Aug 31, 2021

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The first episode of our newest Axios podcast is out today. "How it Happened: The Next Astronauts" takes you behind the scenes of the all-civilian SpaceX mission going into orbit this September.

Today's newsletter is 1,136 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Apple's crumbling wall of silence

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Long-quiet Apple employees are beginning to speak their minds. In recent weeks they've talked publicly about experiences with harassment and discrimination, concerns about business decisions, and objections to policies that some feel open their personal lives to corporate scrutiny.

Why it matters: Employee activism has been on the rise across Silicon Valley, but until recently, Apple workers have largely avoided public criticism of their employer.

Driving the news:

  • A group of Apple workers are encouraging their colleagues to publicly discuss their experiences of harassment and discrimination as part of a budding "#appletoo" movement.
  • Other workers and former workers are speaking out about the company's insistence that employees give the company access to their personal iCloud accounts, as the Verge reported.
  • These movements come as Apple's workforce has grown significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, the adoption of Slack has given employees a chance to network and amplify dialogues and criticism of company policies, as a recent story in the Information outlined.

Between the lines: Apple has long stressed maintaining strict secrecy around new products, a value that Tim Cook has championed.

  • While employees generally support that, a growing number are pushing for a different approach to discussions of workplace problems or debates about business practices.
  • Recently workers have started to speak up about remote work and Apple's decision (later reversed) to hire controversial author Antonio García Martínez, as well as concerns about the security implications of Apple's move to scan iCloud photos for child sexual abuse material.

The big picture: The debate inside Apple is at a lower pitch and volume, but echoes similar conflicts within other tech giants, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

  • Google employees have spoken out loudly and frequently over everything from treatment of women to the company's military work.
  • Amazon employees have spoken out about climate concerns, among other issues, while warehouse workers in Alabama tried to unionize to increase their say in working conditions there.
  • Workers at Microsoft have also spoken up over its work with the U.S. military and immigration authorities.
  • During the presidential election last year, several hundred Facebook workers signed a letter criticizing the decision to allow politicians to lie in paid ads without consequence.

What to watch: The big question is whether Apple's secretive culture can bend to accommodate some additional discussion — or must fundamentally shift to keep up with its workforce's evolving views.

Go deeper: Big Tech workers call out their companies

2. Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios' Sara Fischer.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Details: The effort, which is being led by Amazon's Music division, includes paying podcast networks, musicians and celebrities to use the feature for live conversations, shows and events.

  • The idea is that users could access live concerts or performances through their Amazon Music accounts. The company is in touch with major record labels about live audio events with artists.
  • The feature is being built to focus on live music, but the tech giant is also eyeing talk radio programs and podcasts as an extension to that effort, according to a source familiar with the plans.
  • Amazon also plans to integrate live audio into its live video service Twitch, according to two sources.

The big picture: Live audio services exploded during the pandemic, and have since seen big investments from Silicon Valley.

  • Clubhouse said Sunday that users create over 700,000 live audio rooms each day, up from 300,000 in May.
  • Spotify earlier this year acquired Betty Labs, an app developer, and a live audio app developed by Betty Labs called Locker Room. It has since launched Greenroom, a live social audio app focused on talk, music and sports, and has launched a livestream feature for concerts.
  • Twitter this week rolled out ticketed live audio events for its Spaces feature.
3. Microsoft sets Oct. 5 as Windows 11 launch date

Screenshot: Axios

Microsoft confirmed that Windows 11 will be available on new PCs and as a free upgrade starting Oct. 5.

Why it matters: PC makers usually plan new models around updates to Windows, and it's been a while since there has been a major new release.

The big picture: Computer makers will start marketing their computers as "ready for Windows 11" ahead of that time and all those machines — plus millions of existing ones — can be upgraded for free.

Catch up quick: Previewed back in June, Windows 11 is the biggest update to Microsoft's flagship operating system in years, adding support for Android apps and built-in Microsoft Teams video chat, along with other changes.

4. Facebook tunes out politics even more

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Sara reports.

  • It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Details: Moving forward, Facebook will expand some of its current News Feed tests that put less emphasis on certain engagement signals, like the probability that a user will share or comment on a post, in its ranking algorithm.

  • Instead, it will begin placing a higher emphasis on other types of user feedback, like responses to surveys.
  • The company will also begin testing efforts to limit political content in several new countries, including Costa Rica, Sweden, Spain and Ireland.

Between the lines: These efforts are part of a gradual effort by Facebook to make its users' experiences less political and contentious.

  • Earlier this year, the company began testing limiting political content in News Feeds in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Indonesia. In January, it said it would stop providing recommendations for users to join civic and political groups.
  • User feedback showed people liked these changes.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • Y Combinator is holding one of its twice-yearly Demo Day events today and tomorrow.

Trading Places

  • Facebook marketing executive Mark D'Arcy is leaving the company, as Adweek first reported.
  • PayPal has hired online brokerage veteran and TradeKing co-founder Rich Hagen to be CEO of a new Invest at PayPal division, CNBC reported.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

This Australian sheep farmer couldn't go to his aunt's funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions. But, with the help of his herd, he found a lovely way to celebrate her life.