With help from Leah Nylen and John Hendel
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— Win some, lose some: Apple’s move to lower its commission fee for some developers in the App Store is drawing blowback just weeks before Europe is set to unveil legislation targeting “gatekeepers” like the iPhone maker.
— MT scoop: Far from satisfied by Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony at Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Democrats are piling more criticism on Facebook for its handling of election misinformation. This time, the complaints come from the House.
— Moderators’ missive: Some 200 Facebook content moderators, who say they’ve been asked to return to physical offices in the midst of the pandemic, are publicly fighting back — demanding Zuckerberg offer hazard pay, employee benefits and other concessions.
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APPLE DECREASES APP STORE FEE, BUT CRITICS CALL IT A ‘PLOY’ — Apple said Wednesday that it is dropping its commission fee for small developers to 15 percent (from 30 percent previously). But the change did little to assuage critics, drawing a flurry of perhaps unwanted attention before the EU unveils legislation in early December to regulate digital platforms. That package is expected to target so-called “gatekeepers” that control access to major platforms — making Apple and its grip on the app store low-hanging fruit, pun intended.
— “Machiavelli would be so proud of Apple,” said Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson. His software firm tangled with Apple because the email service it was offering on the app store, Hey, initially did not offer in-app purchases (something Apple took issue with, Hansson said, leading Apple to reject a Hey app update). He balked at the fact that the reduction will not apply to app developers earning more than $1 million; they will still need to pay 30 percent commission. “Trying to split the App Store opposition with conditional charity concessions, they – a $2T conglomerate – get to paint any developer making more than $1m as greedy, always wanting more,” Hansson wrote on Twitter. “As clever as it’s sick.”
— Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney called it a “cynical ploy to divide and conquer.” In an interview with The New York Times, Sweeney noted that 95 percent of transactions take place in apps that won’t qualify for the new, lower fees. “All these costs are still being passed on to consumers as a result of Apple’s monopoly,” he said.
Epic has been embroiled in litigation against Apple and Google since August over restrictions in the iOS App Store and Android Play Store requiring developers to use the giants’ payment systems (Android’s store also charges a 30 percent commission). Sweeney noted that Epic Games Store, where PC users can buy games, charges a 12 percent commission but also lets developers choose an alternate payment service. He said Epic makes a “decent profit” at that rate, estimating that the cost of operating the store would be covered by a 7 percent commission.
— At the same time, many engineers praised Apple’s announcement on Wednesday, suggesting that Apple’s action could improve the developer landscape more broadly. The reduced commission “will make a huge difference to small businesses and developers like me, and could have ripple effects across the industry and across other platforms,” one game and app maker, Steve Troughton-Smith, said on Twitter. Apple declined to comment.
— Other trouble ahead: “Apple has agreed to pay $113 million to resolve a multi-state suit accusing the company of deliberately diminishing the speed of its iPhones to compensate for battery issues,” Steven reports.
MT EXCLUSIVE: ELECTION COMPLAINTS? KEEP ‘EM COMING — We may be almost two weeks out from Joe Biden’s declared victory, but as evidenced by Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary hearing with Zuckerberg, Democrats are intensifying their complaints about election misinformation. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) are now raising alarm to Zuck about claims on the platform of alleged voter fraud, calling Facebook’s labeling approach “inconsistent” and arguing that the labels themselves don’t go far enough to explicitly rebut President Donald Trump’s baseless accusations.
— “Facebook is not following its own policies, providing lackluster enforcement and assigning inadequate labeling of misinformation which make the policies essentially useless,” the House duo writes to Zuck. “It is your responsibility to take the reins of the company you created and actively implement thorough and rigorous processes to stop the spread of misinformation.”
— Zuckerberg at Tuesday’s hearing was forthcoming about the social network’s misinformation missteps, saying that “we strive to do as well as possible and be as precise as possible” while up against potentially billions of pieces of content daily. He also proposed establishing a “regulatory framework” where platforms would publish transparency reports outlining how effectively they’ve enforced their rules.
