Aug 4, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Join Axios co-founder Mike Allen and "Axios Today" host Niala Boodhoo Wednesday at 12:30pm ET with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), The Curvy Bride owner Michelle Files and Satori Yoga Studio owner and co-founder Andrea Stern for a conversation on the state of small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

Situational awareness: European regulators Tuesday opened an antitrust investigation into Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit.

Today's Login is 1,596 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: The U.S. is now playing by China's internet rules

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump's crackdown on TikTok suggests that the U.S. government is starting to see the internet more like China does — as a network that countries can and should control within their borders.

The big picture: Today's global internet has split into three zones, according to many observers: The EU's privacy-focused network; China's government-dominated network; and the U.S.-led network dominated by a handful of American companies. TikTok's fate suggests China's model has U.S. fans as well.

Why it matters: As the internet splinters further, the U.S. and China look set to enter a Cold War-style battle for the hearts and minds of global users and developing nations. In this fight, U.S. nationalism may make a weaker case to the world than the ideal of internet freedom and open networks that the U.S. once evangelized.

Driving the news: Trump's threat to ban TikTok from the U.S. has fast-tracked an effort to force the video-sharing app's Chinese owners to sell it to a U.S. company (Microsoft is in talks).

Be smart: The move puts other foreign-owned companies on notice that the U.S. intends to favor American-owned businesses in the digital world.

  • That's a giant break from a long-established bipartisan consensus that American interests are best served by a U.S. marketplace, online and off, managed as a level playing field.

China started this game it was the first country to self-isolate from the global internet.

  • China controls information flows inside its borders, and its "great firewall" keeps most information the government dislikes from entering the country.
  • The Chinese government has ensured that its most widely used search and social services are domestically owned, and its laws now require any internet service to share data with the authorities.

Meanwhile, the EU's new privacy rules have created a different kind of internet zone governed by a stringent set of standards for handling individual user data.

  • Last month, a major EU ruling struck down the Privacy Shield, an arrangement between the EU and the U.S. that enabled companies to transfer data into and out of EU nations without risk.

Trump's crackdown on TikTok suggests that the U.S. is now adopting a more China-like perspective on what kinds of actions governments should take toward internet companies, including:

  • picking winners and losers among companies based on the whims of leaders;
  • insisting that companies make data available to the government for its needs — as Attorney General William Barr's argument for weak encryption does;
  • threatening to punish private platforms unless they support political leaders' preferred form of speech regulation.

Yes, but: Concerns over TikTok's willingness to share U.S. user data with the Chinese government are real.

  • TikTok says it keeps all such data outside of China and the reach of the Chinese government's laws.
  • Many security experts view all Chinese-owned businesses as vulnerable to government interference and intelligence demands.

Our thought bubble: The Trump administration's strong-arming of TikTok threatens to squander America's high ground as a champion of fair markets and networks.

What's next: Zoom, the videoconferencing service that's become a pandemic staple, could be the next China-linked company to face the White House's wrath.

Go deeper: Axios' Dan Primack interviews White House trade adviser Peter Navarro about the TikTok deal on the "Axios Re:Cap" podcast

2. FCC acts on Trump's social media order

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission Monday moved forward with responding to a request from Trump to craft new rules for online content, aimed at ending what he called "censorship" of conservatives, Axios' Kyle Daly and Ashley Gold report.

  • At the same time, the White House withdrew a GOP commissioner's renomination to the agency after he criticized calls for the government to regulate online speech.

The big picture: The FCC's move stems from a May executive order by the president, which aimed to scale back the liability shield that protects platforms from liability for content posted by users.

  • Trump wants the government to step in to ensure platforms are being "fair" — but writing rules that affect how companies like Facebook and Twitter can police speech would be a major new assertion of authority for the FCC.

Driving the news:

  • The FCC asked the public Monday to weigh in on the request to review the liability shield, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
  • Later in the day, the White House withdrew Republican commissioner Mike O'Rielly's nomination for a second term. In a speech last week — although he insisted he wasn't talking about Trump — he slammed those who "demean and denigrate the values of our Constitution" in pushing for the government to direct "private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way."

