Sep 13, 2021

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Today's newsletter is 1,144 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Epic may not benefit from App Store changes

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"Fortnite" creator Epic Games' Apple lawsuit failed to level the walls of the App Store, though it did leave some cracks in Apple's fortress.

  • But the modest changes Apple now has to make are more likely to benefit other iOS developers than to help Epic itself, unless the game-maker backs down from an all-or-nothing approach.

Driving the news: In a Friday ruling, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that Apple was not a monopoly and denied the bulk of Epic's requests.

  • However, the judge did strike down Apple's policy — what antitrust lawyers call "anti-steering" — that prevents developers from linking to other ways to buy in-app digital goods and services.
  • Epic was also ordered to pay a few million dollars in damages to Apple, but that's not what either side really cares about.

Catch up quick: Epic kicked off the fight back in 2020 by adding its own payment mechanism to the "Fortnite" app, despite Apple's prohibition. Apple kicked "Fortnite" out of the App Store, and then Epic sued.

Between the lines: Apple said it is still studying the ruling — and it could appeal. On Sunday, Epic filed its notice of appeal.

Why it matters: If the verdict stands, it could benefit companies from Match Group to Roblox, who offer both in-app purchases through Apple as well as alternative options via the web.

The big picture: The judge's ruling comes on top of two other changes to the App Store brought about through legal actions.

What they're saying: Epic, for its part, made it clear it wasn't satisfied with the ruling.

  • "'Fortnite' will return to the iOS App Store when and where Epic can offer in-app payment in fair competition with Apple in-app payment, passing along the savings to consumers," CEO Tim Sweeney said on Twitter, promising to "fight on." (He was later egged on by Elon Musk.)
2. Anatomy of social media's mad-making machine

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Facebook and other social media companies didn't cause America's massive political divide, but they have widened it and pushed it towards violence: That's the conclusion of a report from New York University released Monday, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Congress, the Biden administration and governments around the world are moving on from blame-apportioning to choosing penalties and remedies for curbing online platforms' influence and fighting misinformation.

Driving the news: Paul Barrett, deputy director of NYU's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, and his co-authors reviewed more than 50 social science studies and interviewed dozens of academics, policy experts, activists, and current and former industry people.

  • They found that while social media platforms are not the cause of political polarization, they have intensified it.
  • "Social media is the mechanism for spreading the kind of mis- and disinformation that fuels the fire of political polarization," Barrett told Axios. He said social platforms erode trust, and weaken democratic norms, in ways that have undermined the U.S.' pandemic response and acceptance of the 2020 election results.

The other side: Facebook has taken steps to dial back the amount of political content in its News Feed and touted its efforts to fight polarization in a blog post last year.

  • Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, argued this year that it is not in Facebook's interest to "push users" toward extremist content.

What's next: The report offers several recommendations for both the government and platforms. The government, it says, should:

  • mandate more disclosure of companies' ranking, recommendation and removal algorithms;
  • give the Federal Trade Commission new powers to create industry standards;
  • and invest in alternative social media options like a PBS for the internet.

The report recommends that platforms:

  • adjust algorithms transparently to discourage polarization;
  • increase the size of their content moderation teams;
  • and hide "like" and share counts to stop rewarding polarizing content.
3. Google may have underpaid contractors for years

Google realized late last year that it may have been underpaying thousands of temporary workers around the world, but opted to initially change its pay structure only for newly hired temps, according to a pair of reports.

Why it matters: The revelation comes amid growing workplace activism at Google, including the formation of a minority union that advocates for temporary and contract workers along with full-time employees.

Driving the news: The New York Times and The Guardian both reported on Friday, citing internal documents, that Google realized last December that it had been paying contract workers less for certain work than it paid its own employees, a violation of labor laws in various countries.

  • According to both reports, once Google uncovered the issue, management planned to increase pay for new contractors brought on board but fretted that increasing pay for existing contract workers would raise uncomfortable questions for a company already under scrutiny for its employment practices.

What they're saying: "It's clear that this process has not been handled consistent with the high standards to which we hold ourselves as a company," Google chief compliance officer Spyro Karetsos said in a statement to the New York Times. "We're going to figure out what went wrong here, why it happened, and we’re going to make it right."

4. Why we don't want to return to the office
Data: Digital; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, we're all scared of the Delta variant, but the more visceral reasons that people want to keep working from home are striking, a poll found:

  • 75% want to hang out with their pets.
  • 73% want to watch TV while they work.
  • 72% want to nap or exercise during the day.
  • 62% are self-conscious about how they look.

Why it matters: The longer we stay out of the office, the more these personal priorities become ingrained — making a return to the office even more of a distant (and distasteful) possibility, Axios' Jennifer Kingson writes.

Details: The results come from a Pollfish survey of 1,000 people conducted in July for (a procurement website for small businesses).

5. Take note

On Tap

  • The big item on this week's tech calendar is Apple's online event Tuesday where it is expected to introduce the next iPhone, along with other gear.
  • Oracle reports earnings after the markets close today.

Trading Places

  • Match Group named Renate Nyborg, formerly of Apple and Headspace as CEO of Tinder. Nyborg replaces Jim Lanzone, who is headed to become CEO of Yahoo, as that company is acquired by Apollo Global Management.


6. After you Login

Just a little something to make you feel better about humanity as you start the week.