Jun 28, 2018

Axios Login

Ina Fried

Situational awareness: Login is late today to include the news that Google has announced its new head of policy. Story below.

1 big thing: Republicans think social media sites censor viewpoints
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Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than half of Republicans believe it is "very likely" that social media platforms intentionally censor political views that they consider “objectionable,” according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

Why it matters: Surveys show that Americans of all stripes don't always trust the information they receive from both mainstream media and Silicon Valley's online platforms. The trend is especially marked among Republicans, whose political and cultural leaders have attacked both institutions for years, Axios' David McCabe reports.

By the numbers:

  • 54% of Republican or Republican-leaning adults said it was very likely that social media platforms censor political viewpoints they find objectionable. An additional 32% said it was somewhat likely.
  • 64% of those adults say that tech companies support liberal views over conservative ones.
  • 20% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning adults said it was very likely that the platforms censor political views, and 42% said it was somewhat likely.
  • This follows an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll that found almost all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe news outlets report information they know to be false or purposely misleading, either sometimes or a lot.

But, but, but: There’s never been strong evidence that the people who created and operate the major social media platforms have actually built systemic political bias into them.

  • Some of the highest-profile allegations of bias, about Facebook’s Trending Topics section and Twitter’s Moments feature, have focused on the very small portion of those platforms curated by humans rather than algorithms.
  • The companies have nonetheless worried for years about their relationships with conservatives.
  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently met with conservative figures in Washington, D.C. In 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a group at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif.

The big picture: 72% of adults say they can trust major technology companies to do the right thing only some of the time or hardly ever. But, 74% of people polled also said the impact of major technology companies on them personally was more good than bad.

  • Just over half of adults say that major technology companies should be more regulated than they are right now.
  • Despite concerns over censorship, Republicans, who tend to favor fewer rules for business, are less likely to support more regulation than Democrats.

Go deeper: The number of Americans in general who trust online news is dropping.

2. Exclusive: Google hires Bhatia as policy head

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google has hired Karan Bhatia as its new global head of policy to lead the company's policy discussions around major topics such as artificial intelligence, job creation and infrastructure, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

  • Bhatia comes from GE, where he is president of GE's government affairs and policy function.

Why it matters: The global policy role has been vacant for some time, just as Google and other tech companies are dealing with increased scrutiny domestically and internationally.

Between the lines: Spending 10 years at GE means he is adept at navigating across teams in a large corporate environment — especially important at a place like Google where policy discussions have to span engineering, technology, marketing, communications, product development and government affairs teams.

The big picture: U.S. tech companies are moving fast into international markets while also trying to stay globally competitive as China and others make massive investments into areas like AI.

  • As the Trump administration is active on trade issues, which can widely impact the tech industry, picking someone with extensive international trade experience is logical.
“We're thrilled to hire someone with Karan’s impressive experience in global policy. He’s a widely respected leader who will work with our teams to advocate for policies that encourage growth and innovation."
— Kent Walker, general counsel, Google, in statement

Go deeper: Read Kim's full story.

3. Google sets new rules for internal debate

Photo: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

Trying to balance an open company culture against the pressures of Trump-era politics has proven quite the challenge for a number of Silicon Valley companies, most notably Google. Last week, the company rolled out new rules for internal debate, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The same dynamics that turned many public internet forums into free-fire zones between culture war antagonists and red state/blue state zealots have begun to roil the worlds inside Silicon Valley's walled gardens, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

The background: Google found itself at the center of a firestorm last year after software engineer James Damore wrote a memo arguing that gender differences could explain why women are underrepresented in tech. Damore's memo went viral, spurring protests inside the company, and Google ended up firing him, which spurred further protests.

The rules: According to WSJ, the new community guidelines represent Google's first effort to set limits on expression in its halls and online discussion forums. They're broad, based on Google's values, open to interpretation, and designed to funnel conflict to human moderators.

The bottom line: Corporations aren't governments, but when they get large enough, they end up grappling with the same kinds of conflicts nations face.

