Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Who needs democracy when you have data? -- MIT Technology Review

From an extensive China + technology overview
"As far as we know, there is no single master blueprint linking technology and governance in China. But there are several initiatives that share a common strategy of harvesting data about people and companies to inform decision-making and create systems of incentives and punishments to influence behavior. These initiatives include the State Council’s 2014 “Social Credit System,” the 2016 Cybersecurity Law, various local-level and private-enterprise experiments in “social credit,” “smart city” plans, and technology-driven policing in the western region of Xinjiang. Often they involve partnerships between the government and China’s tech companies.

The most far-reaching is the Social Credit System, though a better translation in English might be the “trust” or “reputation” system. The government plan, which covers both people and businesses, lists among its goals the “construction of sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, and judicial credibility.” (“Everybody in China has an auntie who’s been swindled. There is a legitimate need to address a breakdown in public trust,” says Paul Triolo, head of the geotechnology practice at the consultancy Eurasia Group.) To date, it’s a work in progress, though various pilots preview how it might work in 2020, when it is supposed to be fully implemented."
Who needs democracy when you have data? -- MIT Technology Review

Microsoft's CEO on helping a faded legend find a 'sense of purpose' -- CNET

Earlier in the interview: ""You join here not to be cool, but to make others cool," he says. "You want to be cool by doing that empowerment.. It's the result that matters." Also see This is not your father's Microsoft (CNET)
"But the implication from your book is that Microsoft — I won't say the word "broken," but that there were some serious problems here. What was it that was so concerning to you?
It's interesting you say that, because in some sense Microsoft is one of these companies that have been super successful. One of the things that happens when you're super successful is you sometimes lose touch with what made you successful in the first place.

So if anything I wanted to not talk about what is broken. I wanted to go back to the very genesis of this company. What is that sense of purpose and drive that made us successful? What was the culture that may have been there in the very beginning or in the times when we were able to achieve that success. How do we really capture it? So that's why I think about it as the renaissance as much as about fixing something that's broken."
Microsoft's CEO on helping a faded legend find a 'sense of purpose' -- CNET

Videogame Developers Are Making It Harder to Stop Playing -- WSJ

From a gaming reality check
"Videogames are more popular than ever. Game-software revenue rose 80% between 2013 and 2017 to $97.6 billion world-wide, and this year is projected to reach $108.4 billion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. By comparison, spending at the box office and on home-movie entertainment reached a global record of $88.4 billion in 2017, according to the latest data available from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Among the biggest changes fueling more interest in videogames is that many, such as the megahit “Fortnite,” encourage players to socialize, acting as social hot spots that are replacing malls and other teen hangouts."
Videogame Developers Are Making It Harder to Stop Playing -- WSJ

Twitch Prime members will lose ad-free viewing next month -- The Verge

See this Twitch blog post for details
"Twitch Prime, the streaming video site’s Amazon-style benefits program, will no longer include ad-free viewing as a complimentary perk starting on September 14th, the company announced today. Initially launched two years ago as a suite of benefits for Amazon Prime subscribers, Twitch Prime has grown into a more robust platform that offers free games, in-game loot for select titles, and a monthly channel subscription credit that can be awarded to a streamer of the member’s choice.

All those perks are remaining part of Twitch Prime, and the only aspect of the service that is changing going forward is the ad-free viewing. Twitch describes the decision as a way to help better support streamers. “Advertising is an important source of support for the creators who make Twitch possible. This change will strengthen and expand that advertising opportunity for creators so they can get more support from their viewers for doing what they love,” reads the company’s blog post."
Twitch Prime members will lose ad-free viewing next month -- The Verge

Microsoft says it has found a Russian operation targeting U.S. political institutions -- The Washington Post

Also see We are taking new steps against broadening threats to democracy (Microsoft Blog)
"“This apparent spear-phishing attempt against the International Republican Institute and other organizations is consistent with the campaign of meddling that the Kremlin has waged against organizations that support democracy and human rights,” said Daniel Twining, IRI’s president, who put blame on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “It is clearly designed to sow confusion, conflict and fear among those who criticize Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime.”
The move by Microsoft is the latest effort by Silicon Valley to address Russian threats to the coming election more aggressively than the technology industry did in 2016, when many woke up to the seriousness and sophistication of disinformation efforts only after Americans had voted. Companies and U.S. officials have vowed to work together more closely this year. Facebook recently disclosed that the company had taken down 32 fake accounts and pages that were tied to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation operation active before and after the 2016 election."
Microsoft says it has found a Russian operation targeting U.S. political institutions -- The Washington Post

Monday, August 20, 2018

Amazon Is Planning Live TV Recorder, Challenging TiVo -- Bloomberg

In other Amazon news, Amazon Is Ready to Take on Apple and Spotify in Streaming Music (Bloomberg)
"The device, dubbed "Frank" inside Amazon, is a new type of digital video recorder for the streaming era. It would include physical storage and connect to Amazon’s existing Fire TV boxes, the living room hub for the company’s online video efforts, according to the person. They asked not to be identified discussing unannounced product details. An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Frank DVR has the same wireless technology that Amazon’s Echo speakers use to connect to Fire TV boxes. Users will be able to record live TV and stream the video to a smartphone so it can be watched later. That functionality is similar to offerings from TiVo and Dish Network Corp.’s Slingbox. Amazon hasn’t made a final decision on rolling out the streaming feature, the person said, noting that the plans could either be canceled or delayed.

TiVo shares fell as much as 10 percent in afternoon trading in New York."
Amazon Is Planning Live TV Recorder, Challenging TiVo --  Bloomberg

Google’s Brin Cops to Plan to Reclaim Lost Decade in China -- Bloomberg

Also see The employee backlash over Google’s censored search engine for China, explained (Vox)
"At Thursday’s meeting, Pichai argued that depriving Chinese people of access to Google products wouldn’t help. “I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don't see any reason why that would be different in China,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting provided to Bloomberg.

Brin, who had driven the exodus in 2010, told the Wall Street Journal at the time that China’s policies of censorship and surveillance shared the "same earmarks of totalitarianism" as Soviet Russia, where he was born. On Thursday, he was more equivocal. He told employees in a rambling  explanation that questions about projects in China come up “every year or so” and “we experiment with what it might look like.” “There’s a handful of things we have been able to ship in China and that’s great,” he said. “You know, it’s slow-going and complicated.”"
Google’s Brin Cops to Plan to Reclaim Lost Decade in China --  Bloomberg

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admits ‘left-leaning’ bias but says it doesn’t influence company policy -- The Washington Post

Also see 'We won't let that happen:' Trump alleges social media censorship of conservatives (Politico)
"“The real question behind the question is, ‘Are we doing something according to political ideology or viewpoints?’ And we are not. Period,” Dorsey said. “We do not look at content with regards to political viewpoint or ideology. We look at behavior.”

“We need to constantly show that we are not adding our own bias, which I fully admit is more left-leaning,” he added. “And I think it’s important to articulate our own bias and to share it with people so that people understand us. But we need to remove our bias from how we act and our policies and our enforcement.”"
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admits ‘left-leaning’ bias but says it doesn’t influence company policy -- The Washington Post

Elon Musk Defends Punishing Pace as Tesla Saga Enters Third Week -- Bloomberg

Also see Tesla Slashes Spending, and May Add to Its Troubles (NYT) and ‘He’s not unlike the president’: How Elon Musk shapes Tesla coverage (The Washington Post)
"The exchange underscores Musk’s determination to lead Tesla through the turmoil that accelerated after his Aug. 7 tweet suggesting he’d secured funding to take the firm private at $420 a share. Rather than soaring toward that value, the stock has since plummeted 20 percent -- dipping blow $300 in early trading Monday -- amid an unraveling of parts of Musk’s story unravel and mounting pressure on Tesla’s board for its handling of the iconic CEO. Nothing will get easier this week as he and Tesla’s board align with their separate sets of legal and financial advisers, all amid inquiries from U.S. securities regulators.

