Apple suppliers say iPhone demand is weak. Analysts disagree - Protocol

2022-04-25 07:28:14 By : Mr. Lincoln Wang

An Apple supplier says demand for consumer electronics is plummeting, but Bank of America analysts say people are still buying iPhones.

Reports that Apple is seeing weakened iPhone demand may not be all that they seem.

Recent reports of Apple cutting iPhone SE production orders would indicate that demand for the world's most popular smartphone is falling. Add TSMC Chairman Mark Liu's comments this week that the chip supplier is seeing weakened demand for consumer electronics like “smartphones, PCs, and TVs, especially in China, the biggest consumer market,” and it would appear Apple might have a big problem on its hands. But analysts argue that iPhone demand is still strong.

Liu was speaking in his capacity as head of the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association. However, he addressed TSMC’s prospects directly, also saying that the company would probably not be changing its growth targets or expenditures this year because it expects automotive and high-performing computing demand would make up for the decline in consumer products. Nikkei Asia had previously reported that an anonymous supplier said Apple planned to cut iPhone SE production orders by 20% next quarter, and AirPod orders by 10 million in 2022.

But Bank of America analysts pushed back, writing that recent articles “might lead some investors to think there is risk to demand” in a note to investors. Instead, analysts said that they “believe demand for iPhones remains strong based on our analysis of iPhone trade-in prices.” The bank upgraded AAPL to “to buy” in December, saying it saw a 20% upside.

Apple lowered the trade-in value of an iPhone 12 Pro Max from $700 to $650, indicating that the company doesn't need to convince buyers to trade in older iPhones for newer ones. The company also now offers a more attractive option for customers who have avoided trading in their phones because of the high costs of new models: the relatively inexpensive $429 iPhone SE.

These are indicators that Apple can tap a more budget-minded market, bank analysts said. Chinese customers can still trade in iPhones as old as the 2014 iPhone 6, while a survey the bank conducted in January demonstrated that a quarter of global users have an iPhone 8 or older. That's a lot of people who will soon need to buy a new iPhone, and analysts are arguing that they are now more likely to do so.

Want your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get Protocol's daily newsletter.

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Thank you for signing up. Please check your inbox to verify your email.

Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.

A login link has been emailed to you - please check your inbox.

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering breaking news. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The long-awaited Digital Services Act proposal aims its toughest rules at illegal content and goods on Big Tech platforms like Meta, Google and Amazon, but the measure will also place requirements on internet providers, cloud hosting, app stores, domain name registrars and smaller social media and e-commerce companies.

The agreement on the DSA, which still requires all-but-inevitable approval from the bloc's authorities, comes just a month after a final accord on the Digital Markets Act, which would fundamentally remake the business practices of the largest tech companies. The EU is also preparing to take on artificial intelligence in coming months and years.

Together, they represent a sweeping European effort to regulate tech commerce, from distribution to consumer experiences, often aiming at powerful U.S. companies and setting a regulatory stage that will affect businesses around the world. Those large, mostly American, tech giants can face "sanctions of up to 6% of global turnover or even a ban on operating in the EU single market in case of repeated serious breaches," according to a summary from the European Commission. The full text of the legislation was not immediately available.

In addition to algorithmic transparency for content and product promotion and the ban on targeting kids with ads, the DSA would also impose "limits on the use of sensitive personal data for targeted advertising," reportedly including gender, race and religion. It would also force companies to put in place systems for flagging illegal goods and content and for faster removal.

"It gives practical effect to the principle that what is illegal offline, should be illegal online," said Ursula von der Leyen, the commission's president, in a statement.

In addition to illegal content, the DSA also aims at harmful content, such as viral "dangerous disinformation."

While the DSA springs from serious concern by world leaders about the spread of harm at digital scale, it's also prompted warnings that efforts to combat such dangers have sometimes resulted in platforms shutting down legal but controversial speech.

The Financial Times is offering climate nerds their dream: A chance to get the world to net zero. In game form, that is.

The outlet dropped the aptly named “The Climate Game” for Earth Week (yeah, it's not just a day anymore). If you have not played the game yet, go forth and do that now if you want because there are spoilers to come below.

The game challenges you to get the world to net zero between now and 2050 in order to avert the worst effects of global warming. It addresses many major sectors, from electricity to buildings, and transport to industry. I must confess that while I kept the planet’s warming to 1.48 degrees Celsius in my first attempt (a victory of sorts!), I did not manage to hit the net zero goal until round two.

At the risk of sounding defensive — something my sister would say is typical of my approach to losing — I have a couple of theories about my loss. The first: I would argue that the game gives more weight to public opinion than our current approach to policymaking does.

For instance, when I came to the question of how to get public opinion on my side in light of some voters’ concerns about electricity bills soaring, I answered “just ignore them, they’re wrong.” We've got a planet to save here, people! This bout of cynicism was apparently not the right move, as the game is built on the premise that getting the public on board is crucial.

Which … yes, I agree. However, countless polls show the public is increasingly invested in climate action. In telling them to deal with it, I figured that if a majority was in favor of doing something about climate change and only “some voters” resisted aggressive climate action in this imaginary world, why should that slow us down?

According to Pippa, my visiting friend who I prodded to play it, the game responded with similar alarm to her decision to announce that all protein in diets must now come from insects. And my attempt to go bold with a $1,000 per ton price on carbon also caused public outcry in the Financial Times' imaginary world. But I kept warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, saving countless fictional lives in the process. Does it matter that a small constituency got mad?

The section on transportation focused almost entirely on electric vehicles, which also mucked up my first attempt. Initially, I didn’t invest enough in decarbonizing vehicles because I wrongly assumed I could wait for an opportunity to invest in public transportation. While electrifying cars is great, getting more people walking or riding bikes or using buses is a less glamorous but no less crucial piece of the climate-saving puzzle.

Don't get me wrong, though. I love this game. And I actually think it's a good thing that different people can have different approaches to solving the climate crisis. A confluence of approaches is what we need!

