There’s a common theme running through the spring season of developer conferences and tech events: trust and privacy. With the tech industry faceing a backlash from consumers and regulators, tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are looking to assure everyone that they’re listening. But each company is approaching the issue in a very different way, and with a very different track record on the topic. On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, we listen to the CEOs of these companies talk about privacy, and analyze the different approaches. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in : “But we also share a deep responsibility together. It starts with us as platform providers, but we have a collective responsibility. A few years ago when we started talking about it, it felt a bit prosaic to talk about responsibility in tech conferences where it’s all about the glitz of technology, but it’s no longer the case to us really thinking about the trust in everything that we build in the technology we build is so core.” Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (Flickr Photo / Maurizio Pesce) Google CEO Sundar Pichai talking about Google Maps : “In addition to finding easy access to your privacy controls, you’ll find a new feature, incognito mode. Incognito mode has been a popular feature in Chrome since it launched, and we are bringing this to maps. While in incognito in Maps, your activity, like the places you search and navigate to, won’t be linked to your account. We want to make it easy to enter in and out of incognito. And maps will soon join chrome and YouTube with support for incognito and we’ll be bringing it to search as well this year.” Apple CEO Tim Cook promotes privacy at the company’s recent product event. Apple CEO Tim Cook discussing Apple News : “We felt we could make a difference in the way that news is experienced and understood. A place where the news would come from trusted sources and be curated by experts.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the F8 developer conference. (Facebook Photo) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg : “Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves. It’s easier to feel like you belong when you’re part of smaller communities and amongst your closest friends. So it’s no surprise that the fastest ways that we’re all communicating online are private messaging in small groups and in stories. As the world gets bigger and more connected, we need that sense of, of intimacy more than ever. So that’s why I believe that the future is private.” Zuckerberg’s comments were a radical departure from the company’s recent strategy, but in some ways . But the Facebook CEO is having a hard time convincing the industry and the public that he’s genuine in his sudden concern for the issue. PREVIOUSLY: Microsoft is coming to these issues with the most experience and the least to lose. The company fought its own battles with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy back in the day, and it doesn’t rely on advertising revenue as the main driver of its business, having shifted from traditional software licensing revenue to subscription-based software and services. Apple is in a similar position, making most of its money from devices and paid subscription services, which makes it easier for the company to tout privacy as a competitive advantage. Google’s business is largely based on advertising revenue, and because of that it’s walking a fine line as it introduces new privacy controls. But Pichai went public with a thinly veiled criticism of Apple on this topic in , writing, “Our mission compels us to take the same approach to privacy. For us, that means privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services. Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world.” Listen to the full podcast for more details and our analysis. You can play the show above, or subscribe to GeekWire in your favorite podcast app. Other stories covered on this episode:
Vivek Sharma, head of product for gaming, and Vijaye Raji, vice president of games at Facebook, at the company’s Seattle office. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Facebook says it has more than 700 million gamers and fans of games on its platform, and it wants to bring them all together in one place. Facebook today unveiled a new dedicated Gaming tab in its mobile app for people to play games on the platform, follow their favorite game streamers and participate in gaming groups. Facebook said it will roll out the new section first to a subset of “10s of millions” of users before releasing it more broadly. Facebook did not reveal any new gaming features or services, but today’s announcement creates a central hub for gaming. It builds on a destination for gaming video that Facebook began testing last summer. The tab separates out gaming-related notifications, groups and other communications from the rest of the platform. Vijaye Raji, vice president of gaming at Facebook, said there are more than 300,000 gaming-focused groups on Facebook with more than 105 million active users. They focus on titles for hardcore gamers like League of Legends as well as more casual games like Pokémon Go. “That’s the kind of organic community that’s already building around gaming on Facebook,” Raji said. “What we’ve noticed is this activity happens all over Facebook, sometimes on Newsfeed, sometimes on Groups and sometimes on Pages, this diffused activity. “We’ve been making each of these experience better over time, but one amazing thing that we could do is to bring all of that together in one destination.” Facebook’s Seattle engineering center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Gaming has long been a core part of Facebook, dating back to the desktop days that when gamemakers like (Farmville) and (Candy Crush) became household names. That evolved in 2017 when Facebook launched Instant Games and has continued to grow in recent years. Though its not mentioned with the likes of Twitch, streaming is becoming an important part of Facebook’s gaming