On Sunday, the picture became a little more complicated. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund -- the very investor that Musk described as a linchpin of his plan to take Tesla private -- was reported by Reuters to consider buying a stake in another U.S. electric-car company. The Saudis’ Public Investment Fund, which recently bought an almost 5 percent holding in Tesla, was reported to be in talks for a separate $1 billion investment in Lucid Motors Inc. that would give the fund control of that fledgling automaker."
Elon Musk Defends Punishing Pace as Tesla Saga Enters Third Week -- Bloomberg

After the Cryptocurrency Boom: Hard Lessons for New Investors -- NYT

From a timely *coin reality check
"The virtual currency markets have been through booms and busts before — and recovered to boom again. But this bust could have a more lasting impact on the technology’s adoption because of the sheer number of ordinary people who invested in digital tokens over the last year, and who are likely to associate cryptocurrencies with financial ruin for a very long time.

“What the average Joe hears is how friends lost fortunes,” said Alex Kruger, a former banker who has been trading in the cryptocurrency markets for some time. “Irrational exuberance leads to financial overhang and slows progress.”"
Cryptocurrency Boom: Hard Lessons for New Investors -- NYT

Friday, August 17, 2018

When China Rules the Web -- Foreign Affairs

From a detailed China + internet reality check; see China's plan to control the future of the internet (Axios) for a summary
"China’s continued rise as a cyber-superpower is not guaranteed. Top-down, state-led efforts at innovation in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, and other ambitious technologies may well fail. Chinese technology companies will face economic and political pressures as they globalize. Chinese citizens, although they appear to have little expectation of privacy from their government, may demand more from private firms. The United States may reenergize its own digital diplomacy, and the U.S. economy may rediscover the dynamism that allowed it create so much of the modern world’s technology.

But given China’s size and technological sophistication, Beijing has a good chance of succeeding—thereby remaking cyberspace in its own image. If this happens, the Internet will be less global and less open. A major part of it will run Chinese applications over Chinese-made hardware. And Beijing will reap the economic, diplomatic, national security, and intelligence benefits that once flowed to Washington."
When China Rules the Web -- Foreign Affairs

Facebook has a plan to protect the U.S. midterms. Is it enough? -- Recode

Also see ‘Weaponized Ad Technology’: Facebook’s Moneymaker Gets a Critical Eye (NYT)
"Will Facebook be ready? The company says it’s moving quickly on its plan — which includes a physical war room to monitor the elections from its corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. — and has promised to double the number of safety and security employees on staff to 20,000 people. Facebook says it’s spending so much money monitoring political ads that it will actually hurt profits.

But Facebook is also running out of time to execute its plan. With the midterms less than three months away, it’s almost go time.

“When over half of Americans get their news from Facebook, it’s pretty damn important,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Vir., who has been one of the country’s most outspoken critics of Facebook’s role in elections. “We’re starting to see the enormous success of the Trump campaign in using social media. I think it’s changing the paradigm.”"
Facebook has a plan to protect the U.S. midterms. Is it enough? -- Recode

Twitter officially kills off key features in third-party apps -- The Verge

Also see Twitter’s fear of making hard decisions is killing it (The Verge)
"After years of warnings and several delays, Twitter finally made good today on its promise to kill off key features of popular streaming apps. In a blog post today, Twitter said it would remove access to APIs needed to power push notifications and an auto-refreshing timeline. Rob Johnson, a director of product, said Twitter would stop supporting those APIs so it could focus on its own native applications.

The changes affect popular third-party Twitter apps including Tweetbot, Twitterrific, Talon, and Tweetings. As Johnson wrote in a separate note to the company, third-party apps invented many features that were later adopted by the company in its native apps.

“Third-party clients have had a notable impact on the Twitter service and the products we build,” he wrote. “Independent developers built the first Twitter client for Mac and the first native app for iPhone. These clients pioneered product features we all know and love about Twitter, like mute, the pull-to-refresh gesture, and more.”"
Twitter officially kills off key features in third-party apps -- The Verge

Google CEO Tells Staff China Plans Are ‘Exploratory’ After Backlash -- Bloomberg

Later in the article: "“Our stated mission is to organize the world’s information,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “China is one-fifth of the world’s population. I think if we were to do our mission well, I think we have to think seriously about how we do more in China.”"
"Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai told employees at a meeting that plans to re-enter China with a search engine are “exploratory” and in “early stages,” addressing a topic that has exploded with controversy. Google co-founder Sergey Brin also spoke to the staff Thursday at the company’s all-hands meeting, saying that Google isn’t compromising its principles.

The accounts came from two people familiar with the discussion at the meeting of the Alphabet Inc. unit. They asked not to be identified talking about private matters. Google didn’t respond to requests for comment. The discussion at the all-hands meeting was the first time Google executives addressed the company’s plans for a possible return to China.

“We are not close to launching a search product in China,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of the meeting provided to Bloomberg. “And whether we would do so or could so is all very unclear.”"
Google CEO Tells Staff China Plans Are ‘Exploratory’ After Backlash -- Bloomberg

Microsoft and Amazon made their voice assistants into friends. Here’s how that relationship works. -- The Washington Post

Voicing capitulation?...
"But how does this relationship of rivals work? The voice assistants will only be used to “wake” the other one up. In other words, customers have to say either “Cortana, open Alexa” or “Alexa, open Cortana.” From there, people can talk to the other assistant as usual.

The integration is available through Echo devices, Windows 10 devices and Microsoft’s Harman Kardon Cortana speaker. Someone with an Alexa-powered speaker, for example, can open Cortana to check for new emails in Outlook or set up appointments for their calendar. It’s also possible to ask Alexa through your Window PC to flip on your lights or check your order status."
Microsoft and Amazon made their voice assistants into friends. Here’s how that relationship works. -- The Washington Post

Elon Musk Confronts a Fateful Tesla Tweet and an ‘Excruciating’ Year -- NYT

Final paragraphs; also see Kara Swisher's Elon Musk Is the Id of Tech (NYT)
"In response to questions for this article, Tesla provided a statement that it attributed to its board, excluding Elon Musk. “There have been many false and irresponsible rumors in the press about the discussions of the Tesla board,” the statement said. “We would like to make clear that Elon’s commitment and dedication to Tesla is obvious. Over the past 15 years, Elon’s leadership of the Tesla team has caused Tesla to grow from a small start-up to having hundreds of thousands of cars on the road that customers love, employing tens of thousands of people around the world, and creating significant shareholder value in the process.”

Mr. Musk said he had no plans to relinquish his dual roles as chairman and chief executive.
But, he added, “if you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now.”"
Elon Musk Confronts a Fateful Tesla Tweet and an ‘Excruciating’ Year -- NYT

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Uber reportedly lost $891 million in the second quarter of 2018 as growth slows -- The Verge

I'm guessing VCs are seeing fewer "We intend to be the Uber of ..." pitches these days
"Uber is planning for an initial public offering in the second half of 2019, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said. That could be complicated by Uber’s habit of burning large quantities of cash. The company lost $4.5 billion last year, and has burned through $11 billion since launching in 2009. But Uber still has $7.3 billion cash on hand, according to Bloomberg, which certainly gives it some running room before an IPO.

Bloomberg characterized the report as Khosrowshahi embracing the company’s “growth above profit” ethos. But it has cast a spotlight on some of Uber’s more expensive, trouble-prone projects. Specifically, the company’s beleaguered self-driving car operation is said to be losing as much as $200 million a quarter, The Information reported today. And Bloomberg noted that Uber is being urged by investors to off-load the unit.

Khosrowshahi has made moves to diversify the business since taking the reins nearly a year ago. Earlier this year, Uber acquired dockless bike-share company Jump and is preparing to launch its own electric scooter sharing service as well."
Uber reportedly lost $891 million in the second quarter of 2018 as growth slows -- The Verge

Tencent’s Rout This Year Has Wiped Out Over $175 Billion in Market Value -- WSJ

Also see Tencent, the Chinese Internet Giant, Stumbles. Beijing Gets the Blame (NYT)
"Tencent, which owns China’s highly popular social-messaging app WeChat, a day earlier reported a 2% decline in second-quarter income to 17.9 billion yuan ($2.6 billion). Its revenue rose 30% to 73.7 billion yuan, but that also missed most analysts’ forecasts. The company said its games business has been hindered by a regulatory restructuring of two Chinese government agencies that oversee videogame content, leading to delays in game approvals.

