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1 big thing: "Phone addicts are the new drunk drivers"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new study highlights just how big a problem distracted driving has become, especially for the people most addicted to their smartphones.

"Phone addicts are the new drunk drivers," Zendrive concludes bluntly in its annual distracted driving study. "They hide in plain sight, blatantly staring at their phones while driving down the road."

And it's a growing problem. Over just the past year, Zendrive, which analyzes driver behavior for fleets and insurers, said the number of hardcore phone addicts doubled, now accounting for 1 in 12 drivers.

  • If the current trend continues, that number will be 1 in 5 by 2022.
  • "I'm sad and concerned," Zendrive CEO Jonathan Matus tells Axios. "It's frightening how common distracted driving has become and how as a society and as individuals we are okay with the 'new normal.'"

By the numbers: Some sobering stats about "phone addicts" behind the wheel...

  • On any given trip, they physically touch their phones 4 times more than the average driver.
  • As a result, they spend 6 times longer watching their screens.
  • Their eyes are off the road for 28% of their time spent on the road.

The big picture: The continued increase in unsafe driving comes despite stricter laws in many states, as well as years of massive ad campaigns from groups ranging from cellphone carriers to orthopedic surgeons.

What they're saying: Listen to what some of the survey respondents had to say about their own practices.

“I wish I was better at not being distracted by wanting to constantly change songs. ... I do not text and drive, but I like to FaceTime my friends while driving since it makes time go by faster.”

Between the lines: As with other groups of dangerous drivers, many phone addicts believe they aren't a problem, with 93% describing themselves as "safe" or "extremely safe."

  • Yes, but: In the few seconds you look at your phone on the freeway, your car will have traveled hundreds of yards.
  • "We found that while people are almost universally aware that distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, those same people largely dismiss their own contributions to the problem," Matus says.
  • "Almost all our respondents thought they were safe drivers, but were willing to admit that they use their phones in the car all the time, signaling a cognitive disconnect between knowing the risks and taking action," he adds.

Methodology: The data on phone use comes from 4.5 billion miles driven by 1.8 million Zendrive users between November 2018 and January 2019. As for the attitudes, those came from a survey of 500 non-Zendrive customers.

The bottom line: It's a reminder that for all the angst over autonomous vehicle safety, there's vast room to improve upon highly fallible — and increasingly distracted — human driver.

2. Scoop: Senators target the ways tech tricks you

Sen. Mark Warner speaks with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) will debut a measure Tuesday cracking down on manipulative design features in major web platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon meant to capture users’ consent or data.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are trying to put checks on the fundamental design choices that Silicon Valley uses to attract and retain users, Axios' David McCabe reports.

  • Those “dark patterns” targeted by the new legislation can get users to agree to data collection or other practices they would not consent to if they understood that’s what they were doing.

An example of a dark pattern is when LinkedIn prodded users to let it email their contacts with either an invitation to join the users’ network or create an account on the service.

  • Critics contend that the data gathered in part through these practices gives the biggest tech companies a major advantage over their smaller competitors.

Details: The Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction Act would apply to online services with over 100 million monthly active users.

  • The bill would make it illegal for one of the services to “design, modify, or manipulate a user interface with the purpose or substantial effect of obscuring, subverting, or impairing user autonomy, decision-making, or choice to obtain consent or user data,” according to its draft text.
  • It also bans design features aimed at “cultivating compulsive usage” for kids under the age of 13 and dividing consumers out in order to perform experiments on them without their consent.
  • Services would also have to regularly make public details of experiments they conducted “with the purposes of promoting engagement or product conversion.”

Provisions in the bill would be enforced by both the Federal Trade Commission and an outside body, comparable to the self-regulatory organization that polices the securities industry, including at least one director not linked to one of the online services being regulated.

Yes, but: Identifying "dark patterns" is a thorny task. Separating deceptive data-gathering practices from measures on the right side of the line would be complex and must take into account a vast number of variables.

The bigger picture: The bill is one of several expected to emerge from Warner’s memo, first reported by Axios last year, laying out ways to rein in Big Tech — and the latest idea to take aim directly at core practices of major tech firms.

  • Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said last week he plans to introduce legislation banning manipulative designs targeting children online, as well as algorithms that can steer them to harmful content.
  • U.K. policymakers just proposed regulations that would include guidelines for how online services could be designed with safety in mind.
3. The war for your internet connection

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The world’s biggest tech companies are spending billions of dollars on big projects to get more people around the world connected to the internet.

The latest efforts include everything from undersea cables to the spaces between television signals to satellites, Axios' Sara Fischer and Kim Hart report.

Why it matters: Tech companies historically have specialized in services like social media or payments that ride on top of internet connections, rather than building the networks themselves. But their businesses can't grow without quick expansion of the web, and owning the pipes is becoming just as important as owning the content that runs through them.

Driving the news: Facebook is in talks to develop an underwater data cable ring around Africa, the Wall Street Journal reports. The project aims to drive down internet costs so that Facebook can get more people using its services.

  • Facebook and other tech companies have been partnering with traditional internet providers around the world to invest in underwater cables and wireless initiatives, because the investment can require tons of cash upfront.
  • These partnerships have grown over the past few years, bringing tech companies to the forefront of underwater cable ownership, which is how most internet connections around the globe are made possible.

The internet space race is also heating up. Amazon said Wednesday that it will launch thousands of satellites into space to provide internet around the world via a new effort called Project Kuiper.

  • SpaceX is also hoping to use satellites to beam broadband. The goal is for the low-orbit satellites to bring connectivity to millions in remote areas that are too hard to reach with fiber-optic cables and terrestrial wireless networks.

My thought bubble: While some want the benefit of owning the connection, in many cases companies like Amazon and Facebook just want the most people as possible to have as fast a connection as possible.

The bottom line: The war for consumers' attention is intensely cutthroat as more people than ever access the internet via smartphones. But the war to connect more consumers to the internet in the first place is proving to be just as fierce.

Go deeper: Sara and Kim have more here.

4. Developers, Developers, Developers

For English majors like myself, it always seems like developers are speaking another language. In part, that's because they do speak other languages — a lot of them, in fact.

Each year, Stack Overflow does a survey to find not only what developers use, but also what they like, don't like and wish they knew.

What they found: JavaScript was the most commonly used programming language, followed by HTML/CSS and SQL. Meanwhile, Python continued its rise in popularity, edging out Java to become the fourth most popular language.

Details: Other findings include...

  • The most loved programming languages were Rust, Python and TypeScript.
  • The most dreaded ones were VBA, Objetive-C and Assembly.
  • As for languages developers say they want to learn, Python topped the list, followed by JavaScript and Go.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Google Cloud Next runs today through Thursday in San Francisco.
  • Qualcomm is hosting an AI Day for media and analysts, also in San Francisco.

Trading Places

  • The Wing, a co-working space that focuses on women, has hired former Snap spokesperson Rachel Racusen as VP of communications.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

What's better than ping pong? Tech-infused ping pong.