operation. Facebook’s pitch to creators is its huge global platform and the potential it presents for streamers to attract a big audience. Introduced at the beginning of 2018, Facebook’s streaming offering is still young, giving creators the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. “We’re early in the game, which means you can actually influence the platform,” Raji said. Central gaming hubs like what Facebook is building have the potential to bring people together, but they can also become toxic environments very quickly. Raji said the teams empower streamers with a lot of moderation tools to make sure their channels fit with the environment they want to create. Raji said creating and maintaining an inclusive environment in the gaming section is top ongoing priority. Raji pointed to the authentic nature of Facebook, where users show their real names and profiles, as something that holds people more accountable than a platform where people can be anonymous. However, that logic hasn’t always held when looking at the broader Facebook platform. The games team is based entirely in Facebook’s massive Seattle outpost, and it is led by Raji. He wouldn’t say exactly how many people work on games at Facebook, but the number is north of 100 employees. The Seattle area is replete with gaming talent, from big gaming studios like Bungie to homegrown gaming giants like Microsoft, to global forces such as Nintendo. “It’s much easier to hire talent here in Seattle,” Raji said. “Seattle has this gaming DNA.”
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can . 1. Less than a year after making a $3 billion investment into the future of virtual reality with the purchase of VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was considering another multi-billion-dollar bet by buying Unity, the popular game engine that’s used to build half of all gaming titles. At least, that’s the claim made in a new book, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the acquisition, subsequent lawsuits and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey. 2. Although the companies were relatively quiet about the deal, it could end up being pretty significant, showing both the market connections between China and Europe and the margin pressures that many smaller remittance companies are under in the wake of larger companies like Amazon building their own money-moving services. 3. We round up everything Nintendo announced yesterday, from Super Mario Maker 2 to the unexpected remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening. 4. Dog mode is meant to accomplish two things: to keep dogs (or perhaps a hamster or cat) in a climate-controlled environment if left unattended in a vehicle, and to let passersby know their status. 5. Users of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel woke up this morning to find an email in their inboxes warning that their account information had been stolen by a third-party who gained unauthorized access to the company’s systems. 6. Apple was forced to pull the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models from shelves in the country last month, after chipmaker Qualcomm posted security bonds to enforce a December court injunction. 7. Malt has created a marketplace for companies and engineers working as freelancers. There are currently 100,000 freelancers on the platform and 15,000 companies using Malt regularly.
Facebook’s Seattle engineering center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Seattle’s proposed “head tax” would cost Amazon about $20 million annually, earning it the nickname of the “Amazon tax.” But tech giants headquartered hundreds of miles away — including Facebook, Google, Apple, and Uber — could also be subject to the tax if the City Council passes the controversial legislation next week. That’s because each of those companies operates a fast-growing engineering center in Seattle, some with thousands of employees in the city. The tax — which has between Amazon and the tech industry, labor unions, housing advocates, and the City Council — doesn’t discriminate between businesses headquartered in Seattle or outside of it. Instead, it would be calculated based on the amount of money a company makes within Seattle city limits. RELATED CONTENTCheck out GeekWire's established by out-of-town companies. to mine the Seattle region’s world-class talent pool. Many of those companies are located in Seattle, and a number of them could be subject to the proposed tax. The tax has many supporters, including some who say that moderating the tech industry’s expansion in Seattle would be healthy, giving the city a better chance to address the transportation and housing problems that have been exacerbated by the tech boom. But discouraging out-of-town tech companies from setting up shop in Seattle would ultimately be dangerous for the city, contends Jon Scholes, president of the Downtown Seattle Association. “If you have choices of whether you want to be in Kirkland or Bellevue or Seattle and can be in places that don’t have B&O ( business and occupation) and a head tax, but can still draw from the general workforce and talent pool within the region, I think companies are going to seriously consider whether they want to be in Seattle or outside the city limits,” Scholes said. Companies such as eBay and Salesforce, which have engineering centers in nearby Bellevue, Wash., would not have to pay the Seattle tax. That could give those companies a leg up over rivals, with relatively lower expenses for their Seattle-area operations. Here’s how the proposed head tax would work: Companies reporting more than $20 million in annual gross receipts in Seattle would qualify, as long as that money is earned in the city. “Gross receipts,” in this case, means any money the business receives through sales or other means, regardless of profit margins. Seattle would determine which companies are making more than $20 million in the city based on the amount a company pays in the municipal business and B&O tax. For retailers, that number is based on sales to Seattle customers. For