Sep 3, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Hope your Labor Day was work-free. That said, time to get back to work. After you read Login, that is.

Also congrats to colleague Kendall Baker, whose Axios Sports newsletter just topped 100,000 subscribers. You can sign up here.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,144 words, <4 minute read.

1 big thing: Telecom's sweet summer of revenge

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

One byproduct of the techlash: After years of frustration that Silicon Valley companies seemed to get special treatment in Washington, telecom giants are finally gaining the upper hand, Kim Hart reports.

Between the lines: Telecom companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are now starting to feel more able to compete with tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon as they all jockey to dominate how we communicate and access information.

What's new: Agencies that typically govern communications and the internet, like the FTC, FCC and DOJ, under the current Republican administration are showing signs of increased scrutiny over Big Tech, and less scrutiny over the telecom industry, which has historically been more heavily regulated.

For example, this summer:

1. While increased antitrust scrutiny means Big Tech companies' acquisition ambitions are mostly on ice, Sprint and T-Mobile secured FCC and Justice Department approval for their long-awaited merger.

2. Two key regulators — the FCC and DOJ — sent shots across the bow earlier this summer.

  • In a June speech, DOJ Antitrust Division chief Makan Delrahim laid out ways his agency could could go after Big Tech for anti-competitive behavior.
  • In a June Senate hearing, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said, "The greatest threat to a free and open internet has been the unregulated Silicon Valley tech giants that do, in fact, today decide what you see and what you don't," he said.

3. The FCC has also continued to loosen regulations on Big Telecom, allowing the industry to better compete with rivals.

4. Broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon look like heroes in their efforts to roll-out 5G, thanks to smart marketing and an administration sympathetic to the "global race" narrative.

5. Congress is warming to the idea of revising part of a law — Section 230 — that, as it currently stands, protects tech platforms from legal liability for the content they host. Telecom companies have not enjoyed those same type of legal protections.

Meanwhile, this summer brought an onslaught of bad news for tech. On Friday, Politico reported Google agreed to pay as much as $200 million to resolve an FTC investigation into YouTube over children's privacy law violations. Last month the FTC approved a $5 billion fine against Facebook for privacy violations.

The bottom line: The balance of power between the two sets of companies has been shifting as policymakers ratchet up scrutiny of Big Tech. This summer's events lays out just how clear of an advantage Big Telecom has gained in both politics and business.

Go deeper: Kim has more here.

2. YouTube: New hate speech policies work

Photo illustration: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

YouTube tells Axios' Sara Fischer that changes it made to broaden its hate speech policies in June have resulted in a significant increase in problematic videos being removed from its platform.

Why it matters: The video giant says that usually it takes months for the company to ramp up enforcement of a new policy, but results from its latest quarterly report show that the June updates have quickly boosted the amount of content it's pulling off its platform.

Driving the news: YouTube says that it removed more than 100,000 videos last quarter and more than 17,000 channels — five times the number of videos and channels last quarter in comparison to Q1. It also says it removed over 500,000 comments, nearly double the amount it removed in Q1.

Between the lines: YouTube says it's gotten much better at removing rule-breaking content faster, thus dramatically reducing the number of views videos rack up before they are eventually removed from its platform.

  • For example, the company says that the nearly 30,000 videos that it removed for hate speech violations over the last month generated just 3% of the views that knitting videos did over the same time period.
  • Over the last 18 months, changes it made to its content policies and removal practices have reduced views on videos that are later removed for violating its policies by 80%, according to YouTube.

The big picture: The changes are part of a newly-released set of priorities by YouTube to take more responsibility for the content on its platform, including content that brushes up against its policies but doesn't explicitly violate them.

  • YouTube, like other tech companies, relies on a mix of humans and machines to flag and remove problematic content.
  • While human context is important, the company says that over 87% of the 9 million videos it removed in the second quarter of 2019 were first flagged by its automated systems, not people.
  • But the systems are good enough that more than 80% of the videos that were auto-flagged were removed before they received a single view last quarter.

Our thought bubble: Efficiency is important, but the numbers YouTube is sharing are hard to evaluate in a vacuum. We can't tell, for instance, whether the total amount of hate-oriented video content and viewing on YouTube is growing or shrinking.

3. Nokia is the best at keeping Android updated

Android phone makers are notoriously slow when it comes to updating to a new version of the operating system, but Nokia great at keeping phones up-to-date, a new study has found.

Details: A study from Counterpoint Research finds that Nokia (or rather HMD, which sells phones under the Nokia brand name) is actually tops when it comes to shipping phones with the latest version of Android. More than 95% of the devices it has sold since the third quarter of 2018 are running Android Pie, Counterpoint says.

"We believe that device makers need to step up their efforts to provide regular software and security updates to their users."
— Counterpoint Research

Why it matters: Older software is vulnerable to hacking, and people are keeping their devices longer than ever, only adding to the need to keep phones updated.

4. New U.S., China tariffs go into effect

While the U.S. was celebrating Labor Day weekend, a number of new tariffs went into effect, covering both goods from China sold here as well as U.S.-made exports to China.

Why it matters: Many of the tariffs that would most affect consumer tech goods have been delayed until December, but the latest moves will hit some tech categories.

  • Apple, in particular, will see the new tariffs affect AirPods, Apple Watch, the iMac and some Beats headphones, per Bloomberg.

Meanwhile: China is adding 5% and 10% tariffs on a variety of U.S. exports, including crude oil.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • "Super Pumped," the Uber book from New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, officially goes on sale. You can check out Isaac's Pro Rata podcast with Dan Primack here, read an excerpt from the book here, or give Mike a hard time on Twitter here.


6. After you Login

Until today, you didn't know what your life was missing. One word: Beagulls.

Ina Fried