Jun 9, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Axios will host a live virtual even on how leaders are being called to action during a period of social and economic unrest. Join Axios business editor Dan Primack and markets reporter Courtenay Brown today at 12:30pm ET for a discussion featuring New York Stock Exchange president Stacey Cunningham and Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman.

Today's Login, meanwhile, is 1,560 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's "Black Lives Matter" branding hits reality bump

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech companies, like many other businesses, are taking public stands against police violence and systemic racism, but their actions often fail to back up those stances, as critics and some employees have been quick to point out, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

The big picture: Tech firms stand accused of contributing to the very problems being spotlighted by the nationwide protests they now vocally back. In many cases, the industry still hasn't reckoned with the way its products and services have deepened racial divides, or with its own failure to diversify.

Driving the news: Last weekend, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to Instagram to share emails from users angry that the company has emblazoned its front page with a Black Lives Matter banner.

  • "You're the kind of customer I'm happy to lose," Bezos told one man whose hateful message included several uses of the n-word. Amazon has also pledged to donate $10 million to organizations fighting systemic racism that harms black Americans.

Yes, but: Amazon also has deals with hundreds of law enforcement agencies to share footage from people's Ring cameras, and, as The Intercept notes, sells facial recognition software to police.

  • Critics argue that both tools are used in police tactics that disproportionately target black people, and a large and growing body of evidence suggests facial recognition software is more likely to misidentify people of color.
  • Amazon has also taken fire for harsh working conditions at its warehouses, long home to a disproportionate segment of its black workers, and for targeting labor organizers.

Facebook is giving $10 million to groups championing social justice, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week, in a post where he acknowledged that "Facebook also has more work to do to keep people safe and ensure our systems don't amplify bias."

  • But civil rights groups came away frustrated by a meeting with Zuckerberg after Facebook declined to take down President Trump's "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" message.
  • Facebook has long drawn criticism that it has provided a global forum for racists to gather and spread their messages, sometimes in secret private groups.
  • It has also faced charges that it let advertisers discriminate against black people and other minorities with housing ads shown to some groups and not others.

Nextdoor, the neighborhood bulletin board platform, has put out a statement endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • But in many neighborhoods around the country, the site has long been rife with posts from white users alerting one another every time they see an unfamiliar black person. The Verge dubbed the issue Nextdoor's "Karen problem."
  • BuzzFeed recently reported that some users said Nextdoor appeared to be censoring their pro-Black Lives Matter posts. A Nextdoor spokesperson told Axios it will "investigate and restore, as appropriate" posts that were wrongly taken down if their authors contact the company’s support team.

Google, Twitter, Reddit and Airbnb are among the other companies that have endorsed Black Lives Matter and committed to anti-racism — in some cases with six- to eight-figure donations to match — but have been criticized in the past for providing platforms for racist language and actions.

The other side: Tech has also been indispensable to the 21st-century fight against racism.

  • Smartphones have allowed people to document police violence against black Americans, and the internet has spread that footage widely.
  • Social media has been a crucial organizing tool for rallying support behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • And tech companies say they've made strides on combating racist content. YouTube launched a major crackdown on problematic videos and accounts last year after expanding its policies against hate speech.

Our thought bubble: Wielding Black Lives Matter branding as a talisman against criticism won't satisfy protesters calling to dismantle racist structures at the center of American society.

2. Twitter is now the nerve center of American news

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The fast-moving world of Twitter has become the nerve center of the American news cycle — as evidenced by record-breaking downloads and engagement for the service last week, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Twitter is our mediaverse's grand interface between journalism and social media. While news organizations play a central role in sharing links to their coverage on Twitter, much of the visual content shared in real time during breaking news events like protests is shared by everyday users.

  • Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, a camera can be just about everywhere.
  • The upside is that news organizations can quickly access footage that helps bring stories to light on TV.
  • The downside is that these videos, often difficult to verify, are immediately presented with very little context to large viewer numbers online.
  • Case in point: In one story that recently went viral, a man was misidentified on Twitter and other platforms last week as the person who'd been caught on video attacking people for posting rally flyers near D.C. Online sleuths had wrongly connected him with the incident thanks to data his bike-riding app publicly recorded.

