Sep 26, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Me: "Alexa, Write tomorrow's newsletter."


Me: (Sigh.) "Alexa, order more Coke Zero."

Today's Login is 1,245 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Amazon wants Alexa to leave home

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many of the most important of the dozens of new devices Amazon launched Wednesday have a similar goal: to get people to use Alexa, its voice assistant, outside the house. That includes the new $129 Echo Buds, as well as experimental devices like an Alexa-powered ring and glasses.

Why it matters: Unlike its competitors Apple and Google, Amazon doesn't have its own smartphone platform to use as a home for its voice assistant. As a result, Amazon needs to find other places to put Alexa.

Driving the news: Amazon introduced more than a dozen devices on Wednesday, including several new Echo speakers, a cheaper Echo Show smart display, updated Eero routers and Ring cameras.

Between the lines: Amazon has made strong inroads into the home by being early to market with smart speakers, and many of the devices introduced Wednesday were designed to fortify its position there.

  • But mobile is where the company is playing catch-up, having failed spectacularly in its Fire phone bid several years ago.
  • Amazon has an Alexa app for iPhone and Android, but few people think to open an app rather than use the assistant built into their phone.

On the mobile front, Amazon made several moves:

  • Echo Buds gives Amazon a chance to connect people to both their phone and Alexa. The $129 earbuds include Bose noise reduction and up to 5 hours of listening time. (The included case can hold up to 3 additional charges.)
  • Partnership with GM: The carmaker will offer Alexa support in the first half of next year on Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models dating back to 2018.
  • The experimental $130 Echo Loop ring and $180 Echo Frames glasses don't seem like mainstream products today — nor is Amazon pitching them that way, as they are sold by invitation only. But the speaker-and-microphone-equipped wearables do open up some ways for the company to sidestep the phone and get Alexa directly onto users' bodies.

Amazon also staked out new turf on the services front.

  • A new "Certified for Humans" program identifies smart home products from Amazon as well as others that can be set up and connected to Alexa in just a handful of steps.
  • If Amazon can follow through with the promise this could be important in an era where many smart home products still require a genius to install them.
  • Alexa Guard is designed to use the Echo's microphones to help protect a home when its occupants are away, sending an alert if, say, the sound of broken glass or a smoke alarm is detected.
  • Alexa will also be able to pause the family's WiFi on command when connected with a compatible router.

The bottom line: Amazon's in-home lineup has gotten better — and in some cases cheaper. Outside the home, its new moves are innovative, but it's still a smartphone-centered world.

2. Exclusive: LinkedIn pushes to close "network gap"

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner will announce a new effort Thursday to close what he calls the "network gap" — the advantage some people have based on who they know, company executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: By organizing its users to broaden their personal networks beyond traditional connections, LinkedIn is trying to strike a blow against social inequality, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

The big picture: For a long time, LinkedIn encouraged users to limit their connections to other people they know. Now it wants to encourage users to connect to new people to expand job opportunities for those who may not have as strong professional networks.

Driving the news: During his keynote Thursday at the company's Talent Connect conference, Weiner will call on the public to take the "Plus One Pledge," a call to action for users to share their "time, talent, and connections with people outside your network who may not have access to the same connections and resources you do.”

  • "We believe that people with equal talent should have equal access to opportunity, a sentiment we know is shared by many of our members and customers," Weiner tells Axios.

How it works: The goal is to strengthen more users' networks by making them bigger and more "open" through technology and policies. (For LinkedIn, openness means how many of a user's connections are connected to one another. For example, if everyone in your network knows one another, your network isn't very open.)

  • The company says its product teams are beginning to assess the unintended consequences of new products and features by asking, "Does this feature increase or decrease inequality among our members?"

By the numbers: According to LinkedIn's data, a single connection makes a huge difference and can change the trajectory of a career.

  • Having at least one connection at a company makes you 6 times more likely to get a job there. Having a formal referral from that connection makes you 9 times more likely to get the job.

LinkedIn says that 3 distinct factors contribute to the network gap: where you grew up, where you went to school, and where you work. While LinkedIn can't change these factors, it can encourage people with different networks to connect more.

The bottom line: Opportunity in the U.S. is often defined in terms of education, money or location. But as social media becomes a bigger part of our lives, and as more companies invest in workplace networking, there's concern that our online communities will only reinforce opportunity gaps in real life.

3. Facebook charts path to a more social VR

Image: Facebook

Facebook has long talked about the social possibilities of virtual reality, even as the core market remains gamers looking to enjoy their own solitary fantasy world. On Wednesday, the company offered more details on its long-term plan to transform VR into a social experience.

  • At Oculus Connect, Facebook unveiled Horizon, a more immersive multiplayer VR social experience that will launch in a closed beta early next year.
  • In an interview with CNET, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook wants "to help shape the next computing platform to be more about interacting with people and not just apps and tasks."

Why it matters: Facebook wants to make its $2 billion Oculus bet pay off; even more than that it wants to establish itself as a central player in what many see as computing's next frontier, rather than have to play catch-up as it did with mobile.

4. Tech trade groups oppose facial recognition ban

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A coalition of tech trade groups and companies is urging Congress not to pass legislation that would ban government use of facial recognition.

Why it matters: As of now there are no national rules on how governments can or can't use face recognition. Consumer groups have been calling for such a ban, while Microsoft and Amazon have encouraged Congress to regulate, but not ban, government use of the technology.

Dozens of companies, trade groups and a number of individuals signed an open letter to Congress that was made public on Thursday.

  • Among the trade groups are TechNet, CompTIA, the Consumer Technology Association and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
  • Companies that signed include chip designer ARM, security company HID Global and NEC Corp. of America.

What they're saying: "Facial recognition technology is one of many technologies that law enforcement can use to help keep communities safe. Facial recognition systems have improved rapidly over the past few years, and the best systems perform significantly better than humans."

Instead of a ban, the groups urge the imposition of appropriate safeguards against misuse of the technology.

"We encourage you to continue to work with these experts to find solutions and compromises that will allow law enforcement agencies to adopt and test this important technology with appropriate oversight," the groups wrote.

Meanwhile: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Wednesday that the company is drafting its own proposed legislation, per Vox.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Former Dell and IBM researcher Jai Menon is joining Fungible as chief scientist.


6. After you Login

Labradoodle creator says creating the labradoodle is his life's regret.

Ina Fried