Apr 9, 2021

Axios Login

Situational awareness: The historic effort to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama appears headed for defeat with almost half the 3,000+ votes counted. Unofficial tallies show workers voting more than two-to-one against the union. Counting continues today.

Meanwhile, I hate to break it to you, but Login will be off next week in celebration of Email Delivery Workers' Awareness Week. Rarely do you hear about the people who deliver each piece of email to your inbox each day. Just kidding. But we will be off.

Today's edition is 1,395 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Threats to Taiwan are tech's nightmare

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Threats to Taiwan, the self-governing island only slightly bigger than Maryland, are the next epicenter for disruptions to tech's global supply chain.

Why it matters: Taiwan is home to 92% of the world's leading-edge chip manufacturing operations and a vital center for producing other tech components, including laptops and PC motherboards.

Driving the news:

  • Just this week, the U.S. military warned that China could be accelerating its longstanding efforts to regain control of Taiwan.
  • A global semiconductor shortage has highlighted the world's dependence on chips, as well as the increasingly vital role that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) plays in that.
  • That's because most companies that design chips today — Qualcomm, Nvidia and Apple among them — don't actually do the manufacturing, instead relying on companies like TSMC.

What they're saying: "This is the most important 14,000-square-mile island in the world," says Stephen Ezell, VP of global innovation policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Catch up quick: Ever since China's Nationalists were defeated by the Communists in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, Beijing has viewed the island as part of China's sovereign territory. But it operates independently, with its own elections, military, and currency.

  • Around a dozen countries have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei and many others, including the U.S., maintain informal relations.
  • The U.S. consumed more than $63 billion worth of Taiwanese tech exports through the first eight months of last year, or 32% of the island's output. China accounted for 30% and Europe about 22%, per Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute.
  • If Taiwan's chip production was permanently disrupted, the Semiconductor Industry Association estimates it would take three years and $350 billion in investment to build enough capacity to replace it.

The big picture: Foreign policy experts and tech trade groups have been sounding alarms about the consequences if Taiwan were to come under tighter Chinese control.

  • "The threat is manifest during this decade — in fact, in the next six years," U.S. Navy Adm. Admiral Philip Davidson, the top military leader in the Asia-Pacific region, told a Senate hearing last month, per AP.

Between the lines: The recent crackdown in Hong Kong following passage of a strict "national security law" is seen as a wake-up call with regards to Taiwan.

  • "Until Beijing changes its current policy, it's critical to point out that the PRC’s formula for unification with Taiwan is still based on 'One Country, Two Systems' — the model that it applies to Hong Kong," says Russell Hsiao, executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute. "And it's clear as day for people to see how that's going for the people of Hong Kong."

That's why many in the industry are calling for the U.S. to be clearer about its support for Taiwan and, at the same time, to encourage investment in domestic chip production.

  • "I think that Taiwan needs to be the center point of the Biden administration national security economic strategy in the Pacific and Asia," Ezell said.
2. Kids hooked on tech becomes bipartisan focus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lawmakers in both parties are finding common ground on the importance of protecting children's privacy and well-being online, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

Why it matters: The pandemic, which has resulted in skyrocketing screen time for kids, has prompted bipartisan questions about children's online health, addiction and technology business models that encourage increased time on tech platforms.

What they're saying: In an interview with Axios, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said she's especially concerned about youth suicide and depression and its links to social media use, citing a study from the Association of Psychological Science which found an increase in suicide-related outcomes in U.S. adolescents linked to increased screen time.

  • In terms of solutions, "everything is on the table," and online health and children is an area where Republicans and Democrats can work together, said McMorris Rodgers, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The other side: Tech companies have defended their policies on children, arguing they give parents control over how kids use their services and that children are best served by apps made especially for them.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "There is clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would want to use a service like Instagram" to "stay connected with friends," when asked at the hearing if the company is developing an Instagram platform for kids.

What to watch: The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act, which governs how companies handle children's data under age 13. The FTC can use its new rulemaking group to make specific regulations around children's privacy.

  • FTC commissioners issued a joint statement in support of an inquiry into how companies including TikTok and Facebook affect children and teens.
  • The House Oversight Committee is investigating YouTube for its advertising practices on YouTube Kids, and Democrats recently pressed Facebook on its plans for an Instagram for kids.
  • McMorris Rodgers and three other Republicans wrote to Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai requesting information on the platforms' effects on children's mental health.

Our thought bubble: Kid-oriented internet legislation has historically been a rare area where Congress can get bills passed and find bipartisan agreement, so it could be a first step lawmakers can take in efforts to address concerns about Big Tech.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for anyone in distress, in addition to prevention and crisis resources. Also available for online chat.

3. Esports scene grapples with anti-Asian hate

Comments from a Korean pro gamer based in Dallas have stirred discussion in the esports world about discrimination against Asian and Asian American players, Axios' Stephen Totilo reports.

Driving the news: "Being Asian here is terrifying," said Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok, a player for the Dallas Fuel "Overwatch" team, during a livestream on Monday that was later translated by another team's manager and has since gone viral.

Why it matters: The rise in anti-Asian hate touches all corners of life in the U.S. and has triggered calls to action. A significant number of top esports players in the North America hail from East Asian countries, and their experiences with xenophobia have left those who love the scene soul-searching about what can be done.

  • During his stream, Lee said people in Dallas would approach him and his fellow Korean players while they gathered outside and would pretend to cough on them. "They call us Chinese, then harass us," he said.
  • Team management condemned the harassment and vowed to have officials literally stand by the players outside to protect them.

By the numbers: More than half of the Overwatch League's players are from South Korea, according to the league's official listings. That includes all eight players on the Fuel and three of its coaches.

  • Other top esports also boast a large number of stars from East Asian countries, primarily South Korea and China.

The big picture: The Overwatch League has condemned harassment, and organizations including the Dallas Fuel have vowed to do more to help players.

Between the lines: Some in the esports community say the scene needs to understand why players don’t speak out more and help them do so.

4. Exclusive: Google urges Biden to work with EU

Google is signaling to the White House that a lack of coordination on tech and trade policy across the Atlantic is hurting business, Ashley reports.

What's happening: Google's head of global policy and government affairs, Karan Bhatia, is urging the Biden administration to accept an invitation from the European Commission to form an EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council, according to a post shared exclusively with Axios.

Driving the news: Around the world, different countries are proposing and enacting trade, tax, privacy and moderation rules impacting U.S. tech companies.

  • On Thursday, the Biden administration proposed a tax agreement for very large multinational companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, the Wall Street Journal reports.

What they're saying: "Trans-Atlantic coordination has largely become an afterthought, if it's thought of at all," Bhatia wrote in a blog post.

  • Bhatia says the Biden administration should opt to participate in the proposed Trade and Technology Council to avoid "unilateral approaches" on data flows between the U.S. and Europe and regulation of digital platforms.

Between the lines: Directly appealing to the Biden administration shows Google considers this a pressing business issue.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • It's National Unicorn Day, although I have to say that has started to feel less special the last few years. Thanks a lot, tech startups.


6. After you Login

Since I won't be in your inbox next week, I feel like I need to give you a little present. OK, here goes. If you are on Facebook, join this group devoted to sloths. It's the best thing in my feed. (Sorry to all my friends with babies.)