SPEAKING OF ALL THAT CONTENT: WHAT SAY THE MODERATORS? — More than 200 Facebook content moderators and employees (some anonymous) also wrote to Zuck and second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday protesting the company’s decision to have many of those workers return to physical offices as coronavirus infection rates surge. In the letter, staffers demand more leniency for moderators with Covid concerns to continue working from home; hazard pay; and “the same rights and benefits as full Facebook staff.” Many of the moderators are outsourced contract workers who don’t have the same benefits. They ask, in particular, for psychiatric care. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
— “Now, on top of work that is psychologically toxic, holding onto the job means walking into a [Covid] hot zone,” the group writes, pointing out all that went wrong when the company leaned increasingly on automation to police content early in the pandemic. “If our work is so core to Facebook’s business that you will ask us to risk our lives in the name of Facebook’s community—and profit—are we not, in fact, the heart of your company?”
— Other trouble ahead for Facebook: An antitrust lawsuit from the FTC, likely to drop any day now.
IN BROADBAND LAND: FCC TO CAP 2020 ON 5G SECURITY — The FCC’s final meeting of the year will focus on securing the U.S. telecom supply chain, Chair Ajit Pai announced Wednesday. One of these Dec. 10 votes would establish rules for a subsidy program to help U.S. carriers get rid of network gear from China’s Huawei and ZTE, which the U.S. government sees as a threat. This is generally bipartisan territory, a tack Pai has been under pressure to stick to ahead of the incoming Biden administration
— The agency chief also teased “two additional national security matters” he said he can’t yet discuss, which adds unusual intrigue for an FCC meeting.
— Cracking down on other national security threats: On Wednesday, the FCC yanked three apparently unused “international signaling point codes” that the U.S. had provisionally granted to China Telecom, another foreign-affiliated giant currently under government scrutiny.
— Section 230 notably absent: Pai did not include a proposal tackling the tech industry’s online liability protections in the Dec. 10 agenda, even though he’d said in October that he planned to kick off a rulemaking.
— And a quick vote recap: Senate Commerce unanimously voted on Wednesday to send a trio of telecom measures to the chamber floor, including one that addresses that rip-and-replace subsidy program the FCC plans to vote on. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) successfully negotiated a deal on his S. 4472 to authorize this FCC program at $1.9 billion, an amount consistent with FCC findings on how much it may cost. (Lawmakers still need to appropriate this funding, however.)
TECH TALLY: HOUSE LEADERSHIP ELECTIONS — Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the House Judiciary antitrust Chair who was vying for the party’s No. 4 position — assistant speaker of the House — lost Wednesday to Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.). In his congratulatory remarks, Cicilline called for cross-caucus collaboration to “[rebuild] our infrastructure, lower health care costs, take on climate change, deliver racial justice, and crack down on corruption.”
Charlotte Willner, head of trust and safety at Pinterest, will be the founding executive director of the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sibling organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation Project. … Paul Heard, a former Micro Focus, HPE and Daimler executive. has joined the cloud-based subscription management provider Zuora as its new chief information officer. … Mano Koilpillai joined NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association as chief financial officer, while Roxanna Barboza joined as industry and cybersecurity policy analyst and Lauren Gaydos, as public relations manager.
USTelecom – The Broadband Association added new members to its Leadership Committee: Josh Descant, CEO of REV Broadband in Louisiana; Becky Scott, President of EPICTOUCH in Kansas; Tom Preston, CEO of DUO Broadband in Kentucky; Ann Rauh Dickerson, chief financial and administrative officer of Metamora Telephone Company in Illinois; Carol Olson, general manager of Coon Valley Farmer’s Telephone Company in Wisconsin; and Charlie Cano, CEO of Etex in Texas.
ICYMI: With vaccines on the horizon, how are the country and the world planning to track who is immune? This week’s POLITICO Future Pulse unpacks the data and software challenges around vaccine distribution.
Google spreads its tentacles: “Google is expanding its reach into financial services,” POLITICO reports — “a move that drew concern over the company’s growing influence.”
Tech for good: The Algorithmic Justice League, a leader in efforts to address bias in facial recognition technology, is among the recipients of more than $1 million in New Media Ventures funding for entrepreneurs working at the intersection of tech and social justice.
Face-off with foreigners: “A Customs and Border Protection program requiring face scans of non-U.S. citizen at airports, seaports and other ports of entry is slated for a formal launch, after years of testing,” POLITICO reports — “and despite opposition from privacy groups and a recent hack that exposed peoples’ biometric data.”
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