Apr 2, 2019

Axios Login

I'm back. Well, my body is anyway. My brain is somewhere between Europe and the U.S. (Let me know if you see it.)

Meanwhile, D.C. readers are invited to News Shapers: Health Care in America, tomorrow morning at 8am. 

  • Join Axios' Mike Allen for a series of conversations dissecting the state and future of the Affordable Care Act. He'll sit down with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) — then Axios health care reporter Caitlin Owens will explain why it matters. RSVP here
1 big thing: Salesforce suit raises liability fears

Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

A lawsuit filed against Salesforce by 50 victims of sex trafficking pushes responsibility for bad acts that happen via a web platform deeper into the internet economy than ever before, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: If this suit succeeds, it could raise the specter of liability from beyond the platforms to the many other companies that serve them.

What's happening: Last week, the trafficking victims filed a lawsuit in California against Salesforce, the enterprise software company, alleging it aided Backpage.com, a classified ads site whose founders were indicted last year on charges of facilitating prostitution.

  • Lawyers had previously sued Backpage, which hosted the ads and is alleged to have known it was aiding the illegal activity, and Facebook, which they allege was used in trafficking schemes.

What makes the Salesforce lawsuit distinctive is its focus on a vendor providing a service to a platform. The suit alleges that Salesforce “designed and implemented a heavily customized enterprise database tailored for Backpage’s operations, both locally and internationally.”

That's worrying some legal experts.

  • “If this lawsuit goes forward, it will sound a very ambiguous and vague warning, potentially spooking companies into taking ultimately counterproductive precautions to avoid liability,” said Alexandra Levy, a law professor at Notre Dame who is an expert on trafficking.

The other side: Annie McAdams, the Texas lawyer bringing the lawsuit, said Salesforce should bear legal responsibility because evidence will show that its employees “not only knew who they were dealing with, but they knew what the content was they were working with.”

What they’re saying: “We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously; however we don’t comment on pending litigation,” said Salesforce in a statement about the lawsuit last week.

The big picture: Policymakers have been fighting over exactly this question in recent years.

  • Last year, in response to the Backpage case, President Trump signed a law making web platforms legally liable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.
  • European lawmakers just approved new rules that require platforms to screen for content that violates copyright.

Web services have proposed their own systems for moderating content.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this weekend said that the company would accept some form of new regulation, particularly abroad, when it comes to policing “harmful content.”
  • But Kevin Martin, Facebook's top U.S. policy executive, told Axios that the company wouldn’t support any efforts to increase its liability for harmful content in the U.S.

Yes, but: Efforts to regulate the platforms have caused concern in the industry that more responsibility for content will inevitably land on the services that keep others online, from internet service providers to domain registrars to companies that protect them from attacks.

What’s next: This suit — along with the other Backpage-related matters — will proceed, and its outcome could ripple throughout the industry.

2. U.S. and China are now tied in 5G race

Photo: Friso Gentsch/picture alliance via Getty Images

The U.S. is tied for first place with China in global 5G "readiness" and has more planned 5G deployments this year (92, to be exact) than rival countries, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: Those findings, according to a report out today by research firm Analysys Mason, will give some comfort to those who've been wringing their hands about falling behind China in the competition for the first-mover advantage.

  • "But we can't be complacent," said Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of CTIA, the wireless trade group that commissioned the report. (Last year's report showed the U.S. was in 3rd place, behind China and South Korea.) "We know [China] will roll out really fast when they start."
  • The U.S. has made strides in releasing airwaves for 5G networks to wireless companies, but the remaining piece of the puzzle that carriers still need is mid-band airwaves, because they can cover large areas.

The big picture: At CTIA's annual policy conference Thursday, wireless industry execs will reiterate that a market-based approach to telecom infrastructure is superior to an idea for a government-mandated "national" network.

  • "The free market approach has been key to the U.S.' 4G leadership and all the gains we've made," Attwell Baker told Axios.
  • CTIA will unveil a 5-year airwave auction strategy for getting there.

Yes, but: China's Huawei is on pace to gain a substantial chunk of the 5G market, with contracts to install its equipment in dozens of countries. U.S. operators aren't using Huawei equipment because of the federal government's national security concerns.

Go deeper:

3. Googlers protest AI advisory board member

More than 1,000 Google employees are calling for Google to rescind its decision to include Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James on a key AI advisory panel, pointing to her history of anti-gay, anti-transgender and anti-immigrant comments.

"Her record speaks for itself  —  over, and over, and over again," the Google employees said in a petition. "Google cannot claim to support trans people and its trans employees  —  a population that faces real and material threats  —  and simultaneously appoint someone committed to trans erasure to a key AI advisory position."

Google last week named James to its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council.

What they're saying: The company declined to comment. However, a source familiar with the situation said Google isn't budging and that the company likes the perspective she brings, including her NASA experience and free market thinking.

  • Plus, the company wants to be challenged on various issues by those that aren't part of its usual circles.

Between the lines: There is also a feeling in Google leadership that the company can't be seen as having to put all its management decisions up for a popular vote.

Flashback: Google refused for months to pull down an Android app that LGBT groups said engages in a form of conversion therapy.

  • However, it reversed course less than 24 hours after the Human Rights Campaign suspended Google's rating in its influential Corporate Equality Index.
4. Disney and LittleBits team up to get more girls into tech

Education tech startup LittleBits is working with Disney and UC Davis to expand its efforts to teach more girls to code.

What's new: A new project, Snap the Gap, will offer LittleBits tech products along with training and mentorship for 15,000 California girls as part of a pilot program.

Why it matters: There's still a big gender gap in the tech industry, with far fewer girls than boys learning the basics of software and engineering.

“Over the past decade, billions of dollars have been spent but the rate of women in STEM careers still hasn’t changed,” LittleBits CEO Ayah Bdeir said in a statement. “Not only do we need to start earlier, but we have to give girls more support throughout their journey."

Our thought bubble: Engaging more girls early on is one piece of improving the gender gap. But the tech industry still has a lot of work to do to make itself a more welcoming field for women.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Quibi, the billion-dollar video startup, named former Pandora and Snapchat executive Tom Conrad as its first chief product officer.
  • Uber's health unit has hired Lamis Hossain, a former general counsel at McKesson.
  • 3D printing startup Carbon has recruited GE's Rich Narasaki to be VP of brand marketing. It also promoted 3 other executives to new roles.
  • Rajan Anandan, VP of Google’s Southeast Asia and India operations, is leaving the company after more than 8 years.


  • Travelers may soon be able to leave their liquids and laptops in their carry-on bags, thanks to new CT scanning technology being implemented by the TSA. (Bloomberg Government)
  • A shareholder lawsuit against former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the company's directors has been dismissed. (Reuters)
  • Former Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs is giving up on his plan to take the company private. Meanwhile, his San Diego-based networking startup Xcom has made its first acquisition. (Wall Street Journal)
6. After you Login

Here's what an erupting volcano looks like from space.