The shares, which closed Thursday at 325.80 Hong Kong dollars ($41.51), are now down by nearly a third from their record high in January, when Tencent’s market capitalization climbed to $572 billion and surpassed that of U.S. social-media giant Facebook Inc.

The selloff has sparked fears of whether there will be broader contagion for tech stocks around the world. U.S.-listed Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc. also fell on Wednesday, pushing deeper into negative territory for the year."
Tencent’s Rout This Year Has Wiped Out Over $175 Billion in Market Value -- WSJ

Amazon in Running to Acquire Landmark Movie Chain -- Bloomberg

Tbd if the concession stands would offer free bananas...
"The company is vying with other suitors to acquire the business from Wagner/Cuban Cos., which is backed by billionaire Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The chain’s owners have been working with investment banker Stephens Inc. on a possible sale, the people said. No final decisions have been made, and talks could still fall apart.

Pushing into movie theaters would follow Amazon’s expansion into myriad other forms of media, including a film and TV studio and music service. With Landmark, it gets a chain focused on independent and foreign films that was founded in 1974. The company has more than 50 theaters, including high-profile locations in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with about 250 screens in 27 markets."
Amazon in Running to Acquire Landmark Movie Chain -- Bloomberg

Jack Dorsey says he’s rethinking the core of how Twitter works -- The Washington Post

Setting (low) expectations, later in the article: "With more limited resources than Facebook or Google, though, Twitter has to be selective about its investments in safety. “Choosing to do one of them comes at a cost of not doing something else because of the number of resources we have,” Dorsey said."
"In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Dorsey said he was experimenting with features that would promote alternative viewpoints in Twitter’s timeline to address misinformation and reduce “echo chambers.” He also expressed openness to labeling bots — automated accounts that sometimes pose as human users — and redesigning key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays users’ follower counts.

“The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey said. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don't think they are correct anymore.”"
Jack Dorsey says he’s rethinking the core of how Twitter works -- The Washington Post

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Nearly 50k people have blocked Twitter’s biggest advertisers over the Alex Jones debacle (and you can too) (TNW)

Three clicks to send a message to Twitter management
"It’s the type of feel-good measure one might take when wishing there were something they could do, while not really considering the general apathy of most internet users. The goal, she hints, is to put the screws to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, applying pressure until the platform reverses course and bans Alex Jones.

But Coulter, an industry veteran, understands the typical internet user. She’s not asking anyone to “go forth and do things” that might interrupt hot yoga, or cost more than a pumpkin spice latte. She’s calling on the internet to do what it does best: Be pissed, so long as it doesn’t take a lot of effort.

By clicking a custom link (this link) Coulter’s done all the hard work for you and promises to continue doing it until Jones is banned. The call to action asks Twitter users to click the link, smash the button that says “Block All and Subscribe” and then click the blue “Authorize App” section. In doing so, you’re blocking each of Twitter‘s biggest advertisers, without actually having to, you know, do stuff."
Nearly 50k people have blocked Twitter’s biggest advertisers over the Alex Jones debacle (and you can too) (TNW)

Amazon Has YouTube Envy (Bloomberg)

Something to watch
"YouTube has become synonymous with online video and the lucrative advertising that it commands. Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch streaming site is the go-to place for the much smaller audience of video gaming enthusiasts. Now, in a bid to grab a larger slice of the online advertising pie, Amazon has decided to aggressively broaden the programming on Twitch to take on its video rival.
[...]
For now, it’s a David vs. Goliath battle. YouTube, the largest advertising-supported video site in the world, has about 1.9 billion monthly viewers; Twitch gets about 15 million a day. But the Amazon unit gives creators multiple ways of making money, including paid subscriptions (a feature YouTube added in response), and offers advertisers the appeal of a live, engaged audience. Amazon, which saw its ad sales in the first quarter exceed $2 billion for the first time mostly by selling “sponsored products” slots during product searches, analysts estimate, has already become a credible contender in online advertising to Google and Facebook Inc."
Amazon Has YouTube Envy (Bloomberg)

WhatsApp Co-Founder’s ‘Rest and Vest’ Reward From Facebook: $450 Million -- WSJ

That should help fund his collection of "rare air-cooled Porsches"
"As part of selling WhatsApp to Facebook, Mr. Koum earned about 24.85 million restricted shares, according to his offer letter filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission at the time. The stock has vested in quarterly increments, with the final period taking place in mid-November of this year.

In mid-May, Mr. Koum collected 2.5 million shares worth about $458 million at the time, according to a securities filing. In mid-August, he is set to collect another 2.5 million shares, or about $450 million at Facebook’s stock price of $181 at Tuesday’s close.

The stock awards have been contingent on Mr. Koum being employed at Facebook during that time, or “subject to continued service to us through each vesting date,” according to one Facebook securities filing. Mr. Koum fulfilled that requirement by showing up at Facebook headquarters about once a month, according to two people familiar with the matter. It is unclear what he did on his days in the office or how long he stayed."
WhatsApp Co-Founder’s ‘Rest and Vest’ Reward From Facebook: $450 Million -- WSJ

Verizon Is Close to Apple, Google Deals for 5G TV -- Bloomberg

Excerpts:
"Verizon Communications Inc. announced deals making Apple Inc. and Google its first video providers for a superfast 5G wireless service the company plans to launch in four cities later this year.

The home broadband service will debut in Los Angeles, Houston and Sacramento, California, as well as the newly announced fourth city of Indianapolis, Verizon said Tuesday in a statement. With the introduction, Verizon will provide 5G customers either a free Apple TV box or free subscription to Google’s YouTube TV app for live television service, according to people familiar with the plan.
[...]
Verizon Chairman Lowell McAdam, who handed the title of chief executive officer over to Hans Vestberg this month, staked out a different path than AT&T and Comcast, which have acquired movies and TV programming by spending billions purchasing media companies. McAdam chose to develop a mobile media and advertising venture through the purchase of AOL and Yahoo! For video entertainment, he’s seeking allies, not assets.

“It’s our belief that we’re positioned perfectly to have the partnerships that we need to be successful,” McAdam said on an earnings conference call last month when he addressed the 5G video plan. “We’re not going to be owning content, so we’re not going to be competing with other content providers. We’re going to be their best partner from a distribution perspective.”"
Verizon Is Close to Apple, Google Deals for 5G TV -- Bloomberg

A Twitter staffer spoke out about “failing” company leadership — on Twitter -- Vox

See the full article for details; also see Twitter Suspends Alex Jones for Seven Days Over Tweet (NYT)
"The controversy over Twitter’s refusal to ban far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones continues to expand — with many users speaking out against the site’s confusing and often contradictory policies. Increasingly, this even includes members of Twitter staff who’ve voiced their frustrations on the platform they’re working hard to save.
The latest staffer to speak out is an engineer named Jared Gaut, who announced in a viral Monday-evening thread — one that he addressed directly to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — that he would be logging out of Twitter and deleting the app to send a message about his company’s flailing direction."
A Twitter staffer spoke out about “failing” company leadership — on Twitter -- Vox

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Has Bezos Become More Powerful in D.C. Than Trump? -- Vanity Fair

Final paragraphs:
"In a larger sense, the JEDI contract represents the growing clout that technology companies are wielding in Washington—and how they are increasingly wiring the swamp for their own benefit. Amazon has spent $67 million on lobbying since 2000—including more this year than Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo combined. Its Washington office employs more than 100 lobbyists, including 68 so-called “revolvers”—officials who have moved from government employment to the private sector. The company also employs many former officials with insider connections, including Scott Renda, who worked for the Office of Management and Budget’s cloud computing division, and Anne Rung, who served as the government’s chief acquisition officer.

