May 30, 2018

Facebook's rivals take it to school

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Mike Schroepfer. Photo: Asa Mathat for Vox Media

The Code Conference gave Facebook an opportunity to show that it is tackling its many problems head on — but the executives who preceded Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Mike Schroepfer on stage also had some valuable insights for the embattled tech giant.

Why it matters: A lot of people on and off Capitol Hill still believe that Cambridge Analytica-style data hijacking is exactly what Facebook is optimized for. Facebook has learned how to take an effectively humble tone — but it has yet to persuade a skeptical world it's got integrity.

The view from Redmond: Microsoft president Brad Smith talked about all the ways his company's long antitrust battle, beginning in the late '90s, hurt the company in subsequent decades.

  • Smith said the legal siege distracted the company's leaders, potentially causing the company to miss search and other big trends. Years later, the rules the government laid down for Microsoft hampered the company in future battles with iOS and Android.
  • Microsoft took a stubborn hard line against the threat of government oversight. It might have fared better, Smith said, to try to work with regulators rather than fight in court: "You have to solve problems when they are small enough to be solved."
  • One of the hard lessons for tech companies that believe in their missions, he said, is that the rest of the world sees you differently: "They don’t think you re quite as good looking as you thought you were."
  • The bottom line, per Smith: " If you create technology that changes the world, the world is going to want to govern you."

The view from Snapchat:

  • Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat, Facebook's rival social network, offered some insights of his own. While Facebook has been able to copy some of his company's products, Spiegel said that the company hasn't managed to incorporate its values (or, he quipped, modeled Snapchat's practice of not hanging on to user's data) .
  • "They’ve changed their products and I think they’ve changed their mission, but fundamentally they are having trouble changing the DNA of their company.... As time goes on, I think it will become more and more clear that values are hard to copy."

Facebook's take: For their part, Sandberg and Schroepfer largely repeated past apologies and statements. A couple things stood out, though.

  • When I asked her why Facebook, knowing about Cambridge Analytica, didn't flag the Trump team's efforts as problematic at the time, Sandberg said that the campaign didn't appear to have a suspicious amount of data on potential voters. "No, not really," Sandberg said.
  • Ad sales fuel Facebook's hunger for user data. Asked whether Facebook would ever offer users a paid service as an alternative to its advertising model, Sandberg said: "We've looked at subscriptions and we will continue to look at them. We are committed to providing a free service. We're looking. We've always looked. But the heart of the service is a free service."

The bottom line: When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, he took a much more conciliatory stance than his predecessor, Bill Gates, did 20 years ago. But Facebook continues to face tough questions over why it didn't act sooner and how it can protect users going forward.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll nears 11,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 10,900 in the U.S. early Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data. More than 1,000 people in the U.S. have died of coronavirus-related conditions each day since April 1.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday this week will be "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" — calling it our "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 41 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 1,347,803 — Total deaths: 74,807 — Total recoveries: 277,402Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 368,196 — Total deaths: 10,986 — Total recoveries: 19,828Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: President Trump's economic adviser Peter Navarro warned White House colleagues in late January the coronavirus could take over half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, memos obtained by Axios show.
  4. 2020 update: Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks governor's attempt to delay in-person primary voting delayed until June.
  5. States latest: West Coast states send ventilators to New York and other states with more immediate need — Data suggest coronavirus curve may be flattening in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
  6. World update: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to intensive care as coronavirus symptoms worsen.
  7. Stocks latest: The S&P 500 closed up 7% on Monday, while the Dow rose more than 1,500 points.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Docs: Navarro memos warning mass death circulated West Wing in January

Image from a memo to President Trump

In late January, President Trump's economic adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the novel coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios.

  • By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to two million Americans could die of the virus.

Driving the news: Navarro's grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - Health