Jan 27, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Yeah, yeah. I'm still going on about Davos. But the good news is I am back in San Francisco and doing lots of fresh reporting this week, to go along with a few more things to share from last week.

Today's Login is 1,312 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: How tech used Davos this year

Facebook's pop-up location last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

While tech leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, had U.S.-China tensions top of mind, they also came looking to push their perspectives on climate change, antitrust and regulation of artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: Whereas once tech leaders were given a free pass (literally and figuratively) as the young darlings of Davos, they are now established leaders with heightened roles — and sharper scrutiny.

Climate concerns were front and center for Microsoft, which last week announced its plan to be carbon-negative by 2030, as well as Salesforce.

  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was pushing the World Economic Forum's 1 Trillion Trees initiative, and even managed to get the Trump Administration committed.

Driving the news: How artificial intelligence should be regulated was also a big topic in Davos, though companies' agendas varied.

  • IBM called for "targeted regulation" of AI. CEO Ginni Rometty was quick to point out that the company wants to see legislation focused on how specific technologies are used, rather than blanket bans, like Europe is considering for public use of facial recognition.
  • Google issued a broader call for regulation, including support for a temporary ban on facial recognition.
  • While other companies sought to make nice with critics, Palantir CEO Alex Karp vigorously defended his company's work with the U.S. government — including immigration agencies — in an interview with CNBC.

Meanwhile: Those were just the public pronouncements. Tech leaders spent much of Davos behind closed doors, meeting with top officials from around the world.

  • About three dozen of the tech leaders met with President Trump on Wednesday, though the discussion focused largely on the friendly turf of workforce training, with Apple's Tim Cook and IBM's Rometty delivering remarks.
  • Tech leaders also met privately with top officials from Europe, which is seen as taking the lead on regulation.

And then there were all the pop-ups.

  • The street outside the Congress Centre, known as the Promenade, was taken over by tech companies, who paid to commandeer the town's shops for the week in an effort to seem warm and fuzzy.
  • That was good news if you wanted branded lip balm or free food, but bad news if you wanted to see any remnants of the cute ski town.
  • Facebook threw its storefront open to highlight its platform security work, share a host of feel-good stories and demo its Oculus VR systems. Microsoft was demoing Hololens and serving up a yummy Thai curry. Surprisingly, Google's pop-up was open only to those with an appointment.
2. It's decision time for Europe on Huawei

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Leon Neal/Getty Staff, Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Contributor

European leaders, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, could announce as early as this week whether they plan to allow their 5G networks to be built with Huawei equipment.

Why it matters: As we reported last week, Europe is in a bind. The U.S. threatens to cut off sharing intelligence with countries that buy 5G infrastructure from Huawei. Meanwhile, China is threatening its own reprisals against those who exclude Huawei.

The big picture: The stakes are huge. As Axios' Jonathan Swan reported on Sunday, a U.K. decision to buy from Huawei would anger the Trump administration and could disrupt the "special relationship" between Great Britain and the U.S.

  • Johnson's decision comes after repeated private and public warnings from Trump and senior administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O'Brien, U.S. officials tell Axios.
  • Germany faces a similarly tough choice, with China threatening to throttle access to its car market, a key growth area for Germany's automakers.

Behind the scenes: "This is a highly consequential decision that the British prime minister's going to be making," a senior Trump administration official told Swan.

  • "Not only in terms of their relationship with the United States, but first and foremost for their own citizens," added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy still happening across the Atlantic.
  • "People are going to be a bit shaken by the U.K.'s judgment if they make this decision."

Why it matters: The Huawei debate — which may seem abstract to many Americans — has become an urgent foreign policy priorities of the Trump administration and a serious test of the U.S.-U.K. relationship.

3. Amazon workers speak out on climate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hundreds of Amazon workers are pushing the company to adopt tougher policies to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Why it matters: The employees are putting their names to their comments, posted on Medium on Sunday, and the move defies Amazon's corporate policy.

The big picture: Employee activism at tech companies is on the rise, both at companies known for openness, like Google, as well as at companies that don't have a long tradition of worker action, like Amazon.

  • Many of the workers are calling on Amazon's AWS unit to stop doing business with oil and gas companies. Increasingly those concerned with climate change have been pressuring not only oil and gas companies but those companies' partners and suppliers.
  • Microsoft's pledge to become carbon-negative has drawn praise, for example, but critics pointed out that its Azure Web services unit was still doing business with oil and gas companies.

What they're saying:

  • Michael Sokolov, Amazon principal engineer: "Expecting its employees to maintain silence on these issues, and Amazon’s impact on them, is really a reprehensible overreach, and I am proud to take this opportunity to demonstrate my unwillingness to comply."
  • Amelia Graham-McCann, Amazon senior business analyst: "The science on climate change is clear. It is unconscionable for Amazon to continue helping the oil and gas industry extract fossil fuels while trying to silence employee who speak out."
  • Jacob Hinton, Amazon software engineer: "Contributing to climate change, supporting ICE, and brutal labor conditions in the warehouses are great for the bottom line but awful for society."

Amazon's response, from a company spokesperson: "We founded the Climate Pledge, committing to net zero carbon by 2040, which is ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement. We plan to be using 100% renewable energy by 2030, and we have thousands of people working on sustainability initiatives across the company."

What's next: Amazon says, "We do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems."

4. Google now charges for law enforcement requests

Google began charging law enforcement agencies that request its user data this month, Axios' Orion Rummler reports, citing the New York Times.

The big picture: Tech firms like Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Microsoft have all explicitly declared they might seek reimbursement for giving personal data to federal agencies and law enforcement, which they're legally entitled to do.

By the numbers: Google received more than 75,000 global requests for data in the first half of 2019, according to the Times. That's more than Microsoft, but way less than Facebook.

  • Microsoft received only 24,175 data requests from January to June last year. Microsoft says it rejected roughly 26% of those requests.
  • Facebook had more than 128,000 government requests for data in that same time frame, and complied about 73% of the time.
  • Google's "fees range from $45 for a subpoena and $60 for a wiretap to $245 for a search warrant," the Times reports.

Why it matters, per the NYT: "Some Silicon Valley companies have for years forgone such charges, which can be difficult to enforce at a large scale and could give the impression that a company aims to profit from legal searches. But privacy experts support such fees as a deterrent to overbroad surveillance."

What they're saying: Google's fees are partially meant to help offset costs of complying with subpoenas and warrants, a Google spokesperson told the Times.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Apple and Microsoft will both be at a meeting today of a group aiming to help patients access and share health records, CNBC reported.

Trading Places

  • Sue Gordon, a former principal deputy director of national intelligence, will be consulting with Microsoft on security, national security and leadership topics, Microsoft's Tom Burt said in a tweet.

ICYMI

  • Dom Hoffmann, the co-founder of Vine, launched Byte, an app for sharing short video loops. (TechCrunch)
  • A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit challenging the controversial anti-sex trafficking law known as FOSTA. (Bloomberg Law)
  • The state attorneys general investigating Google on antitrust grounds are meeting next week with Justice Department lawyers to share their findings so far. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Bill Gates were among the eclectic group of guests spotted at a Jeff Bezos party in Washington on Saturday. (Politico)
6. After you Login

Check out these paper sculptures.

Ina Fried