Feb 3, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Well, that didn't work out like I'd hoped. That said, congrats to Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs and the city of Kansas City on a great game and a great season.

Through my tears, I did manage to crank out the 1,242 words of today's Login, a 5-minute read.

1 Big Thing: Verizon, T-Mobile battle over 5G at Super Bowl

Screenshot via YouTube

The 49ers and Chiefs weren't the only ones trying to score some points on Super Bowl Sunday. Verizon and T-Mobile used football's big day to trade shots over each other's 5G networks.

Why it matters: 5G is starting to arrive, but in different flavors and at different speeds — and with all the heavy marketing hype and consumer confusion that has accompanied past transitions from one generation of wireless to the next.

Driving the news:

  • Things began even before kickoff, with a Verizon ad touting its speedy 5G service and insisting its existing 4G network is both faster and more widely available than T-Mobile's 5G network. T-Mobile CEO John Legere responded in a blog post criticizing the limited range of Verizon's 5G.
  • During the game, Legere and T-Mobile network chief Neville Ray posted video on Twitter of a T-Mobile phone getting 5G service throughout the stadium and a Verizon device only getting it intermittently.
  • Things really heated up for Verizon after the company's Super Bowl ads aired, with spots devoted to praising first responders. The ads brought up negative responses on Twitter, since Verizon had been heavily criticized for throttling the speeds of first responders battling California wildfires in 2018.

The big picture: Heavily touted for its eventual benefits of ultra-fast speeds, 5G is just starting to arrive. In many cases offers only modest speed boosts (T-Mobile and AT&T's initial 5G rollout, which uses low-band airwaves) or very minimal availability (Verizon's network, which uses millimeter-wave frequencies).

To use either flavor of 5G, customers need to purchase one of only a handful of 5G phones on the market.

Our thought bubble: None of the 5G offerings on the market are particularly compelling at the moment. What's really needed is a network that, first, gives consumers enough places where they can use high-speed 5G connections, and second, works with the device they want to use (or at least one they want to buy). That will start to be more of a reality later this year.

Meanwhile: Plenty of other tech companies forked over the big bucks for a Super Bowl ad.

  • Google had a tear-jerker touting the Google Assistant and telling a story inspired by the 85-year-old grandfather of a Google employee.
  • Microsoft had a feel-good Surface ad highlighting Katie Sowers, the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl.
  • Splunk had a head-scratcher that likely left many people still just as confused as before about what the company does. The ad for password manager Dashlane also seemed unlikely to stick with consumers, though at least it made it somewhat clearer what the company does.
  • Squarespace's spot touted its Web site creation prowess with something of a "Fargo" theme.
  • Facebook's ad, aired just as the game was getting tight in the fourth quarter, played a familiar refrain, touting Facebook Groups.
2. YouTube adjusts line on political misinformation

Photo: Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images

YouTube will bar videos that lie about the mechanics of an election, the company announced in a blog post Monday, as Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Sara Fischer report. But YouTube indicated it remains reluctant to crack down more broadly on deceptive political speech, as some critics have demanded.

Why it matters: YouTube's content policies — which are separate from the advertising policies Google outlined in the fall — do not ban political falsehoods at a time when tech platforms are under fire to limit misinformation about candidates and elections.

Driving the news: In new explanations refining its stance, YouTube clarified how its deceptive practices policy applies to election-related content, including deepfakes.

  • YouTube will remove videos that advance "false claims related to the technical eligibility requirements" of current candidates and officeholders. YouTube offers as an example a claim that a candidate isn't eligible for office because of false information about citizenship status requirements.
  • The company also said it would remove content that has been manipulated in a way that misleads users and may pose a risk of "egregious harm." That includes the altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was slowed to make her appear as if she was drunkenly slurring her speech.

YouTube's efforts also include giving "authoritative voices," including news sources, higher ranking in search and "watch next" recommendations to combat political and election misinformation.

  • For the 2018 midterm elections, YouTube included information panels about candidates in response to search queries from users, and intends to have a similar feature for 2020 candidates in the coming months.

The big picture: Critics argue that YouTube's algorithms promote extreme points of view and conspiracy theories. They've long charged the service with promoting hate speech and allowing its video recommendations to become an engine of radicalization.

What's next: YouTube notes that the overview of its current practices will not be the end of its efforts on election-related content.

  • "YouTube remains committed to maintaining the balance of openness and responsibility, before, during and after the 2020 U.S. election," Leslie Miller, vice president of YouTube government affairs and public policy, wrote in the blog.

In a separate blog post, Google pulls together its efforts to help campaigns effectively use its platforms, its work on tracking abuse and threats, and how it will help voters.

3. FCC finds that carriers wrongly sold customer location information

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai told lawmakers Friday he intends to propose fines against at least one U.S. wireless carrier for sharing customers' real-time location data with outside parties without the subscribers' knowledge or consent, Margaret reports.

Why it matters: The FCC has been investigating for more than a year, following revelations that subscriber location data from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint made its way to a resale market used by bounty hunters.

Driving the news: Pai said in letters to several lawmakers that the agency's investigation has found that "one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law."

  • Pai said he intends to seek commission approval of one or more proposed fines "in the coming days."

What they're saying: Democrats who have called on the FCC for an investigation said this conclusion is overdue.

  • "This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I’ll be watching to make sure the FCC doesn't just let these lawbreakers off the hook with a slap on the wrist," said House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, who along with 10 other Democrats wrote a November letter to Pai about the issue.
  • "It's a shame that it took so long for the FCC to reach a conclusion that was so obvious," Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.
  • "I'm eager to see whether the FCC will truly hold wireless companies accountable, or let them off with a slap on the wrist," said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who raised alarms at the FCC in 2018 about the sale of wireless location data.

Go deeper: Location data is ground zero in privacy wars

4. Intel drops AI products from Nervana acquisition

Intel is dropping development of the line of neural network processors it acquired through its $400 million purchase of AI chipmaker Nervana in 2016.

Why it matters: The move comes amid continued competition from Nvidia and others and follows Intel's purchase in December of Habana Labs, another startup in the AI chip space.

An Intel representative told Axios the company wants to focus on a single product line and will build on Habana's technology going forward.

"The Habana product line offers the strong, strategic advantage of a unified, highly-programmable architecture for both inference and training," Intel said.

The company will continue supporting the current chip running Nervana's technology, known as Spring Hill, but is canceling work on a follow-up known as Spring Crest.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Internet Association founding president Michael Beckerman is leaving the trade group to head the D.C. office for TikTok.
  • WeWork named real estate veteran Sandeep Mathrani as CEO, with SoftBank's Marcelo Claure remaining executive chairman.
  • Hulu CEO Randy Freer is leaving as the once-independent streaming service is absorbed into Disney.


  • Apple has closed all of its China stores and offices through Feb. 9 amid the coronavirus outbreak in China. (Axios)
  • George Soros said Facebook's move not to fact-check political ads "has flung open the door for false, manipulated, extreme and incendiary statements." (Axios)
  • Uber has suspended 240 accounts of Mexican users who rode with drivers that may have been exposed to coronavirus. (Bloomberg)
6. After you Login

Ready to have your mind blown for (at least) the second time in two weeks? Here you go.

Ina Fried