Apr 1, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Good morning. It's April 1, which means if you're on the internet, watch out for dumb jokes.

1 big thing: Zuckerberg's new offensive on tech regulation

Zuckerberg testifying before Congress last year. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Facebook is aiming to grab control of efforts to regulate or break up the company, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg proposing his own global rules and a top Facebook policy exec dismissing calls to split up the company, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: Zuckerberg will likely be making the rounds in Washington to talk to lawmakers about the ideas he proposed in a Saturday op-ed, Facebook's VP of U.S. public policy Kevin Martin told Axios in an interview. Martin said drastic regulatory actions, such as splitting Facebook apart, won't solve issues around privacy and the spread of harmful content.

What they’re saying: Martin, who was also former chairman of the FCC under George W. Bush, said consumers wouldn’t benefit from regulators splitting the company from its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp.

  • “I think that from a consumer benefits perspective, that consumers receive lots of benefits by the fact that the companies are owned by one company,” he said.
  • A Facebook spokesperson said benefits of its size included the ability to devote significant resources to safety and product development, and more reach for individuals and small businesses.

Between the lines: A breakup of large tech companies is being championed by presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren and some progressives, but the idea hasn’t caught on widely.

  • Still, global policymakers are increasingly recognizing the need for more regulation of online platforms, particularly around data collection and the spread of malicious content.
  • Zuckerberg wrote in his op-ed that these issues should be addressed with tailored regulation or, in the case of “harmful content,” industry self-regulation in the U.S.

The call to regulate content alarmed conservatives concerned about government censorship. Martin said critics have nothing to fear.

  • “In the United States, what Mark is talking about trying to do is have some kind of greater industry standards bodies, to be able to both harmonize the approach of the different companies to similar sets of issues, and also to make sure that consumers are able to be better informed by the consistency across the board,” he said.
  • “But Mark hasn’t called for government regulation at all in the United States, and recognizes and appreciates and supports the continued protection of the First Amendment,” Martin said, while noting regulators around the world may be more involved in policing content.

Details: Martin compared the proposed standard-setting body to the Motion Picture Association of America’s system for rating movies or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the private organization that supervises the securities industry.

  • In-depth conversation about such a body hasn't happened yet among major platforms, he said. He noted that internet companies already coordinate on policing some harmful content.

Yes, but: Facebook is against efforts to limit the legal protections for user-contributed content that are embodied in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Go deeper: Mark Zuckerberg outlines ideas for new web regulations in WaPo op-ed

2. The privacy paradox

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Consumers consistently say they want more privacy, but they don't do much about it, Axios' Kim Hart writes.

Why it matters: That's the contradiction buried within the privacy debate. Survey after survey suggest that consumers care about preserving whatever privacy they have left — but few actually take steps to share less or delete the troves of data being collected about them online.

  • The reality is that the services collecting that data are now large and essential to everyday life — and managing our data (and who gets access to it) is overwhelmingly complicated.
  • So consumers, despite their outrage, tend to shrug and make do with the status quo.

By the numbers: 92% of consumers say they should be able to control the information about them on the internet, per a recent PwC report.

  • And 71% say they'd stop doing business with a company for giving away their sensitive data without permission.

But, despite high awareness of data scandals, an IBM survey showed most consumers don't take consequential action in response.

  • Less than half (45%) updated privacy settings. Only 16% stopped doing business with an impacted company, and only 18% deleted a social media account.
  • Most people say it's important to have a clear understanding of a company's privacy policy before signing up — but in practice, most people skip right to the "I agree" box without actually reading it, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll.
"People say they're worried, but they don't vote with their fingers, so to speak."
— Jay Cline, PwC privacy leader

Case in point: Cline notes that even when legally mandated privacy protections are available, the response rates are low. For example, few consumers use their HIPAA rights to get access to medical records, or use the option under the law to delete medical records.

  • And the opt-out rates for marketing blasts are incredibly low — under 2%.

The big picture: "Some of these companies have so much power that we don't have much choice but to use their services — and we can't use these services without giving something up," says Jennifer King, director of privacy at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

  • "Sure, there are alternatives to Google for search, but there aren't many," King says. "And if you are part of Google's infrastructure, good luck unwinding all the data they have about you."

Yes, but: Although the numbers are relatively small, consumers are starting to use privacy-conscious tools like ad blockers, virtual private networks and encryption. Google says 20 million people access the "My Accounts" hub that houses privacy and security settings every day.

What's next: California's privacy law, which takes effect next January, will be a litmus test for how badly consumers really want privacy as well as for major companies' willingness to grant the same rights to users outside of the state.

3. Gmail gets a 15th birthday upgrade

Gmail launched April 1, 2004 — but the service was clearly no joke. For its 15th birthday, Google is adding a bunch of new features.

  • Smart Compose, the predictive options that guess what you are going to write next, can now help with both introductions and subject lines.
  • Also, Smart Comp0se is now available on Android devices (and coming soon to iOS) and several new languages are supported as well.
  • A new "write now, send later" option offers Gmail users several advantages, including being able to write messages at one's leisure without making co-workers feel compelled to also respond in what are supposed to be off hours.

Why it matters: Gmail has become a force not just in consumer webmail, but also powering email for businesses large and small. Both Yahoo and Microsoft can tell you what happens if you stop being the coolest email kid on the block.

4. PSA: Most April Fools' jokes aren't funny

Speaking of April Fools' Day, be extra skeptical of what you read today. Some years back, tech companies started thinking they were hilarious comedians and began using the day to announce all sorts of fake products.

Flashback: A few were actually funny, like the Snapchat filter last year that looked like Facebook except the text was in Cyrillic (the alphabet used in Russia).

  • But, most tech companies aren't ready for a two-night stand at The Comedy Store.

And this year, a couple of companies didn't even wait until April 1, showing they are both not funny and bad at reading a calendar.

  • T-Mobile, for example, announced on Friday it was installing soundproof "phone booths" where cellphones could be plugged in and people could be insulated from external noise. They are actually setting up a couple, but just to further the gag.
5. Learning the right lesson from AirPower's fail

Apple's announcement Friday that it was permanently cancelling its delayed AirPower wireless charging mat is definitely a serious and public misstep.

But it's important for Apple (and other companies) not to misunderstand the lesson for product management.

Between the lines: The wrong lesson would be to assume it just isn't worth trying to tackle hard problems, or find elegant solutions in a world where most products are cumbersome.

  • Solving these kinds of issues leads to things like AirPods.
  • That said, Apple might want to go back to its old rule of not announcing products until they are basically ready to ship to avoid this kind of embarrassment.

The bottom line: No one likes to be wrong, especially in public. But for a company like Apple, not being bold would be even worse.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Intel Capital's annual Global Summit takes place today and Tuesday in Phoenix (home to Intel's newest chipmaking plant).

Trading Places

  • Gerard Williams III, an engineer who helped lead Apple's chip efforts, has left the company, per CNET.


7. After you Login

That link we shared Friday to a video of seemingly happy ducklings tumbling down a water slide? Unfortunately, it's not as cute as it looks: The ducklings are stuck in a loop trying to get to some inaccessible food. Our apologies.

And now, on to something more fun — this guy makes 57 straight shots at arcade basketball in 30 seconds during a live NBA game.

Ina Fried