Advertisers boycotting Facebook will eventually set aside their wokeness
This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.
Civil-rights leaders met with Facebook’s leaders this week to present a list of demands to get the publishing giant to remove hateful messages from its platform. Rather than satisfaction, they say Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg gave them platitudes and spin.
I am shocked, shocked that these two titans of Silicon Valley pressed nuance over action. The next day, Facebook released the results of an outside civil-rights audit. Unsurprisingly, the auditors found Facebook to be a denizen of hateful speech. Sandberg says the company is on a “journey” to improve that.
This isn’t a new trip. It merely is getting to be a marginally less pleasant one for Facebook. Perhaps mindful that next week is when Fortune would have gathered in Aspen, Colo., for Brainstorm Tech, I re-watched a powerful speech from last summer by Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the activists who met with Facebook.
The video still resonates. Greenblatt called for audits. He called for the so-called social-media companies—I call them publishers—to stop profiting from hate. (That theme has been picked up in the current campaign to convince advertisers to boycott Facebook.) He also made the most powerful point of all: Facebook, at the end of the day, is just a business. It can ban whatever it likes, as surely as a burger joint or a hotel would toss out someone spewing hateful filth.
Here’s how I see all this playing out: Congress will fulminate but do little. Facebook will do just enough to give the appearance of change. Advertisers will set aside their wokeness when they think they can get away with it, and return to Facebook, because it’s a really effective place to advertise.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
A fictional interlude:
KBerg: Hey, I've been rereading The Da Vinci Code and I just realized that we could use the Fibonacci sequence in our new marketing–
The Whit: Jeffrey, focus. Did you see our conversion rate at the end of Quibi's 90-day free trial was less than 10%?
Kberg: IT'S ALL CORONAVIRUS. I blame the virus.
The Whit: That's only like 72,000 paying subscribers, Jeffrey. What are we going to do?
Kberg: Should have called it Omakase. I'm just saying...
In Philadelphia it is worth $50 bucks. Speaking of the young and reckless, it seems that the gaggles of inexperienced stock traders on Robinhood really do take a lot of risks with their money. The New York Times has the tale of the guy who took out two home equity loans to cover losses and some stats about how common risky investment strategies are on the platform.
Time is a flat circle. More crazy stock trading stories, you say? In case you had stopped worrying about possible bubbles in the market, Chinese startup QuantumCTek debuted on the Shanghai Star market today and promptly saw its stock price rise tenfold. That catapults the company, which develops secure communications via quantum technology, to a market vale of over $4 billion with trailing annual revenue of about $37 million, Business Insider notes. That's not going to end well. Oh, and a bunch of folks on TikTok drove up the price of cryptocurrency Dogecoin 60% in two days. Just 60%? Yawn. And back in the USA, LGBTQ dating app developer BlueCity went public and jumped 46% in its debut. Double yawn.
Pay to play. Back in the real world of potentially good ideas, Twitter is considering adding a subscription platform so that people could monetize their own posts, a la Substack for newsletters or Patreon for podcasts. Twitter's stock price jumped 7% on the rumor, giving it a modest 10% gain for the year.
Dream a little dream. Speaking on Thursday at an A.I. conference, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is promising self-driving cars real soon now. “I’m extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly,” Musk said (via video) at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai. "We will have the basic functionality for level 5 autonomy complete this year.”
Blow us all away. The case for 5G phones has always seemed a little shaky. Sure, you can download things 10 times faster than with 4G, but are we really downloading much to our phones? This week, I got to try out the first 5G laptop, Lenovo's $1,400 Flex 5G, and suddenly it all makes sense. Also, the battery life is BANANAS. More thoughts and my final verdict in my full review.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
You probably know that the apps on your phone report back tons of data about you to advertisers. Recode reporter Sara Morrison has a deep dive into why apps include so many software development kits, or SDKS, that hoover up your personal info.
Location data gets the most attention because it feels the most invasive (as the New York Times put it, “Your apps know where you were last night, and they’re not keeping it secret”), but there are plenty of other ways to track you or make inferences about who you are to target ads to you. Companies want to put their SDKs in as many apps as possible in order to collect as much information from as many people as possible. Even developers may not know (or care) when and how their users’ privacy is being invaded.
“If I’m a startup, I’m bootstrapping an app really quickly — I need to make something fast. I just bundle a bunch of SDKs in there, compile the app, and ship it off to the App Store,” Sean O’Brien, founder and executive director of the Yale Privacy Lab, told Recode. “And I may not even be aware, literally, as a developer, what is in my own app.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Magic Leap’s Peggy Johnson long aspired to be a CEO. Too few women set that intention By Claire Zillman and Emma Hinchliffe
How Apple and Stanford are speeding up medical discoveries By Maria Aspan
Are wearables like Fitbit a key to earlier detection of COVID-19? By Lance Lambert
Why messy data is a big problem in the fight against COVID-19 By Jonathan Vanian
The fastest mobile network in the U.S. right now By Aaron Pressman
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
One of the sweetest shows of the 1980s, The Wonder Years, is coming back. ABC's reboot will alter the setting for our times, shifting the focus to a middle-class Black family in Alabama. Empire co-creator Lee Daniels is executive producing with Fred Savage, the star of the original series. Original version co-creator Neal Marlens is on board as a consultant. But the real question, to me, is who replaces actor Daniel Stern as the wise and wry voiceover narrator? I like Donald Glover for the part.