October 29, 2019
Today's Login is 1,130 words, a 4-minute read.
1 big thing: Tech workers call out their companies
Tech industry workers create powerful tools that amplify users' voices. Now they're getting vocal about how those tools are used — and employers are wondering whether there's such a thing as too much voice.
Why it matters: Tech workers are often echoing concerns that have already stirred in the rest of society — or are about to do so.
- Encouraging workers to speak up can help management avoid missteps and identify problems early enough to fix them.
- At the same time, some decisions company leaders make are just going to be unpopular, and companies want to avoid giving employees a veto over management's decisions.
Driving the news:
- Facebook is the latest big company to be faced with the issue, with more than 250 employees signing a letter criticizing the decision to allow politicians to lie in paid ads without consequence.
- Google workers are famous for speaking up (and even walking out) over a range of issues, from sexual harassment to government work. Most recently, workers have questioned Google's hiring of a former official in the Trump Administration's Homeland Security department.
- Workers at Microsoft have also spoken up over its work with the U.S. military and immigration authorities. The company has been willing to take clear positions notwithstanding, vigorously defending its work with the U.S. government.
- Employees of Blizzard protested after the company penalized a game tournament winner for lending support to Hong Kong protesters.
Yes, but: Workers aren't speaking out everywhere. Apple and Amazon are known for expecting dissent to remain private.
The big picture: Tech companies recruit talented, idiosyncratic engineers, designers, and product managers by presenting them with inspiring missions and promising them a chance to "change the world."
- It shouldn't surprise anyone that some of these workers will challenge policies they find unethical.
- These conflicts have emerged during an unprecedented market boom. In a downturn, companies are more likely to make hard-knuckled decisions — and workers worried about their jobs might be less daring about challenging those choices.
What they're saying:
- More than 250 Facebook workers, in a letter:
"Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing. Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn't protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."
- Facebook, in a statement:
"Facebook's culture is built on openness so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic. We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads."
2. Exclusive: Google taps satellites for fire maps
With this week's wildfires, Google is using the power of two U.S. satellites to provide a clearer and more updated view of how the blazes are spreading.
Why it matters: Official information can often be hard to find and presented in less than straightforward ways, especially for those trying to quickly assess their situation in an emergency.
What's new: Google is drawing on both near-infrared and visible spectrum images to create a map of the Kincade Fire in Northern California, which can be updated every 5–20 minutes.
It's then combining the map with other official information as part of its official page on the fire.
History lesson: Google has offered crisis response informally since at least 2005, with efforts growing and becoming more formalized over the years. Last year it began testing a flood prediction tool for India.
What's next: Google hopes to expand beyond the U.S. to offer similar alerts in other countries.
"We think natural disasters are only going to get bigger as climate change takes hold," said Pete Giencke, a product manager for Google search.
3. Hawley to lead hearing on China threat
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley plans to spotlight risks to consumer data posed by foreign governments and cyberattacks in a hearing next month, amid rising concerns about Chinese social media firm TikTok, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.
Driving the news: Hawley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, will explore security concerns raised by social platforms that collect vast amounts of user data in a Nov. 5 hearing called "How Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors," according to his office.
- Hawley's office did not name specific companies, but TikTok is facing growing scrutiny from lawmakers who have requested investigations of the popular app.
- The hearing will also look at cyber attacks on major American firms. The Marriott data breach that exposed the information of up to 500 million was traced to Chinese hackers.
The big picture: Big troves of consumer data have become major corporate assets as well as targets for cyberattacks. Storing the data overseas makes it potentially subject to foreign law.
- Hawley, a prominent big tech critic, wants to explore all these issues for the first hearing he’s leading as chairman of the subcommittee.
Meanwhile: China has finalized a $29 billion fund to boost its chip-making capabilities.
4. Lyft aims for loyalty with subscription deal
Lyft is dialing up its battle against rival Uber for customers' loyalty with a new monthly subscription option, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports. The new option — dubbed Lyft Pink — includes discounts on rides, free bike and scooter rides, and other perks.
Why it matters: Now that both ride-hailing companies are publicly traded, they need more than ever to boost their growth and margins and rein in losses, as investors demand a clearer path to profitability.
How it works: For about $20 a month, Lyft Pink subscribers will get:
- 15% off all car rides
- Three free 30-minute bike and scooter rides
- Priority pickups at airports
- Waived lost and found fees
- Other promotions, upgrades, and special perks
Context: Rival Uber already has its own similar subscription, though it's a bit more expensive at about $25 per month (and with slightly different discounts and perks). Lyft also has other subscription products focused on car rides, but they will be phased out and replaced with this one.
Yes, but: These subscriptions usually only make sense for super users of the service — customers for whom the discounts and freebies will add up to more than the monthly fee.
The bottom line: The companies are battling for customers' loyalty as their services have become more and more commoditized in major U.S. cities, where riders often use both apps and order a ride from whichever is cheaper or can pick them up faster.
5. Take Note
- Earnings reports include AMD, Electronic Arts and Shopify.
- Money 20/20 continues in Las Vegas
- Samsung holds its annual developer conference today and tomorrow in San Jose, Calif.
- Stanford's fall conference on AI Ethics, Policy and Governance concludes today.
- Longtime tech entrepreneur Angus Davis is joining Foundation Capital as a partner.
- Google plans to stop indexing Flash content by year's end. (VentureBeat)
- The FCC plans to vote on a proposal to prevent carriers from using government funds to purchase gear from vendors such as Huawei and ZTE that are seen as presenting a national security threat. (Axios)
- Apple released a higher-end, noise-cancelling version of its AirPods. (Axios)
- Earnings of Google parent Alphabet were dented by spending on cloud unit. (Bloomberg)
- Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Alphabet has put in an offer for Fitbit. (Reuters)
- Uber set up a new Uber Money division focused on financial services. (CNBC)