Dec 11, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

D.C. readers: You're invited! Join Axios' Mike Allen tomorrow morning for a look into what 2019 holds for health care policy as a new split-Congress takes the hill. RSVP here

  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar will be joining the program, adding to the lineup of: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.).
1 big thing: Startups take aim at deepfakes

A faked photo showing North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and Elvis meeting. (They didn't.) Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Truepic, a startup that authenticates digital photos, is scooping up a rival technology developed by one of the field's leading experts. The company is buying San Jose-based Fourandsix Technologies, whose fake image detector was licensed by DARPA earlier this year.

Why it matters: Determining whether digital images are genuine has become increasingly important in an era of rampant misinformation, and it's already commercially critical in fields like insurance.

How it works: Truepic and Fourandsix use different approaches.

  • Truepic focuses on authenticating pictures from the moment they are taken, ensuring they are never altered. The photo's digital fingerprint and metadata are then stored not only on Truepic's servers, but also via a blockchain to ensure they can't be later altered. It has camera apps for iOS and Android, and its technology are built into some insurance claim software.
  • Fourandsix's technology, known as Izitru (pronounced "is it true"), meanwhile, determines if already captured photos have been digitally altered. Founded by Dartmouth professor Hany Farid, Izitru banks on the fact that each device, like an iPhone or Canon camera, compresses digital photos in its own unique way, making it possible to tell if an image has been altered later by, say, Photoshop.
  • Truepic's approach covers both still images and video. Right now Izitru only handles stills, but Truepic says it expects to extend the technology to video.

The big picture: It's still very early in the field. Truepic employs 25 people and Fourandsix is even smaller. But the business is growing.

  • The initial commercial interest is from insurance companies who want to use Truepic's technology to ensure that the photos accompanying claims are legitimate.
  • It's also being used by human rights workers to verify and document war crimes.
  • And Truepic is not alone. Another startup, Amber, also works to both authenticate photos and videos and spot fakes.

Yes, but: As big a threat as fake images are, an even bigger problem right now is the ease with which legitimate images can be discredited as fakes.

President Trump has made things worse, Farid says."The stakes have gotten significantly higher now," Farid said. "We have a president who has done a very good job demonizing the press. When you have the ability to simply claim — whether it is true or not — that anything that doesn’t comport to your world view is fake, we are in trouble as a democracy."

What's next? For Truepic's homegrown technology to gain scale, it really needs to be included in the camera apps built into phones and into social media platforms.

  • But that, Truepic CEO Jeff McGregor acknowledges, is probably a 10-year quest and is why the company started by targeting the industries willing to pay for and adopt its technology.

Read the full piece.

2. Bill Gates: Big isn't bad when it comes to tech

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Bill Gates says regulators are right to take a look at how Big Tech companies are behaving, but he doesn't see a need for any of them to be broken up.

"I don't think attacking bigness in and of itself is the right thing," Gates says in an interview with Axios' Caitlin Owens. "I don't see any one that is really broken."

Gates points to the retail and restaurant industries as ones that have been impacted by digitization. Even there, though, he suggests alternatives to just breaking up companies.

He also notes regulations in Europe require large financial services companies to publish data in ways that enable more competition.

"And there's some analogies of things that might be done in terms of portability of customer data for other technology services," he says. "I'd say the goal isn't to change the size, but rather just make sure the competitive markets are driving innovation and attractive pricing as much as possible."

My thought bubble: It’s not exactly a shock that Gates is defending the idea that a tech company can be big without needing to be split up. After all, he led Microsoft two decades ago through its own antitrust showdown with the federal government.

  • That said, Gates could have used this question as an opportunity to single out any of Microsoft’s rivals and instead praised the innovation coming from the industry giants.

Separately, Axios' Amy Harder and I interviewed Gates about climate change and more for "Axios on HBO."

3. Google CEO will aim for high road before Congress

Google CEO Sundar Pichai goes into his House Judiciary Committee hearing today with a message: The search giant will do the right, patriotic thing.

