FB’s plan to blend all its apps together


October 1, 2020

PLUS: A peek inside the vote-tech industry.
October 1, 2020
The Hustle
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Today’s the first day of October 2020. Which means there’s only three months left until 2021. Which means we’re 75% of the way through the year. Which means… yo, WTF happened?

▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓░░░░ 75%

The Big Idea

The differences between Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are melting away

If you thought deleting your Facebook account would finally free you from your great uncle’s updates, we have terrible news: Facebook is linking DMs on its platform to DMs on Instagram.

That means someone can use a Facebook account to message you on Instagram even if you don’t have Facebook, and vice versa.

It’s part of a company effort called “interop:” Facebook wants to tie together the suite of social apps it owns — Facebook.com, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram — into one big, happy family.

Meet the new Facebook mega app

On Tuesday, Facebook introduced “Accounts Center,” a dashboard that lets you jointly manage your Instagram and Facebook accounts with one universal login.

The change might seem a little administrative, but it represents a PR shift for both companies.

Instagram and WhatsApp once prided themselves on their independence from Zuck. But last August, the apps started describing themselves as “from Facebook” for the 1st time.

The timing isn’t a coincidence

The FTC is reportedly preparing an antitrust case against Facebook. On one hand, bundling its apps protects it from regulators: Per the New York Times, “the more Facebook knits its apps together, the harder it is for a government to break it up.”

But there’s also a risk of backlash

Last year, a poll showed that only 29% of people knew that Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram. 

That knowledge gap might have made users more sympathetic to Facebook’s side. But now there’s no question about exactly how massive Facebook is.

Combined, its apps now represent a total of ~2.5B users (or ~⅓ of the world’s population).

In the worst scenario for the company, a larger swath of the public might side against it in an antitrust argument.

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Snippets
  • The most secretive company in tech, Palantir, went public by direct listing on Wednesday — nabbing a $21B valuation.
  • The CEO of Coinbase wrote a much-talked about memo stating that the crypto firm will be “apolitical.” Employees that don’t like this position are being offered large severance packages.
  • Digital tabletop games are getting a virtual festival on Steam next month.
  • Is browsing dead? Based on the new, hyper-efficient store designs from retailers like Walmart, it looks like the answer is yes.
  • Those sold-out Bad Bunny Crocs aren’t a fluke: Even as the rest of the shoe market stumbles, America’s most maligned foam clogs are having a bonanza sales year.
  • Bonus: A Twitter thread of rules that were implemented but “massively backfired.”
Mail-In Mania

A peek inside the vote-tech industry

If you thought Amazon was having a banner year, take a look at the mail-in ballot biz.

To move from your mailbox into the final vote tally, mail-in ballots depend on a tiny cottage industry of tech companies focusing on boring (but extremely important) back-end stuff, like printing, tracking, scanning, and sorting ballots.

This year, these companies are seeing so much demand that they’re having to turn away business.

Voting might seem like an innovation black hole

By design, elections officials are not trying to rock the boat.

But because only a few municipalities actually own the tech they need to run an election, they depend on outside help:

  • One printing company, Runbeck Election Services, expected to send out 6m mail-in ballots this year — now it’s ramping up to produce 15m.
  • BallotTrax follows your vote through the mail and sends you alerts if it gets lost. In 2016, BallotTrax partnered with 20 counties — now it’s working with 400.
  • Demand is so high that even big tech companies, like Panasonic, are sending scanners to 14 counties for signature verification — up from 2 in 2016.

So what about online voting tech?

Several startups have been trying to make online voting happen for years.

One of the biggest, Voatz, has worked to let overseas and military personnel vote in West Virginia since 2018. This year, a county in Washington state partnered with Tusk Philanthropies to offer universal smartphone voting for a local election.

But online voting is still a distant reality. Election security experts have plenty of concerns about these apps — and after the fiasco involving a vote-reporting app in Iowa this year, no one is eager to take the leap.

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Handwaving

Should we be skeptical of Amazon One?

In the battle of which Big Tech company can appropriate U2’s best single, Amazon released a new product — Amazon One, not to be confused with Google One (cloud storage) or Apple One (services bundle).

The new offering from the ecommerce giant is a “contactless way for people to use their palm” to conduct everyday activities like paying at a store or entering a location like a stadium.

Is this something we can trust Amazon with?

Tech writer John Gruber’s initial take is that “on the surface this sounds insane.” Why would anyone willingly send their palm print to Amazon’s cloud, he asks.

The details of how Amazon will implement encryption is critical.

As Gruber points out, Apple’s FaceID and TouchID securely store a person’s biometric information on the device itself (sealed off from other apps).

Amazon wants in on physical retail

We’ve seen this in the company’s $13.7B acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, and in its constant experiments with branded brick and mortar plays like Amazon Go.

Amazon One would help address this strategic impetus and — as Gruber points out — would give the Big Tech firm its own payments solution to compete with the mobile offerings from iPhone (Apple Pay) and Android (Google Pay).

In the opening statement for his recent Congressional grilling, Jeff Bezos said when it comes to doing “the right thing,” Americans only trust the military and primary care physicians more than Amazon.

If that’s truly the case, any concerns over Amazon One’s privacy settings may not be enough on its own to dissuade consumer uptake.

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Thirst Monster

In defense of Liquid Death, the VC-backed canned water company

People love ragging on VCs for funding absurd ideas.

The latest target is Liquid Death, a beverage company that sells canned water from the Austrian Alps. A 12-pack costs $15.99 ($1.33 / tallboy can).

The water-tech startup just raised $23m and has secured $34m total.

Here’s are 3 reasons we kinda like it:

1. The branding is funny AF

Founded by former Netflix creative director Mike Cessario, the company’s motto should be on the Mount Rushmore of mottos: “Murder your Thirst.”

The rest of the website’s copy stays consistently on-brand:

  • Coupon code = “Axe 10% off”
  • Hashtags = #DeathToPlastic (“$0.05 from every can is used to kill plastic pollution”)
  • Contact form = “Summon us”
  • Merch store = T-shirts that read “hydrate or die”
  • About us = “Let’s be clear. Liquid Death is a completely unnecessary approach to bottled water.”

2. Making hydration cool

That tallboy is designed to look like a beer or energy drink can, meaning you can enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage (and stay hydrated) at bars without being roasted. Combine that with the rise of “sober bars,” and Liquid Death is firmly riding the zeitgeist.

3. There’s a frickin’ “Killer Baby Namer” app on the website

Here are the new names for Hustle team members using Liquid Death’s baby namer:

  • Pentagram Sparxxx Waters
  • Dante the Pummeler Phan
  • Slayer Goatlord Dohack
  • Wulfric Blackhole Parr
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