Feb 4, 2020

Axios Login

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Meanwhile, today's Login is 1,150 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Software disaster sinks Iowa caucus

Biden supporters caucus in a Des Moines, Iowa, gym. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The disastrous roll-out of the Iowa Democratic Party's new vote-reporting app Monday night looks to go down as a software train wreck for the ages, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

The big picture: Coding disasters have been with us as long as there's been software. In this case, the failure of a new app, followed by long delays with a phone-reporting backup system, seems to have crippled the calendar-leading Iowa Democratic caucuses — adding a fresh element of instability to our troubled election system.

Details: A statement by the Iowa Democratic Party released late Monday night said, "The app did not go down, and this is not a hack or an intrusion."

  • But a letter from the Biden campaign to the Iowa Democratic Party said, "The app that was intended to convey Caucus results to the Party failed; the Party's back-up telephonic reporting system likewise has failed."

Between the lines: We don't yet know exactly what happened in Iowa. But it has all the earmarks of what engineers call a "cascading failure."

  • Either the app failed in some way, or users simply found that they couldn't use it easily and resorted to the phones instead.
  • The phone system may not have been properly staffed since the app was going to take care of most of the reporting.

Background: The Iowa Democrats' app plan had raised questions about security, in an election climate attuned to fears of hacking and meddling.

  • In an NPR story on the app last month, the Democratic state chairman "declined to provide details" about who made the app or what kind of security testing it had undergone, but said that security was "a priority."

Our thought bubble: Vulnerabilities may have been less of an issue than usability.

  • The profession of software engineering has learned a lot about how to test products before distributing them.
  • But their testing regimen works best when deadlines are flexible and small numbers of real users can be exposed to a new program so its flaws can be found and fixed.

An election — or caucus — night offers neither of those conditions.

The bottom line: Iowa may have presented what software developers call an "edge case" — one that pushed Iowa's candidate selection process way over the edge.

2. YouTube is a $15 billion a year business

Photo: Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Disclosing YouTube revenue separately for the first time, Alphabet said Monday that the Google-owned video site accounted for more than 10% of the company's $46.1 billion in revenue last quarter, and more than $15 billion for the year.

Why it matters: Everyone knew YouTube was a big business, but until now, we didn't know exactly how big, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

Details from Alphabet's fourth-quarter 2019 earnings, released Monday:

  • Revenue from YouTube ads came to $4.7 billion in the fourth quarter, up 31% year over year. It came to $15.1 billion for the full year 2019, up 36% from 2018.
  • Google Cloud revenue hit $2.6 billion for the quarter and $8.9 billion for the full year, up 53% in both cases.
  • Despite that aggressive growth, Google is still playing catch-up to market leaders Amazon and Microsoft when it comes to cloud computing.
  • Alphabet also saw strong overall bottom-line results, notching $15.35 earnings per share in Q4, compared to an analyst consensus estimate of $12.53, according to Refinitiv by way of CNBC.

Yes, but: One thing Alphabet didn't share is just how much profit YouTube is making.

The big picture: Alphabet shares still slumped some 4% in after-hours trading Monday. Overall revenues for the quarter came in at $46.1 billion, vs. Wall Street's expectation of $46.9 billion, per Refinitiv. The total represented a 17.3% year-on-year increase — Alphabet's slowest fourth-quarter growth since 2015, Reuters noted.

3. TCL to stop making BlackBerry phones

Photo: TCL

Chinese phone maker TCL said Monday that it will stop making BlackBerry-branded phones as of Aug. 31.

Why it matters: The move comes as TCL is increasingly focused on devices under its own brand and again raises the question of whether there will be future devices that use the BlackBerry name.

TCL, which has made keyboard-equipped Android phones under the BlackBerry brand since 2016, announced its decision in a Twitter post Monday.

A BlackBerry representative said the decision was a mutual one and declined to comment on whether the company would seek a new partner to make BlackBerry-branded devices.

Go deeper: BlackBerry is still here

4. Intuit summit addresses trans issues

Back row: GenderCool co-founder Gearah Goldstein, along with youth champions Ashton, Daniel and Lia; Front row: Eevee, Jonathan and GenderCool co-founder Jennifer Grosshandler. Photo: Spencer Aldworth Brown for Intuit

Intuit held a daylong trans summit last week that looked at the experiences of its own trans workers as well as bringing in trans youth from the GenderCool Project to get their perspective.

Why it matters: Historically, the discussion around transgender people in tech has focused a lot on workers that have transitioned at some point in their working careers. But many in the next generation of workers are entering the workforce as their authentic selves.

Plus, trans youth are increasingly in the crosshairs of legislators, with bills pending in a number of states that would criminalize doctors who provide them with gender-affirming healthcare.

What they're saying:

  • Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi said he feels passionate about the need for inclusion at work, in part based on his own experience after moving to the U.S. from Iran at age 9. "I was bullied in school every day," he said. "I was told to go back home."
  • Tanner Arnold, who works at Intuit's Tucson office, says his experience as a transgender man allows him to help make the company's products more inclusive, such as the ability to add a third gender in QuickBooks. "We want to represent all facets of our customers," he said.

The key message from the GenderCool youths was that while they were all transgender, they were so much more than that.

  • Jonathan skipped high school and started college when he was 14.
  • Eevee is teaching herself Italian using the mobile app Duolingo.
  • Daniel is mostly vegan, but will eat eggs from the chickens his family raises.
  • Ashton is trying to teach himself piano.
  • Lia sang with her jazz band at Disney World.

"Our stories are way cooler than just being trans," Jonathan said.

What's next: Intuit says it plans to make an annual affair of the event, which also brought in a smattering of folks from other Bay Area companies, including VMWare, Impossible Foods, Airbnb, Adobe and Bank of the West.

Go deeper: The Next Transgender Generation Isn’t Waiting To Get To Work (Forbes)

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Earnings reports include Snapchat.

Trading Places

  • Dropbox CEO Drew Houston is joining Facebook's board of directors.
  • Consumer financial automation firm Tally has hired former Twitter executive Jan Chong as its first VP of engineering.
  • Abidali Neemuchwala is stepping down early as CEO of Indian tech giant Wipro, citing family commitments.

ICYMI

  • DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim has recused himself from the agency's investigation into Google. (New York Times)
  • Asana made a confidential IPO filing with the SEC, with a spokesman saying it will pursue a direct listing a la Spotify and Slack. (Axios)
  • Microsoft Teams was down for several hours Monday morning, apparently after Microsoft failed to renew a security certificate. (The Verge)
  • Tesla shares surged nearly 20% on Monday, adding $23 billion in market capitalization. (Axios)
  • Google acknowledged that, due to a glitch, it sent some Google Photos users' private videos to strangers last fall. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

Even with Google Maps it's still sometimes hard to avoid traffic. But it turns out creating a traffic jam in the app is easier than you might think.