If you think the JEDI contract is big, consider this: Last year, working for Bezos, Rung helped pass the so-called Amazon amendment, a provision buried in a defense authorization bill that will establish Amazon as the go-to portal for every online purchase the government makes—some $53 billion every year. President Trump may enjoy firing off incendiary tweets attacking Amazon. But Bezos is quietly finding new ways to bolster his empire with billions in federal tax dollars. And the Pentagon, it appears, is helping him do it."
Has Bezos Become More Powerful in D.C. Than Trump? -- Vanity Fair

IBM Wallops Groupon With a Vintage Patent -- Bloomberg

Excerpt:
"③ The Trial
In late July, two years after the case was filed, the two combatants engaged in a two-week trial. IBM’s killer point was that a raft of other companies were paying fees to access these same patents: Amazon.com, $49.8 million; Google, $35 million; and Twitter, $36 million. Its lawyer told the jury that Groupon, “the new kid on the block,” was refusing to “take responsibility for the technology it’s using.” The jury needed only six hours to agree, awarding IBM half of the damages it claimed: $82.5 million.

④ The Result
Groupon has said it’s reviewing its options. The chances of winning on appeal are slim—better to pay up and move on. Lucky for Groupon, the judge has said he’s unlikely to triple the payout. As for IBM, one suspects the trial was more about sending a message than reaping a financial reward. IBM has 45,000 patents, which generated $1.19 billion of its $79.1 billion in revenue last year. If you’re not willing to pay up when IBM comes calling, it won’t hesitate to go to court."
IBM Wallops Groupon With a Vintage Patent -- Bloomberg

Saudi oil money may give Elon Musk the private Tesla of his dreams -- The Washington Post

"Funding secured" sort of like a ~$35K mainstream Tesla Model 3 -- perhaps eventually?... Also see Musk Says He's Tapped Goldman, Silver Lake on Tesla Bid Plan (Bloomberg) and Larger Tesla Stake by Giant Saudi Fund Faces Hurdles (WSJ)
"If Saudi Arabia ultimately does provide the multibillion-dollar financing needed to take Elon Musk’s Tesla car company private, it would represent the boldest move yet in the kingdom’s campaign to build a post-oil future.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund that manages about $230 billion, is the main source of funding under Musk’s buyout plan, the billionaire businessman said in a blog post Monday.

“Obviously, the Saudi sovereign fund has more than enough capital needed to execute on such a transaction,” Musk wrote. “I left the July 31st meeting with no question that a deal with the Saudi sovereign fund could be closed, and that it was just a matter of getting the process moving.”"
Saudi oil money may give Elon Musk the private Tesla of his dreams  -- The Washington Post

How close are we to the end of the gaming console? -- The Washington Post

Xbox: the DVD player of game consoles...
"Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, compared the evolution of moving games to streaming with the change we have seen in streaming video. Microsoft’s goal, he said, is to move gaming to a medium where you can play what you want where you want. But, he pointed out, even though streaming video claims mindshare and market share, DVD sales still pull in billions of dollars per year. Big shifts like this, he said, don’t happen as quickly as we all think they do.

“It takes time,” Spencer said."
How close are we to the end of the gaming console? -- The Washington Post

Banks and Retailers Are Tracking How You Type, Swipe and Tap -- NYT

Fingerprint different
"When you’re browsing a website and the mouse cursor disappears, it might be a computer glitch — or it might be a deliberate test to find out who you are.

The way you press, scroll and type on a phone screen or keyboard can be as unique as your fingerprints or facial features. To fight fraud, a growing number of banks and merchants are tracking visitors’ physical movements as they use websites and apps.

Some use the technology only to weed out automated attacks and suspicious transactions, but others are going significantly further, amassing tens of millions of profiles that can identify customers by how they touch, hold and tap their devices."
Banks and Retailers Are Tracking How You Type, Swipe and Tap -- NYT

Monday, August 13, 2018

China’s BAT: Baidu + Alibaba + Tencent (Peter Diamandis Tech Blog)

From a Peter Diamandis blog post series on China + tech
"Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) are now valued at a combined $1 trillion USD.

Alibaba and Tencent alone now account for almost one-third of the MSCI China Index, fueling its 47 percent gain in 2017.

As of this past March, China had skyrocketed to 164 unicorns, worth a combined $628.4 billion USD. Roughly 50 percent are controlled or backed by BAT.

But BAT aren't keeping ambitions local. Worldwide, BAT invests in over 150 companies, spanning the gamut from AI to biotech.

And with access to more internet users than those of the U.S. and all of Europe combined, BAT is fueled by the greatest treasure trove of user data on the planet."
China’s BAT: Baidu + Alibaba + Tencent (Peter Diamandis Tech Blog)

Oracle Accused of Defrauding Investors on Cloud Sales Growth -- Bloomberg

New platform; same business model...
"Oracle Corp. is named in a lawsuit alleging the company’s executives lied to shareholders when they explained why cloud sales were growing.

The investor leading the case, the City of Sunrise Firefighters’ Pension Fund, claimed Oracle engaged in coercion and threats to sell its cloud-computing products, creating an unsustainable model that fell apart, according to the suit seeking class-action status and filed Friday in San Jose, California. The Florida-based firefighter pension fund and other investors lost money when Oracle’s stock plummeted in March after reporting a disappointing earnings report and outlook, according to the lawsuit."
Oracle Accused of Defrauding Investors on Cloud Sales Growth -- Bloomberg

West Virginia to offer mobile blockchain voting app for overseas voters in November election -- The Washington Post

Yet another example of "blockchain is the answer; what was your question again?..." Also see Why security experts hate that “blockchain voting” will be used in the midterm elections (MIT Technology Review)
"West Virginia will provide a mobile blockchain voting option, in addition to absentee ballots, for overseas military service members in elections this November, after receiving audit results this week from a pilot program.

It will be the first state to offer this technology to improve voting accessibility for deployed members of the military and their families, according to West Virginia’s secretary of state.

Eligible voters will be able to cast their ballots through a mobile application that uses blockchain technology, which stores data on a decentralized database, meaning there’s no owner, allowing for more transparent transactions. Information is stored publicly, but to ensure privacy, West Virginia voters' personal information will remain anonymous."
West Virginia to offer mobile blockchain voting app for overseas voters in November election -- The Washington Post

Retailers are marketing directly to kids shopping on their smartphones -- The Washington Post

Later in the article: "“Snapchat and YouTube have become a way for brands to market right to tweens — in fact, it’s one of the only ways to get to them directly,” said Gregg L. Witt, executive vice president of youth marketing for Motivate, an advertising firm in San Diego. “If you’re trying to target a specific demographic, TV no longer works. You’re going to mobile, digital, social media.”"
"Children and preteens are more connected to the Internet than ever, which means retailers are looking for new ways to market — and sell — directly to young shoppers on their phones, tablets and laptops. Gone are the days of blanket television ads, marketing experts say. Instead, companies are flocking to Snapchat, YouTube Kids and other mobile apps to reach children with personalized messages.

Nearly half of 10- to 12-year-olds have their own smartphones, according to Nielsen. By the time they’re teenagers, 95 percent of Americans have access to a smartphone.

“Kids are shopping on their phones and influencing much more of their families’ spending,” said Katherine Cullen, director of retail and consumer insights for the National Retail Federation. “As a result, retailers are paying a lot more attention to pint-size customers.”"
Retailers are marketing directly to kids shopping on their smartphones -- The Washington Post

Google-Facebook Dominance Hurts Ad Tech Firms, Speeding Consolidation -- NYT

Category crunch time
"Venture capital money going into ad tech start-ups is falling sharply, helping push a wave of consolidation. Financing reached a high of $2.92 billion in 2015, but this year, it is on pace to be less than half that, according to CB Insights, a financial research firm.

The number of independent ad tech companies has fallen 21 percent since 2013, to 185 as of the second quarter of 2018, according to LUMA Partners, which analyzes digital media and marketing.