service providers, it is calculated using a formula that compares a company’s payroll costs in Seattle to its total payroll, and gross receipts in Seattle to worldwide gross receipts. For any company that meets the threshold, the proposal under consideration would levy a 26 cent tax per employee in Seattle for each hour worked. That amounts to approximately $500 per employee annually. The city is not releasing the list of 585 businesses that would qualify for the tax. GeekWire’s public records request for the list was declined by city this week. But some companies have released enough public information about their employee count and revenue to predict whether they would be taxed. Eight software engineers Take Facebook, for example. The Bay Area tech giant employs at least 2,000 in Seattle, which amounts to about 7.2 percent of the company’s total global workforce. Facebook made $40.6 billion in revenue in 2017. If each employee contributed equally to Facebook’s revenue, then the 2,000 working in Seattle were responsible for about $2.9 billion last year — well above the $20 million threshold that qualifies businesses for the head tax in Seattle. Using those metrics, with 2,000 employees at $500 annually, Facebook would be on the hook for about $1 million a year under the new tax. That’s a small slice of the company’s revenue, but approximately equivalent to the base salaries of eight software engineers, based on . That’s a very rough estimate, but gives a sense for what’s at stake for some of the tech companies that have set up Seattle outposts. While those individual engineering centers may not be as big as Amazon in Seattle, collectively they’ve played a significant role in the city’s tech boom. Seattle over the past decade, nearly a 15 percent increase. Roughly 60 people move to Seattle every day, many of them attracted to high-paying tech jobs in the city. Unemployment in King County stood at 3.4 percent in March, from the Washington State Employment Security Department. Out-of-town tech giants have quickly become some of the city’s top employers. Facebook that could grow its 2,000-person Seattle team by another 1,000 workers. Google employs split across Seattle and a campus in Kirkland, Wash. The search and cloud giant is in the process of building , Amazon’s backyard. Google, Facebook and others didn’t respond to requests for comment. Uber declined to comment. Facebook’s newest office building. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Seattle estimates the new tax — in a state and city that does not impose income taxes — would generate about $75 million per year to build affordable housing and fund services for the homeless. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and others in the business community say they aren’t comfortable with that price tag because there isn’t enough transparency into how the city’s existing $63 million annual homeless services budget and other voter-approved dollars are spent. Addressing the homeless crisis But out this week suggests that number is far too low. The study concluded that it would require about $400 million a year, conservatively, to solve the homelessness crisis in King County. The consulting firm McKinsey and Company originally launched the report in partnership with the Chamber but the business group is no longer affiliated with it, . Seattle’s homeless crisis has been in a state of emergency since 2015. Over the past decade, the population boom and restrictive zoning codes have led to soaring housing costs. Last year, a study found that , behind only New York and Los Angeles. The City Council says it needs more revenue to keep up with the growing crisis, while opponents of the head tax are frustrated that the problem does not appear to be improving despite the city’s growing budget for homeless services. Amazon turned up the heat in an already fiery debate over the head tax last week by on a new office tower at its Seattle headquarters until the City Council votes on the head tax. The company, which employs more than 40,000 people in Seattle and is currently seeking a second headquarters in North America, said it may also put one of its biggest future office spaces — The Rainier Square project — back on the market. The combined projects would house more than 7,000 new Amazon employees. Amazon would bear the brunt of the new tax, paying about $20 million annually. More than 130 business leaders of opposition to the tax this week, submitting an open letter to the city that called the plan “misguided.” Councilmember Kshama Sawant urges Seattle to move forward with proposed head tax and Amazon’s headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) After Amazon’s announcement, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant held a press conference at the tech giant’s headquarters, imploring her colleagues not to back down on the head tax, despite Amazon’s threats. But Sawant struggled to get her message across as dozens of Seattle ironworkers, who could be impacted by an Amazon construction slowdown, Many of those same ironworkers , to voice opposition to the tax for fear they will lose their jobs if it passes. Even more housing advocates showed up to the meeting, stressing the need for more affordable housing. “To the folks who say that this is going to be a job killer, we need folks to build that housing, folks with hard hats, folks in this room,” said Jon Grant, a former City Council candidate, at the meeting Wednesday. The four councilmembers sponsoring the measure following Amazon’s announcement last week, saying in a collective statement that the tax plan was not conceived to target one company, but “Amazon made the conversation about them.” The council still plans to go ahead with a vote on the tax May 14. But the Council isn’t entirely unified on the issue. Councilmember Debora Juarez said at Wednesday’s meeting she wants to find a way to move forward with the plan, but “$500 for a head tax is just too much.” “When you’re just thinking this is against one company,” she said, “you are forgetting the economic ecosystem of the city.”
