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Recode Daily: Tech companies are flexing on politically charged issues like gun control and abortion

Plus: Your university or retirement pension could be helping fund Chinese surveillance technology.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Salesforce is telling companies that use its products that they can’t sell military-style rifles. The move could jeopardize its relationship with customers like Camping World, which sells these kinds of guns and also spends about a million dollars a year with Salesforce — though that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to Salesforce’s $13 billion in annual revenue. The business software giant is one of a number of tech companies that have been flexing their clout lately on political issues. This week, for example, Netflix’s CEO said the company would “rethink” its investment in Georgia if the state institutes a restrictive abortion law. These companies’ actions come on the heels of worker organizing, public pressure and political scrutiny over the past year regarding these issues.
[Jay Greene / Washington Post]

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Malaysia became the latest Southeast Asian country to refuse to be dumping grounds for Western plastic. That’s because the vast majority of it isn’t recyclable — despite what industry lobbyists have led us to believe. The US had long relied on China to take its excess recycling, but recent regulations have halted that trade. Since then the US has turned to other unregulated markets like Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, where plastic has ended up being burned or dumped into the ocean. As that plastic has piled up and created environmental and health hazards, those governments have tightened regulation as well, meaning the US may finally have to contend with its own trash.
[Alex Lubben / Vice]

Your university or retirement pension could be helping fund Chinese surveillance technology. Investments by numerous US endowments and retirement funds are going to two Chinese software companies, SenseTime and Megvi, which are helping the Chinese government build tools to surveill its 11 million Muslim ethnic minorities. More than a million Uighur Muslims have been detained in reeducation camps — likened to concentration camps — since 2017, thanks in part to facial recognition tools created by these companies. So even as Trump’s trade war with China escalates, heaps of money are still going between the countries.
[Ryan Mac, Rosalind Adams, Megha Rajagopalan / BuzzFeed]

Google’s ‘Knowledge Panels’ — the descriptive boxes that appear alongside certain prominent search queries — aren’t always right. And when these algorithmically created descriptions are wrong, they’re difficult to fix, according to a number of people who are said to be dead but aren’t. This is the latest example of how algorithms can be unreliable and have serious impacts on people’s lives. Google, for its part, has been slow to fix Knowledge Panel errors, so those affected have had to rely on persistence, journalists, and Twitter campaigns to get their information corrected.
[Shalini Ramachandran / WSJ]

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The fuss over 5G, explained. Almost no one in America can use 5G — a faster wireless network that’s slowly being built around the US — yet but it’s already a political lightning rod. Here’s why there’s so much fuss around 5G.
[Rani Molla]

This is Cool

An e-scooter on fire in DC is a metaphor for our times.

Update: The fiery scooter was in Washington, DC, not San Francisco, as earlier reported. You can understand how we might make that mistake.

Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

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