Sep 11, 2020

Axios Login

Reminder to parents: Your kids think it's so embarrassing to walk them all the way to Zoom class. Be sure to say your goodbyes in the hallway.

Situational awareness:

  • President Trump says he won't extend a Sept. 15 deadline for TikTok to be sold by its Chinese parent company.
  • Facebook is suing Irish regulators over a draft order that could force the company to halt all data transfers from Europe to the U.S.

Today's Login is 1,430 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's election-season survival plan — transparency

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Leading U.S. tech platforms are going out of their way to reveal how their businesses, policies and algorithms work ahead of November in a bid to avoid blame for election-related trouble, Axios' Sara Fischer and Ashley Gold report.

Why it matters: Until recently, tech companies found it useful to be opaque about their policies and technology — stopping bad actors from gaming their systems and competitors from copying their best features. But all that happened anyway, and now the firms' need to recapture trust is making transparency look like a better bet.

Driving the news: With just weeks to go before the election, many companies are taking steps to shine light on how their algorithms and policies aim to stop election meddling and misinformation.

Google said on Thursday that it recently implemented a new policy to stop auto-complete search queries from popping up if they seem to support a candidate or contain misinformation about voting or the election.

  • The company walked reporters through how it plans to determine the quality of search results on Election Day.

TikTok, on Wednesday, revealed some of the elusive workings of the prized algorithm that keeps hundreds of millions of users worldwide hooked on the viral video app.

Twitter Wednesday said it will label or remove unverified election result claims and will flag tweets from President Trump if he claims an early victory.

  • In recent months, Twitter has been much more forthcoming about how its policies are meant to work to weed out misinformation, especially regarding the election and voting.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been making the rounds with media to defend Facebook's election-protection choices.

Flashback: In 2016, when it was revealed foreign actors used American tech platforms to meddle in the election, the companies shouldered much of the blame and have been dealing with the fallout ever since.

Between the lines: With confusion already spreading over election mechanics during a pandemic, tech companies want to make it absolutely clear that they have tried everything they can to be on top of the chaos — and whatever the election's outcome, they're not to blame.

  • Many have rolled out extensive voter initiatives to try to promote civic engagement ahead of November, including efforts to push more young people to work as poll workers.
  • They've also made much more serious efforts to label misleading posts from politicians and to fact-check or curtail misleading political advertising.

Our thought bubble: Some critics will fault these firms for doing too little, others for acting too aggressively. But by explaining their choices ahead of time, the companies' message seems to be: Don't say we didn't warn you.

  • "This election, people will have strong opinions, and given the backdrop of COVID-19, the change with elections is to be more conservative in terms of the queries," David Graff, Google's senior director of trust and safety, told reporters Thursday.
  • This means "benign" predictions may be swept up in Google's new policy, he said. Still, he points out, blocking an auto-complete "doesn't mean you can't search for whatever you want."

Yes, but: Big Tech's transparency push goes only so far.

  • Firms still hold tons of information close — everything from the details of their algorithms, like Google's search or Facebook's News Feed, to the list of their government contracts.
  • Tech's tougher critics call not just for transparency from Silicon Valley, but also for deeper accountability.

Go deeper: Big Tech pushes voter initiatives to counter misinformation

2. How Russia, Iran, China target U.S. elections

Joe Biden in Detroit, Michigan on Sept. 9 and President Trump on Sept. 10. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images and Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Cyberattacks organized in Russia, China and Iran have targeted both presidential campaigns, Microsoft announced Thursday, as Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

The big picture: The 2020 presidential election is rife with opportunities for foreign actors to sow chaos, since results will likely be delayed due to record mail-in ballots. Protests for racial justice and calls to restructure policing in the U.S. also give Russia an opportunity to spread disinformation.

What they found: Per Microsoft, Russian hackers have consistently targeted Republican and Democratic consultants, political advocacy groups and national party organizations affiliated with the 2020 election since September of last year.

  • Hackers based in China levied thousands of attacks between this March and September, some of which included unsuccessful attacks against Biden's campaign and one high-level person formerly involved with the Trump campaign.
  • A group operating in Iran unsuccessfully tried to log into accounts of Trump administration officials and Trump campaign staff between May and June.

Where it stands: The Department of Homeland Security's intelligence branch warned law enforcement last week that it believes Russian-controlled social media trolls and state media are likely to continue trying to sow distrust in U.S. election results and mail-in ballots.

  • The nation's top counterintelligence official said in July that Russia, China and Iran present the most pressing threats for election interference in the 2020 presidential race.
  • The Justice Department charged a Russian national on Thursday of "a sweeping plot to sow distrust in the American political process," AP reports, although the agency only referenced her involvement in attempting to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, not the 2020 election.
3. Gateway PCs make a comeback at Walmart

Photo: Walmart

Gateway is making a return, of sorts, to the PC market. The once iconic brand is being used on a new line of computers and tablets that went on sale this week at Walmart.

Between the lines: While Acer owns the name, after buying the computer maker in 2007, another company has licensed the brand for the new computers. An entity known as GPU Company will handle product management, marketing, sales and customer support for the devices.

Details: There will be eight PC models, ranging from $199 to $1,149 and featuring processors from both Intel and AMD, as well as two tablets and a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop combo model.

The big picture: There's some precedent for selling new tech under old brands. Today, a startup sells a small Android phone under the Palm name, while Nokia-branded Android phones are sold by another startup, which licenses the name from the network equipment vendor.

Flashback: Gateway (originally Gateway 2000) was one of the original direct sellers of PCs. Best known for its cow-spot logo, it was also a pioneer in retail with its Gateway Country stores, the last of which closed in 2004.

4. Coronavirus may preview a growing digital divide
Reproduced from NTIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus crisis may offer a grim preview of further marginalization for Americans of color in the coming decades, a new Deutsche Bank report concludes.

The big picture: "COVID is a picture of what the world might look like in the future as it gets more digitized," Apjit Walia, a technology strategist with Deutsche Bank, told Ashley.

Driving the news: The report finds that Black and Hispanic Americans are particularly vulnerable to being left behind as the workforce further digitizes and inequality rises.

By the numbers: 76% of Black people and 62% of Hispanic people in the U.S. could be shut out of or underprepared for 86% of jobs in the country by 2045, according to the report. The pandemic has already offered a model for how that divide might play out.

  • Black people had to venture out of their homes 135% more than white people in April compared to pre-COVID, Deutsche Bank found, per geolocation data gathered in majority Black and majority white neighborhoods in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
  • "We believe this is an accurate representation of the state of the racial digital divide in the country," write Walia and report co-author Sai Ravindran. "Clearly, poor access to Tech connectivity & work-from-home jobs rendered minorities with few choices but to venture out of home to make a living, even with peril to their lives."

Black and Hispanic people are a decade behind white people in the U.S. when it comes to levels of broadband access in the home, according to data Deutsche Bank highlights from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

What's next: Big Tech firms could step in to help bridge the digital divide, such as by offering job training and funding connectivity initiatives, Walia said.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's Friday, so be sure to take some time this weekend to enjoy the fresh air. (Offer not valid in California, Oregon or Nevada.)

Trading Places

  • Pro gamer Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja, is returning to Twitch exclusively in a multi-year deal, after previously leaving for Microsoft's now-shuttered Mixer service.


6. After you Login

I was looking for some bizarre piece of Gateway nostalgia to share, but unfortunately I came up.... Kidding. I proudly give you this: a "Rugrats"-themed Gateway Astro all-in-one PC.