I like that the game forces the player to skirt investments or decisions that will be a waste of effort (quantified in the game, though let’s hope effort is more easily plumbed in the real world). Pippa was rightfully skeptical of an option to invest in drone technology for reforestation, while I should have invested in sustainable aviation fuel. (It simply slipped my mind. Sorry, virtual world!)

Games like this can also make dense reports like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change one that recently came out much more accessible. Pippa played three times (and successfully reached net zero in her second attempt), which more than even the most climate-interested person can say about reading the IPCC.

The Financial Times released a cheat sheet, ostensibly for the game but also — let’s be honest — one that could be converted into a checklist for policymakers. But playing is a lot more fun. Someone get this on every member of Congress' iPad ASAP.

Netflix’s stock price has fallen almost 70% since November, and employees aren’t happy about it.

According to the Information, Netflix employees asked the company’s leaders on Wednesday to issue them more equity grants to offset the drop. Shares of Netflix declined 35% that day( after the company revealed that it had lost subscribers for the first time in a decade and could lose another 2 million in the coming quarter.

The company’s plummeting stock price hits employees hard because of its startup-like approach to compensation: Netflix grants options to its employees rather than restricted stock units. As the Information points out, options, unlike RSUs, lose all their value once the price drops below the exercise price.

Netflix employees can sell quickly because the options grant every month and vest immediately, an unusual arrangement. Option grants more typically vest over time and are often granted on a quarterly basis.

Netflix employees also decide how much of their pay comes from stock and how much comes in cash. The company’s co-CEOs have made different choices about this: While both earned $34.65 million last year, Reed Hastings took 98% of it in stock while Ted Sarandos only took 42% in stock, according to the Information.

The person running a company worth $63 billion would like you to address him as "Block Head." That's Jack Dorsey's new title, according to words written on a document uploaded by a person to a server maintained by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Dorsey has long preferred "head" or "lead" to more conventional titles like "senior vice president." Except for Block CFO Amrita Ahuja, all of Block's executives are "leads." As CNBC reminisced, Dorsey wrote in 2012 that "titles, like 'CEO,' get in the way of doing the right thing." Shortly after he tweeted that, Dorsey revealed he had cut back on the time he was spending as executive chairman of Twitter to focus on his payments company, then known as Square.

Dorsey gave up the CEO title at Twitter last year and has said he will soon step down from its board, where he has served as a director since the company's earliest days. That's the same board that he thinks is marred by "dysfunction," which, well, takes one to know one.

Elon Musk, who is trying to buy Twitter, shares Musk's aversion to conventional titles. On words written on a document uploaded by a person to a server maintained by the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Tesla announced Musk would henceforth be known as "Technoking" and Tesla CFO Zach Kirkhorn would be referred to as "Master of Coin." But Dorsey went further than Musk. Because Musk and Kirkhorn apparently just can't be bothered to amend bylaws, they retained their titles as chief executive officer and chief financial officer. Otherwise, you know, paperwork.

We tend to think of things like "CEOs" and "chairpersons" as things that, you know, companies have, because reasons. But those titles are only important inasmuch as they are required by company bylaws. Apple's bylaws, for example, don't actually require that its board have a chair, and for years when Steve Jobs was CEO, it went without one.

Twitter is tackling climate denialism as an Earth Day treat. The social media platform announced on Friday that it will now ban ads that spout climate change denial and propaganda.

That means blocking ads that are misleading and "contradict the scientific consensus on climate change." That consensus is underscored by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which Twitter said would help inform its policy. The company said in its announcement that climate denial "shouldn’t be monetized" on the platform, and ads supporting it shouldn't "detract from important conversations about the climate crisis."

"We recognize that misleading information about climate change can undermine efforts to protect the planet," Twitter's director of Sustainability Seán Boyle and global sustainability manager Casey Junod wrote. "In the coming months, we’ll have more to share on our work to add reliable, authoritative context to the climate conversations happening on Twitter."

Twitter implemented a feature last year that directs users to credible information on climate change, which is available in the Explore tab, Search and Trends. If you're the type of person who loves to share or consume climate denial in a non-monetized fashion, though, Twitter will still allow that. Facebook has pursued a similar strategy, creating its so-called Climate Science Center while allowing denial on the platform. The Facebook Papers revealed that the Climate Science Center hasn't been overly effective.

Earlier this month, Pinterest announced that it would take down false and misleading information related to climate change and conspiracy theories in both content and ads, the first policy of its kind to tackle both. Google stopped showing ads on YouTube with false information about climate change last October, but has yet to explicitly ban content containing climate change misinformation. Facebook also labels climate misinformation in posts, though reports show that it only catches about half of the misinformation on its platform.

Though the new policy tackles misinformation, it could be subject to change if Elon Musk's offer to buy the company is successful. Musk has long been a self-proclaimed "free speech absolutist." And while two of his businesses are focused on turning the tide on the climate crisis, he would likely want to reduce content moderation on the platform (in addition to the damn edit button). Whether that means letting a thousand climate denial ads bloom is TBD, though.

Honda is working on three new electric vehicle platforms with the goal of getting small, medium and large EVs on the road by 2030. The news is particularly noteworthy because Honda's goal is to make EVs more affordable — and while plenty of electric cars are in the works, few of them have price tags below $30,000.

Honda's global head of Electrification Shinji Aoyama told Reuters that the company is working on two new platforms, one for mini EVs that will be available in Japan by 2024 and one for full-sized EVs that will roll out in North America in 2026. A third, previously announced platform for medium-sized cars is being developed in partnership with GM, and Aoyama said cars based on that platform will start rolling out in North America by 2027.

"Whether they will be based on Honda's architecture or on GM's platform has not been decided," Aoyama told Reuters.

Honda is also in talks with GM to develop a new solid-state battery for EVs, which would be a noteworthy breakthrough. Current lithium-ion EV batteries are subject to risks like bursting into flames (yikes), and a solid-state battery would be far more stable. It would also be able to store more electricity.

