Sep 9, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Lots to get to today, including highlights from the "Axios on HBO" interview with Mark Zuckerberg that aired last night. So let's get to it.

Today's Login is 1,471 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: What Zuckerberg wishes he'd done differently

Illustration: Axios on HBO

If he were starting Facebook all over again, Mark Zuckerberg says he would spend more time telling the world "what our principles are."

"I really used to believe that the product by itself was everything, right?" Zuckerberg told Axios' Mike Allen in a wide-ranging new interview for "Axios on HBO." "And that if we if we built a good product, it didn't matter how we communicated about what we did and how we explained the principles behind the service — people would love and would use the product...."

The big picture: They have. Facebook has nearly two billion users worldwide today and is by far the world's largest internet service, with China as one giant holdout.

Zuckerberg says he regrets not explaining Facebook's free-speech ideals from the start.

  • "I just wish that I'd spent more time earlier on communicating about what our principles are and what we stand for — you know, things like free expression and voice and that we're going to defend those."
  • "Now a lot of people look at us and they see this as a successful company. With a lot of money. And it's a little hard now, I think, for us to go back and talk about our principles and have people see the principles for anything but, you know, some talking points."

Yes, but: Today Facebook finds itself at the center of enormous controversy as politicians, critics and the social network's own users hold it to account for spreading misinformation, abusing personal information and failing to limit hate speech.

  • The company has been accused of giving free rein to oppressive regimes, as for instance in Myanmar; providing a channel for foreign interference in U.S. elections; and, just in recent weeks, allowing right wing militia groups to organize a rally that led to a shooting.
  • Critics argue that Facebook's algorithms appear to favor extreme speech and are prone to manipulation — all at such a colossal scale that, when problems are spotted, it's often too late to undo the damage.

Our thought bubble: Facebook's problems look deeper than a simple failure to communicate about its core beliefs. As multiple insider accounts have described, for too long it was a company ready to bend or ditch its principles in exchange for growth.

More highlights from Zuckerberg's "Axios on HBO" interview:

No conservative bent: It's "just wrong" to consider Facebook a right-wing echo chamber, Zuckerberg said, even though conservative voices top the platform's most-engaged-with content.

  • "It's true that partisan content often has kind of a higher percent of people ... engaging with it, commenting on it, liking it," Zuckerberg told Axios. "But I think it's important to differentiate that from, broadly, what people are seeing and reading and learning about on our service."

Won't take down anti-vaxxer posts: Zuckerberg said he's not ready to move against anti-vaxxers the way he did against COVID misinformation: "If someone is pointing out a case where a vaccine caused harm or that they're worried about it — you know, that's a difficult thing to say from my perspective that you shouldn't be allowed to express at all."

Calls for investigation of Apple's App Store: "I do think that there are questions that people should be looking into about that control of the App Store and whether that is enabling as robust of a competitive dynamic."

Taking down threats against election officials: One red line Zuckerberg is willing to draw, he said, is to "very aggressively take down any threats against those people who are going to be involved in doing the counting and making sure that the election goes the way it's supposed to."

2. Apple countersues Fortnite creator Epic

Apple on Tuesday responded to a lawsuit from Epic Games, filing counterclaims that the Fortnite developer breached its contract with Apple and is violating California laws against unfair competition.

Why it matters: It's a high-stakes battle for both companies, with Apple aiming to preserve the status quo and Epic arguing developers should have options beyond using Apple for in-app payments.

The latest: Apple argues in the new court papers that its dispute with Epic boils down to "nothing more than a basic disagreement over money."

  • "Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store," Apple said.
  • Apple is seeking to be compensated for the extra money that Epic has gotten from bypassing Apple's in-app purchase mechanism, as well as punitive damages to account for what it says was a willful breach of contract.

Context: Last month, Epic added its own in-app purchase mechanism to Fortnite, knowingly setting up a confrontation with Apple. Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store and Epic immediately filed suit.

