May 3, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

If you read this newsletter really, really slowly, it will be the weekend by the time you are done.

1 big thing: Amazon's Neighbors app stokes discrimination fears

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Advocates and experts are worried that an Amazon Neighbors app, used by owners of Ring security cameras to upload videos for neighbors to see, could entrench racial discrimination and violate people's privacy, David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: The Neighbors app is striking deals to partner with police departments across the country.

Driving the news: Last week, journalists on Twitter noticed Ring was hiring an editor — prompting concerns that Amazon was stoking community fears to sell security systems. (Amazon bought the company last year.)

How it works: People with and without Ring cameras can download the Neighbors app. It features a feed where users can post videos and photos from their cameras, file reports of activity they think is suspicious and read crime reports from the app's “News Team.”

  • The application partners with law enforcement, allowing them to post alerts to solicit possible video evidence useful to their investigations through a platform described by The Intercept earlier this year. (The company says that when "using Neighbors Portal, law enforcement see the same interface that all users see.")
  • An agreement obtained by the open-records site MuckRock between the Richmond, Va. police department and Ring said it was up to the department to maintain “appropriate access controls for RPD personnel to use the Ring Neighborhood Police portal.”

Details: The Neighbors app highlights multiple concerns about what happens when you build digital platforms for neighborhoods, particularly those that aim to spotlight crime, said multiple advocates and experts.

  • Neighborhood message boards are already famously rife with racism, and Motherboard reported earlier this year it had found frequent racist comments on Ring's app as well. “I think having the videos oftentimes makes things even worse than they would be in just a text-based neighborhood message board format,” said Harlan Yu, executive director of the research group Upturn.
  • The ubiquitous nature of Ring cameras runs the risk of capturing behavior unrelated to the crimes they are supposed to deter.

What they’re saying: The burdens of increased video surveillance and fears stoked by the apps will fall on people of color, who are already more likely to face police discrimination. Ring has also filed patents related to facial recognition, technology that can notoriously reflect racial bias.

  • “The bottom line is that this app is going to end up simply stoking people’s fears, especially people’s racist fears, and it’s also going to bring law enforcement to act on people's racial biases,” said Yu.

Ring's response: "We realize that there are many intricacies involved in fighting crime and facilitating community discussions and are always looking at ways to further develop and enhance our services," the company said in a statement.

  • The company said it encourages "neighbors to report racial profiling using our in-app flagging tool" and that its users "have full control of who views their Ring footage."
  • It also denied using facial recognition.

Go deeper: David has more here.

2. Microsoft's bet on blockchain

While not the earliest to beat the blockchain drum, Microsoft is starting to embrace the distributed ledger technology, both inside the company and for its customers.

  • The company on Thursday announced a new blockchain service for Azure and a partnership with JP Morgan Chase. Amazon's AWS also announced a blockchain service this week.
  • At a lunch with reporters, cloud executive Scott Guthrie said that blockchain use has picked up, especially in areas like tracking products throughout a lifecycle or when multiple entities are working together.
  • "Having a distributed general ledger of just yourself is not that compelling," he said.

Meanwhile: Guthrie took issue with an anonymous former Amazon executive quoted in an otherwise flattering Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover story on Microsoft who said Azure was the Minnesota Twins compared to AWS, which was likened to the New York Yankees.

"If they want to claim they are the Yankees, I'd like to claim we are the Red Sox," he said. "Obviously we are the two big cloud competitors."

3. Facebook/Instagram ban "dangerous" personalities

Photos: Getty Images

Facebook announced on Thursday it will ban a string of people from its platforms deemed "dangerous." The list includes Milo Yiannopoulos, Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones (and InfoWars), Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer and Paul Nehlen.

Why it matters, per Axios' Sara Fischer: Facebook has for years been hesitant to outright ban these actors, due mostly to the fact that they didn't explicitly violate Facebook's loose content rules. But real-world hate crimes are putting pressure on Facebook and other platforms to crack down on pages and accounts that have repeatedly shared false information or hate speech.

Details: In addition to banning their personal accounts, Facebook also said they are banning other accounts and pages associated with the individuals.

"We've always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today."
— Facebook spokesperson, to Axios

Flashback: Alex Jones was banned temporarily by Facebook back in July 2018.

Our thought bubble: Your move, Twitter?

4. Verizon said to be seeking a buyer for Tumblr

Verizon, seeking to shore up the business end of its sprawling media unit, which owns AOL and Yahoo, is looking to sell off Tumblr, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Between the lines: Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has made clear he expects the media business to stand on its own. Expect more changes ahead.

Be smart: Verizon probably doesn't want the publicity that would come from transferring the business to a porn site, so expect any buyer to be decidedly PG-rated (maybe PG-13).

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Jeff Binder, the executive leading T-Mobile's entertainment efforts since its Layer3 acquisition, has left the company, Light Reading reported.


  • Facebook is said to be seeking financial industry and merchant support for a new cryptocurrency-based payments effort. (WSJ)
  • Sinclair is the apparent winner in the bidding war for Fox's regional sports networks, with the Wall Street Journal reporting it will pay Disney $10 billion for the 21 properties. Disney, which owns ESPN, had agreed to sell the channels as part of its purchase of most 21st Century Fox assets. (Axios)
6. After you Login

A parrot, supposedly trained to warn drug dealers of police activity, is in custody. Unfortunately for the cops, it refuses to sing like a canary.

Ina Fried