Aoyama said in a separate interview with Bloomberg that Honda plans to start piloting a solid-state battery program in 2024 with an eye toward production in toward the end of the decade.

Honda's announcement forecasts a wave of potentially affordable EVs rolling into the market (supply chain issues notwithstanding) over the next five to eight years. Ford recently split into two in order to streamline EV production, and is creating its own platforms as well as batteries and charging tech. Volkswagen, Toyota and Hyundai are all also working on their own electric vehicle platforms.

Honda's goal is to build 2 million EVs by 2030, with 750,000 to 800,000 built in North America (including the ones developed with GM). Aoyama told Reuters it's still unclear whether the GM/Honda vehicles will be built at a GM plant or a Honda one, and offered no additional details as to what the cars will be.

Separately, GM is building two electric SUVs for Honda in North America beginning in 2024. GM's Cadillac Lyriq platform will be the foundation of those premium vehicles, and GM's Ultium batteries will power them.

It started with a tweet. And like many Elon Musk tweets, it wasn’t immediately clear if it was something to take seriously. But his promise to offer a $100 million prize for carbon dioxide removal was indeed serious. And on Friday, a group of 15 "milestone winners" took home $1 million each.

The $100 million competition to suck carbon from thin air is being run by the nonprofit XPrize. The 15 companies and research teams who won the milestone money use a variety of techniques to pull carbon from the sky and are a small number of the 1,132 teams in the competition.

The winners come from the U.S., the Netherlands, the U.K., Iceland, France, Kenya, the Philippines, Australia and Canada. The techniques are even more diverse the geographies the group hails from. One company uses targeted algae farming to help regrow rainforests while another uses mine waste to sequester carbon. Not all carbon removal tech is about massive machines sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, though one company that does just that was also a winner.

In addition to the $15 million distributed today, the competition will award three final winners $80 million in 2025. XPrize’s stated goal is to scale climate solutions so that at least 10 gigatons of carbon can be collected per year by 2050. For reference, yearly global carbon dioxide emissions were more than 36 gigatons last year. Meanwhile, one of the biggest carbon dioxide removal plants in the world captures just three seconds' worth of the world's annual emissions.

Other tech companies and venture capital firms have also recently thrown their hats in the carbon removal ring. Alphabet, Stripe and Meta have joined forces in a new venture called Frontier that's promised to purchase $925 million in carbon dioxide removal. Lowercarbon Capital has raised $350 million for a carbon removal fund, and other firms are also spending big bucks on startups sucking carbon from the sky.

While the world will need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a much larger scale to stave off catastrophic climate change, the scale the competition is calling for is on the extremely high end. It's an outlier from a 2017 United Nations report, and more recent estimates — in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that just came out, as well as other analyses — are much lower. Aiming for 10 gigatons, though, reflects some of the challenges with letting billionaires set the climate agenda. The reality is we'll only need that much carbon dioxide removal if the world keeps burning fossil fuels and polluting the atmosphere.

Prizes for removing carbon could help drive some of the technological innovation we need, but they also risk limiting attention on the solutions we desperately need to deploy at a much more rapid pace starting now like wind, solar, battery storage and energy efficiency. Those solutions are less splashy and some — like reducing energy demand — would curtail the lifestyles of the same wealthy people touting carbon dioxide removal at such a massive scale.

Time will tell whether the 15 groups that Xprize and Musk have identified as promising will have the ability to scale up. But regardless, we can hold our collective breath and wait to find out.

Republicans tend to like Elon Musk. They're rooting for him as he tries to buy Twitter. And now, they want Twitter to keep a paper trail of Musk's attempt to take it over. That way, it'll be much easier to examine Twitter if and when it rejects Musk's bid.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee asked Twitter chairman Bret Taylor and other members of the company's board to keep a record of any back-and-forth related to Musk's offer to buy the company, according to a letter shared with CNBC. Musk said Thursday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that he had secured enough funding — $46.5 billion — to make good on his offer to purchase Twitter.

“As Congress continues to examine Big Tech and how to best protect Americans’ free speech rights, this letter serves as a formal request that you preserve all records and materials relating to Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter, including Twitter’s consideration and response to this offer, and Twitter’s evaluation of its shareholder interests with respect to Musk’s offer,” the lawmakers wrote.

If Republicans successfully take control of the House following November's midterm election this fall, they would be able to subpoena records and launch an investigation into Twitter, especially if the company rejects Musk's offer. Right-wing politicians, commentators and other figures, especially those still upset about Donald Trump's ban from Twitter, are cheering for the self-proclaimed "free speech absolutist" to win. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has already threatened Twitter with a lawsuit if the purchase doesn't go through.

The lawmakers also wrote that they're concerned about "outsider opposition to Musk's role in Twitter's future." Twitter employees have pushed back on Musk's attempts to buy the company, raising concerns that Musk would reverse the platform's hard-won work around content moderation and user safety. Twitter itself is also enacting a so-called "poison pill" to make it harder for a purchase to happen.

"Twitter’s board members have fiduciary duties to the company’s shareholders," the letter states. "These duties apply despite how many corporations’ leaders increasingly pursue progressive policy goals divorced from shareholder interests."

Tech companies may be slowly shrinking the gender gap, according to a new study from Deloitte. It predicts that tech firms will reach nearly 33% female representation in 2022, up more than two percentage points from 2019. Leadership roles are seeing the most growth in female representation at nearly 20%.

Deloitte predicts that one in four leadership roles at large tech companies will be held by women in 2022. It cites tech leaders' pledges to hire more women and people of color: HP and Intel have set gender and racial equality goals to reach by 2030.

Still, tech has a long way to go. Retaining employees needs to be a focus as well. In February, Protocol found that tech has a C-suite retention problem. Women and people of color who make it to leadership don't last as long in their roles as white and male execs. Men across Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft stay in their roles for an average eight years, while women stay for 6.4 years. White execs also stay for around eight years, while Asian leaders hover around five years, Black leaders around six years and Hispanic leaders around four years.