  • A similar chain of events took place with Google on the Android side, though in that case, Epic can continue to distribute Fortnite on its own, while no similar option exists for iOS.
  • Apple also threatened to remove Epic's access to developer tools, including for its Unreal Engine, which is widely used by other game developers.
  • A court denied Epic's request for a temporary restraining order to keep Fortnite in the App Store, but temporarily stopped Apple from removing Epic's developer access.

The other side: Epic said in a court filing on Friday that it has already seen daily active use of Fortnite on iOS drop by 60%.

What's next: Apple and Epic are due back in court on Sept. 28 for a hearing on whether Epic should be granted a preliminary injunction that would force Apple to restore Fortnite to the App Store while the broader court battle remains pending. (The temporary restraining order the judge previously ruled on was a shorter-term measure.)

3. Why we're unlikely to see the new iPhone next week

Screenshot: Axios via Apple.com

Apple has officially announced a press event next Tuesday, but the Sept. 15 show is probably not the one where the company will debut its latest iPhones.

Context: Apple often has multiple fall product launches and typically the iPhone release comes first in September, followed by other products.

Yes, but: 2020 isn’t like most years. In Apple's last earnings conference call, CFO Luca Maestri confirmed that pandemic-related problems would delay this year's iPhone launch by a few weeks.

Apple has some flexibility in which products it chooses to launch when. In the coming months, it’s expected to introduce new Macs, Apple Watches and iPads in addition to the new iPhone lineup.

  • The headline of the invitation sent to reporters for next week’s event has the catchphrase “Time Flies,” suggesting the Apple Watch is the likely focal point. It also makes clear the event is virtual, being broadcast from Apple Park, rather than an in-person affair.

Between the lines: Apple has, on occasion, announced products before they are ready to ship, but in general likes to keep the time between announcement and shipping as close as possible.

The big picture: The iPhone remains Apple's most important product and the company has been focused on delivering new models this year and capturing as much of the holiday shopping season as possible.

4. DoorDash learns how to play fetch

DoorDash is branching out from food and grocery delivery with a new partnership with PetSmart to provide same-day delivery in more than 1,400 stores, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: DoorDash is reportedly gearing up to go public soon (it confidentially filed with regulators for an IPO in February). Expanding its business could broaden the company's appeal to investors.

Background: DoorDash is far from the first company to turn to non-food retail in search of additional revenue streams.

  • Uber provided delivery services to retailers and merchants for a few years before shuttering its UberEverything business, while Postmates has inked a number of deals with the likes of Apple’s stores.
  • DoorDash itself has a bit of experience with delivering drugstore items via its partnerships with Walgreens and Walmart, and delivering flowers through its delivery service for businesses.

Between the lines: Despite food delivery's boom during the current pandemic as Americans stay home much more, it's probably wise for a company like DoorDash to expand into additional categories.

  • Similarly to food and groceries, pet food and other items are necessary and recurring purchases for pet owners.

Go deeper: DoorDash CEO Tony Xu on the employee vs. contractor debate

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Mobile Future Forward takes place online today and tomorrow. I'll be interviewing Verizon Business CEO Tami Erwin.
  • TechNet is holding a virtual version of its annual fly-in to lobby Congress on tech issues. Representatives from Apple, Box, DoorDash, eBay and Google, among others, are set to meet with more than a dozen lawmakers including Senate Democratic leadership and the House leaders from both parties.

Trading Places

  • Tencent has hired former Congressman Ed Royce and other members of his firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for lobbying duties, according to a new disclosure reported by Politico.
  • Netflix tapped Bela Bajaria, who has been running unscripted and international programming, to be in charge of all original series worldwide. Cindy Holland, a longtime Netflix executive who helped build the original programming slate, will leave the company.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

I'm feeling pretty good about the next generation of rock 'n roll and a bit better about humanity after watching this video.

Ina Fried