What we're hearing: Word in the Senate is that the White House withdrew O'Rielly's nomination specifically because he wasn't supportive enough of having the FCC write rules to curb Section 230's power, a Senate aide tells Axios.

Between the lines: The FCC could have moved straight to authoring proposed rules. It didn't.

  • It will now gather comment for 45 days and then start the rulemaking process, which can take months more.
  • That pushes out the date by which it's possible for the FCC to deliver final rules to well after the November election.

Yes, but: The FCC could also have denied the petition, as some Democrats on the commission wished. It didn't.

3. QAnon's 2020 resurgence

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The fear-inducing realities of 2020 have driven record online interest in the QAnon conspiracy theory, Axios' Stef Kight and Sara Fischer report.

Why it matters: QAnon is not just one fringe idea — it's a sprawling network of falsehoods sowing fear and confusion around some of today's most important issues, including election integrity and the coronavirus pandemic.

Catch up quick: QAnon adherents believe the "deep state" is engaged in a global fight to take down Trump.

  • QAnon believers say Trump is secretly fighting a child-selling cabal in the U.S., though the conspiracy has spiraled to cover a vast array of claims, from JFK Jr. having faked his death to the coronavirus being a hoax or biological weapon.

By the numbers: Conspiracy theories tied to QAnon are growing more popular.

  • There was more than 10 times as much Google search interest in QAnon in mid-July as in mid-January, according to Google Trends data.
  • QAnon pages and groups on Facebook had nearly 10 times more likes at the end of last month than they did last July, according to data tracked by the Atlantic Council and shared with Axios.
  • There has been a 190% increase in the daily average number of tweets with popular QAnon hashtags since March as compared to the seven months prior, according to data from GroupSense provided to Axios.

Between the lines: QAnon is premised on a simple good vs. evil dynamic, and very real concerns — a failing economy, child trafficking, and the coronavirus — may be driving more people to find comfort in its twisty logic and branching details.

What to watch: Tech giants are starting to crack down on QAnon, but policies around it are inconsistent and may in some cases be easily dodged.

Yes, but: Studies have shown that users are more likely to seek out bad information when a Big Tech platform flags it as false.

Meanwhile: New platforms such as Parler and are giving the conspiracy theory places to spread unchecked.

Go deeper: 11 GOP congressional nominees support QAnon conspiracy

4. San Jose gets student WiFi hotspots

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo Monday announced a deal with AT&T to make 11,000 4G hotspots available to keep students and families connected when schools begin virtually this fall, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: Like other school districts, Santa Clara County in the heart of Silicon Valley will stick with remote learning as COVID-19 cases surge in California. Students without broadband access will not be able to keep up with all-online classes.


  • San Jose is contributing $3.4 million to the plan, and AT&T is contributing $6 million of in-kind services to provide the hotspots.
  • 8,000 WiFi hotspots will be available to public school students to keep for the school year, and 3,000 hotspots will be available to the public to check out at local libraries.
  • Community WiFi will be available in some areas, and outdoor WiFi will be expanded at libraries, community centers and parks.

Reality check: The city of San Jose identified a little over 11,000 students who lack home internet service, but the countywide number is much larger — with an estimated total need of 15,000 hotspots and 50,000 computing devices.

What we're watching: AT&T's Rhonda Johnson said on a press call that the company is interested in replicating the public-private arrangement with other cities.

Go deeper: Schools confront broadband access crisis

5. Take note

Trading places

  • Dish hired FCC veteran William Beckwith as its director of wireless regulatory affairs, to help build a new team for wireless compliance as the company seeks to launch a 5G network.
  • Trade group USTelecom – The Broadband Association hired Wilkinson Barker Knauer attorney Josh Bercu as vice president, policy and advocacy, and former Senate aide and trade association veteran Kayla Gardner as director of policy and partnerships.


6. After you Login

Had enough of QAnon above? No fear — I am here to tell you about Qanun, the musical instrument. Take a listen!

Ina Fried