Twitter is going to start letting creators have the option to access their earnings through a crypto payout pilot program with Stripe Connect, Stripe announced in a blog post on Friday.

While the social media giant already uses Connect to pay its creators, Twitter will be the first company to integrate the new crypto payout feature, with expected rollout to other businesses in the next few weeks.

The payouts will take place on the Polygon network, which according to Stripe, was chosen “for its low fees, speed, integration with Ethereum, and broad wallet compatibility,” signifying a major endorsement of the chain.

As creators will be initially paid in the stablecoin USDC, issued by Circle, creators can then either hold their balance on Polygon or convert it to another type of crypto through an Ethereum bridge. Stripe also plans to “add support for additional rails and payout currencies over time,” as well as add crypto payout support in over 120 countries by the end of the year.

After suspending its support for bitcoin payments in 2018, Stripe is just one of many payment companies to continue its foray into the crypto space. Other companies like Visa, Mastercard, Block and PayPal have also delved into the digital asset industry as the spotlight on crypto continues to grow.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is asking us to once again consider the relationship between private space companies and NASA. In an op-ed published in The Guardian on Friday, he said he's worried the venerable space agency is basically turning into "an ATM machine" to facilitate the space race between Blue Origin and SpaceX. That, in turn, raises questions about if the final frontier will be privatized.

"If we are going to send more human beings to the moon and eventually to Mars, who will control the enterprise and what will be the purpose of that exploration? Will the goal be to benefit the people of the United States and the entire world, or will it be a vast boondoggle to make billionaires even richer and open up outer space to corporate greed and exploitation?" Sanders wrote.

His remarks come as Congress looks to give NASA $10 billion, some of which would go toward the organization's public-private partnership to land on the moon by 2025. Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin will almost certainly vie for a new lunar lander deal after it was passed over by NASA in favor of Elon Musk's SpaceX for a different contract last year.

Blue Origin isn't a lock to win the award, of course. The private space race includes not just Bezos' and Musk's companies, but others, such as ULA, that could also throw their hat in the ring. But Blue Origin and SpaceX have been front and center in competing for federal contracts, with the former even suing NASA after SpaceX won the initial lunar lander contract. (The suit failed.) The fact that Blue Origin and SpaceX are owned by the two richest people on Earth has added another layer of intrigue.

None of this has sat well with the senator from Vermont. A few weeks ago, Sanders tweeted that Bezos doesn't need that money to fund his space ambitions. "If you're worth $180 BILLION, if you've got mansions and a superyacht, if your hobby is trying to go to the moon or Mars or wherever, you're doing pretty well for yourself," he wrote.

In the Guardian piece, Sanders expanded on why he sees the private space contracts as a form of welfare for the wealthiest people on the planet. He wrote the private space industry is "already very profitable and has the potential to become exponentially more profitable in the future. Bank of America predicts that over the next eight years the space economy will triple in size to $1.4tn – that’s trillion with a 't.'"

Blue Origin and SpaceX did not immediately return Protocol's request for comment.

Sanders' op-ed comes as the world's tech titans play an increasingly large role in shaping public life and solutions to pressing problems. Bill Gates has plowed money into public health, including vaccine development, while arguing in favor of companies holding on to intellectual property rights. (After criticism, his foundation said it supported a "narrow waiver during the pandemic" for COVID-19 vaccine IP.) Addressing climate change has also come into focus. Bezos, Gates and other tech leaders have pursued philanthropic efforts as well as started venture capital funds that are plowing big money into speculative but necessary tech like carbon dioxide removal.

A key federal regulator said Anchorage Digital, the first federally-chartered digital asset bank, violated rules for monitoring money laundering.

The crypto company, which helps institutions buy, store and manage their digital assets, “failed to adopt and implement” required measures “for monitoring suspicious activity,” the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Thursday.

“When institutions fall short, we will take action and hold them accountable to ensure compliance with federal laws and regulations,” acting OCC head Michael Hsu said in a statement.

The action is not expected to have an impact on Anchorage’s operations. The OCC noted that the company has “begun corrective action” to comply with anti-money laundering monitoring regulations. In a statement, Anchorage said it is “working to strengthen the areas identified” by the OCC.

Anchorage is considered a trailblazer in the crypto industry as a provider of digital assets custody and management services. The company got conditional approval for a national trust charter from the OCC in January 2021.

In July 2021, the U.S. Marshals Service signed a deal with Anchorage to help the law enforcement agency store and manage digital assets seized from criminal organizations and individuals.

Anchorage helped Visa buy CryptoPunk #7610, the payments giant's first NFT purchase.

But the OCC order underscores the heightened focus on anti-money laundering and KYC measures embraced by crypto companies.

"The very design of these platforms seems to be tilting us in the wrong direction," Obama said in a speech at Stanford University Thursday. "And we're seeing the results. The fact that scientists developed safe, effective vaccines in record time is an unbelievable achievement. Yet despite the fact that we know essentially clinically tested the vaccine on billions of people worldwide, around one in five Americans is still willing to put themselves at risk and put their families at risk, rather than get vaccinated. People are dying because of misinformation."

Misinformation on platforms have caused people to lose their ability to distinguish between fact, opinion and "wholesale fiction," Obama said, and while platforms have implemented some measures to moderate content and add friction, tech companies alone shouldn't decide how to tackle harmful content.

"These companies are still way too guarded about how exactly their standards operate or how their engagement ranking systems influence what goes viral, and what doesn't," Obama said.

"These platforms need to be subjected to some level of public oversight and regulation."

Obama, using harsher language than he has in the past, pressed tech companies to become more transparent with their algorithms and pushed for changes to Section 230. He doesn't think the law, which limits the legal liability of tech platforms for the content published on them, should be repealed entirely, but it should be reformed to account for the changes platforms have gone through over the past couple decades. He called for the act to require a "higher standard of care" when it comes to advertising.

