hear from executives about the next shiny object coming down the pipeline.

But nowadays, tech CEOs aren't talking about what's fresh from their corporate ovens — instead, they're the ones being grilled.

What's happening: At this week's Code Conference, not one product debuted on stage, and there was precious little discussion of what companies had in the works.

  • Facebook did say, without giving details, that it would have new hardware later this year for its Portal in-home video station.
  • And, Twitter spoke in the broadest of terms about some new features coming to the service, like a kind of message more public than a DM but more private than a tweet.

Mostly, though, speakers from the Big Tech companies were pressed on what they were doing to fight hate and misinformation.

  • Critic Scott Galloway called for the breakup of Facebook and representatives from immigration rights group RAICES slammed large tech firms for helping enable family separations and other misdeeds at the border.

Contrast that with years past, where the event (and its predecessor, the D: All Things Digital conference) regularly served as a product launch pad, such as...

  • The world got its first look at Bing and Windows 8 here, along with some classic flops like the Palm Folio.
  • Siri debuted here when it was still a startup, and Steve Jobs once used the show to launch Apple's Airport Express wireless networking device.
  • More recently, this is where Andy Rubin showed off the Essential Phone.

To be sure, Code has shifted focus some over the years, and there are still plenty of tech enthusiasts and lots of venues devoted exclusively to product launches.

  • This week's E3, for example, was all about the next video games and consoles, while CES has all the product launches one could want (and then some). Plus, the big companies have largely followed Apple's lead and now host their own events to give major products their own stage.
  • The tech world also got excited over leaks about Google's upcoming Pixel 4. Google even upped the ante, tweeting its own real photo of the rear camera array from its official hardware account.

The bottom line: Some people want the latest gadget. Some people want answers to what's gone wrong in tech. And some of us want both.

2. California bill could upend the gig economy

Rivals Uber and Lyft have joined forces, a rare event, to oppose a California legislature bill that would make it harder for them to classify workers as independent contractors in their home state, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Driving the news: A bill that would codify last year's Dynamex decision by the state's Supreme Court passed California's Assembly (51-11) last month, and will soon be in the hands of the state Senate.

  • That court decision set a new, higher bar for companies that want to pay service providers as contractors rather than employees — a practice that the ride-hailing services' businesses are built upon.

Background: The Dynamex decision was the result of a 2005 lawsuit brought against a courier and delivery company of that name by its drivers, which it started to classify as independent contractors in 2004.

  • The California Supreme Court's eventual decision set a new standard for how to classify workers known as the ABC test, under which all 3 requirements need to be met for a worker to be classified as an independent contractor.
  • The requirements are: the company isn’t controlling how the work is done, the work is outside of the company’s main business, and the worker is in business for themselves.

Details: AB5, which California's Senate will soon consider, would not only codify Dynamex's more stringent requirements into the state's laws, but also go beyond its original scope of wages and also guarantee other benefits and protections.

What they're saying: In a joint opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, the heads of Uber and Lyft argue that the flexibility of being independent contractors is crucial for their drivers.

  • They also say they're prepared to provide drivers with additional benefits like: paid time off, retirement planning, and education reimbursement; the creation of a drivers' organization to speak on their behalf; and a wage guarantee.
  • This idea shares some elements with the concept of "portable benefits," which has been proposed as a response to new workplace arrangements.

Yes, but: Critics say that the companies' proposals don't go far enough. AB5 sponsor Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) told the SF Chronicle that they had previously suggested paying 2.5% of wages into a fund to cover benefits, far below the 6.2% of salaries contributed into Social Security alone.

Meanwhile, Assembly Republicans have sponsored a competing bill, AB71, that would roll back the Dynamex provisions. The bill is still being reviewed by an Assembly committee.

Go deeper: The on-demand economy is reshaping America's workforce

3. Law enforcement program masks suspects' race

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Next month, the San Francisco District Attorney's office will begin using a computer program developed at Stanford to strip police reports of names, neighborhoods and other proxies for race like eye color or hairstyle.

Why it matters: The effort is meant to remove bias, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports. Prosecutors decide whether to charge suspects based on police reports and evidence — but they're liable to be swayed by their own biases, which could lead them to bring charges more often against people of color.

The big picture: The U.S. criminal justice system is chock-full of racial disparities. Our prisons are disproportionately black and Hispanic — the two groups make up 56% of incarcerated people, but only 28% of the U.S. adult population.

  • Among other things, it's the result of countless layers of systemic bias, from overpolicing in neighborhoods of color to sentencing disparities.
  • The SFDA–Stanford project addresses one link in the chain: prosecutorial decisions.

"We want to make sure that when we're charging somebody, race doesn't come into it," a spokesperson for the SFDA's office tells Axios. "If we're able to take implicit bias out of even 90% of these cases, that's a huge achievement."

How it works: The system replaces racial proxies with generic placeholders — Person 1, Officer 2, Neighborhood 3. The idea is that a prosecutor reading a sanitized report will focus on the narrative rather than being influenced by their own preconceptions.

Go deeper: Kaveh has more here.

4. Bird buys Scoot, gaining entry into SF market

Scoot scooters in San Francisco. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Bird on Wednesday said that it has acquired Scoot, which provides on-demand rentals of mopeds, scooters and bikes, Kia reports.

Why it matters: This looks to get Bird access to the San Francisco market, where Scoot has an operating permit, but Bird did not. Scoot will be able to continue operating in San Francisco post-acquisition.

What's new: A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson tells Axios...

"We approved the continued use of the permit based on a review of the request and on their assurances to meet the goals of Scooter Share Pilot."
"These efforts include the promotion of safety as a top priority and improving equity to ensure underrepresented communities can actively participate in the program."

Background: Scoot was founded in 2011 and spent its first several years focused on moped rentals in San Francisco.

  • Last year, it expanded to Barcelona, and added bicycles before getting into the small motorized scooters.
  • To date, it has raised about $47 million in venture capital and was last valued at $71.5 million, according to PitchBook.
  • Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal's Katie Roof said it was in the neighborhood of $25 million.

The bottom line: It was only a matter of time before the scooter rental market began to consolidate.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • E3 wraps up in LA, while the WSJ D.Live Asia conference begins in Hong Kong.
  • The Information is hosting an autonomous vehicles summit in San Francisco.

Trading Places

  • Jet.com president Simon Belsham will leave Walmart in August, per Reuters, as the company further integrates Jet with its broader e-commerce efforts.
  • The XR Association, which represents the augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality industries, named Elizabeth Hyman as its first CEO. She was previously an EVP at tech trade group CompTIA.

ICYMI

  • Huawei canceled a planned laptop launch amid a U.S. ban that would limit its ability to get both the chips and software it needs. (Axios)
  • Cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike raised $612 million in its IPO. (Axios)
  • Public transit patrons going to protests in Hong Kong were flocking to buy paper tickets rather than using electronic ones for fear of being tracked, according to some reports. (Journalist Kate Lyon's Twitter feed)
  • A deepfake designed to warn about deepfakes went viral (NBC News)
  • Jigsaw, a unit of Google parent Alphabet, bought a Russian troll operation to better understand how they work. (Wired)
  • The mobile app of Spain's main soccer league was using the phone's microphone to listen if fans were in a bar that was pirating the games. (Gizmodo)
6. After you Login

Actually, sometimes you do have to reinvent the wheel.

Ina Fried