Axios Login

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October 25, 2022

I almost didn't get an intro written for today. Phew ... carry on. Today's Login is 1,293 words, a 5-minute read.

🪛 Situational awareness: Apple has updated its App Store guidelines to ensure ad "boosts" and other app content purchases go through its payment system.

1 big thing: Global internet gaps prompt calls for a U.S. plan

Illustration of a wifi signal parachuting downward

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Pressure is growing for the U.S. to develop a plan to quickly build internet lifelines for people living in conflict zones or under repressive regimes, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The absence of a strategy has led to a reliance on the ad hoc goodwill of private companies, such as Elon Musk's donation of Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine.

State of play: Republicans are sounding the alarm about the need to ensure internet connectivity as a U.S. foreign policy priority.

  • Federal Communications commissioner Brendan Carr told Axios the U.S. needs both the ability to quickly deploy internet networks and surge the production of censorship-circumvention online tools in authoritarian countries.
  • "Providing broadband is a lot less interventionist than providing bombs," Carr told Axios.
  • Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) introduced a bill last year that would create a strategic plan to deploy technology capable of rapidly delivering wireless internet anywhere on the planet in times of crisis.

Catch up quick: SpaceX founder Elon Musk agreed to provide Starlink satellite internet terminals to Ukraine to help maintain online connections amid the Russian invasion.

  • But Musk recently warned the company could not provide the service indefinitely and sought Pentagon funding, before reversing and saying the service will continue.
  • "We should not be in this situation where we're relying purely on the voluntary goodwill of a private corporation to provide connectivity services that many here in America view as vital to U.S. national security interests," Carr told Axios.

Reality check: Standing up internet infrastructure in a hostile country is easier said than done for technological and diplomatic reasons.

  • Satellite internet connections require dishes or terminals on the ground — which can be logistically difficult to deliver or risky for the user to be seen with one in an authoritarian country.
  • There were calls during protests in Cuba to deliver internet via high-altitude balloons, but those signals can be jammed.
  • "Internet access requires a combination of technologies, especially to provide access at scale and across large distances, which is why it usually requires support by local governments," a senior NSC official told Axios.

The big picture: Beyond the internet infrastructure itself, crackdowns on online freedom around the world have shown the need for anti-censorship and surveillance tools.

  • The U.S. government relaxed sanctions in Iran to allow tech companies more latitude in providing services to citizens looking to evade government surveillance.

The intrigue: There's been bipartisan interest in stepping up funding for U.S. efforts to develop new online tools to support democracy globally.

  • A bipartisan bill led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) would authorize roughly $125 million in funding for internet freedom programs and tools. It is expected to be included in annual defense funding bill this year, an aide confirmed.
  • Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) have called for congressional appropriators to provide $35 million to the Open Technology Fund.

The bottom line: "If America's going to lead the free world, we're going to have to be willing to double and triple our investments in the tools that Iranian and Russian dissidents are jumping on to avoid government snooping," Malinowski told Axios in a statement.

2. Exclusive: Creators slam social algorithms

Illustration of a suited sleeve with a digital cursor thumbs down

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A majority of people surveyed by creator economy company Patreon say they feel "screwed" by large tech platforms and their algorithms, per a new survey shared exclusively with Axios' Ashley Gold.

Driving the news: In Patreon's survey of more than 1,500 creators (some of whom do not use Patreon), 70% say they feel social media platforms put them at a disadvantage, but 60% say they are reliant on those platforms to showcase their work.

By the numbers: 75% of creators said in response to survey questions they wish to make more diverse work, but feel compelled by social media algorithms to keep putting out what may perform best. Patreon conducted the survey from September 2021 to December 2021.

  • 75% say they think algorithms punish creators who aren't constantly publishing.
  • 40% say they have trouble using algorithms to increase their reach and it's unclear how to land places like Instagram's Explore page and TikTok's For You page.

What they're saying: "These apps are important tools for creators ... but disproportionately depending on any single one puts you at the whim of the platforms, meaning any algorithm change can impact your income," Patreon says of its study in a blog post.

Between the lines: Patreon, founded in 2013, sometimes competes with large tech platforms as a place for creators to monetize their content. Pointing out the disadvantages of algorithmically driven feeds highlights its own business model of connecting creators directly to their audiences.

3. Some early thoughts on Meta Quest Pro

Axios' Ina Fried wearing a Meta Quest Pro headset

Axios' Ina Fried wearing a Meta Quest Pro headset. Photo: Meta

Having spent some time with the new VR headset, I can say that the Meta Quest Pro is by far the most comfortable and practical headset I have tried.

Yes, but: It's far more an indicator of the direction things are headed than a signal that the future has arrived.

While others will be out with reviews today, I have only spent a few hours using the device at home, seizing the precious moments when all the people in my house who need caregiving were out so I could fully immerse myself.

  • And that gets to the challenge of VR: It doesn't lend itself well to a busy, multitasking life.
  • I will say, though, that this headset comes way closer to fitting in with my messy house and busy life. During my short time I did a mix of games, watching videos and trying out productivity apps.

Pros: Pass-through video (being able to see your real world as a backdrop) is a game changer, allowing some of the immersive benefits of VR without needing to totally shut off the real world or have a vast open space.

  • Improved optics mean that you can actually read the text of a web page or document. That's not alone sufficient to get real work done, but you certainly can't do so without this level of detail.

Cons:

  • Battery life is still pretty pitiful, meaning you have to either stay plugged in (if sitting at a desk), or recharge the Quest Pro to use it for more than an hour or two.
  • You are paying a lot ($1,499) to be at the leading edge. In a couple of years, the Quest Pro will seem ridiculously bulky and limited, even though it is the state of the art of what's possible in a commercial device today.

Between the lines: While many at Meta are pushing hard that this is a work device, the most likely early buyers are those who already spend time gaming in VR and want the best experience, as well as early adopters who want the latest and greatest.

The bottom line: I believe virtual and augmented reality will have a big place in the future of computing and the Meta Quest Pro is an important interim step.

  • But I also think the industry does itself a disservice when it positions devices as more ready for prime time than they are.

4. Take Note

On Tap

  • Today's earnings reports include Microsoft, Spotify and Google parent Alphabet.

Trading Places

  • Conference organizer SXSW has shifted co-founder Roland Swenson to executive chairman, with chief brand officer Jann Baskett and chief programming officer Hugh Forrest named co-presidents.

ICYMI

  • The Federal Trade Commission said Monday it plans to take actions against alcohol-delivery company Drizly — and notably also against CEO James Cory Rellas — for mishandling a 2020 data breach. (Axios)
  • A group of contractors for YouTube Music have voted to unionize, the latest in a series of moves by those who work at the margins of Big Tech to organize. (Engadget)

5. After you Login

For a humorous demonstration of how VR isn't yet ready for the mainstream, watch these professional soccer players try to play their sport in VR.

Thanks to Peter Allen Clark for editing and Bryan McBournie for copy editing this newsletter.