"Let's face it, these platforms are not like your old phone company," Obama said.

Lawmakers are currently working to reform Sec. 230 with a bill that would force large tech platforms to face consequences if their algorithms drive real-world harm.

He also addressed the harms of maximizing engagement on social media platforms in the name of ad revenue. Obama blamed tech platforms for accelerating the decline of traditional media, saying newsrooms have been forced to adapt to fast-paced platforms while facing increased pressure to monetize there.

"As more ad revenue flows to the platforms that disseminate the news, rather than money going to the newsrooms ... publishers reporters and editors all feel the pressure to maximize engagement," he said.

One of Obama's key proposals was that platforms open up about their algorithms. He said the problem with online disinformation isn't only the content posted, but the way platforms amplify it: "Algorithms have gotten to the point where nobody on the outside of these companies can accurately predict what they'll do."

Elon Musk's Boring Company just raised a fresh round of funding to build out its Loop project, an ambitious zero-emissions underground public transportation network that Musk has promised will help "defeat traffic." The company's first Loop is beneath the Las Vegas Convention Center, where it ferries passengers around in Teslas from one side of the massive complex to another, but will eventually extend to the Las Vegas Strip, the airport, and even Los Angeles, the company has said.

The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $675 million, bringing its total valuation to $5.7 billion. The funding will be dedicated to increasing hiring in engineering, operations, and production, as well as accelerating research on Prufrock, the company's proprietary tunnel boring machine designed to "construct mega-infrastructure projects in a matter of weeks instead of years," its announcement reads.

“Defeating traffic is the ultimate boss battle," Musk said in a statement. "Even the most powerful humans in the world cannot defeat traffic.”

Last October, Clark County Commissioners approved the full Vegas Loop, which will stretch 29 miles and include 51 stations. The current LVCC Loop is just 1.7 miles with three stations. The Boring Company will use the funding to build out the larger Loop, and also hinted at other Loop projects in development.

It's possible that the Vegas Loop will alleviate the city's traffic congestion, but $675 million also could've gone a long way toward building out a reliable, proven method of public transportation like a subway, or even extending the Las Vegas Monorail so it connects to actually useful places like the airport and downtown. It remains to be seen if Tesla tunnels are the public transit system of the future.

During Tesla's earnings call on Wednesday, Musk also hyped Tesla's long-awaited RoboTaxi, which is essentially a driverless Uber that also promises to be... a very big deal, or something. Tesla is slated to host a product event next year to launch the RoboTaxi for real this time, and is aiming for volume production in 2024.

"Looking at some of our projections, it would appear that a RoboTaxi ride will cost less than a ... subsidized bus ticket or a subsidized subway ticket," Musk said.

You know what's better than just listening to podcasts? Watching them.

Spotify is finally picking up on that by introducing video podcasts in the U.S. and a few other countries. Podcasters will be able to upload their video through Anchor, Spotify's podcast creator tool it bought in 2019. Those who subscribe to Spotify's podcasts will have access to the videos, and the videos will work with embeds.

The platform has been working on it since at least mid-2020 when it tested video podcasts with two YouTubers. Now, it's really leaning into it at a time when video podcasts are growing in popularity.

YouTube has already had major success with video podcasting, and it's grown its efforts over the past few months. It promoted Kai Chuk to lead its podcasting push late last year, and sources told Bloomberg last month that it's offering grants of up to $300,000 for creators to upload video versions of their podcasts on the platform. YouTube also lets Premium subscribers listen to videos without needing to stay on its app, which Spotify will also allow with this initiative.

Being able to watch and listen to a podcast is helpful for both the creator and viewer. Creators get a two-for-one on content. Video is much more likely to be shared than audio, which explains why some of YouTube's most popular podcasts are the ones you can actually see. As the Verge pointed out, Elon Musk's appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast got a ton of attention after Musk could be seen smoking a blunt on-air.

On the viewer side, it's like getting to know your favorite podcaster on a more personal level. You can see them, their hand gestures and facial expressions. Say I'm, I don't know, a Taylor Swift superfan and she creates her own podcast. You bet I'll be watching it over breakfast every morning. And if I'm too busy to sit down and watch the whole thing, I know I can always have the option to listen to it. You know, the old-fashioned way. Having options is great. [Editor's note: I aged 10 years just reading this. -BK]

Spotify is looking to cash in on some of that video engagement with its new effort. "We’ve found that podcasters love having the option to accompany their audio with visual components, and fans love having the opportunity to more deeply connect with the content," the platform said in a release.

Alan Davidson, the Commerce Department official overseeing the disbursement of $42 billion in federal funds for building out broadband infrastructure, told Protocol the "starting gun" of the program will go off May 16, when states can officially start declaring they want the money.

The five-year plans that states are supposed to develop next, though, could hit immediate roadblocks. Those plans are dependent on identifying which areas are unserved and underserved by broadband, as measured on Federal Communications Commission maps that have been delayed for years.

"That timeline depends quite a bit on when the FCC maps are in shape to to be available for that purpose," Davidson, the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told Protocol during a Thursday event on the infrastructure bill's rollout.

The states won't be totally on their own, Davidson said: The NTIA has "some great maps" available to compensate for the notoriously insufficient ones the FCC currently makes available. Many states have also done their own mapping, and communities often have a robust sense of local broadband coverage, he said.

"Our hope is that — working with local communities, working with the mapping data that's available — states can begin their planning," Davidson said. "Then when we have the final maps, we'll be able to make those final determinations about allocations and ultimately where to deploy."

States also get $5 million just for planning, but Davidson said the official maps are undeniably "critical."

In the meantime, he said, the FCC and NTIA are "working hard to make sure the maps are ready as soon as possible."

Amazon has launched a new $1 billion fund to invest in companies that will make delivery faster, further automate warehouses and, ideally, improve worker safety.

