Jun 26, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Today's Login is 1,153 words. Don't worry, I put them all in order for you.

1 big thing: Amazon embraces combative role in 2020 race

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facing attacks from several Democratic presidential candidates, Amazon's strategy is to hit back.

Why it matters: A Democratic administration could mean tougher antitrust enforcement, and some candidates have gone so far as promising that they'll break up Amazon and other tech giants, Axios' David McCabe reports.

A person familiar with the thinking inside Amazon said executives particularly want to respond when they think candidates are making inaccurate claims about the business.

  • Amazon hits back against Democrats so much harder than it does against President Trump, who beats up on the company all the time but elicits barely a peep in response. The source says the company thinks Trump's attacks are being effectively corrected by the media.

The big picture: Big Tech has become a political symbol of out-of-control corporate power. But while Google and Facebook have largely avoided mixing it up with specific candidates, Amazon is punching back.

Details:

  • Elizabeth Warren touted her plan to break up tech giants as a way to stop “corporations like Amazon from knocking out the rest of the competition." The company responded that “sellers aren’t being 'knocked out' — they’re seeing record sales every year.” (It also noted that “Walmart is much larger.")
  • Andrew Yang told GeekWire that Amazon was driving job loss. The company pushed back with data on the number of Americans it employs.
  • Joe Biden said this month that he had “nothing against Amazon, but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers." The company said that it pays “every penny we owe” and that it assumed “VP Biden’s complaint is w/ the tax code, not Amazon."
  • It has also tussled publicly with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) over her criticisms of how Amazon treats its warehouse workers.

Yes, but: Amazon's defensive postures don't always last.

  • The company blasted Bernie Sanders last year when he accused it of underpaying warehouse workers — only to reverse course and raise its minimum wage to $15 after the criticism kept coming.

The bottom line: Amazon is toeing a fine line — countering its critics without being so aggressive that it alienates its customers.

2. Confirmed: Apple acquires Drive.ai

A Drive.ai van in Frisco, Texas. Photo: Kaveh Waddell/Axios

As Kaveh Waddell and I confirmed yesterday, Apple bought Drive.ai, an autonomous driving startup once valued at $200 million. We also confirmed that Apple has hired dozens of Drive.ai engineers and acquired some of its assets, including its vehicles.

Why it matters: This confirms that Apple hasn't given up its autonomous driving project, though it has changed direction and leadership a couple of times.

Details:

  • The deal comes after Drive.ai talked with multiple potential acquirers.
  • Drive.ai ceased operations within the last 2 weeks.
  • Apple’s hires are mostly in engineering and product design, per a source.
  • The purchase price was not disclosed. Apple was expected to pay less than the $77 million Drive.ai raised in venture capital, to say nothing of the $200 million it was valued at 2 years ago, after its Series B round, Axios' Dan Primack reported recently.

Context: Drive.ai's highlighter-orange vans ferried workers around a business park in Frisco, Texas, and shuttled fans in nearby Arlington to Cowboys games.

Drive.ai is laying off 90 workers in California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. And the company employed many more in Texas.

Separately, troubled AV maker Faraday Future has reportedly fired several dozen of the employees who have been on unpaid leave, according to The Verge.

Also: Uber is buying Mighty Ai to boost its self-driving car efforts.

3. Exclusive: Waze partners with SpotHero

Photo: Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images

SpotHero is integrating Waze, a navigation app owned by Google, into its app, Kia Kokalitcheva reports. Waze will navigate SpotHero's customers to their pre-booked parking spots.

Why it matters: Americans spend 17 hours per year on average searching for parking, costing them $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions, according to INRIX. Both companies say they aim to help reduce congestion by helping cars get to their destinations more efficiently.

How it works: After users find and book a parking spot in SpotHero’s app, they hit a button for directions to that lot or garage. If they’re already Waze users, the app will open on their smartphone, preset to the destination, or they’ll be prompted to download Waze if they don’t already have it. A button will also let them toggle to their reservation ticket when they reach the garage.

  • Currently there’s no button inside the Waze app that guides its users to SpotHero’s app, though it’s something both companies hinted could be in the works for the future.
  • Adam Fried, head of Waze product partnerships, told Axios the company is thinking about helping users get to their final destinations once they’ve parked their vehicles, though he declined to share more details about its plans.

The deal doesn’t have a financial component, SpotHero CEO Mark Lawrence told Axios.

Go deeper: Kia has more here

4. Google says it doesn't use dark patterns

One of the more striking parts of Tuesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the ways tech companies manipulate users was a Google executive's insistence that the company doesn't employ "persuasive technologies," aka "dark patterns," on YouTube or anywhere else.

"Dark patterns and persuasive technologies [are] not core to how we design our products at Google," Google's Maggie Stanphill said, in response to a question from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

You can watch the exchange here.

Between the lines: To be clear, Google and YouTube do have any number of recommendation engines, autoplay options, etc., but Google doesn't consider any of those to meet the definition of persuasive technologies or dark patterns.

5. Wayfair employees plan walkout

Photo Illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As Axios' Ursula Perano reports, employees at online furniture company Wayfair are set to walk out at 1:30pm ET today in response to the company's unwillingness to stop selling beds to the operators of migrant child detention centers.

The big picture: At least 547 employees have signed a petition asking executives to stop selling beds to the facilities after discovering an order for more than $200,000 for a Texas facility, according to the Wayfair Walkout Twitter account.

  • The employees are asking that all profits made from the transactions be donated to immigrant legal aid group RAICES.

What they're saying:

  • Wayfair (per Boston Globe): "As business leaders, we also believe in the importance of respecting diversity of thought within our organization and across our customer base. No matter how strongly any one of us feels about an issue, it is important to keep in mind that not all employees or customers agree."
  • Elizabeth Warren: "I stand with the hundreds of @Wayfair employees who are planning to stage a walkout at their Boston headquarters tomorrow. The safety and well-being of immigrant children is always worth fighting for."

Go deeper: Migrant kids crisis

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, in a conversation with Harvard professor Cass Sunstein.
  • MWC Shanghai takes place today through Friday.

Trading Places

  • Scott Kubly, who left a job with the city of Seattle a year ago to be chief program officer at Lime, is leaving the scooter company, per GeekWire.

Errata

  • Login incorrectly referred to Madrone Capital as the family office of Walmart heir Rob Walton. Rather, Madrone describes itself as an investment firm that counts members of the Walton family as investors and is run by Walmart board chairman and former executive Greg Penner.

ICYMI

7. After you Login

New York is always home to one of the world's biggest Pride parades, but this year it's also home to one of the smallest.

Ina Fried