Jun 24, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Some days I feel older than others. But, I can honestly say I never feel as old as the commercials on the TV shows I watch think I am. But, if you need a walk-in tub or a reverse mortgage, let me know — I'm now an expert.

Today's Login is 1,343 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Why Trump's visa ban makes Silicon Valley fume

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As loud as the fight has been between the Trump administration and Big Tech over charges that the industry censors conservatives, the White House's move to extend a ban on skilled-worker visas used widely by tech companies hits Silicon Valley closer to home, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

The big picture: In a global tech economy where China and other countries threaten to surpass the U.S. in fields like artificial intelligence, 5G networking and automation, American CEOs treasure what they see as Silicon Valley's brain-and-innovation edge, and fear Trump's order will undermine that advantage.

Here's what tech's CEOs are thinking, based on executives' public statements and Axios' reporting.

1. Immigrants built Silicon Valley. U.S. tech has triumphed by drawing top talent from all over the world, giving them a chance to make great products, get rich, and change the world. Shut that door and everyone loses.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday on Twitter: "Like Apple, this nation of immigrants has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream. There is no new prosperity without both. Deeply disappointed by this proclamation."
  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are both immigrants to the U.S., as is Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

2. Closing the visa door won't help U.S. jobless. The Trump order claims it will free up 500,000 jobs for American workers, but the industries that rely on H-1Bs aren't the ones that have been shedding jobs during the pandemic.

  • The order may make for a rousing campaign-rally line, but it will fail to put a dent in the U.S. unemployment rate while making it harder for tech firms to fill specialized positions.

3. Trump's effort to drive a wedge between tech leaders and workers will fail. The H-1B visa has a long history of controversy, with many tech critics and labor activists arguing that firms import foreign engineers to avoid paying higher salaries to American workers.

  • That perspective is popular not only among MAGA supporters but also among some progressives, particularly in the Bernie Sanders camp.
  • But most of the tech workforce views the issue through the lens of identity and sees hostility to immigrants as part of a larger pattern of inequality and racism.
  • Tech employees' opposition to Trump's immigration policy crystallized in the first days of the administration, when crowds of tech employees joined protests.

4. The president's order isn't the end of the world for tech. The proclamation's fine print may limit its impact.

  • The new order doesn't affect people already in the country, and some of those in the U.S. on other kinds of visas might be apply to apply for H-1B status.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has cut the number of visa applicants for now, anyway.
  • Trump's policies might be gone by next January.

5. But Trump's "immigrants not welcome" sign can only hurt U.S. tech in the long run. It makes America look fearful, it cuts U.S. companies off from global talent, and it gives other countries — like Canada — more room to challenge Silicon Valley's lead.

2. Lenovo helps businesses return to work

Chinese tech giant Lenovo is joining a growing list of tech firms that see a business in helping other companies reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: Technology can't address all the issues related to a return to office life, but there are lots of opportunities in the software and hardware needed to detect fevers, keep workers physically separated and track which workers have been in contact with one another.

Driving the news: The company's nascent commercial Internet of Things business, based in the U.S., is partnering with a number of smaller vendors to offer tools to help businesses with tasks like touchless entry, thermal temperature scanning and keeping track of which employees interact with one another.

Details:

  • Lenovo is handling the overall distribution, service and support, while it is tapping partners with experience in the sector to provide specific hardware.
  • Partners include CXApp, Inpixon, L Squared, Relogix, Openpath, and Viper Imaging.

Between the lines: Lenovo only started its commercial IoT business late last year and had yet to launch its first products when the pandemic hit. "We flipped all our offerings before they were even released," said John Gordon, president of Lenovo's commercial I0T business.

Many of Lenovo's partners have also shifted gears to focus on COVID-19.

  • In the past, Viper Imaging's thermal scanning solutions were used to check the temperature of food or monitor conditions at steel mills. Now the firm is shifting to focus on people.
  • Thermal scanning was sometimes used in Asia during past disease outbreaks, like H1N1, but the technology was still too nascent and expensive for widespread use.
  • "We've learned a lot since then," said Viper Imaging co-founder Andy Beck.
3. German court rules against Facebook

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Germany's top court ruled Tuesday that Facebook abused its market power by illegally harvesting user data in the country, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The case against Facebook, pushed forward by Germany's competition regulator last year, represents one of the first major antitrust actions against Facebook, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

What's next: The court has mandated that people should be able to prevent their Facebook data from being associated with WhatsApp and Instagram accounts, outside websites and third-party apps without their consent, as Germany's antitrust watchdog argued last year.

Yes, but: Tuesday's decision "may not be the last word," the Times' Adam Satariano writes, since a different German court could possibly rule in Facebook's favor and give the case new life.

What they're saying: "Today's decision relates to the preliminary proceedings on the Court's stay order," Facebook said in a statement on Tuesday. "The main proceedings, before the Court of Appeals, are ongoing and we will continue to defend our position that there is no antitrust abuse. There will be no immediate changes for people or businesses who use our products and services in Germany."

Separately, the Times reports that several new advertisers, including Ben & Jerry’s, Eddie Bauer and Magnolia Pictures, have joined the list of those who have paused advertising on Facebook.

Go deeper: Germany tells Facebook to curb data gathering

4. Falun Gong seizes on media agency shakeup

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Trump administration's new head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media has fired the leadership of the Open Technology Fund (OTF), a leading global nonprofit that backs development of tools used for privacy and to circumvent censorship.

What's happening: After Trump appointee and Steve Bannon ally Michael Pack took over at USAGM last week, he fired the heads of its media agencies, including the Voice of America, and replaced board members with administration loyalists who lack international broadcasting experience.

At the same time, Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports, a small group of religious freedom advocates is trying to secure millions of dollars from the OTF budget for two internet censorship circumvention tools developed by supporters of the Falun Gong, a controversial religious group banned in China.

The big picture: Since 2012, OTF has backed open-source projects like Signal and Tor used by activists, dissidents and journalists around the world. The Falun Gong-associated tools are proprietary and specifically focused on defeating China's "Great Firewall."

What they're saying: A petition circulated online by OTF supporters warns, "There are serious concerns that the new leadership within the USAGM will seek to dismantle OTF and re-allocate all of its U.S. government funding to support a narrow set of anti-censorship tools without a transparent and open review process."

Between the lines: In recent years, Falun Gong supporters have made common cause with the global far right, and a growing rapport between its advocates and U.S. ultra-conservatives within USAGM could override internal vetting processes and channel funding toward pet projects.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Stacy Brown-Philpot — one of the most prominent Black female executives in tech — is stepping down as CEO of TaskRabbit, which is now owned by Ikea.
  • Alexandra Wolfe is leaving her position as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal to join the board of Peter Thiel-backed startup Palantir.

ICYMI

  • Nvidia and Mercedes signed a deal to collaborate on cars that can be upgraded over time. (Axios)
  • Dell is considering options, including a spinoff, for its roughly $50 billion stake in VMware. (WSJ)
  • Twitter flagged another Trump tweet, this one threatening protesters with "serious force." (Axios)
  • Facebook is teaming with the Poynter Institute on a digital media literacy campaign aimed at helping seniors identify and avoid misinformation. (Facebook)
  • GOP senators led by Lindsey Graham introduced a bill aimed at forcing tech companies to open encrypted data to law enforcement. (CNET)
  • Brazil's Central Bank has suspended WhatsApp payments; the Facebook subsidiary launched the feature first in Brazil earlier this month. (Bloomberg)
6. After you Login

Well, technically speaking, they still got to play to a full house. And I bet no one was talking or having their cell phone go off.

Ina Fried