The new fund's first round of investment includes Modjoul, a wearable safety technology company that's main product is a belt that gathers biomechanical data on workers and is intended to reduce musculoskeletal injuries for warehouse workers. In addition, Amazon used the fund to invest in several robotics companies that make walking robots, robotic arms and other automated technologies for warehouses.

The Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund "will invest in companies that imagine solutions that incrementally increase delivery speed and further improve the experience of employees working in warehousing and logistics fields," the company wrote in a press release.

Manufacturing issues, chip shortages and supply chain bottlenecks markedly reduced profits for Amazon and its competitors in 2021. Those issues have continued into 2022 and could continue to be a problem. While the fund alone won't solve them, it could help buffer Amazon from the impacts.

The retail giant has also struggled to recruit enough workers to supply its massive and growing logistics network. The company cited increased labor costs and new hiring incentives as major reasons for high operating costs in its October 2021 earnings report.

Over the past several years, the company has seen warehouse injury rates above the national averages. A report out this month from Strategic Organizing Center, a pro-union organizing group, revealed that Amazon's warehouse injury rates continue to sit at about double that of its major competitors, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration data. Worker safety at Amazon's warehouses has become a national flashpoint, particularly in the wake of a tornado that killed six Amazon workers in Edwardsville, Illinois, last December.

“Even as we have continually improved our operations to better the employee experience and enhanced safety through the development of new workstations with better ergonomics, we hope this fund opens the door for more collaboration,” said Alex Ceballos Encarnacion, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide corporate development, in the press release.

European YouTube and and Search users will now have the option to reject all cookies when they visit websites. Previously, the company offered users a range of options to customize their cookie preferences, with a single, bolded button suggesting they should “accept all.” If users wanted to customize their preferences, they were forced to navigate through different menus in a tedious process. Clicking “accept all" was simply easier. (We've all been there.)

France argued that those options made it more difficult for users to control how they were tracked online, and actually constituted a dark pattern scheme to encourage users to permit cookies. Because of this, the French regulator CNIL fined Google €150 million (the agency also fined Facebook for similar reasons). CNIL also threatened an additional €100,000 per day in fines should the company not comply with the country’s regulations within three months.

Google said in a blog post explaining the change that it also needed to adapt to updated rules in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.K.. “We’re committed to meeting the standards of that updated guidance and have been working with a number of these authorities,” the company said.

The cookie pop-ups are a result of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which went into effect in 2018. The rules require companies to give users the option to consent or opt out of being tracked around the web. Last summer the EU fine-tuned the rules on cookies, saying that walls which restrict a user who declines cookies from accessing content were prohibited. Regulators also said that companies needed to offer users a clear way to opt out of consenting to cookies, as Europeans had been complaining that the web became unusable because of all the options they had to click through. (Relatable.)

And while Google hasn't yet tweaked its options for American users, tech companies had to make changes to adhere to GDPR's privacy requirements that ended up benefitting users globally. Fingers crossed the "reject all cookies" option makes it across the pond, too.

The world's most famous tennis star is doubling down on her tech focus, investing in a startup with the goal of adding more than 100,000 Black engineers to the industry within the next decade.

Serena Williams is making "a strategic investment" in interviewing company Karat to "significantly scale" its Brilliant Black Minds program, which gives free interview practice, feedback and coaching for aspiring Black software engineers. The investment was for an undisclosed amount.

A Seattle-based startup that helps companies interview candidates remotely, Karat has grown significantly over the last few years, raising $110 million in 2021 in a Series C funding round led by Tiger Global that values the company at $1.1 billion. It calls its flagship product the "Interviewing Cloud," essentially an "interviewing-as-a-service" platform which trains technical interviewers to conduct live technical interviews.

This isn't Williams's first rodeo investing in the tech sector. She has her own VC firm, Serena Ventures, which raised $111 million in its inaugural fund and launched in 2014.

This specific investment will focus on closing what Karat calls the "Interview Access Gap," which according to the company disproportionately impacts Black software engineers, of which only 50% have experienced a technical interview before looking for a job. The gist is that more interview practice means a greater shot at success, with Karat survey respondents with more than three practice interviews reporting being six times more likely to have an engineering internship than those that have never had a practice interview.

“The technology industry is focused on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. My focus is ensuring the solutions to those challenges are developed by all of us,” Williams said in a statement.

For context, only 5% of all software engineers in the U.S. are Black, a consequence of structural inequities like limited early exposure to STEM curriculum, as well as fewer professional networks and access to opportunities and industry connections.

CNN+ will celebrate its one-month anniversary by shutting down.

According to Variety, CNN’s incoming CEO Chris Licht invited staffers to a meeting at noon ET on Thursday, at which the announcement was said to be made official.

The service will officially shutter on April 30, according to an email Licht sent to CNN+ staffers that was obtained by Axios.

"In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in service, which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings," Licht wrote.

Whether CNN+ was successful or not is up to debate — the service had a reported 150,000 subscribers three weeks after its launch, with a goal of signing up 2 million in its first year. However, its launch coincided with the corporate merger of Discovery and WarnerMedia, and it became clear quickly that Discovery’s leadership had no interest in a separate news subscription service. Discovery executives quickly ceased marketing spend to promote the service and laid off CNN's chief financial officer.

CNN+ staffers will continue to be paid and receive benefits for 90 days while they are given the opportunity to apply for other positions within CNN and Warner Bros. Discovery. Licht also announced that CNN+ head Andrew Morse will leave the company.

"While today's decision is incredibly difficult, it is the right one for the long-term success of CNN," Licht concluded in his email to staff. "It allows us to refocus resources on the core products that drive our singular focus: further enhancing CNN's journalism and its reputation as a global news leader."

It’s expected that some of the CNN+ catalog, including shows like the late Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” will find its way to HBO Max. The fate of the service’s new programming, and new interactive formats like the “Interview Club,” is unknown at this time.

