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Welcome to the corporate woke wars

April 27, 2021, 3:35 PM UTC

You may remember some months ago that Coinbase, the recently public cryptocurrency exchange, declared it would not be home to political debates. Brian Armstrong, the company’s chief executive and cofounder, took heat, particularly from left-wing progressives, after writing, “We don’t advocate for any particular causes or candidates internally that are unrelated to our mission, because it is a distraction from our mission.”

Now Basecamp, the software-maker whose executives are known for taking big stands against Big Tech, is adopting a similar slant. The firm has decreed it will no longer publicly engage in “societal and political discussions,” and that employees are urged to “take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore.”

For Basecamp CEO Jason Fried, the policy changes represent a honing of focus on the company’s core business.We make project management, team communication, and email software,” he writes. “We are not a social impact company.”

The Twitterati are very divided over the decision. Some people are praising the move, including Armstrong, who cheered, “Another mission focused company 👏 it takes courage in these times.” Jason Calacanis, a prolific startup investor, echoed that view, noting that he advises the companies he backs “to not allow these discussions on chat platforms & mailing lists, where people quickly lose their minds/manners.”

Lots of other people expressed dismay. Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, commented, “When you make a rule like this, you are supporting the people who are already powerful and silencing the people who want to make change.” Elizabeth Spiers, founder of a Democratic polling company and former editor-in-chief of the New York Observer, jabbed, “This is incredibly naive and could only be written by someone who’s not really impacted by issues of injustice.”

David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp’s cofounder, tech chief, and longtime outspoken blogger, attempted to do some damage control in a follow-up post. “Bring all your political advocacy to whatever personal spaces you have. Twitter, Facebook, your local advocacy group, all of it,” he says, noting that he plans to do the same on his blog. “Just don’t bring it into the internal communication platforms we use for work, unless it directly relates to our business.”

Amid a rise in corporate social activism, a fracture appears to be forming between companies that will speak out on a range of social issues (whether sincerely or not) and ones that will decline. Complicating the matter, the more vocal set regards the latter’s silence as a stance in itself—and a societally detrimental one at that. Employees and their bosses are, whether they wish to opt out or not, being drafted as foot soldiers in the corporate woke wars.

Which companies are making the right move in your view, dear reader? Tell us. (Or don’t!)

Robert Hackett
Twitter: @rhhackett
robert.hackett@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Spinning its wheels. Speaking of Elon Musk, Tesla beat Wall Street's expectations when it reported earnings on Monday. The electric automaker posted record profits of $438 million, or 93 cents per share versus an expected 80 cents per share. But with unchanged production guidance and other headwinds (like a coming drop-off in regulatory credit sales), the company's share price fell anyway. As Fortune's Shawn Tully writes, "It looks more like Tesla's spinning its wheels than racing towards the glorious victories it much clinch to justify the sumptuous valuation awarded by its enthusiasts."

A penny saved... In addition to Tesla, a slew of companies is reporting earnings this week. Microsoft and Google-parent Alphabet are posting results today, and everyone expects they'll impress. Here's what to anticipate from those two titans.

Microeconomics. Analysts forecast Microsoft's profits to be up 25% to $13.4 billion. Bright spots include the company's Azure cloud computing, PC, and Xbox gaming businesses, which were all lofted by the work-from-home shift. Expect to hear more details about the software giant's pending $19.7 billion purchase of Nuance, which creates transcription tools for doctors, among other things. Expect to hear less about Discord, the gamer-beloved chat app that reportedly spurned Microsoft's $12 billion takeover offer. Also, unrelatedly and unfortuitously, Microsoft Teams had an outage this morning

It all ads up. Alphabet is expected to post a blowout quarter as COVID-19 shifted people's lives online, driving demand for digital advertising. Meal and grocery delivery boosted Google search, while stuck-at-home entertainment-seekers binged YouTube ads. Wall Street anticipates $10.72 billion in profit on $51.51 billion in sales for the first quarter, far surpassing the company's $6.84 billion in profit on $41.16 billion in revenue for the same period last year, when the pandemic crushed ad-spending across the board.

Baby, you can drive my car. Ride-hailing firm Lyft is selling its autonomous driving unit for $550 million. Japanese carmaker Toyota is picking up the business; its self-driving subsidiary Woven Planet is paying $200 million up front with the remaining $350 million in cash coming over the next five years. Lyft says offloading the unit—following Uber's lead—will help it reach profitability sooner: in the third quarter of this year (on a non-GAAP basis). 

...is a penny earned. More earnings to keep an eye on this week: Apple and Facebook are set to report on Wednesday, while Amazon is slated for Thursday. They're all expected to post sales jumps. Others also coming up this week: Spotify, Boeing, Ford, Qualcomm, Mastercard, Visa, and Comcast

"Don't let him quit."

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

It's finally here: Apple's "app tracking transparency" update. People who download the latest iPhone software—iOS 14.5—will start encountering pop-ups when they use any apps that collect and share data. The prompts will ask for their permission to do that collecting and sharing. Facebook is very unhappy about the update, to put it mildly.

Tension between Apple and Facebook has been mounting over the rivals' opposing privacy stances, as this telling anecdote in an illuminating New York Times story makes apparent.

At a confab for tech and media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July 2019, Timothy D. Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook sat down to repair their fraying relationship.

For years, the chief executives had met annually at the conference, which was held by the investment bank Allen & Company, to catch up. But this time, Facebook was grappling with a data privacy scandal. Mr. Zuckerberg had been blasted by lawmakers, regulators and executives—including Mr. Cook—for letting the information of more than 50 million Facebook users be harvested by a voter-profiling firm, Cambridge Analytica, without their consent.

At the meeting, Mr. Zuckerberg asked Mr. Cook how he would handle the fallout from the controversy, people with knowledge of the conversation said. Mr. Cook responded acidly that Facebook should delete any information that it had collected about people outside of its core apps.

Mr. Zuckerberg was stunned.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

What Apple’s big privacy changes to iOS mean to you by Danielle Abril

How businesses can implement the hybrid workplace of the future today by Kirt Walker

Tesla Q1 earnings: The wheels are churning, the pebbles are flying, but TSLA is going nowhere by Shawn Tully

How Franklin Templeton plans to win the war for talent by making remote work fair by Emma Hinchliffe

The hybrid office will create great opportunities—for companies and cybercriminals by Jesper Andersen

More than 1 billion COVID vaccine doses have been administered around the world by Sy Mukherjee

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BEFORE YOU GO

Zoom has caught up to Microsoft Teams and Skype by rolling out an "immersive view" feature. The option lets you change the scene of your virtual meeting to pretend it's taking place in a board room, classroom, art gallery, or some other stock location. The settings are supposed to be bit more fun than the usual boxed-grids of "speaker view" and "gallery view." You can also upload custom scenes.

Until we can all convene in person again—that's something that will happen, right?—I will be taking all meetings atop an imaginary camel caravan in the Sahara. Anything to alleviate the Zoom gloom!

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