And the pace of contraction has been quickening considerably. This summer has seen a flurry of activity, with AT&T buying the online ad exchange company AppNexus in June, and the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners acquiring a majority stake in Integral Ad Science the same month. In early July, the Interpublic Group acquired the data aggregator Acxiom’s marketing division for $2.3 billion."
Google-Facebook Dominance Hurts Ad Tech Firms, Speeding Consolidation -- NYT

As Barnes & Noble Struggles to Find Footing, Founder Takes Heat -- NYT

From a stark Barnes & Noble reality check
"The news left alarmed publishers and investors complaining that the chain is once again dealing with a management vacuum when it desperately needs to adapt and innovate. Sales are falling. The Nook, Barnes & Noble’s attempt at selling electronic books, became a financial drain. Critics say the company lacks direction, sometimes seeming to prioritize sales of gifts and tchotchkes over books. For investors, the impact is already evident: Barnes & Noble’s stock price is down 60 percent over the last three years.
Publishers are worried that a crucial pipeline for book sales could be crumbling.
“It would be disastrous if they go down,” said Dennis Johnson, a co-publisher of Melville House, an independent press. “If 600 bookstores disappear from the country, there will be that many fewer visible books, which seem to be receding from their place in the culture.”"
As Barnes & Noble Struggles to Find Footing, Founder Takes Heat -- NYT

Saturday, August 11, 2018

IBM Has a Watson Dilemma -- WSJ

Must be about time for IBM to double-down on blockchain marketing...
"More than a dozen IBM partners and clients have halted or shrunk Watson’s oncology-related projects. Watson cancer applications have had limited impact on patients, according to dozens of interviews with medical centers, companies and doctors who have used it, as well as documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

In many cases, the tools didn’t add much value. In some cases, Watson wasn’t accurate. Watson can be tripped up by a lack of data in rare or recurring cancers, and treatments are evolving faster than Watson’s human trainers can update the system. Dr. Chase of Columbia said he withdrew as an adviser after he grew disappointed in IBM’s direction for marketing the technology.

No published research shows Watson improving patient outcomes."
IBM Has a Watson Dilemma -- WSJ

Friday, August 10, 2018

What's the matter with Twitter? -- Poynter

From an extensive Twitter reality check; also see Twitter says Infowars hasn't 'violated our rules.' It looks like that's not the case (CNN)
"The fracas over Jones illustrates a lot, including how good reporting and peer pressure can actually force the platforms to act. And while the reasons that Facebook, Apple and others banned Jones and InfoWars have to do with hate speech, Twitter’s inaction also confirms what fact-checkers have long thought about the company’s approach to fighting misinformation.
“They’re not doing anything, and I’m frustrated that they don’t enforce their own policies,” said Angie Holan, editor of (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact. “And their attitude seems to be that they’re just doing nothing compared to what Facebook and Google are doing to combat fabricated news and hoaxes.”"
What's the matter with Twitter? -- Poynter

Hard Questions: Where Do We Draw The Line on Free Expression? -- Facebook Newsroom

See the full post for more details on exceptions
"While we’re not bound by international human rights laws that countries have signed on to, we are a member of a global initiative that offers internet companies a framework for applying human rights principles to our platforms. We look for guidance in documents like Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which set standards for when it’s appropriate to place restrictions on freedom of expression. ICCPR maintains that everyone has the right to freedom of expression — and restrictions on this right are only allowed when they are “provided by law and are necessary for: (a) the respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) for the protection of national security or of the public order, or of public health or morals.”

The core concept here is whether a particular restriction of speech is necessary to prevent harm. Short of that, the ICCPR holds that speech should be allowed. This is the same test we use to draw the line on Facebook. After all, giving everyone a voice is a positive force in the world, increasing the diversity of ideas shared in public discourse. Whether it’s a peaceful protest in the streets, an op-ed in a newspaper or a post on social media, free expression is key to a thriving society. So, barring other factors — and there are several crucial ones that I’ll discuss — we lean toward free expression. It’s core to both who we are and why we exist."
Hard Questions: Where Do We Draw The Line on Free Expression? -- Facebook Newsroom

Samsung announces Galaxy Home speaker with Bixby smart assistant -- The Verge

File under: Future Collector's Item...
"The speaker is supposed to deliver surround sound-style audio using six built-in speakers and a subwoofer. It also includes eight far-field microphones for detecting voice input. You’ll be able to say “Hi, Bixby” to activate Samsung’s assistant and ask it to start playing music or a number of other tasks. Samsung indicated that it’d be able to do many of the same things Bixby can do on a phone.

Beyond that, we don’t have many details. Samsung isn’t ready to fully announce the speaker yet, and it said that it’d share more at a developer conference in early November.

One of the big questions hanging over the speaker is how well its smart functions will hold up. It includes Samsung’s Bixby assistant, which few have seemed to particularly enjoy using so far. If Samsung wants this to be seen as an equivalent to an Echo, it’ll need an assistant that’s about as smart as Alexa. And right now, it isn’t clear the company has that."
Samsung announces Galaxy Home speaker with Bixby smart assistant -- The Verge

Tribune Ends Deal With Sinclair, Dashing Plan for Conservative TV Behemoth -- NYT

Another incentive to explore cable cord-cutting... Also see The local TV consolidation race is here (Axios)
"Tribune must now revisit its plans for selling itself, although the company may not have much trouble seeking new buyers. Local television businesses have gotten a lift from political advertising spending in the run-up to the hotly contested midterm elections. Tribune’s second-quarter earnings report showed that the company had more than doubled its revenue from political advertising to $24 million compared with the same period in 2014, the last midterm election cycle.

The boom in political ad spending, coupled with the rule that allows one company to reach a much larger swath of the television audience, could jump-start more mergers.

After Mr. Murdoch completes his deal to sell most of the assets of his 21st Century Fox to the Walt Disney Company, he will be left with the Fox News cable network and 28 Fox broadcast stations. In a bid to expand his broadcast business, he could restart talks with Tribune to buy the seven stations whose sale was previously agreed to, or possibly more."
Tribune Ends Deal With Sinclair, Dashing Plan for Conservative TV Behemoth -- NYT

Facebook Banned Infowars. Now What? -- NYT

Final paragraphs from a timely reality check:
"There are also valid questions about why Infowars got so popular in the first place, and whether attention-maximizing platforms like Facebook and YouTube are designed in way so that people like Mr. Jones are incentivized to push the boundaries of acceptable speech.

After all, these platforms didn’t just host Infowars content for those who were seeking it — they actively promoted it to millions of people for years, through algorithmic feeds and recommendation engines that decide which videos to show you next. Could these platforms be redesigned so that the next Alex Jones never gets that kind of boost, and remains on the ideological fringes?

These questions will have to wait. For now, tech leaders seem satisfied to have dealt with their Infowars problems, at least temporarily. They will return to their defensive crouch, hiding their power behind policies, making small changes under pressure, and hoping that nobody notices the size of their footprints."
Facebook Banned Infowars. Now What? -- NYT

Doug Field Returns to Apple After Leaving Tesla -- Daring Fireball

Also see After stint at Tesla, Doug Field returns to Apple to work on Project Titan w/ Bob Mansfield (9to5Mac)
"Here’s some interesting hiring news I’ve heard through the little birdie grapevine: Doug Field — who left Tesla in May after overseeing Model 3 production — has returned to Apple, working in Bob Mansfield’s project Titan group. Apple spokesperson Tom Neumayr confirmed with me only that Field has returned to Apple, but no one should find it surprising that he’s working on Titan.

Field previously worked at Apple as a VP of Mac hardware engineering before leaving for Tesla in 2013. So he spent years working closely (and successfully) with Mansfield on Mac hardware, and spent the last few years as senior VP of engineering at the world’s premier electric carmaker. That makes Field a seemingly perfect fit for Titan."
Doug Field Returns to Apple After Leaving Tesla -- Daring Fireball

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Augmented-reality start-up Magic Leap is finally selling something -- The Washington Post

Also see Magic Leap One Creator Edition Preview: A Flawed Glimpse of Mixed Reality's Amazing Potential (The Verge) and Magic Leap Is Remaking Itself as an Ordinary Company (With a Real Product) (Wired)
"Magic Leap One, the highly anticipated augmented-reality headset that overlays digital objects on the physical world, is finally going on sale after nearly a decade of development.

But it may not be in a store near you. The headset is available for now in only six locations: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay area and Miami — near the company’s headquarters. The headset will be delivered to buyers’ doorsteps, ferried by agents who will help with setup and provide training to use it.

