Oct 3, 2018

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Hi again from Seattle, where I'm interviewing eBay CEO Devin Wenig later this morning at GeekWire Summit.

1 big thing: Gates' new recommendation engine

Photo: Likewise

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is still set on saving the world, but he's also got some side gigs, like helping launch a new social recommendation engine, called Likewise. The iOS and Android app is designed to be a place to get trusted recommendations on everything from restaurants to books to TV shows.

How it all started: The free app, which launches today, began as the brainchild of Larry Cohen, a longtime Gates aide who serves as CEO of Gates Ventures.

  • Gates is funding the Bellevue, Wash.-based company, which has been working for nearly a year and has about 20 employees.
  • Cohen is chairman of Likewise with his onetime Microsoft colleague Ian Morris serving as CEO.
“It’s not the next Office, but there’s a real need here,” Cohen tells Axios.

The app will not include ratings. While there are plenty of sites that offer crowdsourced reviews with numeric ratings, Cohen and Morris say most people are looking for positive recommendations.

"You don’t call your friend and say 'I’m going to Boston — what are some places I should avoid?'" Morris says.

The details:

  • As on Twitter, people's postings are public by default, though there's an option to keep things private.
  • The app will be available in the U.S. and Canadian app stores, with some data on 115 cities. The company, though, is focusing its marketing push on making the service robust in Seattle, hoping efforts there can serve as a blueprint for expansion.
  • There are some external data sources so that people don't have to start with a blank slate, including restaurant recommendations from Vox Media's Eater.

The key hurdle: Even with Gates' backing, Likewise faces an uphill battle to get critical mass.

"That is the biggest challenge any app faces, certainly one with a social component," Morris says.

What's next: The app hopes to generate some initial interest with recommendations from Gates, as well as other celebrities including Tom Friedman, Bono and Howard Schultz.

  • Over time, though, the main goal is to be a place where you can get suggestions from your own trusted circle of friends.
  • Likewise also hopes to expand to new categories, including perhaps podcasts, electronics and recipes.
  • While there's no current effort to monetize, Cohen says there are lots of options down the road given that the very nature of the app means its users are close to making purchasing decisions.
2. Cook to address EU privacy regulators

Tim Cook in an interview with "Vice News Tonight" on HBO. Photo: "Vice News Tonight"

Apple CEO Tim Cook has accepted an invitation to address the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels later this month.

European regulators hope Cook's Oct. 24 speech will help further the global conversation around Big Tech and privacy issues.

"Tim has been a strong voice in the debate around privacy and as the leader of a company which has taken a clear privacy position we look forward to hearing his perspective."
— Giovanni Buttarelli, European data protection supervisor, via statement

Why it matters: Privacy has become an increasingly important selling point for Apple. Cook stressed the issue in an interview that aired last night on HBO's "Vice News Tonight."

3. Why your phone will be buzzing today

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Reminder: Don’t freak out when your phone starts buzzing this afternoon. Federal officials are planning a nationwide test of the wireless emergency alert system.

This test, which was delayed, is of one particular type of alert — the kind that can only be sent by the president and one that consumers aren't able to turn off.

Why it matters: There's been some concern that President Trump could use the alerts to broadcast his own political messages, even though that’s not allowed under a law governing the alerts.

The details:

  • Starting at 2:18pm ET, the test wireless alert message will be sent with the header “Presidential Alert” and text reading: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” The message will be broadcast for 30 minutes, but phones should only receive it once.
  • Starting at 2:20pm ET, authorities will also test the nation’s broadcast emergency alert system, which operates through radio and TV stations.

There are two other types of alerts — AMBER Alerts for missing children and alerts notifying people of dangerous events like natural disasters — which are typically limited to certain geographical areas. Consumers can choose not to receive those.

Go deeper: Axios' David McCabe has more here.

4. Redfin CEO still isn't mincing words
Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. Photo: Kevin Lisota/GeekWire

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman still wants to change the home-selling business, but regrets the tone he took in a "60 Minutes" appearance a decade ago when he said "real estate is the most screwed up industry in America."

"I wish I hadn’t been so brash about the industry when I'd just joined the industry," Kelman said, speaking Tuesday at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle. "I still think it could be better."

Flashback: I remember that appearance, largely because of the subsequent rant I heard from my dad, who spent most of his career as a real estate agent. While he still sees the business of home selling as too expensive, Kelman said he eventually came to realize that many real estate agents truly did have their clients best interest at heart.

What he's saying now: Kelman railed against typical corporate leadership with its perennial charts that show business constantly growing "up and to the right."

"I hate the baloney-gorged, bullshit-filled corporate world, and my whole goal is to try to build a business that goes beyond that,” Kelman said.

Yes, but: His words continue to cost Kelman at times. For instance, Redfin shares dropped earlier this year when he warned of a slowing national real estate market.

5. Facebook: "No evidence" outside apps accessed

Sign outside Facebook headquarters. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook said Tuesday night that an investigation had unearthed "no evidence" that stolen keys to 50 million accounts were used to access third-party applications that let users log in with their Facebook credentials.

Why it matters: 50 million Facebook accounts is already a significant breach, but if Facebook's findings are correct, it means that the stolen "access tokens" weren't used to breach even more services.

  • Facebook had said Friday that it was possible the hack reached services like Tinder, Spotify and Airbnb, which are among the thousands that offer Facebook's login tool to users.

What they're saying: Guy Rosen, VP of product management, said in a statement...

"Any developers using Facebook Login security best practices were automatically protected when we reset people's access tokens."
"Given that some developers will not have done this, we analyzed third party access during the time of the attack we have identified. That investigation has found no evidence that the attackers accessed any apps using Facebook Login."

Between the lines: There's a difference between having "accessed" an app and still having the token to do so. This statement appears to concern the former.

Go deeper: Third-party apps are among those scrambling for answers a week after the breach was discovered.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • GeekWire Summit wraps up in Seattle.

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