Jan 23, 2020

Axios Login

The worst part of Davos is all the name dropping. Anyway, sorry Login is a little late, I got stuck in a panel with Jane Goodall, Susan Wojcicki and Marc Benioff, and you know how that goes....

Today's Login is 1,466 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook's rising Democrat problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook's role in the 2020 election puts it at the very center of the partisan storm. But, as Axios' Sara Fischer and Scott Rosenberg report, the company needs to worry not just about election interference or fake news, but also what a Democrat in the White House could mean for its business.

Why it matters: The Obama administration's warm embrace of Big Tech is no longer shared by many Democratic policymakers and presidential hopefuls. Many of them hold Facebook responsible for President Trump's 2016 victory, assail it for allowing misinformation to spread, and have vowed to regulate it or break it up.

Driving the news: Democratic contenders responded with visceral dislike to mentions of Facebook during the New York Times' recent on-camera endorsement process.

  • Joe Biden: "I've never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I've never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he's a real problem," Biden told the Times.
  • Bernie Sanders: "You have Facebook and Twitter, Google, enormous amount of the advertising that is done online. These are very, very serious problems."
  • Pete Buttigieg: "[T]hat's the problem with Facebook. No one company and no one person should have the kind of power that they've accumulated."

Between the lines: Tech issues have driven campaign talk during this Democratic primary season more than ever before.

  • Antitrust: Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for Big Tech companies like Facebook to be broken up, and most of their competitors have suggested they need more scrutiny and regulation.
  • Content liability: In his interview with the Times' editorial board, Biden suggested that Facebook shouldn't be protected from liability for content users provide.
  • Privacy: Sanders told Vox in December that "there should be strict accountability and oversight over the collection and sale of consumer data, especially by major technology corporations such as Facebook."

Be smart: Criticism of Big Tech is coming from both parties. But Republicans and conservatives have historically opposed regulating industry and challenging monopolies, while for Democrats, it's home base.

The big picture: Facebook has leaned on its conservative connections under the Trump administration, while its relationship with Democrats has become more hostile.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has met with Trump on several occasions, most recently for a private White House dinner in October.
  • Facebook board member Peter Thiel has helped connect the company with conservatives, libertarians and the Trump administration.
  • Facebook's D.C. policy executive Joel Kaplan sparked a firestorm inside the company when he appeared at the contentious 2018 hearing over Brett Kavanaugh's alleged sexual misconduct to support his old friend.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week called Facebook "shameful" and criticized the company for "schmoozing" with the Trump administration.
  • In leaked audio of a company meeting last year, Zuckerberg said an Elizabeth Warren presidency would be an "existential" threat to Facebook.
  • The company has dug in its heels on allowing politicians to say whatever they like in ads, truthful or not — a decision that continues to outrage many Democrats.

Yes, but: Facebook's Silicon Valley-based workforce almost certainly leans liberal, and its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is a vocal Democrat.

Our thought bubble: Presidents don't have the power to break up companies on their own — that's up to the Justice Department and the courts. But a president can certainly make a company's life miserable.

The bottom line: Big companies of a sufficient size generally avoid becoming associated with a political party because they want to attract customers across the political spectrum and they want to profit under presidents of either party.

2. Apple's encryption situation, explained

Apple has come under fire this week for holding onto encryption keys to iCloud backups.

But Apple's practice is nothing new — and it's not a sign the company is capitulating to law enforcement in the encryption debate.

Why it matters: Apple has come under criticism from all corners, with President Trump and others criticizing the company for not giving the government a "back door" into iPhones, and others saying Apple has offered law enforcement too much access.

In reality, Apple has staked out somewhat of a middle ground between the extremes, but falls far closer to the pro-encryption end of the spectrum.

How it works: With iMessage, Apple allows users to fully encrypt their messages, so they can't be seen or recovered by Apple. When it comes to the iPhone, the device itself is fully encrypted — meaning without the passcode, no one (not even Apple) has access to the information stored inside.

Yes, but: With iCloud backups of the data to the phone, Apple made the decision to hold onto the encryption key — largely so that if consumers lose their password, there is still a way to recover their data.

