May 6, 2019

Axios Login

Welcome, welcome, welcome (and apologies to John Oliver and any readers that somehow thought this newsletter was an episode of "Last Week Tonight").

1 big thing: Microsoft and Google's dueling developer conferences

Google CEO Sundar Pichai at Google I/O 2018. Screenshot: Kia Kokalitcheva/Axios

At dueling conferences this week, Microsoft and Google will vie for developers' attention, with Microsoft emphasizing new offerings for its growing Azure cloud and Google pressing forward with new features for Android and its voice-based Assistant.

Why it matters: These developer conferences serve multiple roles, allowing companies to position themselves strategically, generate developer enthusiasm, introduce new products, and grab media attention.

Driving the news: The spring developer conference season kicked off with Facebook's F8 last week and will continue through Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in the first week of June.

What to expect: Microsoft's Build, which starts today in Seattle, is likely to focus as much on the Azure cloud as it does on desktop Windows, given that's where Microsoft's growth has been coming from and where it faces the steepest competition from Amazon's AWS and Google Cloud.

CEO Satya Nadella gives the opening keynote and is expected to focus on four areas.

  • On the Azure front, both AI and mixed reality are going to be key topics.
  • As for Windows, a major change is the coming shift in the Edge browser, which is changing rendering engines to adopt the Chromium core also used by Google's Chrome.
  • Nadella is also expected to detail new opportunities for developers to build on top of Microsoft's Dynamics and Power lines of business software as well as new ways game developers can build using Microsoft's cloud. Google unveiled its Stadia gaming cloud earlier this year. With Xbox and Windows, as well as its cloud, Microsoft is expected to battle hard in this space.

Meanwhile, Google I/O starts a day later in Mountain View, California, and will cover a lot of ground, though Android and Google Assistant are likely to be big areas of focus.

  • Google Assistant: In many ways, the digital assistant is the evolution of the search bar, meaning that it is crucial to Google to get this right, or risk seeing some of its core business shift to Amazon or others.
  • Android: In addition to offering more details on the next version, Google is taking Android to new places, including a broader focus on the automotive dashboard. Privacy controls are also expected to get a lot of attention.
  • Hardware: Google devices are also likely to be in the spotlight, with the most certain release being the widely-leaked Pixel 3a, a lower cost version of last year's flagship model. New products from the Nest brand could also be coming, per VentureBeat.

What's different: Up until the last couple of years, the focus was largely on introducing new features and making developer's lives easier. Those are still big themes, but so are respecting user privacy, minimizing social harm and monitoring screen time.

What's the same: The focus of the events remains on developers. At these conferences, they get previews of tech that often doesn't show up on consumer's devices until later in the year.

  • Google, for example, is expected to offer more details on Android Q, while Apple is likely to detail the next versions of the Mac and iPhone operating systems.

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2. Our guide to a Facebook-FTC settlement

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Reports suggest the Federal Trade Commission is close to a settlement over Facebook's privacy failures, with a vote potentially coming as soon as this week, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Here's our guide for cutting through the spin to understand what it actually means for Mark Zuckerberg's behemoth.

Key questions to keep in mind:

  1. How big is the fine, really? It will likely set a record, but remember that Facebook made more than $15 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year. On the other hand, the record FTC fine in a case like this is only $22.5 million. So the $3 to $5 billion fine Facebook predicts would be a major shift.
  2. Will Facebook be forced to change its foundational business practices? Facebook made that $15 billion last quarter by doing what it’s done for a decade: collecting user data and letting advertisers use it to target those users. The New York Times reports that the settlement will likely leave that basic way of doing business alone.
  3. How does the agency scrutinize Facebook going forward? The social network has told the FTC it's willing to put its data practices under additional scrutiny, according to the Washington Post, including privacy reviews of new products.
  4. Who will make sure Facebook complies? Critics have said that independent audits, which have monitored Facebook's compliance with a previous settlement, aren't enough.
  5. What about Mark? According to the NYT, the FTC commissioners are divided on whether or not to personally penalize Zuckerberg. This matters to the direction of the company, because he isn't going anywhere.

Yes, but: The amount the FTC can seek in a court case against a company is limited by law.

  • The agency also has to think about the resources it would use if, instead of settling, it took the costly step of pressing a case against Facebook.

Be smart: Both the FTC’s Republican chairman Joe Simons and the tech industry will have an incentive to paint any settlement as strong. Facebook's critics and consumer groups will likely complain that the settlement doesn't go far enough.

What's next: The settlement would be a major development in the ongoing national debate over online consumer privacy — but nowhere near the end of it. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are currently trying to hammer out legislation that would put Facebook and other tech giants under new privacy rules, but progress has been slow.

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3. Tech's troubles with Trump's tweets

Once again, President Trump's tweets are causing headaches for the tech industry.

What's happening: The tweeter-in-chief has been on his latest tear since Facebook banned several extremists on Thursday, mostly from the far right.

  • Trump also criticized Twitter for allegedly banning actor James Woods. (Woods' account, seen here, isn't banned, though Twitter did limit his tweeting abilities after the actor posted a tweet that included the hashtag "hangthemall.")

Why it matters: The tech industry has a number of concerns. First, the industry has always sought to be perceived as politically neutral. Second, companies worry what Trump or his agencies might do on the regulatory front, given the drumbeat of vague presidential threats.

Our thought bubble: Staying politically neutral is tough enough, but being seen as neutral might be an impossible task in this era. A better approach — though no less challenging — is to enforce consistent rules for all.

Meanwhile, there are questions for the media on how to report on Trump's tweets without simply amplifying his voice. A study from Media Matters For America found that the mainstream media often repeats misinformation without added context, serving simply to broaden the reach of (and lend credibility to) false information.

4. Warren Buffett's videogame

Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage/Getty Images

Warren Buffett has a new game on Apple's App Store, inspired by his teenage newspaper route, Rashaan Ayesh reports.

Details: The app "Warren Buffett's Paper Wizard" launched on Saturday, the day of the annual 2019 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. Users progress in the game by completing paper routes in Omaha and Cupertino, California, and collecting "Warren Bucks." Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway has a reported $40 billion stake in Apple.

At the meeting: The annual video featured a parody of Buffett and Apple CEO Tim Cook hatching a plan for the game. An advertisement for the game touts: "It's your one chance to be better than Warren Buffett at something," according to the Wall Street Journal.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Microsoft Build kicks off in Seattle, with Google I/O set to begin Tuesday in Mountain View. (Just in case you completely skipped the first item. And yes, there will be a quiz.)

Trading Places

  • Balaji Srinivasan is leaving his post as CTO of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase.
  • Liam O’Connor is exiting Lyft, where he helped run its scooter and bike operations.


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