Jan 22, 2021

Axios Login

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Today's Login is 1,359 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: What we know about Apple's car ambitions

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Apple's moves toward breaking into the market for self-driving cars have come in fits and starts, but it has big ambitions for the space and is moving forward both with its own efforts and potential partnerships with automakers.

Why it matters: Apple has great businesses in phones and computers, but its long-term growth potential will depend on conquering an entirely new market. Improving health care and playing a role in autonomous vehicles appear to be its two biggest bets on that front.

What's happening:

  • Hyundai made a rare (and probably unwise) public confirmation two weeks ago that it is in talks to work with Apple in some form. Reports were that the Korean automaker would help with both manufacturing and battery technology, with production possible as early as 2024.
  • Apple, after getting permission from California regulators, has street-tested a few dozen vehicles outfitted with lidar, radar and other sensors, some of which have been spotted in Silicon Valley.
  • Apple has continued to hire and invest in the business, though it has also cut staff at times, changed leadership and revamped its strategy. The size of the team has varied over time, but has been on the order of 1,000 workers, according to sources.

Between the lines: Apple is very interested in the space and wants a chance to play a significant role, but that doesn't necessarily mean proprietary iCars will be rolling down the streets.

  • The company has considered several possibilities in addition to making its own cars, ranging from building software that others could use to focusing less on cars and more on the broader area of "autonomy."
  • "The only thing we do actually know with certainty is that they have been developing and testing automated driving systems," says Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights.

Yes, but: Apple might well not want to make the whole car, but run an autonomous car service, for several reasons, Abuelsamid said.

  • Selling cars doesn't produce the 35%+ profit margins Apple typically likes, while a service might.
  • Apple could pick and choose where to offer the service, focusing on big cities that are well-suited to self-driving cars and have a large base of affluent customers. Think L.A., New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and so on.
  • Apple has been making a big push on services.

Be smart: Apple usually likes to put a better interface on technology that's emerging but not brand new, rather than being the absolute first to market.

  • The iPod wasn't the first digital music player, the iPhone wasn't the first smartphone and the Apple Watch wasn't the first smartwatch. Apple typically enters a market when it sees an opportunity to do something better.

Apple in the past has confirmed its general interest in the category but declined to comment for this story.

The bottom line: Whatever Apple is doing will take time. Given how much work still needs to be done on automated driving, Abuelsamid said that probably puts an Apple car, or even a service, "likely in the second half of the 2020s."

2. Facebook refers Trump ban to oversight board

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's decision to ask its new independent Oversight Board to review the company's indefinite suspension of former President Trump is likely to set a critical precedent for how the social media giant handles political speech from world leaders.

What they're saying: "I very much hope and can expect ... that they will uphold our decision," Facebook's VP of global affairs Nick Clegg tells Axios' Sara Fischer.

Details: The board has 90 days to determine whether it thinks Facebook did indeed make the right call in suspending the ex-president in the wake of the Capitol siege. Until then, Trump will remain suspended.

  • Facebook has also asked the board to provide additional guidance on how it should apply its policies toward political leaders' speech.

The big picture: The Trump ban has ignited a global conversation around whether private companies should hold so much power over free speech. World leaders from Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Poland and other countries have expressed concern that the bans set a dangerous precedent.

Our thought bubble: By asking the board for recommendations on how to generally handle inflammatory and false speech from world leaders, Facebook is ensuring it will have at least some ammunition as it faces that global pressure.

  • The board will likely either deliver a reasoned justification for the company establishing red lines that even world leaders can't cross, or an explanation that Facebook can refer back to for why Trump was a unique case.

Be smart: Deferring to the board on such a consequential matter would give the fledgling group major legitimacy.

The other side: The board is governed by a group of trustees, not Facebook, noted Jamal Greene, co-chair of the Oversight Board and a Columbia Law School professor.

  • "Facebook can't discipline us. They can't fire us. They can't direct the decisions we make," Greene told Axios.
3. Rosenworcel asked to lead FCC, connect kids

As Jessica Rosenworcel takes the reins at the Federal Communications Commission, the White House is tasking her with advancing a goal she's long held: ensuring students have internet access at home, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: In-home broadband is crucial during the pandemic as schools conduct lessons remotely. One study estimates that nearly 17 million students lack sufficient internet access at home.

Driving the news: President Biden on Thursday tapped Rosenworcel, the senior Democrat on the commission, to lead the agency on an acting basis.

  • Biden also issued an executive order encouraging the FCC to "increase connectivity options for students lacking reliable home broadband" as part of his COVID-19 response plan.

Between the lines: Rosenworcel, who coined the term "homework gap," urged the FCC when she was in the Democratic minority to expand a school broadband funding program to subsidize home internet access.

The FCC is also charged with implementing a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program that will provide up to $50 a month for home internet service for low-income Americans during the pandemic.

The intrigue: In a new policy paper out Friday, Verizon is urging Congress to make the benefit permanent.

Meanwhile, Biden also named Rebecca Kelly Slaughter as acting chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission.

4. Instacart cuts 1,900 jobs, including union jobs

Instacart is laying off nearly 1,900 of its part-time employees who assemble customer orders at grocery stores, including a 10-person union in Skokie, Illinois, Motherboard first reported and the company confirmed to Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva.

The big picture: Instacart is cutting positions that come with employment status and related benefits — an anomaly within the gig economy and even Instacart's own business, which relies on independent-contractor delivery drivers.

Between the lines: The grocery delivery company, which reportedly plans to go public this year, says the cuts are a result of changes in its partnerships with certain stores that prefer to have their own staff assemble customer orders and hand them off to Instacart's drivers.

"We know this is an incredibly challenging time for many as we move through the COVID-19 crisis, and we're doing everything we can to support in-store shoppers through this transition," the company said in a statement to Axios.

Yes, but: A spokesperson for Kroger, whose stores were home to hundreds of the affected jobs including the union positions, told CNN the grocery giant "was not involved in Instacart's decision to suspend its in-store operations model."

  • An Instacart spokesperson was not aware of that statement when reached.

Flashback: Instacart joined Uber, Lyft and others on a successful campaign to convince California voters to approve a ballot measure in November ensuring gig companies can keep treating their workers as contractors and not employees.

5. Take note

Trading Places

  • The Biden administration nominated Christopher Hoff to be assistant Commerce secretary for services, handing him lead responsibility for negotiating a new U.S.-EU data transfer arrangement after the previous Privacy Shield was struck down.
  • Okta has hired Samantha "Sam" Fisher as its head of dynamic work, focused on creating new models for workplaces that include both remote and in-person workers.

ICYMI

  • Google parent Alphabet is shutting down Loon, the "moonshot" that aimed to deliver internet access to remote places via high-altitude balloons. (Axios)
  • PayPal has terminated the account of a woman who flew on a private jet to the Capitol riots. (Daily Beast)
  • Intel is investigating a hack that revealed a graphic with some of its financial results early, prompting it to speed up the release of its earnings report. (Reuters)
  • Google told lawmakers in Australia it would have "no real choice but to" pull its search engine from the country if Australia goes through with a law to make tech platforms pay publishers for news. (Reuters)
  • Parler lost its bid to have a federal judge force Amazon’s AWS unit to immediately reinstate hosting for the controversial social network. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

Sam and Sadie. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

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