What he's saying:

  • “Even as we expand into new markets we never forget our American roots,” per his prepared opening remarks that also note the home states of Google’s two co-founders, Michigan and Maryland. “It’s no coincidence that a company dedicated to the free flow of information was founded right here in the U.S.”
  • “It’s a challenging moment for our industry, but I’m privileged to be here today,” he’ll say. “I greatly appreciate you letting me share the story of Google and our work to build products worthy of the trust users place in us.”

Pichai will defend the company’s record on privacy, rebut claims of anti-conservative bias, and say Google is proud to work with the U.S. government.

Go deeper: Axios' David McCabe has more on Pichai's remarks here and you can read Pichai's written testimony here.

What he’s not saying: Anything about Google's controversial attempt to get back into the Chinese search market, and criticisms that the company’s dominance tests antitrust laws.

  • Pichai will get questions about both. A memo produced for lawmakers by the Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority includes a lengthy section called “tech companies through the lens of competition law,” according to a copy obtained by Axios.
  • He also doesn’t address concerns about YouTube’s struggle to rein in conspiracy theories and hate speech, the subject of a Washington Post story Monday night.

Our thought bubble: Pichai’s opening statement focuses on the uncomfortable issues Google is comfortable talking about. Lawmakers won’t restrict their question to that list.

What they're saying: The New York Times' Daisuke Wakabayashi, on Twitter...

"After re-reading Sundar's writtten testimony, it strikes that there are similarities between one of these and self-evaluations at work. (Ours were due today.) Being honest about shortcomings, while noble, could backfire and be used against you. So only bring up the good stuff!"
4. India could be the next media battleground

Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

As tensions with China grow deeper, media giants may look to India and its booming mobile economy, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: India is one of the fastest-growing internet markets in the world. But few consumers have the disposable income to pay for multiple services, which will make it hard for some companies to conquer the country.

Background: Like many developing countries, India is mostly a mobile-only internet economy.

  • "India's story is not an evolution story, it's a revolution story," says Ravi Agrawal, managing editor of Foreign Policy and author of "India Connected: How the Smartphone Is Transforming the World's Largest Democracy."
  • "Hundreds of millions are getting online through smartphones with cheap data plans," Agrawal tells Sara."That growth is the reason corporate America is beelining there."

By the numbers: Unlike the largely saturated North American digital market, India's still has room to grow.

Read Sara's story.

5. Steph Curry on pitching Palm's mini-smartphone

Stephen Curry poses with co-founders of the latest incarnation of Palm. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

In basketball, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry thrives when he gets a nice big screen. Off the court, he is pitching a very small screen. Curry is an investor, advisor and pitchman for the Palm, a 3-inch Android smartphone sold by Verizon as a complement to the bigger devices most people carry.

Asked what attracted him to the notion of a smaller smartphone, Curry said it allows him to be connected, while not being distracted.

"You're not missing anything, but you're not consumed by that big old screen," Curry said late Monday, following the Warriors 116-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was also the night where Curry handed out Palm devices to each of his teammates.

A benefit, Curry said, is that Coach Steve Kerr hates when players are using their phones in the locker room. The Palm, he told his teammates, could go unnoticed.

Curry said it's even made an iPhone guy like him consider adopting Android for his main phone. "Actually, a little bit."

History lesson: The Palm brand has kicked around quite a bit since its days adorning the original personal digital assistant. It powered several lines of smartphones, landing at HP, which then sold the brand again.

6. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Salesforce named Omidyar Network's Paula Goldman as its first chief ethical and humane use officer.
  • Vishal Shah has been promoted to head all of Instagram's product efforts, Recode reports.

Erratum

  • In yesterday's Login, I incorrectly described Elon Musk as CEO of Tesla and Square. He's actually CEO of Tesla and SpaceX while Jack Dorsey runs Square and Twitter.

ICYMI

  • Tech giants including Apple, Google and Microsoft are denouncing an Australian anti-encryption bill that passed last week. (TechCrunch)
  • Google will shut down the consumer version of Google+ even sooner after discovering a second security vulnerability. (Reuters)
  • GoPro plans to move production of cameras headed to the U.S. out of China by next summer amid the continuing trade war between the two countries. (TechCrunch)
7. After you Login

Need something fun and relaxing in these troubled times? Check out these oddly soothing kinetic sand videos.

Ina Fried