Oh, and it will cost $2,295."
Augmented-reality start-up Magic Leap is finally selling something -- The Washington Post

New York Times Co. Reports $24 Million Profit, Thanks to Digital Subscribers -- NYT

In other mainstream media news, see Tribune withdraws from Sinclair merger, saying it will sue for ‘breach of contract’ (The Washington Post)
"The New York Times continued its digital growth in the second quarter of 2018, adding 109,000 digital-only subscribers. With that rise came an increase in revenue that counteracted a decline in print advertising.

The company said on Wednesday that revenue from digital subscriptions rose to $99 million in the second quarter, a jump of nearly 20 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Over all for the second quarter, total revenue increased 2 percent, to $415 million, and the company reported a profit of almost $24 million.

The Times now has 2.9 million digital-only subscribers, out of 3.8 million total."
New York Times Co. Reports $24 Million Profit, Thanks to Digital Subscribers -- NYT

Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will. -- NYT

From a Twitter reality check by Kara Swisher; also see Twitter’s stance on Infowars’ Alex Jones should be a moment of reckoning for users (Vox), which notes "The site has arrived at a moral crossroads — and it’s choosing the wrong path."
"Translation: Twitter is doubling down on the same squishy point of view that has allowed too much of it to become a cesspool over the last several years, and it has little intention of truly cleaning up.

I am down with Mr. Dorsey on the part about different viewpoints being expressed in a civil and even moderately testy way. There’s some value, after all, in force-reading all those opinions on whether a Colorado baker should make gay people cake or not. But the loosey-goosey way that he and Twitter’s rolling series of leaders have run the platform over the years (you can read all about that in Nick Bilton’s telenovela of a book, “Hatching Twitter”) has turned it from what could have been an unprecedented discussion and news platform into the last big refuge of the repugnant."
Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will. -- NYT

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Slack is raising $400M+ with a post-money valuation of $7B or more -- TechCrunch

Once again: a less-constrained Slack
"Slack — the app that lets coworkers and others in professional circles chat with each other and call in data from hundreds of integrated apps in the name of getting more work done (or at least procrastinating in an entertaining way) — has been on a growth tear in the last few years, most recently passing 8 million daily active users, 3 million of them paying. Now, the company is planning to capitalise on that with some more funding.

TechCrunch has learned that Slack is raising another round, this time in the region of $400 million or possibly more, with a post-money valuation of at least $7 billion — adding a whopping $2 billion on top of the company’s last valuation in September 2017, when SoftBank led a $250 million round at a $5.1 billion valuation."
Slack is raising $400M+ with a post-money valuation of $7B or more  -- TechCrunch

Why Snapchat is shrinking (Recode)

From a Snap reality check; also see Snapchat Is Becoming Like the Internet It Disdains (Bloomberg)
"The fact that Snap’s daily audience is already shrinking represents a rather dramatic turn from two years ago, when Snap added 21 million daily users in the same quarter.

At the time, everything looked like it was growing rapidly ahead of Snap’s initial public offering, and Facebook investors were concerned that Snap — which had refused Facebook’s acquisition offers — might steal away the social giant’s users. Facebook responded by building Snapchat’s best feature, Stories, into all of its apps.

It looks like Facebook is safe after all. Not only did Snap’s total daily audience shrink, but so did its daily audience in its most valuable market, North America. That’s where the advertising industry is developed and Snapchat users generate more than three times as much in revenue as they do in Europe. Snapchat’s North American daily active users declined to 80 million from 81 million the prior quarter."
Why Snapchat is shrinking (Recode)

Dorsey Says InfoWars' Alex Jones Hasn't Violated Twitter's Rules -- Bloomberg

Because when you let Trump say whatever he wants, you have no rules; also see InfoWars, Alex Jones alive and well on Amazon, Twitter (Politico), Gatekeepers or Censors? How Tech Manages Online Speech (NYT), and And now even MailChimp is done with InfoWars (Mashable)
"Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said that Alex Jones and his show InfoWars can continue to use the service because they haven’t violated the social-media company’s policies, despite decisions by Facebook Inc. and Google’s YouTube to pull the conspiracy theorist off their platforms.

“We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or InfoWars yesterday,” Dorsey tweeted Tuesday. “We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified.”"
Dorsey Says InfoWars' Alex Jones Hasn't Violated Twitter's Rules -- Bloomberg

Oracle challenges Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract before bids are even submitted -- The Washington Post

Yes, because everyone in the IT industry knows Oracle is all about innovation and lower prices...
"Oracle took the unusual step of bringing its protest long before contractors have even submitted bids, alleging that the procurement of what is called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) has been problematic from the outset. In the bid protest document dated Aug. 6, the company accused the Pentagon of failing to adhere to procurement regulations and pursuing a strategy that will hurt the U.S. military’s technological prowess.

“The technology industry is innovating around next generation cloud at an unprecedented pace and JEDI virtually assures DoD will be locked into legacy cloud for a decade or more,” an Oracle spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday. “The single-award approach is contrary to [the commercial technology] industry’s multi-cloud strategy, which promotes constant competition, fosters innovation and lowers prices.”"
Oracle challenges Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract before bids are even submitted -- The Washington Post

Your banking data was once off-limits to tech companies. Now they’re racing to get it. -- The Washington Post

Also see Facebook's comment on the latest Facebook + data = bad meme-of-the-week below
"Many of the tech world’s major players have shown similar ambitions in tapping users' financial data, which could help companies lock in customer loyalty, help developers provide more sophisticated tools — and give advertisers lucrative clues into users' offline interests and buying intentions.

Apple and Google provide mobile-payment services that allow users to access financial information and pay for products with their phones. Amazon.com — whose founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post — offers users a credit card issued by JPMorgan Chase. And Google last year announced a deal that would let it review and analyze roughly 70 percent of all credit and debit card transactions in the United States.

“What you purchase is the ultimate predictor of what you’ll purchase in the future. It’s an indication of your stage of life, and there’s a lot that can be packaged up and targeted based off that,” said Mike Herrick, an executive at Urban Airship, which works with companies on digital wallets and mobile engagement. “Everybody’s mad at Facebook, but they’re just one of many participants in this data ecosystem.”"
Facebook's comment, from Facebook taps banks, but for chatbots not purchase data like Google (TechCrunch)
"“A recent Wall Street Journal story implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data – this is not true. Like many online companies with commerce businesses, we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services like customer chat or account management. Account linking enables people to receive real-time updates in Facebook Messenger where people can keep track of their transaction data like account balances, receipts, and shipping updates,” [Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana] told TechCrunch. “The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone – and it’s completely opt-in. We’re not using this information beyond enabling these types of experiences – not for advertising or anything else. A critical part of these partnerships is keeping people’s information safe and secure.”"
Your banking data was once off-limits to tech companies. Now they’re racing to get it. -- The Washington Post

Elon Musk Makes $82 Billion Gambit to Silence Tesla Critics -- Bloomberg

Pretty sure Elon Musk was CEO when Tesla went public... Also see Can Elon Musk Tweet That? The SEC May Have an Opinion (Bloomberg)
"Musk pointed to SpaceX as a model for how Tesla could be privately held. He said in a tweet his hope is that all current investors in the electric-car company would stick with it by buying into a “special purpose fund,” and said that this has been done through a Fidelity investment in the rocket manufacturer.

Taking Tesla private “makes a ton of sense” from Musk’s perspective, said Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures. Though even he -- one of Tesla’s biggest bulls -- assigns long odds to the CEO pulling off this deal.

“Musk does not want to run a public company,” Munster said. “Our guess is there is a 1 in 3 chance he can actually pull this off.”"
Elon Musk Makes $82 Billion Gambit to Silence Tesla Critics -- Bloomberg

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Surprise, no one buys things via Alexa -- TechCrunch

"No one" is an exaggeration; 2% reportedly did, and of those, 90% haven't tried again
"Some numbers published in a report from The Information reveal that very few owners of Alexa-powered devices use them for shopping. Of about 50 million Alexa users, only about 100,000 reportedly bought something via voice interface more than once. It’s not exactly surprising, but it may still harm the narrative of conversational commerce that Amazon and others are trying to advance.

