Twitter’s first deception test

Good morning! This Monday, the first test of Twitter's latest content policy, the fight over the future of domain names, and the epic auction of a failed game console.


People Are Talking

Apple never liked employees working from home. Now Tim Cook is encouraging them to do so:

  • "[Apple is] making a major effort to reduce human density and ensure those teams that are on-site can do their work safely and with peace of mind."

After all the Musk-related chaos at Tesla, things have changed, according to James Anderson, head of global equities for Baillie Gifford, the automaker's largest outside investor:

  • "We thought he was getting things wrong. I feel more comfortable now."
  • Wonder how he feels about Musk tweeting that "the coronavirus panic is dumb"?

A man in Florida became the lead suspect in a burglary, all because he liked to track his bike rides:

  • "It was a nightmare scenario. I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime. And I was the lead suspect."

From Protocol: Discussion of equality in tech is only just beginning, said researcher danah boyd:

  • "We've been having a conversation about the lack of women in technology basically since the '70s. Before that, [technology] wasn't cool enough to be taken over by men. We haven't even started dealing with why this industry is so devastating for people of color."

The Big Story

Twitter's first deception test

On Sunday, Twitter got its first test of those new "synthetic and manipulated media" policies, the ones it said would warn users when content on the platform had been deceptively edited, deepfaked, dubbed, or otherwise tweaked to deceive people.

Actually, that's not quite right. People have been calling for Twitter to act on its new policies since about eight minutes after the company announced them. But the policies didn't officially go into effect until Thursday. And on Saturday night, for the first time, it happened:

  • White House social media director Dan Scavino shared a video of a Joe Biden speech, in which Biden said "we can only re-elect Donald Trump." Trump retweeted it, and the clip went viral — it's at 5.9 million views as I write this.
  • But the clip cut off the second half of Biden's sentence, which made clear that he wasn't interested in re-electing Donald Trump. The video's almost a perfect case: deceptively edited to say something the speaker didn't mean to.

So Twitter did something about it. Now, some users see a blue label below the tweet, with the words "manipulated media" and a link to more info. It took nearly a day for Twitter to apply the label, though, and even now not everyone sees it. (I still don't.) Twitter didn't respond to a request for comment, but told the Washington Post the label's sporadic appearance was due to technical difficulties.

Long-term, the more interesting question will be what Twitter does with user feedback. Because, of course, not everyone agreed with the label:

  • "Sorry! He actually said this. Not manipulated," said Gary Coby, the Trump campaign's digital director.

Also: The video's still up and un-commented-upon over on Facebook.

Internet

The fight over the end of your domain name

Starting tomorrow, it'll be a lot harder to get a .gov domain name. (Why am I telling you this now? Because you have 24 hours! Go, go, go!) In the future, the U.S. General Services Administration will require notarized signatures on applications, a process designed to outfox forgers like the random person in Rhode Island who faked some letterhead and impersonated a mayor to get their own .gov.

  • Why do the letters matter? Here's a line from a bill introduced in October, which would put in even more stringent protections: "When online public services and official communications from any level and branch of government use the .gov domain, they are easily recognized as official and difficult to impersonate."

Even if you were able to be billy@farts.gov for a day and a half, it would eventually be taken away. But this is the latest in a quietly fascinating fight over the future of the URL.

  • The Internet Society is trying to sell the .org registry to a private equity firm, which wants to charge more for the domains that have traditionally been affordable for non-profits. A group of internet giants called the Cooperative Corporation for dot-org Registrants, or CCOR, formed to try to create a still-charitable option for the Society to sell to, saying the registry is a public good and must remain one.
  • ICANN is having a hearing today to discuss the sale.

A few years ago, it didn't seem like any of this would matter. We'd all have switched to .restaurant and .babysitting and .blog by now. But the big domain extensions might be more valuable than ever — in every sense of the word.

In related news: Cloudflare recently published a really fun piece called "The History of the URL." Fine, it might not sound fun, but it is!

