Jan 18, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Special thanks to David McCabe for poring through Roger McNamee's nearly 300-page book yesterday. Especially when sources say he rarely has his book club assignment read on time.

1 big thing: Investor's book takes aim at Facebook

Image: Penguin Random House

In his new book, due out next month, Facebook investor Roger McNamee reiterates his claims that the social network is bad for society while also offering fresh details on his efforts to bring regulatory attention to the company, Axios' David McCabe writes.

Why it matters: McNamee’s status as a one-time adviser to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has given him added clout among a chorus of critics.

Facebook is pushing back. "The reality is Roger McNamee hasn't been involved with Facebook for a decade," company spokesperson Jonny Thaw said.

What we're reading: "The time has come to accept that in its current mode of operation, Facebook’s flaws outweigh its considerable benefits," McNamee writes in one of the final chapters of "Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe."

  • He's critical of Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg in the book, which is excerpted in the new issue of Time magazine and featured on the cover.

The other side: "We take criticism seriously. Over the past two years, we've fundamentally changed how we operate to better protect the safety and security of people using Facebook," Thaw said.

  • And, former Facebook board member and former Washington Post publisher Donald Graham criticized McNamee in another Time magazine piece for not being critical when things were good for Facebook.

The book also offers McNamee’s account of his work to bring attention to his criticism.

  • He says he spent 2 days with the financier George Soros crafting a speech last year lambasting the tech giants, delivered at Davos, and preparing him for questions he might get about the comments from the press.
  • "Soros's speech was already great when I first saw it, but he is a perfectionist and thought that it could be much better," he writes. "We spent more than four hours editing it line by line until George expressed satisfaction with the substance."
  • Facebook consultants later tried to link a campaign to break the company up to Soros, who has been the target of anti-Semitic smears for years.

McNamee is a longtime investor who founded his last firm, Elevation, with Bono as a partner; he says he still holds shares of Facebook stock.

Our thought bubble: Though he claims to be a neophyte, McNamee is clearly attuned to the rhythms of media and politics — and used them to his advantage.

  • The book’s 7 pages of acknowledgments namecheck 15 Senate staffers and 8 from the House, as well as a large swath of the media — from the makeup team at MSNBC to some of the outlets that broke Cambridge Analytica.

Some at Facebook responded to McNamee by bluntly saying that he's not as important to the company's story as he claims. "I've worked at Facebook for 12 years and I have to ask: who the fuck is Roger McNamee?" tweeted Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth last year (now deleted).

  • "Getting on Boz's radar seemed like progress," McNamee writes of the tweet.

Go deeper: Read David's full story here.

2. ACLU sues agencies over social media tracking

Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Northern California branch filed a lawsuit yesterday against 7 government agencies for concerns over social media surveillance.

Details: Per Axios' Haley Britzky, the ACLU alleges that the agencies are "investing in technology and systems that enable the programmatic and sustained tracking of U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike," raising concerns about privacy and free speech.

  • The agencies named in the lawsuit include: the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security.
  • This type of surveillance, the ACLU states, "risks chilling expressive activity and can lead to the disproportionate targeting of racial and religious minority communities, and those who dissent against government policies."
  • Over 7 months ago, the ACLU filed a records request seeking information about the agencies' acquisition of social media surveillance technologies, policies and correspondence about social media surveillance, and several other categories related to the topic. None of the agencies targeted in the lawsuit have provided information on any of requested records, per ACLU.

Go deeper: Location data is ground zero in privacy wars

3. Walmart scraps plans for new video streaming

Photo: Walmart

Walmart has scrapped a plan to develop a new streaming service and will instead focus on its existing Vudu service, CNBC reported.

Background: The retail giant had talks that ended last year with former ePix CEO Mark Greenberg on a service that was aimed at "middle America," CNBC said.

The big picture: The move comes as tons of other companies are launching new streaming services, including Disney, AT&T Time Warner, Comcast NBC Universal and, in all likelihood, Apple.

Meanwhile, Walmart apparently is looking for a CEO to run some other stealth unit, according to Bloomberg.

4. Google buys Fossil watch tech for $40M

A Fossil smartwatch using Google's software and sporting the Armani Exchange brand. Photo: Fossil

Google announced Thursday it is paying $40 million to acquire part of Fossil's smartwatch unit.

Context: It seems similar — on a smaller scale — to a 2017 deal in which Google paid $1.1 billion to acquire a portion of Taiwan's HTC, bulking up its in-house capabilities to boost its internal hardware team while retaining an ecosystem in which Google and others build competing Android products.

  • As was the case with HTC, Fossil isn't getting out of the business, but rather selling a portion of its team to Google with plans to continue its own line of products.

The bottom line: Fossil says that wearables are its fastest growing category, but it's fair to say none of the smartwatch makers, including Fossil, have been able to match the commercial impact of the Apple Watch.

What they're saying: Wired's Lauren Goode suggests that Google would be wise to release a fitness-oriented Android watch and says the Fossil deal could help.

5. AI surveillance goes to school

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new breed of intelligent video surveillance is being installed in schools around the country — tech that follows people around campus and detects unusual behaviors, reports Axios' Kaveh Waddell.

Why it matters: This new phase in campus surveillance responds to high-profile school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, last February.

  • School administrators are now reaching for security tech that keeps a constant, increasingly sophisticated eye on halls and classrooms.
  • One drawback: it's a major blow to student privacy.

Background: Schools are experimenting wildly with technology in order to secure students, deploying facial recognition, license plate readers, microphones for gunshot detection and even patrol robots.

  • At a news conference today, officials in Broward County (where Parkland is located) announced that they have spent more than $11 million on security cameras over the past year.
  • Read this fact: There are now more than 12,500 cameras in Broward County schools, said Superintendent Robert Runcie. The district signed an agreement this week to share real-time video with the county sheriff's office.
  • Now, the school district is considering buying a next-generation surveillance system for more than $600,000, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

The tech the district wants is benignly branded "intelligent video analytics." It's already popular with police and retailers; now, it's appearing in schools.

  • It represents a sea change in how video surveillance works. Where once a lone security guard would sit bored in front of dozens of security feeds, scanning for abnormal activity, unblinking artificial intelligence now monitors the videos.
  • It can detect unusual motion — such as a person in a hallway that is usually empty at a given time — and can search footage by peoples' appearance.

Go deeper: Kaveh has more here.

6. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Slack chief product officer April Underwood is leaving the company ahead of the company's IPO, to be replaced by Google veteran Tamar Yehoshua.
  • Former Google exec Vic Gundotra is stepping down as CEO of AliveCor but will remain on its board of directors.


  • Mastercard caused quite a stir Thursday when it seemed to be announcing a policy that would end the ability for companies to automatically bill for subscriptions after a free trial. It later clarified that the new policy only applies to physical goods, not digital products. (The Verge)
  • Atlassian shares soared after quarterly sales and earnings topped expectations. (CNBC)
  • Contract chip maker TSMC forecast quarterly earnings sharply below expectations, highlighting concerns over sales of smartphones and other tech gear. (Bloomberg)
  • Two governments in Africa have recently shut down the internet in response to domestic political unrest. (Axios)
  • AngelList's VC funds have raised over $100 million. (Axios)
7. After you Login

Check out these amazing sculptures made from electrical circuits.

Ina Fried