The Amazon  Echo and its brethren are mostly used for the expected everyday purposes of listening to music, asking what the weather will be like tomorrow and setting timers. All of these things are obviously things that phones do as well, but there’s something to be said for having a stationary hub for the more domestic tasks."
 Surprise, no one buys things via Alexa --  TechCrunch

A Generation Grows Up in China Without Google, Facebook or Twitter -- NYT

Later in the article: "“Our findings suggest that censorship in China is effective not only because the regime makes it difficult to access sensitive information, but also because it fosters an environment in which citizens do not demand such information in the first place,” the scholars wrote."
"A generation of Chinese is coming of age with an internet that is distinctively different from the rest of the web. Over the past decade, China has blocked Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as thousands of other foreign websites, including The New York Times and Chinese Wikipedia. A plethora of Chinese websites emerged to serve the same functions — though they came with a heavy dose of censorship.
Now the implications of growing up with this different internet system are starting to play out. Many young people in China have little idea what Google, Twitter or Facebook are, creating a gulf with the rest of the world. And, accustomed to the homegrown apps and online services, many appear uninterested in knowing what has been censored online, allowing Beijing to build an alternative value system that competes with Western liberal democracy.
These trends are set to spread. China is now exporting its model of a censored internet to other countries, including Vietnam, Tanzania and Ethiopia."
A Generation Grows Up in China Without Google, Facebook or Twitter --  NYT

Apple, Facebook and YouTube Remove Content From Alex Jones and Infowars -- NYT

Your move, Twitter; also see There aren’t many platforms left for Alex Jones and Infowars (The Verge)
"Apple, Google, Facebook and Spotify severely restricted the reach of Mr. Jones and Infowars, his right-wing site that has been a leading peddler of false information online. Mr. Jones and Infowars have used social media for years to spread dark and bizarre theories, such as that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that Democrats run a global child-sex ring. Apple made its move on Sunday and the others followed on Monday.

The actions, one of the tech companies’ most aggressive efforts against misinformation, highlighted a difficult dilemma for their businesses. They have long desired to combat misinformation online, but they have also been reluctant to be arbiters of truth.

But since a rise of misinformation online around elections, such as the 2016 presidential vote, the tech companies have faced increasing calls from lawmakers and the news media to address their role in that spread of false information and a related increase in partisan divisions. The tech companies have recently stepped up enforcement — but that has led to accusations of political bias, largely from conservatives."
p.s. Stitcher beat Apple in banning all of Jone's content by a couple days, according to this Vox article
Apple, Facebook and YouTube Remove Content From Alex Jones and Infowars -- NYT

With “Your Feed,” The New York Times lets iOS users follow topics and journalists (in a non-overwhelming way) -- NiemanLab

All the news that's fit to feed -- see this NYT overview for more details
"The Times publishes around 160 articles a day, and most of those will never be on the homepage of the app or in the section fronts. “Your Feed” is designed to help readers follow content they might miss otherwise. They can select from 24 channels to follow — some organized around section or topic (“From the Magazine,” “Gender & Society,” “The Mueller Investigation,” “Books of the Week”), others based on specific columnists (Nicholas Kristoff, Farhad Manjoo’s State of the Art column).

The feed also contains exclusive, tweet-length content from Times newsroom staffers and columnists, using a bot to pull that stuff straight from the Times’ Slack channel. (The fact that this Slack thing is just a tidbit in a story about a much larger feature provides another reminder, if you needed one, of how far ahead of almost all other newspapers the Times is in everything from app development to user research to developer resources.) Outbound links to non-Times stories will occasionally be included as well."
With “Your Feed,” The New York Times lets iOS users follow topics and journalists (in a non-overwhelming way) -- NiemanLab

Why Apple Is the Future of Capitalism -- NYT

From an Apple business model reality check
"The accomplishments of Apple’s model are substantial. But the financial strategy that has worked so well for Apple is a risky one for less capable companies with weaker strategic positions. For them, aping Apple can just as easily result in too much debt on their balance sheets, precarious supply chains and deferred opportunities for investments.
The financial archetype defined by Apple — asset-light strategy, leveraged share buybacks and cash flow above all — is a high-wire act. Boards should guard against the temptation to follow Apple’s path blindly. Big investors, especially mutual funds and pension funds that represent so many individuals, should question the management of any company that does. Many of Apple’s imitators are more likely to mortgage the future than create it."
Why Apple Is the Future of Capitalism -- NYT

Monday, August 06, 2018

Magical thinking about machine learning won’t bring the reality of AI any closer -- The Guardian

On a related note, see ‘The Beginning of a Wave’: A.I. Tiptoes Into the Workplace (NYT)
"In all of this sociopolitical criticism of ML, however, what has gone unchallenged is the idea that the technology itself is technically sound – in other words that any problematic outcomes it produces are, ultimately, down to flaws in the input data. But now it turns out that this comforting assumption may also be questionable. At the most recent Nips (Neural Information Processing Systems) conference – the huge annual gathering of ML experts – Ali Rahimi, one of the field’s acknowledged stars, lobbed an intellectual grenade into the audience. In a remarkable lecture he likened ML to medieval alchemy. Both fields worked to a certain extent – alchemists discovered metallurgy and glass-making; ML researchers have built machines that can beat human Go champions and identify objects from pictures. But just as alchemy lacked a scientific basis, so, argued Rahimi, does ML. Researchers, he claimed, often can’t explain the inner workings of their mathematical models: they lack rigorous theoretical understandings of their tools and in that sense are currently operating in alchemical rather than scientific mode.

Does this matter? Emphatically yes. As Rahimi puts it: “We are building systems that govern healthcare and mediate our civic dialogue. We would influence elections. I would like to live in a society whose systems are built on top of verifiable, rigorous, thorough knowledge, and not on alchemy.”"
Magical thinking about machine learning won’t bring the reality of AI any closer -- The Guardian

Pentagon doubles down on ‘single-cloud’ strategy for $10 billion contract -- The Washington Post

Frustrate many lobbyists you will...
"The Defense Department has doubled down on a decision to turn to just one cloud-computing provider for one of its biggest IT contracts in years, offering a rebuke to some in industry who fear this approach will give one company too much influence over the government’s information systems.

Late last month, the Defense Department released a long-awaited request for proposals for what it is calling the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), in which it specified that the contract would have a ceiling of $10 billion over the course of a decade, an opportunity that officials have indicated would account for about 16 percent of the department’s overall cloud migration work. The Defense Department also indicated it would use just one company for the contract — a decision that has sparked sharp divisions among the handful of firms vying for the contract."
Pentagon doubles down on ‘single-cloud’ strategy for $10 billion contract -- The Washington Post

Apple at $1Trillion: The Missing Theory -- Monday Note

Value different; also see Apple’s Road to a Trillion Dollar Company (Tech.pinions)
"There’s another mystery twist, here: How did Apple get to $1T with such a poor price-to-earnings ratio (P/E)? As you no doubt already know, P/E is the result of dividing the share price by the earnings per share (EPS). The higher the ratio, the more willing investors are to pay a higher price for today’s shares, assured by the promise of substantially higher earnings (EPS) in the future.
This is where we get into some intriguing comparisons. Microsoft’s P/E is a solid 48 and Alphabet’s hovers around 50…but Apple’s is a meager 17. Caricaturing just a bit: “Apple still trades like a steel mill going out of business.” In more sober words, investor actions say Microsoft’s or Alphabet’s future earnings per share are safer than Apple’s, hence the premium they’re willing to pay. With a P/E of 50, Apple’s Market Cap would approach $3T…"
Apple at $1Trillion: The Missing Theory -- Monday Note

Apple Is Removing Alex Jones And Infowars' Podcasts From iTunes -- BuzzFeed

Later in the article: "Separately, a Spotify spokesperson confirmed on Monday morning that the company has also removed all episodes of The Alex Jones Show, after it removed some selected episodes last week."
"Apple's decision to remove all episodes of Jones' popular show — rather than just specific offending episodes — is one of the largest enforcement actions intended to curb conspiratorial news content by a technology company to date. Apple did not host Jones's shows, but it offered an index that allowed anyone with an iPhone to find and subscribe to them. Though Apple is far from Jones and Infowars' only distribution platform, the decision to pull Jones' content will considerably limit the outlet's audio reach — as of 2018, Apple's Podcasts platform amassed 50 billion all-time downloads and streams.