Driving the news: Over the past few weeks, viral videos about race relations in America have driven the news cycle.

  • Police protest supercut videos have proven wildly popular online, per the New York Times, helping to spur the #DefundThePolice movement growing alongside the protests.

By the numbers: Wednesday was the No. 1 day in Twitter's history for downloads with 677,000 globally, per app measurement company Apptopia. Twitter also saw a record for daily active users in the U.S. that day, with 40 million.

Be smart: Twitter has long stood out as the social media network with some of the most news-focused users, per Pew Research Center.

The big picture: Twitter's architecture suits its role as a go-to place for news. Its combination of short messages and its option to view a simple chronological feed makes it a good tool for news junkies and journalists alike.

3. Amazon sues Google over hire of AWS exec
Screenshot: Axios (via LinkedIn)

Amazon is suing Google over its hiring of Brian Hall, a former AWS marketing executive, to serve as a VP of marketing for Google Cloud, citing a non-compete clause in Hall's contract.

The big picture: The move speaks to the level of competition between Amazon and Google — as well as the fact that Washington state still allows some non-compete agreements, while the clauses are generally unenforceable in California.

Details:

  • In its suit, Amazon is seeking to enforce an 18-month non-compete provision that Hall signed when he joined the company and asking a King County, Washington, court to issue an injunction preventing Hall from joining Google.
  • In his response, Hall said communications with Amazon had led him to believe the company would not enforce the non-compete provision and asked the court to declare the clause unenforceable.
  • Hall stopped working at Amazon in February and his last official day was in March. He agreed to join Google in April, according to court papers.

Context: The move comes as tech companies are widening the types of jobs in which they try to enforce non-compete agreements.

  • Amazon previously sued over an AWS sales executive who joined Google.
  • IBM also turned to the courts, suing when its chief diversity officer went to Microsoft, though the dispute was later settled, with the executive joining Microsoft after a delay.
  • A Google representative declined to comment on the suit, and an Amazon representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
4. IBM to stop selling face recognition technology

IBM said Monday it is exiting the general-purpose facial recognition business and said it opposes the use of such technology for mass surveillance and racial profiling.

Why it matters: Facial recognition software is controversial for a number of reasons, including the potential for human rights violations, as well as evidence that the technology is less accurate in identifying people of color.

What they're saying: "IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software," CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress.

  • "IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency."

The big picture: An IBM representative told Axios that the decisions were made over a period of months and have been communicated with customers, though this is the first public mention of the decision.

  • IBM said it will "no longer market, sell or update these products," but will support existing clients as needed.

What to watch: The letter also included Krishna's suggestions for legislation around police reform and the responsible use of technology.

  • IBM said that AI, for example, has a role to play in law enforcement, but should be thoroughly vetted to make sure it doesn't contain bias. The company is also calling for stricter federal laws on police misconduct.
5. FCC to hold meeting using Microsoft Teams

When the Federal Communications Commission holds its monthly meeting today, it will use videoconferencing for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic prompted federal agencies to work remotely, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: Government officials are still navigating how to conduct business while maintaining social distance. Until now, the FCC had been meeting via teleconference and streaming the audio.

Details: The FCC will use Microsoft Teams for the meeting, but the public can watch via the FCC's website or YouTube channel.

  • Up for a vote are items that would establish bidding procedures for $16 billion worth of funding for rural broadband and a plan to clarify rules on upgrading wireless equipment in cities.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Sony announced that it has rescheduled a PlayStation 5 event, originally slated for last week, to take place on Thursday.
  • DLD is hosting an online event at 11am ET with Richard and Margot Edelman discussing tech and trust in the era of COVID-19.
  • FCC meeting (see above).

ICYMI

  • The ACLU is suing Los Angeles over a controversial scooter-tracking system. (The Verge)
  • Homeland Security is warning over an exploitable flaw in Windows. (TechCrunch)
  • SoftBank-backed insurance firm Lemonade has filed to go public. (Axios)
  • Apple may announce its shift to in-house Mac chips from Intel processors at its developer conference this month. (Bloomberg)
6. Login, after you

Even Yoda gets it.

Ina Fried