Jul 10, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I made my New York Times debut this week, reviewing three new books on AI. You can read it online here, while the print version will be in Sunday's Book Review section. Also, FYI, I'm headed to Washington, D.C., to visit with the rest of my Axios colleagues.

1 big thing: Bashing Silicon Valley to raise money

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Political players on both the right and the left are trying to use criticism of Silicon Valley as a new fundraising lever, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: When both liberal and conservative operatives believe that beating up on tech companies will get supporters to open their wallets, Big Tech's already tarnished public image may be in for more bruising.

The pitches:

  • Demand Progress: After widespread outrage last month over the administration's separation of migrants from their children, this liberal group asked for contributions to support its protest of tech companies doing business with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Big tech is making millions off selling the government tools to jail immigrant families,” the group said on its donation page last week.
  • Diamond and Silk, the conservative video personalities who have accused Facebook of suppressing their content, asked fans on April 25 to donate as they battled the social giant. “Like David and Goliath, the bigger they are the harder they fall,” they said.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee on April 20 emailed a “rapid response poll” with the question “Do you think Facebook censors conservatives?” Recipients who entered their contact information were redirected to a donation page.
  • PragerU, the right-leaning online video producer, sent out a fundraising email in February pegged to its lawsuit against YouTube alleging censorship. It sent another email in May, after the suit was dismissed.

Between the lines: Political operators make their bones trying to figure out what issues motivate people to take concrete action, like giving money or voting. Silicon Valley may now be alarming enough as a boogeyman to serve that purpose.

Reality check: While favorability ratings for some individual large tech companies fell earlier this year, many still remain very popular for their convenience and often-free services.

The big picture: After a wave of criticism from the right over concerns about censorship on social platforms, several companies have increased their outreach to conservatives. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey earlier this year came to Washington to meet with conservative pundits, and Facebook has met with Republicans on Capitol Hill over the censorship concerns.

The left’s relationship with Big Tech has also become more complicated over the last two years. Though Silicon Valley had deep ties with the Obama administration, Democrats are furious about how Facebook was manipulated during the 2016 election, upset with Twitter’s light policing of the so-called alt-right, and frustrated with cloud service companies that work with the Trump administration.

The bottom line: We don't yet know whether Americans care enough about criticisms of tech companies over censorship, privacy, or government contracts to drive their votes — or drive them away from Silicon Valley’s products. If the pitches keep coming, that means the bashing is working.

2. Exclusive: Box is buying Butter (.ai)

File-storage company Box has acquired Butter.ai, a startup whose software lets users search within files across multiple work applications. Butter.ai will be shutting down its application as part of the deal, per Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva.

The big picture: Box's customers — other businesses — have to contend with an ever-growing amount of data and files, making it critical for workplace tool providers like Box to help them sift through and filter all that information.

The details: For now, Box's integration of Butter.ai's tech will be focused on searching through files, says CEO Aaron Levie. But he adds that the company eventually wants to help users find things in other work tools, like chat.

Backers: Butter.ai raised funding from General Catalyst, Slack's fund and All Turtles, which is former Evernote CEO Phil Libin's startup studio.

Go deeper: Kia has more here.

3. Parking garages can prep for self-driving cars

A parking lot in Shenyang, China. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Self-driving cars may be still be years away from taking over our roads, but parking garages can be ready to house them with today’s technology, SpotHero CEO Mark Lawrence tells Kia.

Why it matters: While some believe that self-driving cars will eventually be in constant motion, eliminating the need for parking lots, it’s likely that we’ll still need to store these cars some of the time.

"Every location that we make [autonomous vehicle]-ready today is a better experience for our consumers now,” says Lawrence of the tech upgrades to deal with cars that are years away. “We’ve done studies that show that people are willing to pay more for an automated experience versus one that’s not,” he adds.

Bottom line: Self-driving cars will need to get in and out of a garage or a lot without a human driver — that includes recognizing whether its spot has been paid for.

But, but, but: Many experts expect self-driving cars to eliminate the need for parking, or greatly reduce it.

  • “Parking, as it is historically defined, is not the most useful term to describe this work. The vehicles won't intentionally be taken offline if they are operational,” Trucks Venture Capital partner and Stanford lecturer Reilly Brennan tells Axios. “If they are operational but not on a fare, they will need physical space to queue, which is akin to what you'd find with taxis queued at an airport.”

Go deeper: Kia has more here.

4. The rising cost of digital TV

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After debuting at prices well below the typical cable bill, many upstart digital rivals have begun to hike their prices, Axios' Sara Fischer reports. Over the past several months:

  • AT&T's DirecTV NOW emailed customers that it was raising the prices of its starter plan by $5 per month.
  • Sony's Playstation Vue announced that the price for all PS Vue multi-channel plans — Access, Core, Elite and Ultra — will increase by $5.
  • Dish' Sling TV is raising the base price of its core packaging (Sling Orange, 30 channels) from $20 per month to $25 per month.
  • YouTube TV announced it would be raising its subscription from $35 to $40 monthly (after it added Turner programming). 

Of note: Netflix and Amazon have also announced price increases over the past year.

Why it matters: Bundled content packages are an increasingly popular way for consumers to watch video content, but there's little regulation around pricing, consolidation and distribution fees to protect consumers from long-term price inflation. 

The bottom line: Many consumers end up subscribing to more than one of these skinny bundles. Eventually, consumers could end up paying more for digital programming in total than they do now for their traditional cable package.

Go deeper: Sara has more here.

5. Microsoft takes aim at iPad with new Surface Go

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft is once again trying to take on Apple's iPad, this time with a new entry-level model for its tablet/laptop combo line.

The bottom line: At $399, the Surface Go is the company's cheapest model yet, and one that the company hopes will take it further in the all-important education market.

The details: It's powered by an Intel processor, has a 10-inch screen and, at 1.15 pounds and 8.3 mm-thin, it's also the smallest and lightest member of the Surface family. A Wi-Fi version goes on sale Aug. 2, with pre-orders starting now. An LTE-equipped version is planned for later in the year.

Go deeper: Wired has a behind-the-scenes look at the development process and chatted with Surface exec Panos Panay.

6. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Democratic Federal Trade Commission member Rohit Chopra hired lawyer Lina Khan to serve in his office as a fellow for "the next few months." Khan is the author of an influential law review note building the antitrust case against Amazon. She is teaming up with one of the FTC's minority commissioners as the agency takes a closer look at questions about tech platforms.
  • Airbnb is shuffling up its China leadership with the departure of former unit head Hong Ge, amid reports he had a relationship with a female subordinate. Airbnb said late Monday that Tao Peng will join in September as president of Airbnb China, with Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk serving as chairman.
  • Salesforce has hired former AT&T regulatory executive Eric Loeb to be EVP of government affairs, overseeing local, state, national and global policy efforts.
  • Uber hired former DOJ lawyer Scott Schools to be its chief compliance officer.

ICYMI

  • Twitter's CFO downplayed the idea that a crackdown on bot accounts will hurt its upcoming user numbers, saying most bots weren't counted in past results because it reports accounts that have been active for 30 days and most of the deleted bot accounts were freshly created ones.
  • CNBC reports that some drug users are relying on heart rate info from Apple Watches and Fitbit trackers to regulate their habits. Doctors say that's not such a great idea.
  • AT&T is buying cybersecurity firm AlienVault, per VentureBeat.
  • Happy 10th Birthday to Apple's App Store.
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Check out this cross stitch of the original Mac OS Control Panel.

Ina Fried