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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
With new attacks by President Trump, high-stakes testimony next week on Capitol Hill, and a midterm election vulnerable to online manipulation, tech’s giants are bracing themselves for the two months after Labor Day that could decide whether and how much the government regulates them.
The big picture: The companies — led by Facebook and Google but with Twitter, Apple, and Amazon also in the mix — are caught in a partisan vise, between privacy-oriented critics on the left who fear further election interference and newer charges from the right of anti-conservative bias and censorship.
We spoke with people at the big companies to map the cases they expect to make publicly and privately.
Facebook: We’re at the table. We’re willing to accept some regulation. We don’t have all the answers.
Google: Our algorithms have no politics.
Twitter: We’re listening to users and working with the authorities. We’re being more transparent about political ads. And we’re cracking down on fake accounts.
Apple: We don't sell your info. We don't have a social network. We're pro-privacy.
Amazon: We don’t do elections. We're not a social network. We pay fair wages.
The bottom line: The companies are all adopting different versions of a “we’re different from all the others” strategy, and that could let aggressive legislators divide and conquer them on the road to regulation.
Go deeper: Team Axios has more on this here.
Meanwhile: Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday to open a probe into "the competitive effects of Google’s conduct in search and digital advertising."
One more piece of Apple's fall plans has fallen into place — Sept. 12 is the date for its big fall product launch, which will almost certainly see the new iPhone lineup revealed, with other new hardware expected to be in the mix.
The bottom line: At this point, it's not clear how much surprise will be left in two weeks' time.
Why it matters: The iPhone is the most important and valuable product in the tech industry and all eyes are on what Apple comes up with each year.
Meanwhile: Pictures also leaked Thursday of Google's forthcoming Pixel 3.
Snap Maps is one of many apps powered by Mapbox. Photo: Snapchat
Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen says the company will implement more protections for its data after vandalism caused its maps to briefly label New York City as "Jewtropolis."
"This is a disgusting act."— Eric Gundersen, via phone interview
Why it matters: Mapbox, a highly-touted startup, powers maps for Snapchat, Facebook, Tinder and other major apps.
What happened: The vandalism was the result of a single OpenStreetMaps user who made dozens of changes designed to insert anti-Semitic language onto maps in New York, New Zealand and elsewhere, Gundersen tells Axios.
"We’ve built out all these systems to make sure the hatred and increasing bile being created on the internet doesn’t impact us, and it did today," he says.
What's next: Gundersen notes that Mapbox will look to add either a second layer of human interaction to override the AI quarantine, a final machine learning check on human-approved changes, or both.
It was a big day in the scooter wars, with San Francisco and Santa Monica each allowing a few players into their cities.
The bottom line: San Francisco's choices suggest scooter companies might not want to follow the Uber model of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.
Here are a few more thoughts from Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva, who's been covering the scooter wars.
Our thought bubble: The companies that didn't get permits in San Francisco made clear they weren't happy. But don't be surprised if they soon change their tune, arguing that missing out on San Francisco isn't a big deal since they already operate in dozens of cities.
Read more of Kia's full story.
As Virgin Atlantic's Martyn Reding points out, this pillow is a perfect example of when the legal team wins out over the design team.