Sheryl Sandberg is now under an internal investigation at Meta related to her attempts to pressure a U.K. newspaper against reporting a negative story about Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. The report on Kotick was ultimately never published, though it's not clear how large a role Sandberg's intervention may have played.

Sandberg and Kotick began dating starting in 2016, and the relationship lasted three years. In that time, Sandberg reportedly tried to dissuade The Daily Mail on two separate occasions against reporting on a temporary restraining order taken out against Kotick by a former partner. The report states that the former girlfriend ended her relationship with Kotick in March 2014 and called the police on the executive after he showed up unannounced to her home, resulting in an emergency protective order and eventual temporary restraining order that lasted roughly three weeks.

The WSJ reports that there were representatives of both Meta and Activision Blizzard involved in the effort to squash the story, in addition to third-party legal and public relations advisors, with the goal of minimizing damage to Sandberg's reputation and her advocacy efforts for women in the workplace.

At the crux of the matter were disagreements about how severe the situation with Kotick really was, and whether Sandberg's intervention into the matter constituted a threat. The WSJ report says Sandberg personally contacted The Daily Mail to inform the paper that the restraining order had been retracted and that it was based on misleading or false accusations against her then-boyfriend. Kotick had reportedly told associates that Sandberg threatened The Daily Mail by telling the paper its relationship with Facebook would be in jeopardy if it published the story.

Kotick denied the claim in a statement to the WSJ, saying, "I never said anything like that," and told the outlet that the story never ran in the Daily Mail because it was untrue. A representative for Sandberg also denied the claim she threatened the tabloid. "Sheryl Sandberg never threatened the MailOnline’s business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision. This story attempts to make connections that don’t exist," a Meta spokesperson told Protocol in a statement.

In a statement to Protocol, the Activision Blizzard Board of Directors said it "continues to have full confidence" in Kotick's leadership:

In a statement to Protocol, Kotick's former girlfriend, who is not disclosing her name publicly, said, "“I told the Wall Street Journal that what I said 8 years ago about Bobby was false. It is still false. In fact, in 2014, I signed a sworn statement making clear that what I had said was untrue. Nonetheless, the Journal decided to exploit me for an article it wanted to publish about Bobby.”

Regardless of what Sandberg may have said in her communications with the Daily Mail, the WSJ quotes sources within Meta saying that any intervention of any kind from a high-ranking executive at the company may have had a significant chilling effect on the report and its likelihood of making it to publication. The Daily Mail and its parent company News Corp. have at various points since 2016 been an official news partner for the Facebook platform's editorial efforts, and Facebook drives substantial traffic to The Daily Mail's website.

Meta is currently investigating Sandberg's role in the whole affair to see whether the executive, who is No. 2 at Meta behind CEO Mark Zuckerberg, violated any of the company's policies. The WSJ reports that the review started only after it began investigating the situation last year.

Kotick's job at Activision Blizzard is currently in limbo as a deal to be acquired by Microsoft undergoes antitrust scrutiny. Reports following the acquisition announcement have suggested Kotick will leave the company once it moves under the Xbox gaming division, but that he may be eligible for a golden parachute to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars due both to Activision stock he owns and contractual obligations built into his role as CEO.

The Microsoft deal was instigated by a separate Wall Street Journal report last fall revealing how Kotick was well aware of rampant sexism, harassment and discrimination of female employees at the video game company long before California opened an investigation into its workplace practices and filed a lawsuit last summer.

Update April 21, 11:40AM ET: Added statements from Meta and Activision Blizzard' Board of Directors.

Update April 21, 12PM ET: Added statement from Bobby Kotick's former girlfriend.

Elon Musk has secured the funding he needs to acquire Twitter. Like, for real this time.

According to a new filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk has received commitments from a collection of banks led by Morgan Stanley to provide $46.5 billion to take Twitter private. Musk's first offer to Twitter was contingent on his ability to secure financing, but the filing reads, Musk's proposal "is no longer subject to financing as a result of the Reporting Person’s receipt of the financing commitments."

Given his, er, rocky history of making grand promises about having the "funding secured" to take over Tesla — promises which were later found by a court to be false — skepticism has abounded regarding Musk's ability to actually make good on his Twitter offer. Even the richest man in the world's not that liquid. Musk himself had seemed a little uncertain about the source of funding during an interview at TED the day news of his offer became public. "I have sufficient assets," he said at the time. "I mean, I can do it if possible."

Musk also used that opportunity to rewrite history about his infamous tweet about having sufficient funding to buy Tesla. The shareholder who took Musk to court over that tweet and won is now seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent Musk from continuing to make that claim.

Musk's offer to buy Twitter remains non-binding, so he can still walk away at any time. He also wrote in the filing that as Twitter's board has "not responded" to his proposal, he may pursue a tender offer, meaning he would skip the board and go directly to other shareholders seeking to buy their Twitter stock.

Meanwhile, Twitter's board has already laid out its poison pill defense against the takeover. If anyone, Musk included, acquires more than 14.9% of the company's shares, Twitter will offer all other shareholders additional stock at a discounted price. That would dilute Musk's stake and make it even more expensive for him to acquire the company.

Musk's desire to privatize Twitter is driven by his belief that the platform doesn't sufficiently allow for free speech. During his discussion at TED, Musk said that Twitter ought to allow all legal speech in the countries where it operates. That, of course, doesn't account for the fact that laws around online speech in, say, Russia, India or, more recently, Europe, are more restrictive than in the United States.

Twitter employees in particular have worried that a Musk takeover would undo the work they've done to enhance content moderation and safety on the platform in recent years. Staffers focused on ethics at the company publicly celebrated when Twitter announced Musk would no longer be joining the board.

But the ordeal is far from over — and it's only gotten more politicized. Just this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis threatened Twitter with a lawsuit over the board's rejection of Musk's offer. (Florida, through a state pension fund, is a Twitter shareholder.) Musk, meanwhile, is facing a suit from a different Twitter shareholder who claims Musk delayed disclosing his stake in the company so he could acquire more shares at a lower price.

