Oct 24, 2018

Axios Login

Ina Fried

D.C. readers: Tomorrow morning, Axios' Mike Allen will be discussing the state of election security leading up to the midterm elections with Rep. Eric Swalwell, Sec. Jay Ashcroft and former Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco. RSVP here.

1 big thing: Tim Cook says tech's dark side is real

Tim Cook. Photo: Apple

Today's tech industry is hurting people and strong regulations are needed to protect user privacy, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a speech in Brussels on Wednesday.

"We see vividly — painfully — how technology can harm rather than help. Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies."
— Tim Cook

Details: As promised, Cook praised Europe for passing its GDPR protections. He also called on the U.S. to enact "a comprehensive federal privacy law" consisting of at least 4 key planks:

  1. The right to have personal data minimized. "Companies should challenge themselves to de-identify customer data—or not to collect it in the first place," Cook said.
  2. The right to knowledge. "Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for. This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham."
  3. The right to access. "Companies should recognize that data belongs to users, and we should all make it easy for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data."
  4. The right to security. "Security is foundational to trust and to all other privacy rights."

Cook also took aim at the companies that are profiting off the collection of user information, calling it a "data industrial complex." He warned of the privacy implications of mass data collection, and criticized tech and government leaders who downplay tech's negative impact on society.

Key quotes:

  • On the "data industrial complex"
"Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. ... Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile that lets companies know you better than you may know yourself."
  • On some tech and government leaders
"Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or 'crazy.'"
  • On how AI "must respect human values, including privacy"
"If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound. We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It’s not only a possibility, it is a responsibility. In the pursuit of artificial intelligence, we should not sacrifice the humanity, creativity, and ingenuity that define our human intelligence."

Yes, but: The “data industrial complex” Cook refers to pays for much of the modern internet, helping Google, Facebook, and many other companies target ads and keep their services free.

  • While Apple doesn't have a big advertising business on its own, the company does collect billions of dollars from Google each year for making it the default search engine on iPhones, iPads and Macs.

The bottom line: Supporters of meaningful privacy regulations can count on Apple's backing, as the company continues to try to stand apart from other tech giants, particularly Google and Facebook.

2. Google to offer users more privacy control

Photo: Google

It's almost as if Google's ears were burning. The search giant announced Wednesday that it will make it easier to change privacy settings and delete stored data from within a particular Google service.

Why it matters: The easier settings are to find and change, the more likely users will actually actively engage and make choices, versus sticking with default options.

The effort will begin within Google search, where starting today, users will be able to:

  • Review and delete their recent search activity.
  • Easily access the relevant privacy controls.
  • Learn more about how search uses data.

The changes are effective immediately for the mobile and desktop web and will arrive in the coming weeks to Google's iOS and Android apps. Before the changes, Google users had to go to their Google account page to change their privacy settings.

3. Why political texts are flooding your phone

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The most popular way for political campaigns to reach voters ahead of this year's midterm elections isn't placing ads on social media or TV — it's flooding cellphones with personalized political text messages, according to Axios' Kim Hart.

Why it matters: The texts may be annoying, but they don't violate the rules. Instead of using automated bulk text messages, many campaigns are manually sending text messages to individual voters, one at a time. Texts sent that way aren't subject to federal limits.

The big picture: TV and email ads are still used, but are less effective in an era of new media consumption habits. Text messages, though, are sent directly to your phone. They're hard for voters to avoid, and have high open rates: 90% of text messages are read within 5 minutes, according to Opn Sesame, a messaging provider.

  • That intimate delivery, and the ability to target and personalize messages, is what makes them so effective for campaigns — but also annoying for many voters who didn't sign up for them.

Read more of Kim's story here.

Go deeper:

4. The challenges D.C. faces if Amazon moves in

Washington D.C. Photo: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images.

A host of challenges lie ahead for the Washington, D.C., area as an Amazon HQ2 finalist, reports Axios' Marisa Fernandez. Housing production has fallen behind and home prices and rents have been climbing in surrounding areas, per an analysis from the nonprofit Urban Institute.

Why it matters: Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has clear ties to D.C. as the e-commerce giant continues to expand into new and highly regulated business areas. But if D.C. is chosen, Amazon's arrival with tens of thousands of new jobs may exacerbate what is projected to already be an inadequate housing supply.

Details: Washington has offered 4 possible areas.

  • But, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments estimates there needs to be 235,000 more housing units by 2025 to keep pace with expected job growth, but is expecting only about 170,000 new units by 2026.
  • Amazon is promising an additional 50,000 new jobs that could push a production target above 275,000, requiring a substantially higher pace of housing production above current levels, the Urban Institute said.
  • And, housing prices have been climbing steadily since 2010, especially in Arlington County and the District of Columbia, where median sales prices now surpass $500,000, per CoreLogic Market Trends.

The bottom line: A housing crunch is likely to happen in many other finalist cities, too, should Amazon pick them.

Read more of Marisa's story here.

Go deeper:

5. Bonus tip of the day

It turns out that if you hit the space bar in your web browser, it scrolls down. Pretty neat, huh?

6. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Breather, a competitor of WeWork in on-demand office rentals, has hired former BuzzFeed CFO Mark Frackt as interim CFO.


  • AT&T posts strong earnings with help from WarnerMedia. (Axios)
  • Yahoo is paying $50 million (and offering 2 years of free credit monitoring) to the 200 million people whose email addresses and other personal information were stolen in a belatedly disclosed security breach. ... By my math that's 25 cents for each user whose data was compromised. (Axios)
  • More than 120 Android apps have been caught up in an Android ad fraud scheme that may have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ad dollars. (BuzzFeed News)
  • Apple reportedly plans to launch its upcoming streaming service in 100 countries, with U.S. service starting in the first half of next year and free for Apple device owners. (The Information)
  • Meanwhile, Apple's iCloud servers had an extended outage on Tuesday. (The Verge)
  • The startup accelerator Y Combinator is looking to fund entrepreneurs and non-profit researchers working on "frontier technologies" for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (Axios)
7. After you Login

Now that is a tattoo.

Ina Fried