Feb 25, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I trust you will find something enjoyable in today's Login. But you may have to wait for the end. I'm not letting the cat out of the bag until then.

Today's Login is 1,198 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's growing trust gap

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The backlash against Big Tech has long flourished among pundits and policymakers, but a new survey suggests it's beginning to show up in popular opinion as well.

Driving the news: New data from Edelman finds that trust in tech companies is declining and that people trust cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence less than they do the industry overall.

Why it matters: The Edelman study finds people favor more regulation of industries and technologies that they distrust. Rising public support for regulation could move policymakers from talk to action.

Details: Edelman's 2020 Trust Barometer found that while tech still enjoys high levels of trust globally, its approval rating fell four points between 2019 and 2020.

  • Trust in tech declined in 19 of 26 markets including the U.S., U.K., Germany and France. It rose five points in South Korea and saw more modest gains in Japan, Spain, Malaysia and India, while holding steady in Kenya and Thailand.
  • In 2012, the tech sector was rated trustworthy by 77% of respondents, compared to 47% for business in general, a 30-point gap. This year, that gap is just 18 percentage points, as trust in overall business has risen and that in the tech industry has fallen.
  • 40% of respondents in the U.S. and 44% globally believe AI needs more regulation.

What they're saying: "The trend of eroding trust in the technology sector continues," said Sanjay Nair, global technology chair of Edelman. "The trust decline may be small, but it is reflective of consistent concerns that technology companies are not adequately preparing society for the impact of their products."

Between the lines: Trust is higher for many sectors broadly than it is for the leading-edge technology within a field.

  • Far more people trust the tech industry broadly than AI specifically.
  • Similarly, more trust the food and beverage industry overall than cell-cultured meats and gene editing.

The big picture: Two studies from Pew Research also show the impact of declining trust.

  • According to one released on Monday, relatively few Americans trust big tech companies to keep elections safe.
  • Nearly three quarters of those surveyed by Pew in January said they had little or no confidence in technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to prevent their platforms from being misused in this year's U.S. presidential election.
  • Pew also found that a plurality of tech experts believe advances in technology over the next decade will erode trust and harm democracy, compared to those who believe advances will have a neutral or positive effect on democracy.

Yes, but: Technology is still one of the most trusted sectors, despite recent erosion. Such was the case overall for the Edelman study, although a record 13 markets had higher trust in a sector other than technology.

Go deeper: The "ominous" decline of democracy around the world

2. Writing the book on Facebook

Penguin Random House

Tech writer Steven Levy's new book, "Facebook: The Inside Story," goes on sale today. He told Axios his reporting for the 583-page tome, which he started working on in 2015, took a dramatic turn after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and revelations following the 2016 election.

Why it matters: Since Levy already had a seat inside the company when its broader problems arose, he was on the frontlines as Facebook scrambled to address an onslaught of challenges posed by policymakers in Washington and elsewhere. 

What he's saying: "Just as Facebook didn’t think it was going to be spending as much energy on policy, neither did I," Levy said in a phone interview Monday.

Background: Levy said he originally thought his reporting would center largely on Facebook's controversial Internet.org effort in India. The project offered subsidized access to the mobile internet, but critics said it undermined principles of net neutrality.

Flashback: The book focuses in part on some of the very past actions that are now inviting scrutiny from antitrust enforcers. Those include Facebook efforts to respond to perceived competitive threats by, for instance, acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp.

The big picture: Levy isn't the only one with a Facebook book in the works. The New York Times' Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel are focusing on the company's reaction to its many recent scandals, while Bloomberg's Sarah Frier has another book, "No Filter," that focuses on Facebook-owned Instagram.

What's next: Levy said there's plenty left to tell of the Facebook story. "We still don’t know the outcome of Libra or, more to the point, where Facebook's secure private groups initiative is going," he said. "I wasn’t going to hang around for 10 years to find out if VR is the future of platforms."

3. Coronavirus "infodemic" threatens health institutions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak is being matched, or even outrun, by the spread on social media of both unintentional misinformation about it and vociferous campaigns of malicious disinformation, experts tell Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly.

Why it matters: The tide of bad information is undermining trust in governments, global health organizations, nonprofits and scientists — the very institutions that many believe are needed to organize a global response to what may be turning into a pandemic.

Background: Since China reported unusual pneumonia-like cases to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 31 other countries or territories, killing around 2,700 and infecting over 80,000 so far.

Context: Misinformation continues to run rampant on social media, and this particular outbreak being caused by a new virus with lots of scientific and medical unknowns means there’s a higher level of fear added to the equation. 

  • This combined with increased social media savvy has created an "infodemic," according to WHO's director-general. Another top WHO official recently said, "We need a vaccine against misinformation."

Eileen has more here.

4. With no MWC, announcements start rolling in

With the cancellation of Mobile World Congress, many tech companies now have lots of products to announce and no physical place to do it. The result has been a flurry of press releases and webcasts designed to replace planned in-person gatherings. In the last 24 hours or so, Intel, Sony and Huawei have all announced new products and components.

Why it matters: The show was to have been a key launching point for a number of products, including several high-end 5G-capable phones.

Driving the news:

  • Huawei announced a new Mate XS foldable phone and a pair of new laptops. The laptops have Intel's chips but the phones will have to do without the Play Store and other Google apps due to ongoing trade restrictions.
  • Intel announced new technology for use in building 5G networks.
  • Sony announced its first 5G phone, the Xperia 1 II, along with a mid-range device.

The big picture: A Barcelona launch wouldn't necessarily have dramatically changed the landscape for any of these devices. However, the conference cancellation did take away some momentum, and could be even more devastating for smaller companies that were counting on the event not only for press meetings, but also to secure distribution for their products.

Go deeper: Canceling Mobile World Congress leaves a giant hole

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Jordi Greenham, co-founder and CEO of Mexican rental startup Homie, resigned after a sexual harassment investigation, TechCrunch reported.

ICYMI

  • Warren Buffett upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone — so yes, you are now officially a laggard if you don't have a smartphone. (CNBC)
  • Expedia is cutting 3,000 jobs, or 12% of its staff. (GeekWire)
  • Apple and TikTok are declining to attend a hearing called by Sen. Josh Hawley looking at the ties between China and tech. (Washington Post)
  • Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is introducing a bill stripping tech platforms of liability protection unless they take action against deceptive political ads. (Axios)
  • Mozilla is now making beefed-up encryption standard in its Firefox browser, against objections from some policymakers and ISPs. (The Verge)
  • The Supreme Court declined to hear a patent case that has Apple on the hook for nearly half a billion dollars in damages. (Reuters)
6. After you Login

I honestly can't remember if these crazy cats have already been an After you Login before, but it made me laugh again, so even if has been, it's still worth it.

Ina Fried