Amazon has long held a tight grip over its third-party merchants. Sellers get access to its massive fulfillment centers, shipping services and the coveted Prime logo if they sell on But now, Amazon is loosening some of its hold on merchants by allowing them to sell goods with Prime benefits on their own sites, which could allow the e-commerce giant to swallow more of the industry.

The company is introducing Buy With Prime, which lets merchants who use Amazon's services (warehouses and delivery) add a button to their site that allows customers to purchase with Prime benefits. That means Prime subscribers who buy goods off a third-party site will still have access to free shipping, next-day delivery and free returns. Amazon said the initiative will start with Amazon sellers using Fulfillment by Amazon, and it'll expand to other merchants throughout this year.

The initiative is another push for Amazon to become the biggest delivery service in the game. Dave Clark, the company's head of worldwide consumer, said late last year that it's on track to overtake UPS and FedEx as the biggest package delivery service in the U.S. By adding Prime benefits to sites other than Amazon's, it'll be increasingly convenient to use the company's fulfillment and delivery services to attract more customers (even with its added fuel and inflation fees).

“For over 20 years, we’ve been empowering small and medium-sized businesses with opportunities to grow,” Peter Larsen, Amazon’s VP of Buy with Prime, said in a release. “Allowing merchants to offer Prime shopping benefits on their own direct-to-consumer online stores is an exciting next step in our mission to help merchants of all sizes grow their business — whether on Amazon or beyond.”

Buy With Prime also shows that Amazon is becoming a bit more like Shopify, which already allows merchants to build their own storefronts. Shopify doesn't provide its own marketplace for sellers, but instead gives merchants the tools to get started and takes care of marketing goods and payment.

Worker surveillance technologies — which can track keystrokes or mouse movements, watch which programs are open on a computer and record how long workers stay on a website — have a new challenge in the California State Assembly.

The Workplace Technology Accountability Act, or Assembly Bill 1651, would regulate the use of worker surveillance technology to protect worker privacy, Cal Matters reported Tuesday. Specifically, the bill would require employers to give workers advance notice about any monitoring technology that was being used to track them. Employers would also be banned from monitoring workers on personal devices or after hours, and workers would be able to view and correct data about themselves, according to Cal Matters.

AB 1651 would also ban employers from using electronic monitoring systems that use “facial recognition, gait, or emotion recognition technology.” (Emotion AI is also popping up on sales calls, in customer service software, in delivery and passenger vehicles and in the classroom.)

The bill moved past the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment on Wednesday with a 5-2 vote, according to the office of Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, who introduced the bill on Monday. Assemblymen Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta, and Heath Flora, D-Ripon, opposed it. Next stop is the Appropriations Committee before the bill can hit the Assembly Floor.

After some question of will-he-or-won't-he, Elon Musk joined Tesla's first-quarter earnings call Wednesday. Surprisingly to some, the Tesla CEO had nothing to say about his current side project — making a hostile takeover bid for his favorite social network, Twitter — and instead focused on what appears to be his new favorite topic: lithium mining.

Tesla had a huge quarter, significantly beating analyst estimates with profit of $3.32 billion on $18.7 billion in revenue (up 81% year-over-year). And while many had hoped Musk would give some hints as to what's next with Twitter, he instead outlined what's next for Tesla. Here are a few key takeaways from Tesla's earnings call.

Tesla absolutely crushed Wall Street expectations.

According to Barron's, Wall Street anticipated earnings of $2.20 to $2.30 a share and around $18 billion in revenue, estimates that Tesla beat handily. The company also made around $1 billion more in operating profit than analysts expected. Tesla's share price jumped around 5% in after-hours trading, up to $1,017 per share from closing at around $976.

Musk wants more people to get into the lithium business.

The supply chain is squeezing Tesla tight. One major supply chain challenge the company is facing is lithium, though not because of there's a shortage of it. Musk said the element is "almost everywhere," but the steps to refine it are expensive and arduous. Musk sees this as an issue for the entire EV industry. His solution? More people need to get into the lithium business, he said.

"Can some more people please get into the lithium business?" Musk said. "Do you like minting money? Well the lithium business is for you."

The supply chain issues lead to one boon for the company: Part of the reason it had a high profit margin is that due to the higher average selling price of its vehicles (the company raised the prices of its entire fleet by 5% to 10% this past quarter). But because of this, he doesn't anticipate vehicle prices will rise again soon.

"Our prices of vehicles ordered now are really anticipating supplier and logistics cost growth that ... we believe will happen over the next six to 12 months," Musk said. "That's that's why we have the price increases today, because a car order today will arrive in some cases a year from now."

The company will host a product event for its long-awaited RoboTaxi next year.

Musk has been talking about a Tesla RoboTaxi, essentially a driverless Uber, for years. Now it looks like the company is closer to actually getting them on the road. Musk didn't divulge too many details, but said the company is planning to host a product event next year, and is aiming for volume production in 2024.

He also anticipates that they will be really, really cheap.

"Looking at some of our projections, it would appear that a RoboTaxi ride will cost less than a ... subsidized bus ticket or a subsidized subway ticket," Musk said.

We'll believe it when we see it.

Musk predicts Tesla Bots will be a bigger business than cars.

Musk is a big believer in Tesla's company's Optimus project, which aims to create full-fledged humanoid robots called Tesla Bots. Tesla Bots, first announced last August, will be 5'8" tall, weighs 125 pounds, and can move at about five miles per hour. It'll run an Autopilot system similar to that of Tesla cars. Musk said in the earnings call that the program's importance "will become apparent in the coming years."

"I was surprised that people did not realize the magnitude of the Optimus robot program," Musk said. "Those who are insightful or looking listen carefully will understand that Optimus ultimately will be worth more than the car business."

Well, OK! We look forward to seeing how Musk's many projects turn out. In the meantime...lithium mining, anyone?