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January 25, 2021

Am I the only one eagerly awaiting Groundhog Day? 'Cause personally, I got some questions for Punxsutawney Phil and what he did and didn't warn us about last year.

Today's Login is 1,427 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech digs in for long domestic terror fight

Illustration of a laptop with a target on the screen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With domestic extremist networks scrambling to regroup online, experts fear the next attack could come from a radicalized individual — much harder than coordinated mass events for law enforcement and platforms to detect or deter, Axios’ Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

The big picture: Companies like Facebook and Twitter stepped up enforcement and their conversations with law enforcement ahead of Inauguration Day. But they'll be tested as the threat rises that impatient lone-wolf attackers will lash out.

Where it stands: "Without any apparent large-scale event in the immediate future, there is always a risk that radicalized individuals may feel themselves compelled to act out," said Jared Holt, a visiting research fellow with the Atlantic Council.

What they're saying: Twitter says it's working closely with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to minimize potential risks, including those specifically relating to planned future demonstrations from white nationalists and other extremist groups across the country.

  • "These relationships are longstanding and go beyond any one event," a Twitter spokesperson told Axios.

Facebook and YouTube also said they continue to work with law enforcement. The Biden administration on Friday announced a plan to combat domestic terrorism — one that will rely heavily on the director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Council.

The intrigue: There are patterns in online chatter that can predict when different extremist groups are most likely to translate talk into action. Platforms and law enforcement should pay close attention to online extremist groups when certain topics are in the news, say researchers.

  • Militia groups grow more threatening when any kind of gun legislation is introduced, while white supremacists are animated by immigration topics, Holt said.

Right now, disillusioned QAnon followers are being recruited by more violent groups.

  • "We are already hearing of white supremacist groups seeking to mobilize frustrated conspiracy theorists," said Naureen Chowdhury Fink, executive director of security consulting firm the Soufan Center.

One big worry: Even when tech platforms take action against users who encourage terrorism, those people don't face real-world consequences until it's too late.

One bright spot for platforms and law enforcement: Even radicals need a public presence in order to recruit and keep their numbers up.

  • That means plenty of violent rhetoric is still circulating in venues that are easy to infiltrate and monitor, such as forums on the open web and public Telegram channels.

The catch: Extremists who have found fellow travelers may still take to private, encrypted platforms to form clandestine online sleeper cells. As Axios previously reported, there are signs this is already happening.

  • "We will see one of these groups do something that was planned entirely on or majority via an encrypted app," said Matt Mitchell, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.

What's next: Look for more debates over the delicate balance of civil liberties, free speech and keeping Americans safe from domestic terrorism. The battle over forcing tech firms to build encryption backdoors for law enforcement is also likely to come roaring back.

2. Google may have a cookie substitute

Google on Monday said new test results show promising signs that the technology it hopes will replace cookie-based ad targeting is working, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Google and web browser rivals Apple and Mozilla have all introduced sweeping privacy changes recently that will collectively phase out cookies, an internet tracking tool that tracks users' web browsing history.

Catch up quick: For decades, cookies have been the primary way most advertisers target users online, but privacy concerns are sending Silicon Valley in search of a replacement.

  • That's a massive challenge, given that the entire digital ad ecosystem, worth $330 billion globally, is mostly built around cookies.

Details: Google has been testing what it's calling Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), an alternative to the individualized tracking and targeting functions of cookies. FLoC will run as a browser extension within Google Chrome.

  • FLoC is an application programming interface (API) that uses machine-learning algorithms to analyze the sites people visit and then create groups of thousands of users based on shared interests.
  • Ads can then be targeted to those groups. The data gathered locally from each user's browser is never shared.
  • In tests, Google found that FLoC came just shy of matching the revenue potential of cookies.

Be smart: An effective replacement for cookies has proven elusive. It's a big deal if Google is close to delivering one.

  • Many publishers have started to lean into using first-party data, or data uploaded to a site directly from the user, to target ads instead.
  • But not all publishers have strong enough customer relationships to gather such data.

The big picture: Google's privacy efforts join sweeping changes from Apple similarly aimed at making it harder to track individual user data online. The backdrop of all this is a growing global call for online privacy rights.

  • Facebook has slammed Apple for abruptly rolling out big changes to its user-tracking functions.
  • Chetna Bindra, Google's head of user trust and privacy for advertising, told Axios that Google is looking to work with online advertisers to ease them into a cookie alternative. Google is intent on "really leaning into the kind of collaboration that's critical to make such massive change," she said.

What's next: Google has other proposals to replace cookies in the works, so it's not guaranteed that FLoC will be the answer, but the company said it's highly encouraged by what it has seen so far.

3. Tech's bid for influence with Biden

Illustration of Joseph Biden holding a cursor

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images     

Trade groups representing major tech firms are moving aggressively to push their ideas in front of the Biden administration, urging action on policy areas including privacy and broadband, Ashley reports.

Why it matters: After a tumultuous few years under the Trump administration, the tech industry is hoping for a reset.

What's happening: In a slate of policy recommendations shared exclusively with Axios, the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents a wide swath of tech companies including Apple, Adobe, Amazon, eBay, Intel and Samsung, urges that the Biden administration and Congress:

  • pass an online privacy law;
  • set up a trade and tech council between the U.S. and the EU;
  • replace Privacy Shield, the U.S.-EU data-sharing pact that was struck down in court last summer;
  • invest $80 billion in broadband;
  • deepen research into 5G; and
  • establish international principles on how law enforcement can access user data.

Tech leaders have already applauded early executive orders from President Biden on immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

ITI joined fellow tech trade groups the Internet Association, the National Foreign Trade Council, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and BSA | The Software Alliance on a letter Friday pressing the administration to lead multilateral talks on digital trade to reduce tech's barriers to market access and exposure to new digital taxes.

Between the lines: Countries including France have been pushing digital taxes on tech companies, something the Trump administration pushed back against. Tech is hoping to see the Biden administration continue to aggressively combat the trend of foreign digital taxes.

Our thought bubble: The industry has fallen sharply from Democrats' favor since the last time the party held the White House. But in focusing on issues like broadband funding and repairing bruised alliances, the groups are generally raising policy areas where the values of Silicon Valley and the new administration already overlap.

4. Average US iPhone price hits a record $873

Spurred by big demand for top-of-the-line iPhones, the average selling price in the U.S. hit $873 last quarter, up from $809 a year ago, according to a report from Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Why it matters: Apple still makes a huge chunk of its revenue and profits from iPhone sales, though services are an increasing source of both as well.

By the numbers: "For the full quarter, the new iPhone 12 models, and in particular the most expensive ones, garnered a significant share of sales," said CIRP partner and co-founder Josh Lowitz.

  • Even though the new models weren't available for the full quarter, average selling prices were still the highest the analysis firm has seen in its 10 years of surveying iPhone buyers.

What's next: We'll learn more about Apple's quarter when the company reports earnings on Wednesday.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • It's a busy week of tech earnings, with Microsoft and AMD slated to report on Tuesday, followed by Apple and Facebook on Wednesday.

Trading Places

  • Gina Sheibley, who has been a senior VP of communications at Salesforce starts a new gig today as chief communications officer at Qualtrics.


6. After you Login

What an amazing photo of an eye. Only it's not an eye, it's actually water going down a drain.