Nov 9, 2018

Axios Login

Ina Fried

Don't forget to check out episode two of "Axios on HBO," which airs Sunday at 6:30pm.

1 big thing: Google will shift policies after employee walkouts

Photo: Google Walkout for Change

In the wake of employee protests of its handling of sexual harassment issues, Google announced it is revamping many of its corporate practices and policies.

"We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that," CEO Sundar Pichai said in a company-wide email. "It’s clear we need to make some changes."

Details: The changes Google is making include...

  • Doing away with mandatory arbitration for claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
  • Pledging additional support for those making claims.
  • Promising more transparency on the outcomes of investigations.
  • Expanding harassment training.

The bottom line: Google addressed a couple of the employee's concerns, but also left others unaddressed, such as elevating the company's chief diversity officer and appointing an employee representative to the board of directors.

  • Then there's the question of just how many of the new policies will affect the vendors, contractors and temps who make up a significant chunk of Google's overall workforce.

What they're saying: Organizers of last week's walkout praised the changes as evidence that employee action can have results.

  • "What they showed is that collective action works, and when we work together we can make change," they said in a blog post.
  • That said, the organizers also said Google's response didn't go far enough:
"In addition the company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone."

Meanwhile, Pichai raised fresh eyebrows over comments in a New York Times article. The CEO likened the changes Google would have to make to do business in China to the adjustments it has made in order to comply with the EU's Right to be Forgotten law.

"One of the things that’s not well understood, I think, is that we operate in many countries where there is censorship. When we follow “right to be forgotten” laws, we are censoring search results because we’re complying with the law. I’m committed to serving users in China. Whatever form it takes, I actually don’t know the answer. It’s not even clear to me that search in China is the product we need to do today."
— Sundar Pichai said to NYT

That comment drew a sharp rebuke from former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos. Stamos acknowledged that "tech companies constantly walk a difficult path between complying with local law and protecting human rights" but said "for Sundar to compare the 'right to be forgotten' (which I agree is problematic) with censorship in China is, at best, amoral and mendacious."

2. VR companies focus attention on businesses

Photo: HTC

The entire virtual reality industry is in the midst of trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that many consumers just aren't eager to strap on a VR headset.

That includes HTC, whose Vive was one of the first devices on the market. The company announced Wednesday that it will finally bring its Vive Focus to the U.S. and other Western markets, but the standalone mobile headset won't be aimed at consumers.

Instead, HTC is pitching the Focus to businesses, suggesting it as being ideal for car dealers who want to show various options and for hospitals that want to train doctors.

"It really takes VR out of the hype cycle and brings it into practical uses," Vive Americas general manager Dan O'Brien said at an event in San Francisco on Thursday. "That’s great for VR."

Why it matters: The tech product business works like a flywheel — more sales help lower costs, which generate more sales. Similarly, more sales attract developers who build apps that generate more sales. HTC, Oculus and others are trying to figure out just how to get that flywheel going.

Details: HTC will sell the Vive Focus for $599 to developers, but the main focus is on a $749 version that includes premium service and support.

  • After the event O'Brien confirmed to me that while consumers can buy the Focus online, there's no plan to market the headset to them.
  • The device was released more broadly in China, but O'Brien said that the focus in Western markets is on business customers: "We feel that's where the greater opportunity is."
3. How designing for Instagram boomed

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Millions of dollars are being spent across apps, sets and props to help people project perfectly curated images for Instagram photos, Boomerangs and Stories.

Instagram has exploded as the primary visual medium for social networkers around the world, with more than 1 billion users worldwide. As a result, companies, influencers and everyday users are willing to pay big bucks to look their best, reports Axios' Marisa Fernandez.

By the numbers: In 2018, about 53% of the U.S. social network users will access Instagram at least once a month — a number expected to grow, per eMarketer.

  • Instagram has become central to public images, even for youth. Instagram usage among teens in the U.S. is growing at the fastest rate, according to the latest survey from Piper Jaffray.

Creators of Unfold, an app that makes Instagram story templates, say they have proven that users are willing to pay for flawless Instagram story design.

  • With 11 million users, at a rate of 100,000 app downloads per day, the company is set to bring in $2.6 million in revenue for 2018, per Fast Company.
  • Celebrities have driven the app's popularity. In-app purchases with new templates and designs help with retention rates, a challenge app developers have, CNBC reports.

Instagrammers are paying to wait in line at Instagram Museums, which are well-lit, aesthetically-pleasing rooms with props — a perfect recipe for candid photos on social media.

  • In New York City, people are paying $45 a ticket to wait in line at the Rosé Mansion, a pop-up set up for luxurious photo-ops.
  • The Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco, 29Rooms and the Color Factory (both in NYC) are also popular photo-taking destinations.

Some companies are tapping into the popularity of Instagram Stories and the purchasing power of celebrities and influencers who have large followings.

The bottom line: Businesses like Unfold are partnering with Instagram for a more seamless interface. Though Snapchat has the highest usage among teens, users are adopting Instagram at a faster rate.

4. Facebook Portal reviews don't like the Facebook part

Photo: Facebook

The reviews of Facebook's Portal are in, and it turns out the biggest criticism is that it's made by Facebook.

Buzz: Some really liked the product, while others pointed out some of its limitations. But reviewers were nearly unanimous in expressing concern over giving Facebook such a sensitive place in the home.

  • The Wall Street Journal reviewer Joanna Stern didn't even want the product in her home to review.
  • The New York Times' Mike Isaac and Farhad Manjoo did put the device in their bedrooms, but their review boasts, "We tried Facebook’s new Portal device (so you don’t have to)."
  • "Trust Fail," per The Verge.
  • Facebook's Portal+ video chat gadget is a hard sell, CNN reports.

Aiming to head off the criticism, Facebook crafted a new explanation of its privacy measures, though it said it hasn't changed them since the product was announced.

The bottom line: Facebook may need to upgrade its credibility before it can get consumers to welcome it as a fixture in their homes.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • There's not much on the official calendar, but there have been a lot of Friday news dumps, so we'll be on the lookout.

Trading Places

  • Google hired David Feinberg, CEO of Geisinger Health, to lead its health care work.
  • Virgin Hyperloop One named former MTA boss and Motivate chief executive Jay Walder as CEO.


  • China's Xiaomi opened its first store in the U.K. and launched its flagship Mi 8 Pro phone there. (Reuters)
  • Security firm Check Point says a flaw in the website of drone maker DJI exposed user data including videos and pictures. (TechCrunch)
  • Dropbox reported better-than-expected sales and earnings, sending shares higher. (CNBC)
6. After you Login

Photo: Manly

Unrealistic body expectations aren't just for women. And now there's an app for men who feel they fall short of the mark. Manly lets people add a six-pack, beard or even a tattoo.

Ina Fried