Happy Thursday! (Sorry, that wasn't nice.)
1 big thing: What Facebook needs in next PR head
Thursday's departure of Facebook’s policy and communications czar, Elliot Schrage, comes as the company navigates a difficult period marked by scandals over foreign election meddling and consumer data privacy, David McCabe and I report.
Why it matters: Policy and communications are exactly the areas where Facebook has needed the most help throughout its recent controversies, and the company's choice of new leadership there will provide clues to how it intends to move forward.
What they’re saying: A Facebook spokesperson said in an email that Schrage “first raised wanting to leave long before the election — after the election Mark [Zuckerberg] and Sheryl [Sandberg] asked him to stay on, which he agreed to do” and that he has “decided it’s time to start a new chapter in his life.”
Schrage's replacement will take charge of the social network’s efforts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, including an already active public campaign to repair the company's image. Recently, Facebook has been running online ads focused on how it fights misinformation. It has also turned to television spots, an uncommon move for the internet giant.
What we’re hearing:
- Rachel Whetstone, a former Google and Uber executive who Facebook just promoted to lead corporate communications, is seen as the leading candidate to take over Schrage’s job, or at least to gain more authority following his departure, according to multiple sources.
- Schrage will help find his replacement in a search that will include outside candidates.
The bigger picture: Whetstone’s recent rise could be a function of the company's persistent troubles with the government and the public.
- "She’s less necessary when you have fewer problems," said a source who has worked with both Whetstone and Schrage. "She’s the person you kind of want guiding you through crisis."
- The source added that Whetstone is "very good at seeing how a company is viewed by the outside world, and not kind of drinking company Kool-Aid."
Whetstone's possible ascent has some on the company's communications team uneasy, multiple sources said, given that her start at Uber was followed by the departure of multiple longtime staffers. But she's also credited with decisiveness, and that could be something Facebook prizes as it navigates new crises.
Meanwhile, Twitter's head of communications, Kristin Binns, announced Thursday that she's leaving that company, though the coincidental timing was just that. After two years at Twitter, Binns is headed to Activision Blizzard, where she will be SVP and chief communications officer.
2. AT&T completes $85 billion Time Warner deal
AT&T completed its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner on Thursday, just two days after a judge ruled that the deal could proceed over objections from U.S. antitrust regulators — and hours after the Department of Justice said it wouldn't seek a stay of the decision.
Why it matters: While the move closes a chapter for AT&T, it likely marks just the beginning of a series of media megamergers that could reshape who owns the content Americans consume and the mechanisms through which they consume it.
3. Startups bet on Silicon Valley chic
Yesterday was a bad day for those with a distaste for startup hype, and a good day for those who see that same culture as a business opportunity.
- First, shoemaker Atom came out of stealth via a fawning profile in TechCrunch, pitching a new twist on the dress sneakers popularized by Allbirds. The company hopes to stand out from that and other rivals with odor-eating copper threads and shoes that can be tailored to the quarter-size.
- Then, before the Twitteratti had calmed down, Gary Vaynerchuk's company, VaynerX, unveiled a new brand aimed at "the grind" — the intersection of pop culture and entrepreneurship. Per Business Insider, its name One37pm is designed to represent a random time of day. Like Vaynerchuk's female-centric counterpart PureWow, the site aimed at young men will be all happy with no wall between the business and editorial sides.
4. Google's diversity numbers didn't budge
Google released a new set of diversity numbers on Thursday — the first since the James Damore scandal — and they show the company has made virtually no progress in increasing the number of women and minorities.
On the flip side, the company did offer up additional details this year, offering details on attrition for the first time.
What they're saying: Project Include CEO Ellen Pao says the company deserves partial credit, even if their overall diversity has remained the same.
"Numbers are stagnant in Google's 2018 diversity report. But they get points for transparency by including attrition and intersectional (race/ethnicity-gender) charts, and data over time. And for looking at suppliers. You can't manage what you don't measure, so this is a start."
Separately: Color of Change renewed its call on Apple and Amazon not to set up shop in North Carolina after that state's general assembly introduced a Voter ID law that the civil rights group labeled as racist.
5. Take Note
- CEBIT wraps up in Hanover, Germany.
- Equifax named former IBM Watson executive Bryson Koehler as CTO as the company seeks to recover from its massive 2017 data breach.
- Axios' Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan scooped this morning that Facebook execs will meet with GOP leaders today to discuss complaints about censorship of conservatives.
- Toy robot maker Sphero has raised another $12 million as it shifts its focus more toward education, per TechCrunch.
- The SEC says Ether is not a security, but many ICOs are.
- Yes, it was too good to last. You only have until Friday to sign up for a $15 unlimited plan from Sprint, CNET reports.
- Santa Monica, one of the first cities that had to deal with the scooter craze, is cracking down with new rules, per CNET.
- Microsoft is bringing its SwiftKey swiping keyboard into Windows 10, The Verge writes.
- The WSJ has a profile of Grayshift, the maker of a $15,000 device many law enforcement agencies use to get into iPhones. As we mentioned in yesterday's Login, Apple is looking to close the loophole they and other devices use.
- Google plans later this year to open an AI research center in Ghana, the company's first such effort on the African continent, CNBC reports.
- Mozilla is building a browser that can be controlled by voice and can read web content out loud, CNET reports.
- Six current and former Fitbit employees have been charged in a federal indictment with possessing stolen trade secrets from now-defunct rival Jawbone, LA Times reports.
6. After you Login
This made me nostalgic, both for my days covering Windows and the year I spent in college living in Amsterdam.