  • Companies face the added pressure of trying not to infringe on workers' free speech, while at the same time keeping a lid on conversations that could lead others to feel they face a hostile work environment.
4. Apple and Samsung finally end patent fight

Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After years of fireworks, the long-running Apple-Samsung patent dispute ended with a whimper on Wednesday. The two companies disclosed in a court filing that they had reached a settlement, though terms were not made public.

Our thought bubble: It's likely Samsung is writing Apple a sizable check, given that a federal jury just ruled in Apple's favor in the latest of several trials.

Yes, but: It's not the kind of victory that Apple was looking for when it filed the case back in April 2011.

  • At the time, Apple hoped to get an injunction, halting sales of some Samsung phones and forcing the Korean phone maker (and potentially other Android device makers) to make products more noticeably different from the iPhone.
  • Having failed to do so, Apple nonetheless pursued the case (and Samsung vigorously defended it) through a series of trials, appeals and retrials, culminating in a Supreme Court ruling last year and a retrial this year.
  • While the Supreme Court opened the door for a jury to find a smaller set of damages, the latest jury largely agreed with prior ones, slapping Samsung with a big verdict.
5. VC-led project to help redevelopment program

Venture capitalist Mike Hirshland is launching an effort, called the Governance Project, to help cities and states make use of a portion of the 2017 Republican tax law that’s meant to boost economically struggling areas of the country.

The big picture: Supporters of these so-called Opportunity Zones established by the new tax law say they’ll encourage private investment where it’s needed most.

  • The zones work by allowing investors to defer paying taxes on investment gains if they re-invest the assets in special funds established to revitalize specific locales that haven't had access to capital.
  • But, it's a model that hasn’t yet been proven out, David notes.

The details:

  • The federal government has designated Opportunity Zones in 18 states so far and include both rural and urban areas.
  • Sarah Bianchi, a former policy staffer for Airbnb who is part of the new project, notes that one includes the Birmingham Civil Rights District in Alabama.
  • The Governance Project, which is led by Hirshland and a team of policy and technology veterans, will develop practices that governments can use to get the most of the Opportunity Zones programs.
  • That includes working with some areas to develop “playbooks” for how best to take advantage of the program and creating conferences where officials from the same state or city can discuss their plans. The first such event is on Thursday in Colorado.
  • In addition to Bianchi and Hirshland, the project's team includes the chief executive of infrastructure investment firm Meridiam. It also includes policy and political vets affiliated with the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the progressive donor network the Democracy Alliance.

Flashback: The project emerged after the 2016 election, when Hirshland said he had “a sense that something was going terribly wrong with American politics and our political institutions.” His conclusion, he said, was that there needed to be a renewed focus on state and local governments.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up the Music Modernization Act.

Trading Places

  • Adobe named Dana Rao as general counsel. Rao, who is currently Adobe's associate general counsel for IP issues, previously spent 11 years at Microsoft.
  • The FCC announced that David Lawrence will lead the agency’s review of the proposed Sprint/T-Mobile US merger. Lawrence had been in the DOJ as counsel to assistant AG Makan Delrahim.
  • Qualcomm added former Ford CEO Mark Fields and Comcast Vice Chairman Kornelis (Neil) Smit to its board of directors.


  • Slack had a four-hour outage during which tech workers were split between those who spent the entire time bitching on Twitter and those who seized a rare opportunity to get some work done without interruption. A few co-workers were reportedly seen actually talking to each other, though this remains unconfirmed.
  • President Trump tweeted this morning that he was heading to a groundbreaking for Foxconn, which he said will bring 15,000 jobs. However, the cost to taxpayers of a Foxconn plant in Wisconsin is rising, according to the WSJ, which reports that the incentive package is nearing $4 billion, up from $3 billion when the project was announced.
  • Peloton acquired music distributor Neurotic Media.
  • A federal judge in Texas has halved a $500 million verdict against Facebook over the Oculus and also denied an effort to halt sales of the virtual reality headse, Bloomberg writes.
  • Amazon unveils new program to let entrepreneurs set up their own delivery business.
7. After you Login

They say no one wants to see how sausage is made, but it's quite entertaining to see how Asian noodles are made.

Ina Fried