Weekend edition—Zuck’s EU trip, vertical blockbusters, lithium vs. sheep

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Mark Zuckerberg is taking a EuroTrip, but it’s no holiday.

The Facebook CEO is in Munich today, expected to welcome tax reform on tech companies in a speech, even if it means his firm has to pay more. On Monday, Zuck will meet with top EU digital authorities two days before they present their plan to rein in US and Chinese tech giants.

Big Tech’s years of flying below the regulatory radar are over. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook are the most valuable publicly traded companies in the world, in that order, worth well over $5 trillion collectively. Now they are being investigated worldwide for anticompetitive practices.

This week, the US Federal Trade Commission ordered these five firms to provide information on their past decade of acquisitions. Meanwhile, Google went to EU General Court to appeal a €2.4 billion (about $2.6 billion) fine imposed on it by Brussels in 2017 for unfairly demoting competitors in shopping searches. In a twist, one judge hearing the company out suggested the fine should have been even higher.

While Google is still haggling over the two-year-old fine (equal to just 2.5% of its revenue that year), European regulators have broadly shifted the thrust of their competitive inquiries from rankings to data.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s digital and competition chief, is at various stages of examining Amazon, Google, and Facebook for their data practices, including the question of whether these companies use the data they collect from third parties to develop competing products. Vestager and fellow EU commissioner Thierry Breton are expected next week to share details on a so-called digital single market, designed to boost European firms by breaking Big Tech’s viselike grip on the data economy.

What better time, then, for Zuckerberg to pay a visit to Europe? The eyes of Vestager and other global antitrust regulators are on him regardless. He may as well seek an audience. —Alison Griswold


The performance review’s comeuppance. “The goal of this review is to create the impression that our evaluation of you is not ad hoc and subjective.” So begins our annual appraisal for the performance review itself, by Quartz at Work reporter Lila MacLellan. Her totally fair assessment of the corporate ritual’s communication skills, self-awareness, and effectiveness leads to a recommendation: Retrain the outdated custom for an entirely new role as weekly (yes, weekly!) check-in.

The falsest flag of all. In 2017, Antifa, a loose collection of militant anti-fascist groups, was blamed by many on the US right for making threats against a Civil War reenactors group in Virginia. But a search warrant application obtained by Justin Rohrlich lays out evidence that a member of the group itself began making the threats, in response to having been kicked out of his unit three years earlier.

Magicians are risk-management experts. Magic tricks feel risky, but that’s all an illusion, honed through hours of practice. The real fear magicians face is losing control of their audience. Strategies like hedging and insurance reduce downside when something goes wrong—but they can also empower us to cross the line. In the second episode of RISK, a new show for Quartz members, Meghan McDonough learns how surfers, magicians, and poker players all find that balance.

The future of work in India. With half of India’s population under the age of 25 and unemployment skyrocketing, young people—and those who watch the country’s economy closely—are keen to know what jobs will emerge in the next decade and beyond. In a special project, experts in seven key industries share their insights on where careers are heading and how disruption is giving rise to new opportunities.

Blockbuster movies, but make them vertical. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov is shooting a World War II film in portrait mode. It’s the first time a mainstream feature film will be made entirely in a vertical format, which we’re more used to seeing on our phones than in theaters. As Adam Epstein explains, it’s the latest step in filmmakers’ efforts to better reach audiences where they are—on their handheld screens.


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The dam filling Egypt with dread. This summer water from the Nile River’s main tributary will start spilling into a reservoir about the size of London, thanks to a new $4.5 billion hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia. While Ethiopians cherish the project as a sign of progress, Egyptians downriver are considerably less excited, as Declan Walsh and Somini Sengupta write in the New York Times. As one worried farmer put it, “Egypt wouldn’t exist without the Nile.”

Espionage made easy. For decades, countries around the world used encryption devices from the Swiss firm Crypto AG to communicate—secretly, they thought—with their spies, soldiers, and diplomats. As Greg Miller writes for the Washington Post, the company was covertly owned by the CIA, in partnership with West German intelligence. The devices were rigged to allow for communications monitoring, even as the company funneled profits to the spy agencies.

Lithium miners face stiff resistance in Portugal. Below large tracts of Portuguese countryside, “white gold” waits to be extracted, refined, and eventually used in the batteries that power smartphones and electric vehicles. But not so fast. Sheep graze them thar hills, too, and the local groups that own and manage rural areas are locking horns with mining interests, as Victoria Waldersee and Catarina Demony report for Reuters.

The coronavirus is killing the Chinese film industry. Lunar New Year season was supposed to boost box office, but instead, COVID-19 has brought China’s movie business to a near-halt. The hardest part may be the impossibility of predicting when production can pick back up and theaters can reopen, though filmmakers are looking hopefully toward April, report Rebecca Davis and Patrick Frater in Variety. Streaming services, meanwhile, are sitting pretty.

The community in SpaceX’s way. In south Texas, the infrastructure for a departure gate from Earth is slowly emerging, as Elon Musk’s engineers work on facilities and spacecraft to enable eventual trips to Mars. But as Marina Koren writes in the Atlantic, there’s a problem: About 20 people refuse to leave Boca Chica Village, a “tiny neighborhood located in startling proximity to SpaceX’s facilities.”

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, encryption boxes, and totally fair performance reviews to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.