Feb 5, 2020

Axios Login

We've packed a lot into our little newsletter today. That said, Login is still only 1,450 words, a 5-minute read.

Situational awareness: The founder of controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI makes his television interview debut today on "CBS This Morning."

1 big thing: White House floats a new 5G plan to counter Huawei

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

In its latest move to counteract a perceived threat from Huawei, the Trump administration proposed a new approach to 5G networks that would rely on virtualization and other features to give U.S. companies a broader role, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: Right now, none of Huawei's traditional networking gear rivals — which include Nokia and Ericsson — are U.S.-based, and their products are typically more expensive than Huawei's.

How it works: The idea is to push for open software that could run on nearly any standard hardware, with Microsoft, AT&T and Dell among those said to be involved in the effort, per the Wall Street Journal.

Oracle confirmed it is also among the companies interested in taking part.

  • "Oracle is a major supplier of 5G core network technology," Oracle's Ken Glueck told Axios. "We are involved in the White House effort and we think U.S.-based technology companies have a lot to contribute to the 5G build out."

The big picture: The U.S. has been going to its allies and asking them not to use Huawei gear in their networks, but affordable Western alternatives to the Chinese products haven't been easy to find.

And some technical trends are already moving in the direction of the new U.S. proposal — notably, the shift away from dedicated products that perform a specific role in the network and toward virtualizing different functions using software that can run on commodity hardware, such as servers made by companies like HP and Dell, using chips from Intel and Nvidia.

  • "There is a movement where you can definitely commoditize the hardware and start to use open source for the radio access piece," industry consultant Chetan Sharma told Axios.

Yes, but: Making 5G gear still requires a fair amount of know-how that's specific to the cellular industry.

  • "It's not easy, " Sharma said. "You have to deal with hundreds of legacy elements that over the years Nokia and Ericsson have mastered and fine-tuned."

History lesson: This is at least the third plan that has been floated from within the Trump administration to kickstart 5G and ensure the U.S. plays a leading role.

  • Back in 2018 (as first reported by Axios) there was talk of nationalizing 5G in an effort to outrace China.
  • Then, last year, there was a notion raised of building a wholesale 5G network that all players could use.

So far, though, it is the industry's existing approaches that have prevailed — with 5G rolling out from all the major carriers, starting last year, using traditional equipment vendors like Nokia, Ericsson and to some degree, Samsung.

2. Federal agencies expand fight against robocallers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Federal agencies are stepping up efforts to crack down on illegal robocalls by going after the phone companies that connect or enable them, as Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Billions of robocalls that light up Americans' phones each month, according to data from YouMail. Federal agencies are responding by expanding their focus beyond the scam callers themselves.

Yes, but: This is only the latest in a years-long series of would-be federal crackdowns, but the calls continue. Last month, there were 153 million calls per day, with the average person receiving 14.4 calls, according to the YouMail data.

Driving the news: The Federal Communications Commission became the latest agency to move against robocallers Tuesday, as part of a coordinated effort with the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to ensure that carriers are doing their part to halt illegal calls.

  • The FCC's enforcement chief encouraged seven phone companies that allow international calls into U.S. networks to step up efforts to trace back the originators of illegally spoofed foreign robocalls.
  • Letters to the companies say the FCC will be monitoring the so-called gateway providers, which accept foreign calls to U.S. consumers, to see if they cooperate with efforts to identify those making foreign robocalls.

Context: The FCC's letters followed a first-of-its kind enforcement from the Justice Department last week against telecom carriers it says facilitated millions of fraudulent robocalls.

  • The DOJ, which sought restraining orders to stop the transmission of illegal robocall traffic, said the companies were already warned repeatedly about the issue.
  • The DOJ said most of the scam calls originated from India and led to "massive financial losses."
  • “We are using all available tools and resources to stop foreign call center scammers — and for the first time their U.S.-based enablers — from conning elderly and vulnerable victims in New York and throughout the United States,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement.

For its part, the FTC sent letters last week to 19 Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers warning them the agency will take action if they knowingly facilitate illegal robocalls.

On the industry side, T-Mobile, Sprint and Comcast outlined progress Tuesday on implementing anti-robocall technology that will verify calls are really coming from the number displayed on the Caller ID.

Go deeper: Robocallers face fight on many fronts

3. ZTE, LG drop conference plans amid virus concerns

Two major telecom players — Korea's LG and China's ZTE — are scaling back their presence at the upcoming Mobile World Congress out of concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Why it matters: Mobile World Congress, held at the end of February in Barcelona, is the key trade show for the cell phone industry, and its selling point is the way it brings a very global industry together in one plac .

What they're saying:

  • LG said Tuesday that "with the safety of its employees, partners and customers foremost in mind," it decided not to exhibit or participate in the conference. "This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders."
  • ZTE said it canceled a press conference planned for Mobile World Congress in part due to visa and other issues and, also out of caution. "[We] tend to be an overly courteous company, and simply don't want to make people uncomfortable," a representative told The Verge.
  • In a statement Tuesday, GSMA, the trade group that puts on Mobile World Congress, said it is "continuing to monitor and assess the potential impact of the coronavirus," and announced several new health precautions, but said so far there has been "minimal impact."

Meanwhile, Huawei postponed a developer conference in China, but has thus far said it continues to plan to attend and exhibit in Barcelona.

4. Twitter sets high bar for taking down deepfakes

Photo illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Twitter on Tuesday announced a new policy aimed at discouraging the spread of deepfakes and other manipulated media, but the service will only ban content that threatens people's safety, rights or privacy, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

Why it matters: Tech platforms are under pressure to stanch the flow of political misinformation, including faked videos and imagery. Twitter's approach, which covers a wide range of material but sets narrow criteria for deletion, is unlikely to satisfy critics or politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi — who have both slammed platforms for allowing manipulated videos of them to spread.

Details: Starting next month, Twitter will be working to identify media that, according to a Tuesday blog post, has been "significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated."

  • That includes deepfakes — digital forgeries that use AI to generate fake footage — as well as media that's been more crudely manipulated, such as by cropping out part of a video, changing its speed or dubbing in different audio.

Yes, but: The company only expects to delete manipulated content that's shared with the intent of deceiving people and, crucially, that's likely to cause harm.

Manipulated media that doesn't fit all criteria for removal may be:

  • Labeled as misleading.
  • Affixed with a warning that people see if they try to like or retweet it.
  • Algorithmically downranked so that, for instance, it doesn't show up in users' content recommendations.

For the record: Those criteria mean the viral video of Pelosi that had been slowed down to make her seem drunk would be labeled but not removed under the new policy, Twitter's head of site integrity Yoel Roth said on a press call.

The bottom line: Twitter is going noticeably further with its monitoring plans than Facebook, which announced last month that it would only ban deepfakes but leave less sophisticated fakery alone.

What's next: Twitter will start enforcing the policy March 5. To identify manipulated media, it will draw on assistance from crowd-sourced content reports as well as outside partners.

Kyle has more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Earnings reports today include Qualcomm, Spotify, IAC and Match Group.

Trading Places

  • AI security firm Darktrace has hired Cathy Graham as its new CFO. Graham was previously CFO at edtech firm 2U.
  • Jeff Weiser is out as CMO of Shopify amid a reorganization there.
  • Liz Schimel, the business head of Apple News is leaving the company, following what Bloomberg says is a slow start to the subscription Apple News+ service.


6. After you Login
Photo: Areaware

The only thing better than the amazing icons that Susan Kare designed for the original Macintosh is the artwork she now does with those same iconic pre-emoji. The most recent creation is this throw blanket, available on Areaware.