November 09, 2020

Tonight, on our post-election "Axios on HBO" episode:

  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy talks about the future of the GOP and the "new power" of House progressives within the Democratic Party
  • Rep. Ro Khanna tells Jonathan Swan that the House Democratic Caucus has "trust to build" after losing seats (clip)
  • House Majority Whip James Clyburn blames "sloganeering" like "defund the police" within the Democratic Party for Dem losses and discusses who he'd like for Biden's Cabinet

... and more. Catch the show at 11pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Today's Login is 1,442 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's Biden-era reset

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Joe Biden's transformation into president-elect Saturday kicks off a new era for tech, giving an industry that's found itself increasingly at odds with government the chance for a reset, Axios' Scott Rosenberg, Ashley Gold and Kyle Daly report.

The big picture: Biden's ascent could see the restoration of some tech-friendly Obama-era policies but is unlikely to end the bipartisan techlash that grew during Trump's term.

Here's what tech has to look forward to:

Tech's issues: D.C's spotlight will brighten on privacy, surveillance and hate speech online. These issues animate Democrats, and Biden has already pledged a task force to study ties between online harassment and real-world extremism, violence and abuse.

  • Yes, but: Democrats will need to pull out a long-shot flip of Senate control to pass new laws in most of these areas.
  • Still, the parties did get close in 2019 on negotiating a major federal data privacy bill. Even a divided Congress just might get that across the finish line.

Antitrust: Expect little immediate change in the progress of antitrust enforcement against tech companies — including the Justice Department's lawsuit against Google and a possible move by the Federal Trade Commission and/or several states against Facebook.

  • Democrats have more of a stomach for tough moves against business monopolies than Republicans, and they could embrace the aggressive findings of a House Judiciary report as well as expand the Trump DOJ's claims against Google.
  • Yes, but: Democrats in the White House and Congress face too many other massive crises — the pandemic, recession, healthcare, climate and more — to make action against tech firms a priority.

Telecom rules: With control of the Federal Communications Commission passing to Democrats, look for...

  • pushes to increase subsidies for universal high-speed internet and possibly to help municipalities build public broadband networks;
  • an effort to revive Obama-era net neutrality rules; and
  • quick rejection of continued action on Trump's Section 230 executive order.

Singling out companies: Biden is likely to end the Trump administration's practice of targeting individual companies outside of normal regulatory processes, as it did in disputes involving TikTok, Amazon, Huawei and other firms.

  • Yes, but: The White House may no longer pursue this tactic, but it could be kept alive by populist Republicans moving away from their party's laissez-faire tradition.

Partisan warfare via online platforms won't end and might intensify, particularly from disappointed Trump supporters fired up by a recalcitrant former president.

  • Yes, but: While misinformation will remain a big challenge for companies, Trump's departure will turn down the volume on one big input-stream of baseless claims and charges.
  • Trump will still be able to tweet, assuming Twitter doesn't shut down his account, but his blasts will carry less consequence.
  • Complaints about alleged tech censorship of conservative views won't vanish — but will lose executive branch backing.

China: The trade war with China will likely pause as both sides reassess the landscape.

  • Yes, but: Broader U.S. conflicts with China are with us for the long haul. How the Biden administration chooses to address them will also shape the terrain on which U.S. tech vies for global advantage in new markets like artificial intelligence, 5G innovation and VR/AR.

Be smart:

  • Tech founders and CEOs don't face re-election every four years and don't have term limits.
  • The scale and power of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are unlikely to change any time soon.
  • They have led U.S. stock market for years, and there's little sign that could change as long as the Federal Reserve holds interest rates down — though a deadlocked Congress could sink stimulus efforts and doom us to a long, slow recovery.
  • As in the past, if today's dominant firms ever find themselves eclipsed, it's more likely to happen thanks to a new wave of technological innovation than through government action.

2. Why Apple's shift to homegrown chips matters

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

At a Tuesday event Apple is expected to announce the first Macs to be powered by the same kind of Apple-designed chips already used for iPhones and iPads.

The big picture: While Apple will make a lot of noise about its move away from Intel processors, the more flawlessly the company executes the transition, the less consumers will even notice.

