Oct 22, 2021

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Today, while watching "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Organized Crime," I learned that NBC has actually ordered new episodes of the original "Law & Order." Dun Dun...

Today's newsletter is 1,158 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: How the smartphone camera became the best camera

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For years, the smartphone has been the most convenient camera, and in recent years it has also become the easiest and most versatile camera.

  • But this year's high-end smartphones have taken things to a new level — capturing images that would either be tough or impossible even with a high-end digital camera.

Between the lines: Traditional cameras have the advantage of bigger sensors and better lenses, but smartphone cameras are rivaling and even surpassing them by tapping computational power.

Driving the news:

  • The iPhone 13 Pro is in many ways just an incremental upgrade to last year's iPhone 12. But on the photography side, the improvements are noticeable — extra zoom and macro capabilities as well as just better overall image capture. (Here are some examples.)
  • Google's Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro promise their own jaw-dropping tricks, including the ability to capture long exposures without a tripod as well as to add motion to an otherwise dull scene. An editing feature, "smart eraser," even lets you remove the person or backpack that got in the way of that otherwise gorgeous photo.
  • Like Snapchat, Google has also been working to undo the racist legacy of photography by tuning the camera to better capture a wide range of skin tones.

The big picture: The camera is one of the key features that drives smartphone purchases. As a result, device makers have been investing a lot of their energy there.

  • One form this has taken is the addition of multiple lenses on the rear of the camera, offering a bit of zoom or an extra-wide angle.
  • But the real advances have been in what smartphones can do with the images they capture. Today's phones can create stunning portraits, freeze fast-moving action, make sunsets and fireworks a snap — and even change the focus after a portrait is taken.
  • Indeed, the low-light capture has gotten so good that smartphones can take pictures that make night seem like day or illuminate an almost dark room.

Yes, but: Professionals aren't throwing away their cameras just yet. There are still things that a smartphone camera can't do that well. Zooming in on a distant subject is one of those.

The bottom line: Today's high-end smartphones are expensive, with some models topping out at more than $1,000. But at least for that price you are getting not just a pocket computer and communicator, but also one of the world's best cameras.

2. Google slashes commissions for subscriptions

Google announced Thursday that it was cutting the commission rates it charges developers who offer paid subscription content through Android apps to 15%. It previously took 30% the first year.

Why it matters: The move, no doubt influenced by regulatory and legislative inquiries around the world, will also put pressure on Apple to cut its app store commissions.

Details: In a blog post, Google said its lower cut of subscription revenue will go into effect Jan. 1.

  • Google and Apple already offer a 15% commission after the first year of a subscription.
  • Google also said developers who sell electronic books or provide on-demand music streaming services will "be eligible for a service fee as low as 10 percent."

Between the lines: Both Google and Apple are trying to tweak their mobile App Store business policies around the edges in hopes of avoiding being forced by legislators or regulators to scrap their commission structures altogether.

3. Lyft reports over 4,000 sexual assaults

Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Nearly two years after rival Uber did the same, ride-hailing company Lyft released its first ever safety report. Lyft says it received 4,158 reports of sexual assault of passengers and drivers on its service in the U.S. between 2017 and 2019, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: The companies have been criticized over the years for not doing enough to prevent safety incidents, and for how victims are treated afterwards.

By the numbers:

  • Total number of sexual assault incidents on Lyft: 1,096 in 2017, 1,255 in 2018, and 1,807 in 2019.
  • Total number of motor vehicle fatalities: 22 in 2017, 34 in 2018, and 49 in 2019.
  • Fatal physical assaults: Three in 2017, three in 2018, and four in 2019.
  • During that period, the reporting parties across the five sexual assault categories were as follows: Drivers: 38%; riders: 52%; third parties: 10%.

What's next: Uber is expected to publish its second safety report later this year.

Go deeper:

4. Snapchat cites Apple changes as stock sinks

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Snapchat's stock fell nearly 25% in after-hours trading Thursday after the tech giant acknowledged that its ad business "was disrupted" by recent changes to Apple's privacy terms, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Snapchat's quarterly results sent stocks for Google and Facebook down in after-hours trading on fears that their businesses may also be affected by Apple's changes.

  • Facebook last month said Apple's new app tracking transparency feature will continue to cause headwinds for its ads business in the third quarter.

Details: Snapchat said that while it anticipated some degree of business disruption, "the new Apple-provided measurement solution did not scale as we had expected, making it more difficult for our ad partners to measure and manage their ad campaigns for iOS."

5. FTC warns of internet providers' data trove

Internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T are able to invade users' privacy just as aggressively as digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook, the Federal Trade Commission said in a report Thursday, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The report signals that any privacy rules the FTC imposes won't just place Big Tech giants in the agency's crosshairs — broadband providers could find their own practices targeted as well.

Driving the news: The FTC in 2019 began an inquiry into the data collection and use practices of six of the country's largest internet service providers — AT&T, Verizon, Charter, Comcast, T-Mobile and Google Fiber.

The subsequent report found that some ISPs are using consumers' data to target ads, and:

  • ISPs amass a vast trove of sensitive and highly-granular data, and use it in some cases to create advertising segments based on race or sexual orientation, including "viewership — gay" and "Asian Achievers."
  • The choices ISPs offer consumers over how their data is used are often "illusory" because of problematic and confusing interfaces that nudge users toward data-sharing options.

What they're saying: Khan said the "hyper-granular" dossiers that ISPs collect could enable potentially illegal forms of discrimination.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • It's a quiet day on the calendar. But get the rest while you can, because next week is chock full of company conferences and earnings reports.

Trading Places

  • Uber promoted D.C.-based strategist C.R. Wooters to head of federal affairs.


6. After you Login

Check out this great shot, and the resulting celebration from former Stanford Cardinal star Karlie Samuelson.