Jan 4, 2019

Axios Login

Pack your dongles and spare batteries. It's CES time again.

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1 big thing: Preparing for CES 2019

CES 2018. Photo: Consumer Technology Association

As the world gears up for the giant consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, it's worth reflecting on what CES is and what it is not.

CES is:

  • A chance to see where big tech companies are placing their bets in terms of new categories and features.
  • An opportunity to see non-tech companies spending boatloads of money to convince the world they are actually significant players in consumer electronics.
  • A great place to see absurd and quirky tech products that may or may not come to market.

CES is not:

  • Where the most consequential product introductions of the year happen. Typically those are done by the largest companies in the world. At one time companies not named Apple would try to launch flagship products at CES, but most now follow Apple's lead and hold their own press events, where they aim for a captive audience and a full news cycle all to themselves. This 2014 column from my then-Recode colleague Walt Mossberg remains prescient today.
  • A good place to get lots of sleep, eat well or drink decent tap water. For CES newbies (attention Mike Allen), be sure to eat and sleep beforehand and drink bottled water.

What to expect:

  • 5G. Of all the buzzwords, this is likely to get the most attention. It's close to fruition but not quite here and lots of companies are looking to claim to be "first."
  • Voice assistants everywhere. The battle between Amazon and Google is likely to result in a host of new products that have Alexa or Google Assistant built in.
  • Cars, cars, cars. CES has become a significant spot for carmakers and suppliers to show off their advanced technology and 2019 is no exception, notes Axios' Joann Muller. Expect announcements and demonstrations on everything from autonomous vehicles to connected cars. One of the big goals: convincing the public that the industry is taking seriously its responsibility to make AVs safe.
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will deliver a keynote address on the future of drones and self-driving cars.

Sara Fischer, Mike Allen and I will be on the ground in Las Vegas next week, with our experts in cars, health and policy contributing from afar — so expect to hear lots more in next week's Login newsletters.

2. Scoop: Google's Fong-Jones leaving for startup

Photo: Liz Fong-Jones

Liz Fong-Jones, a longtime Google engineer known for speaking out on a wide range of employee concerns, is leaving the tech giant to work at a startup.

Why it matters: Fong-Jones was early to challenge her employer on a range of issues from sexual harassment to its work on controversial projects.

What's next: Fong-Jones tells Axios that she is headed to be the first developer advocate at Honeycomb.io, a startup that aims to make distributed systems understandable by engineers.

  • She says what draws her to the company, in addition to the match with her expertise, is the leadership roles held by women and its commitment to diversity and corporate ethics.

As for Google, Fong-Jones says she stayed at her former employer because she cared about the company's mission and felt it was her duty as an employee and technologist to speak up when she thought the company was heading down a wrong path.

"If I didn’t care about Google I probably would have silently quit many, many months or years ago."
— Liz Fong-Jones
  • She said that activism can be hard to sustain and she didn't see a way to remain at Google without burning out.
  • But she is glad others remain to push the company in good directions: "People staying behind who continue to work on these issues should be applauded."
3. GM's AV unit to make DoorDash deliveries

Photo: Cruise

GM's autonomous driving unit, Cruise, will begin testing food delivery for some of DoorDash's San Francisco customers in March, the companies announced on Thursday.

Why it matters: After years of focusing on the technology, companies developing AVs are turning their attention to business models, notes Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva.

  • While rival Ford quickly started to experiment with various models like making deliveries, Cruise has thus far only touted its plans for a ride-hailing service, though new CEO Dan Ammann told Axios in November that his company will consider a "broad universe of business models" once it nails down its tech.
  • Using AVs for delivery is a popular idea. Postmates and Kroger, among others, are already testing the tech for their own services.

Go deeper:

4. Joe Lieberman's work for ZTE draws backlash

Joe Lieberman. Photo: U.S. Defense Department

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman has officially registered as a lobbyist for embattled Chinese telecom firm ZTE, a move that generated lots of blowback on Twitter on Thursday.

Why it matters: Huawei and ZTE are both under fire for ties to the Chinese government as well as allegations of evading U.S. sanctions on Iran.

  • Lieberman's new client drew a wide range of criticism, including from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who tweeted that such work should be illegal and called for a lifetime ban on former members of Congress acting as lobbyists.

Yes, but: In a regulatory filing, Lieberman's firm says the former vice presidential candidate won't actually be lobbying his former colleagues, but rather conducting "an independent assessment of concerns that Members of Congress, Executive branch and American businesses have about any national security vulnerabilities and risks that ZTE products may pose in the U.S."

  • The firm said it decided to register "in the interest of transparency and caution."
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Well, it's Friday. If 2019 Fridays are anything like their 2018 predecessors, we can expect at least one tech-related news dump.

Trading Places

  • Square named Blizzard Entertainment financial chief Amrita Ahuja as its new CFO.
  • 30-year AT&T veteran Bob Quinn, who headed the telecom giant's political regulatory efforts from D.C., is joining the law firm of Wilkinson Barker Knauer as a partner.


  • Apple's overall revenue may be well short of estimates, but the company said Thursday that its App Store did record business during the holidays, generating $1.22 billion between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and $322 million on New Year’s Day alone. (Apple)
  • IBM's Weather Company unit is being sued by Los Angeles for allegedly misusing consumer data. (NYT)
  • Hackers only spared far-right politicians in their leaked data from German politicians, per RBB. (Axios)
  • Verily, Alphabet's life sciences arm, has taken on $1 billion in outside funding, led by Silver Lake. (Axios)
  • And speaking of funding, Pokémon Go creator Niantic has raised more than $190 million in its latest funding round. (TechCrunch)
6. After you Login

Check out this owl, which can change its appearance in the face of danger.