Yes, but: Pulling that off will require great tools from Apple and tons of work on the part of software developers.

Why it matters: Shifting processors could allow Apple cost savings and design flexibility down the road, but it creates short-term uncertainty for consumers and some headaches for the Mac ecosystem — plus an opportunity for Windows if the effort stumbles.

Apple has predicted the overall transition should take about two years and has promised to support Intel-powered Macs "for years to come."

Between the lines: Apple has to accomplish several things with the new Macs.

  1. Prove that the first of these new Macs can already offer a combination of battery life and power that exceeds its current computers. That's important because there will certainly be other trade-offs in the form of apps that either don't work at all or have to be run using emulation, which typically creates a big drag on performance.
  2. Demonstrate that outside developers are committed to moving key software over in a timely manner. The company is off to a good start, having already demonstrated early work from Adobe and Microsoft to get their mainstay programs natively running on Apple silicon.
  3. Show other Mac developers that it will be a manageable task for them to do the same.
  4. Convince enough buyers to snap up these initial Apple chip-powered machines to encourage those developers to move quickly.

History lesson: Such transitions can be tough, but no company has done this better or more often than Apple.

  • In the mid-1990s, Apple moved from the original Motorola chips that powered the first Macs to PowerPC chips, which were a joint IBM-Motorola effort.
  • Apple moved from the original Mac OS to the Unix-based OS X operating system in the early 2000s.
  • Apple shifted from PowerPC to Intel chips starting in 2005.

The bottom line: This is all about execution, but Apple has a lot of experience to rely on.

3. Parler gains amid crackdowns on misinformation

With Twitter and other mainstream social media apps more strictly enforcing rules against election-related falsehoods, more permissive, often right-leaning platforms have seen a surge of interest.

Driving the news: Parler, which calls itself a "viewpoint-neutral" social network and is growing popular among conservatives who feel mainstream social platforms are censoring them, is now topping the free app download charts, according to both Apple and Sensor Tower.

Why it matters: It remains to be seen if the gains are more than temporary, but the shift has certainly raised eyebrows.

Context: Twitter has been far more aggressive in recent weeks against election-related misinformation, labeling tweets that falsely claimed victory or offered unsupported claims of election fraud.

  • Twitter also permanently banned an account tied to Steve Bannon after he encouraged the beheading of Tony Fauci and the head of the FBI.

The app for Newsmax, a right-leaning news network, also began surging on the download charts after all the major networks, including Fox News, called the election for Biden.

Between the lines: Moving to an alternative platform is a mixed bag, offering newcomers looser rules but also, at least for now, a smaller audience more likely to be comprised of already like-minded individuals.

What they're saying: "People trust Parler because Parler trusts people. We welcome all to join our platform which emphasizes free speech and open discourse," Parler founder and CEO John Matze said in a statement.

4. TikTok once censored content criticizing China

A TikTok executive said at a U.K. parliamentary hearing this week that the video-sharing platform previously censored content that was critical of China, especially videos about Uighur Muslims being detained in Xinjiang, Axios' Ursula Perano reports.

What they're saying: "At that time we took a decision ... to not allow conflict on the platform, and so there was some incidents where content was not allowed on the platform, specifically with regard to the Uighur situation," Elizabeth Kanter, the company's U.K. director of public policy, said.

Yes, but: TikTok says that's no longer the case. "If you ... search for the term 'Uighur' on the TikTok app, you can find plenty of content about the Uighurs. There's plenty of content that's critical of China," Kanter said of its current library.

The latest: Kanter later clarified that she was wrong to suggest that TikTok specifically targeted content involving Uighurs: "We want to be absolutely clear that even in those early policies, there was never a policy around the Uighur community, which is where I misspoke."

Between the lines: The Trump administration has sought to force a sale of, or block, the Chinese-owned service, saying it was a national security threat.

Go deeper: The TikTok view from China

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • The bulk of earnings season is done, but Lyft reports Tuesday and Cisco is scheduled to do so on Thursday.

Trading Places

  • South Korean-Japanese online gaming company Nexon has named former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who was also briefly CEO of TikTok, to join its board of directors.


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