  • Of course Apple knows that this choice also avoids a hard-line stance in which it has nothing to offer law enforcement — which would likely lead to even more confrontation than the company already faces.
  • A Reuters report this week led many to conclude this is a new policy or one hidden from the public. In fact, it has been publicly disclosed and reported, though it is perhaps not that widely understood.
  • And if a user really wants to keep their data in their own hands, they can back up their iPhone to a computer instead, or choose to have no backup at all.

Between the lines: Apparently, many law enforcement agencies don't fully understand they can get much of what they want from iCloud backups and instead seek to pressure Apple to crack open iPhones instead.

Our thought bubble: Apple isn't pleasing everyone, clearly. But it is offering customers who want full encryption a means to do so, while, in many cases, not leaving law enforcement empty-handed.

  • The issue continues to be hotly debated, with Attorney General William Barr issuing a renewed call for a back door to the iPhone's encryption, a move critics say will inevitably lead to abuses, either from hackers or repressive governments that want their own access to citizens' iPhones.

Meanwhile: Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at a meeting between President Trump and tech leaders in Davos on Wednesday, as I reported yesterday. Shortly after, Trump issued a somewhat convoluted statement on Apple, during an interview with CNBC. You can read the full comments here, but suffice it to say he still wants more from the iPhone maker.

3. Internet voting gets a tryout

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A local election in Washington state is about to break new ground by letting residents vote by smartphone.

Why it matters: The U.S. suffers from chronically low voter turnout, but experts are concerned that internet voting is vulnerable to hacking and manipulation.

  • "There is a firm consensus in the cybersecurity community that mobile voting on a smartphone is a really stupid idea," computer science professor Duncan Buell told NPR, which first reported on the voting plan.
  • "I don't know that I have run across cybersecurity experts whose mortgages are not paid by a mobile-voting company who think it's a good idea."

The big picture: There's a world of difference between federal elections and more local races, and this is definitely the latter.

  • Voters will log in using their names and birthdays and verify their votes with a signature on their device.
  • Washington state already votes by mail, so election officials have experience with signature verification, the head of the company providing the tech told NPR.

Between the lines: The officials plan to make copies of the votes for auditing, but this wouldn't solve manipulation before votes are cast.

  • "If you're doing phone voting or internet voting, it's pretty much 'garbage in, garbage out,'" the former chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology told NPR.
  • The other side: Concerned voters can also use the portal to fill in their ballots, print them off, and mail them in, NPR notes.

Go deeper:

4. Jeff Bezos breaks silence on MBS phone hack

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tweeted Wednesday a photo from an Istanbul memorial to murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. As Axios' Ursula Perano reports, the tweet comes amid allegations that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) played a significant part in hacking the tech mogul's phone.

Screenshot: Jeff Bezos' Twitter

The big picture: Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, had his phone hacked by an account apparently owned by MBS in 2018. UN investigators believe that MBS, who the CIA has concluded ordered Khashoggi's death, may have been seeking to "influence, if not silence, [the Post's] reporting on Saudi Arabia."

Go deeper: Saudis sentence 5 to death over Khashoggi's murder

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • World leaders and CEOs continue to mingle in Davos.
  • Intel reports earnings after the markets close.

Trading Places

  • Enterprise drone tech firm PrecisionHawk named as its new chief executive James Norrod, former CEO of Tellabs, Zhone Technologies and Segway. Current CEO Michael Chasen will lead PrecisionHawk's advisory board.
  • Longtime Intel sociologist and Australian National University professor Genevieve Bell has been named the first Engelbart Distinguished Fellow by SRI International.


  • Tinder will add a panic button for when users feel unsafe. (Axios)
  • Huawei has postponed a developer conference in China amid the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. (The Verge)
  • Comcast shares slipped despite revenue and earnings exceeding expectations. (CNBC)
  • Expedia is reportedly not looking for a new CEO and is cutting costs, sparking fears it could be headed for a sale. (Business Insider)
6. After you Login

Someone made lights out of those colorful old G3 iMacs. WANT!