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WFH

How a remote conference really works

While we're on the subject of ICANN: This week is the organization's Public Meeting, which was supposed to take place in Cancun, but is now a virtual meeting for obvious reasons. The LA Times has a great story on how they're pulling it off, and what everyone gearing up for remote work and virtual conferences might have in store.

  • ICANN is using Zoom, plus its own software for meetings and translation, to host a four-day conference with nearly 3,000 people.
  • No one really knows how it's going to work. "We are testing out a lot of things in real time," ICANN's CIO Ashwin Rangan told the LA Times. "We are creating backup plans and plan Cs and testing them all as I speak."

Even the FAQs for the sessions are extremely telling:

  • "We are a global community and different cultures have different communication styles," one note says. "Without the benefit of facial expressions and body language, misunderstandings can occur. Try to be succinct when interacting virtually to avoid miscommunications."

The conference is up and running, and so far feedback seems good! Not as good as Cancun, though.

Making Moves

Another Salesforce bigwig is leaving the company. This time it's Greg Schott, an executive VP at Salesforce and former CEO of MuleSoft. Salesforce bought MuleSoft in March of 2018, so this may not be accidental timing.

Chris O'Neill, a former Google exec and Evernote CEO, is now a partner at Portag3 Ventures, helping the firm get established in the U.S.

From Protocol: Dozens of former FTC lawyers now dot the org charts of big tech companies. In many cases, the same big tech companies the FTC is investigating on a number of fronts. Protocol's Adam Janofksy and Matt Drange dug into the revolving door between an industry and its regulator.

Coming Up This Week

Not much! On the earnings calendar, Slack, Adobe, Oracle all report results in the midst of what's looking like another rough week for the market. Otherwise everyone's just going to be home pirating "Contagion."

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: Protocol is working from home this week. Social media companies are trying to keep up with the conspiracy theories — and losing badly. Uber and Lyft promised compensation for drivers who are diagnosed. Esports events are being canceled. Mayor de Blasio told all New Yorkers to work from home if possible. Box is enacting contingency plans to make sure it's stable – and encouraging employees to work from home. Stanford canceled in-person classes for at least the next two weeks. Facebook and other big tech companies pledged to pay hourly workers and vendors even with business slowing. Cisco closed one of its Silicon Valley buildings after an employee there was exposed. EBay banned sales of masks and hand sanitizer. Facebook moved all its job interviews to video conferencing. Salesforce asked its California employees to work from home. SXSW is really, shockingly … canceled.
  • Amazon is going to start selling its automated checkout tech to other retailers. Reuters reports that Amazon has already lined up licensees for the technology. Interestingly, Reuters says user accounts will persist across different retailers, raising questions about how much of the customer relationship Amazon will control.
  • Speaking of Amazon, a Federal Claims court judge found that it is "likely to succeed" in its fight to re-litigate the JEDI contract.
  • A couple of developers built a site called No Dumb Interviews, ranking tech companies by their interview process. Among the criteria: How many questions about algorithms? How does the company feel about working from home and personal projects? It's a wildly unscientific, but really interesting, look into the process.
  • Australia is suing Facebook over Cambridge Analytica. The country's information commissioner says Facebook violated national privacy law by using data for purposes other than the ones for which they were collected.
  • People on Twitch are streaming themselves sleeping, and making money in the process. And they're doing the same on TikTok. Talk about a dream job! (Nailed it.)
  • Government-backed hacking groups have been exploiting the same vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange, ZDNet said. The flaw was identified and fixed weeks ago, but now hackers are searching for servers that haven't been updated. Getting in gives them access to an entire email server.

One More Thing

A fortune for a failed game console

A few weeks ago, I told you about the hottest thing in super-old, never-released, kinda-fake-seeming gaming console auctions: the heated battle over a Nintendo PlayStation. Palmer Luckey was extremely interested. Well, the auction ended, and Luckey lost. The winner? Greg McLemore, the founder of Pets.com and Toys.com, who dropped a cool $360,000 to win the console. McLemore is apparently a longtime collector of old gaming gear, and is thinking about a permanent home for the console where others can see it. And not, I'm guessing, play it.

How does Mr. Luckey feel, you're wondering? He's moved onto other topics.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.