January 06, 2020
Hello from Las Vegas, where Sara Fischer, Kia Kokalitcheva, Joann Muller, Mike Allen and I are bringing you what you need to know from CES 2020 (aka we wait in long lines so you don't have to).
Today's Login is 1,351 words, a 5-minute read.
1 big thing: Tech's 2020 fights
The biggest battles Big Tech faces in the coming year pit the industry's corporate colossi against the U.S. government, foreign nations, and the human needs of their own customers, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.
1. Securing the 2020 U.S. election
Federal officials have documented Russia's operations to manipulate the 2016 election at length and in detail, but the U.S. political system has yet to come to terms with that attack, or plan a rigorous defense against a repeat.
- Election meddling can take two forms — direct attempts to break into election systems, and broader disinformation operations intended to mislead voters, sow discord and spread disillusionment.
- The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to prioritize election defense, worried that focusing on the Russian threat might raise questions about Trump's 2016 win.
- That has left the election security fight in the hands of state and local governments — and the tech companies themselves.
- What's next: Tech firms, social media platforms, news outlets and government agencies all face enormous tests between now and November.
2. Defining the limits of privacy
Congress' failure to pass national privacy legislation last year left the new California Consumer Privacy Act as the de facto law of the land.
- Facebook's position is that it doesn't need to change its basic method of tracking users under the act because it doesn't sell user data. That premise is likely to be tested as soon as this summer, when California's attorney general will start enforcing the law.
- The new privacy-law regime is emerging against a wider backdrop of public concern over new forms of data surveillance, from smartphone location monitoring to voice assistant recordings to smart doorbell videos to facial recognition.
- What's next: Surveillance technology is likely to keep evolving faster than the laws intended to neutralize its potential social harms.
3. Coping with the antitrust onslaught
Antitrust cases can drag on for years, but the speed and momentum of multiple investigations into whether Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are engaged in monopolistic practices suggest 2020 will bring some resolution to the cases. That could come in the form of lawsuits or settlements — or the closing of an inquiry, effectively absolving the target company.
- At a Wall Street Journal event last month, Attorney General William Barr said he'd "like" to see the Justice Department's work completed in 2020.
- What's next: Whatever happens at Justice, the Federal Trade Commission has its own investigations, and so do the states. Any one of the three could keep the pressure on these companies.
4. Defending a global industry in an age of "decoupling"
The globalist triumphalism of the '90s and 2000s has given way to Trump-era protectionism and a splintering of the global internet into three distinct regions — the U.S., Europe and China — with fundamentally different legal regimes.
- China is where the ideal of internet freedom lost out to a government that now successfully monitors its citizens' doings and controls their speech. It has built its own domestic software and services industry that rival the U.S.-led Big Tech giants.
- China is also where much of our tech hardware, including most iPhones, get made. That keeps China and the U.S. interdependent — for now.
- What's next: Security fears and trade frictions are pushing China and the U.S. apart faster than seemed possible just a few years ago.
5. Flipping tech from harm to "wellness"
Overuse of smartphones and the social media apps they bear has left many in the industry and the broader public yearning for less screen time and more control.
- Users love the efficiency of their phones and their ability to stay connected to the people and services they care about. They're less happy about the dopamine-hit feedback loop that makes it hard to stop scrolling to the next social media post.
- Companies have already shifted their product dials toward "wellness," as with Facebook's emphasis on family-and-friends interactions or Apple's promotion of health-oriented apps for the iPhone and Watch.
- Some social media platforms are also trying to change algorithmic models that favor divisive, attention-grabbing voices.
- What's next: Before long, the push for "digital wellness" is going to collide head-on with the platforms' business models, which depend on engagement-fueled growth and data-mining-driven ad sales.
2. Why Trump's Iran tweets aren't being flagged
President Trump's use of Twitter to threaten Iran brought renewed calls for CEO Jack Dorsey to take action to limit the president's use of the platform. However, Twitter maintains none of the president's messages violate the company's policies.
The bigger picture: Twitter has said that, in general, it will leave political leaders' tweets up even if they violate the terms of service that apply to other users. Last year it announced a policy that would see the company append a warning to tweets deemed to violate its rules. But, it has yet to apply that policy to Trump or anyone else.
Driving the news: In the wake of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, President Trump took to Twitter, using the platform to threaten to bomb Iranian cultural sites and, later in the weekend, to say he was putting both Iran and Congress on notice that if any Americans were killed he would take action — potentially disproportionate action — against Iran.
What they're saying:
- Former Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser: "At Twitter, we used to dream about the possibilities for governing and diplomacy through the service. This is not what we had in mind."
- Filmmaker Ava DuVernay: "C'mon, @Jack. This is a turning point. You can stop this. You are now complicit in something much larger if you don't really look at this and act."
- Former Twitter executive and State Department official Katie Jacobs Stanton: "When I worked at Twitter, we thought it was a good idea for world leaders to have a platform to speak directly to constituents. The use case of announcing and/or threatening war is an outrageous abuse of the platform and most importantly, the Constitution."
The bottom line: Twitter is unlikely to rein in Trump.
3. Amazon wants Fire TV in more cars and devices
Amazon made a series of moves at CES in Las Vegas, most notably announcing deals to get its Fire TV software built into more televisions, soundbars and even the back seats of cars.
Why it matters: In tech, it pays to control the operating system. Amazon found itself on the outside looking in when it came to smartphones, and wants to maintain a strong position in smart TVs, speakers and other emerging consumer devices.
Driving the news:
- Amazon's Fire TV Edition for Automotive will offer a roadmap for carmakers that want to put Amazon's TV software into back-seat entertainment systems. BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automotive will be among the first to offer such systems, Amazon said.
- A similar program for internet service providers aims to make it easier for them to offer Fire TV Edition devices to their customers. Amazon is already working with Verizon in the U.S. and Tata in India.
- Amazon said it expects more than 150 Fire TV Edition devices in more than 10 countries to be available by the end of the year.
Meanwhile: Amazon also announced its Ring unit is expanding further into home lighting, including the first Ring smart LED bulbs.
And Lamborghini is adding Alexa to its Huracán EVO this year.
4. Samsung sets Feb. 11 for next big phone launch
Samsung has set Feb. 11 in San Francisco as the date and place for its next Unpacked event, where it is expected to launch the next high-end Galaxy smartphone as well as likely a new foldable device.
Why it matters: The event is being held earlier than past Galaxy launches and its announcement comes after the date was revealed in a leaked video. It comes in between next week's CES in Las Vegas and February's Mobile World Congress, a traditional launching point for smartphones.
The image in the teaser that accompanied Samsung's invitation aligns with the rumors of a more square-shaped foldable phone than the current Galaxy Fold.
Separately: Samsung did use CES to show off its latest TVs, including an 8K QLED model, several MicroLED displays that can be combined to form a giant MegaTV and the Sero, which can be rotated vertically or horizontally like a tablet or smartphone. Oh, and it is also adding support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa into its smart TV line, after previously putting its energy into its less-popular-but-homegrown assistant, Bixby.
5. Take Note
- Lots of gadget news from Las Vegas. And, to reiterate, you can keep up to date on all the latest here.
- So, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are all expanding in New York, and will employ an estimated 20,000 workers by 2022. (New York Times)
- The shuttering of consumer robotics company Anki last year left a giant cloud of uncertainty over its Vector robot, which depends on the cloud for much of its functionality. A new company pledges that Vector won't go dark. (The Verge)
- The U.S. has announced new export restrictions targeting geospatial imagery. (The Verge)
6. After you Login
But when will there be a truly important use of augmented reality? ... Oooh, bubbles!