Facebook is upgrading the status of its Seattle AI research operation. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) After months of work to beef up its artificial intelligence research teams in Seattle and Pittsburgh, Facebook is acknowledging that those two cities are getting official status as AI labs in their own right. “Facebook AI Research is opening two new labs in Seattle and Pittsburgh, which will join the existing sites in Menlo Park, New York, Paris, Montreal and Tel Aviv,” Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, . LeCun’s statement confirms what sources told GeekWire in March about , as well as rumors we heard back then about the social-media giant’s plans for Pittsburgh. As we reported in March, University of Washington computer science professor Luke Zettlemoyer is a key hire for Seattle’s newly designated FAIR lab. At the time, Facebook spokesman Ari Entin said Zettlemoyer would report to Menlo Park, but LeCun’s statement suggests that the Seattle operation will have more autonomy going forward. Two professors from Carnegie Mellon University, Abhinav Gupta and Jessica Hodgins, will be part of the Pittsburgh lab. Gupta specializes in computer vision. Hodgins focuses on computer graphics, animation and robotics, with an emphasis on analyzing human motion. All three professors will retain part-time positions at their universities, LeCun said. Back in March, Entin said Facebook plans to expand its AI research staff even further in Seattle. Referring to Zettlemoyer, he said, “Luke isn’t a single hire and we’re done.” Some worry that Facebook’s recruitment campaign will strain what’s already a highly competitive market for AI experts in Seattle — particularly when it comes to training the next generation of researchers. Zettlemoyer, for example, was recruited from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, where he led the . After his departure, AI2 has continued to hire high-profile AI specialists, including as well as UW professors Noah Smith and Yejin Choi — who, like Zettlemoyer, are experts in natural language processing, or NLP. AI2’s creator, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, , the institute’s effort to develop AI agents with more common sense. As an added inducement, AI2 is making allowances for researchers to keep their university posts and collaborate with commercial AI ventures. Despite the added resources and wide leeway, it’s getting tougher to hold onto AI talent — due in part to Facebook’s recruitment drive. “What are the ethics of a major corporation suddenly going after the entire NLP faculty in a computer science department? I believe their original offers had the faculty members spending 80 percent of their time at Facebook, which would not allow them time to carry out their educational responsibilities at UW,” AI2’s chief executive officer, Oren Etzioni, told GeekWire in an email. “Has Facebook’s motto evolved into: ‘Move fast, and break academia’?” he asked. A quoted UW computer science professor Dan Weld as also voicing concern about Facebook’s drive. “It is worrisome that they are eating the seed corn,” Weld said. “If we lose all our faculty, it will be hard to keep preparing the next generation of researchers.” In his Facebook posting, LeCun took issue with the criticism. He noted that many FAIR researchers spend some of their time at universities, and that FAIR labs host resident graduate students as well. “This new modus operandi is redefining the relationship between academic research and industry research,” LeCun said. He said The New York Times’ report “erroneously qualifies this evolution as a ‘brain drain’ from academia.” “Facebook is careful not to deplete universities from their best faculty, by making it easy to maintain sizeable research and teaching activities in their academic labs,” LeCun wrote. “In fact, making these part-time splits possible is precisely the reason why we have been establishing labs in New York, Paris, Montreal, Tel Aviv, and now Seattle and Pittsburgh. It is the proximity to leading universities with talented faculty and the existence of a local talent pool that attract us.”