In a statement Sunday evening to BuzzFeed News, Apple confirmed that it notified Jones of the decision to remove the five shows under its hate speech guidelines earlier this weekend. "Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users," a company spokesperson said. "Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”"
Apple Is Removing Alex Jones And Infowars' Podcasts From iTunes -- BuzzFeed

Friday, August 03, 2018

Comcast to Launch Amazon Prime Video on Xfinity TV in 2018 -- Variety

Later in the article: "For Comcast, the Amazon deal is a continuation of its strategy to be the single video-entertainment hub in the home — to keep cable customers in its guide, so they don’t have to switch over to a Roku or Apple TV streaming device."
"Comcast and Amazon reached a deal to bring Prime Video to the cable company’s Xfinity X1 service — the first time Amazon’s premium streaming-video service will be available on a U.S. pay-TV service.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed. The pact also makes Comcast to [sic] only pay-TV operator in the U.S. to offer Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and YouTube integrated into a set-top box environment.

Comcast said it expects to launch the Amazon Prime Video app on X1 later this year. Customers will have to have a separate Amazon Prime membership to access the video service on X1. As of the end of June, X1 has been deployed to over 60% of Comcast’s 21.5 million residential video customers."
Comcast to Launch Amazon Prime Video on Xfinity TV in 2018 -- Variety

The Expensive Education of Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley -- NYT

From a Kara Swisher reality check (the associated "NYT Picks" comments are also noteworthy):
"The arms race metaphor is a good one, but not for the reasons Facebook intended. Here’s how I see it: Facebook, as well as Twitter and Google’s YouTube, have become the digital arms dealers of the modern age.

All these companies began with a gauzy credo to change the world. But they have done that in ways they did not imagine — by weaponizing pretty much everything that could be weaponized. They have mutated human communication, so that connecting people has too often become about pitting them against one another, and turbocharged that discord to an unprecedented and damaging volume.

They have weaponized social media. They have weaponized the First Amendment. They have weaponized civic discourse. And they have weaponized, most of all, politics."
The Expensive Education of Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley -- NYT

Microsoft executive considers it a ‘responsibility’ to help you unplug -- The Washington Post

Perhaps time to focus more on enticing people to unplug competitive devices; also see Surface Go review: The ideal cheap Windows tablet... almost (Engadget)
"The question is whether the changes Microsoft’s made to its products will translate into a better experience for the people it’s trying to reach. The Surface line, after all, hasn’t helped Microsoft crack the list of the world’s top-five tablet makers. It doesn’t have the reach of Apple’s laptops or Google’s Chromebooks. Even other devices that run Windows, from companies such as Lenovo, have a greater market presence.

Mehdi said he’s not sure whether Microsoft and the Surface Go have the answer — in fact, he’s very clear that the company is not claiming victory over wasted screen time. But it is, he said, the responsibility of technology companies to think about how the products they make affect the lives of the people that buy them."
Microsoft executive considers it a ‘responsibility’ to help you unplug -- The Washington Post

Tim Cook thanks employees in memo following record-setting $1 trillion market cap -- 9to5Mac

Excerpt:
"Today Apple passed a significant milestone. At our closing share price of $207.39, the stock market now values Apple at more than $1 trillion. While we have much to be proud of in this achievement, it’s not the most important measure of our success. Financial returns are simply the result of Apple’s innovation, putting our products and customers first, and always staying true to our values.

It’s you, our team, that makes Apple great and our success is due to your hard work, dedication, and passion. I am deeply humbled by what you do, and it’s the privilege of a lifetime to work alongside you. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the late hours and extra trips, all the times you refuse to settle for anything less than excellence in our work together."
Tim Cook thanks employees in memo following record-setting $1 trillion market cap -- 9to5Mac

Apple’s $1 Trillion Milestone Reflects Rise of Powerful Megacompanies -- NYT

Not lonely at the top; also see Apple Is Worth $1,000,000,000,000. Two Decades Ago, It Was Almost Bankrupt. (NYT)
"Apple’s new 13-figure valuation highlights how a group of enormous companies has come to dominate the United States economy. Today, a smaller cluster of American companies commands a larger share of total corporate profits than since at least the 1970s.
The impact of this phenomenon has been clear in the stock markets, where a band of household-name companies — led by Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google — has fueled the nine-year bull market, the second-longest behind the rally that ended in 2000. Their successes also are propelling the broader economy, which is on track for its fastest growth rate in a decade.
But the effects of the consolidation of corporate profits extend far beyond the stock markets — and they are not entirely benign."
Apple’s $1 Trillion Milestone Reflects Rise of Powerful Megacompanies -- NYT

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Tesla Reports Another Big Loss, but Sees Only Profit Ahead -- NYT

The Tesla future (still...) looks bright ahead
"Tesla recorded another huge loss last quarter and burned through hundreds of millions of dollars in cash as it ramped up production of its first mass-market model.

But the electric-car maker intends for that loss to be its last.

Tesla is about to turn the corner, Elon Musk, the chief executive, told analysts and investors on Wednesday during a conference call after the company announced its quarterly results.

“Our goal is to be profitable and cash-flow positive for every quarter going forward,” Mr. Musk said. Outside of a recession or major economic shock, the company is confident that it can reach that target, he said."
Tesla Reports Another Big Loss, but Sees Only Profit Ahead -- NYT

Amazon plans to move completely off Oracle software by early 2020 -- CNBC

At this rate Amazon may beat perennially migrating Salesforce to the post-Oracle Database finish line...
"Amazon began moving off Oracle about four or five years ago, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the project is confidential. Some parts of Amazon's core shopping business still rely on Oracle, the person said, and the full migration should wrap up in about 14 to 20 months. Another person said that Amazon had been considering a departure from Oracle for years before the transition began but decided at the time that it would require too much engineering work with perhaps too little payoff.

The primary issue Amazon has faced on Oracle is the inability for the database technology to scale to meet Amazon's performance needs, a person familiar with the matter said. Another person, who said the move could be completed by mid-2019, added that there hasn't been any development of new technology relying on Oracle databases for quite a while."
Amazon plans to move completely off Oracle software by early 2020 -- CNBC

Facebook Grapples With a Maturing Adversary in Election Meddling -- NYT

Later in the article: "And experts have suggested that trolls may be trying to build a large and hyper-engaged audience, with the intent of weaponizing the account for more strategic purposes later on."
"“It shows a level of sophistication in retail politics,” said Graham Brookie, the director of the Digital Forensic Lab, which published a report about the material this week.

The recent operation also appears to have been more focused on creating offline chaos, by setting up and promoting Facebook events, such as a counterprotest to a planned white nationalist rally that was co-hosted by one of the suspicious pages, which also had real groups behind it. The event attracted interest from more than 3,000 users.

“They’re better integrated into groups and events,” said Jonathan Albright, the director of the Digital Forensics Initiative at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The new group’s goal, Mr. Albright said, appeared to be “pushing real-life events and connecting the online and offline together in some type of activism that results in conflict.”"
Facebook Grapples With a Maturing Adversary in Election Meddling -- NYT

Microsoft narrows the gap on AWS as ​cloud computing race heats up -- ZDNet

A timely cloud reality check
"Amazon Web Services (AWS) continues to dominate the cloud computing infrastructure-as-a-service market, but Microsoft's Azure is growing fast.

The worldwide infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) market grew 29.5 percent in 2017 to total $23.5 billion, up from $18.2 billion in 2016, according to calculations by tech analyst firm Gartner. Companies are increasingly handing over their data and applications to cloud services providers; the analyst group recently predicted that, as a result, 80 percent of enterprises will have shut down their traditional data centers by 2025 -- up from just 10 percent today."
Microsoft narrows the gap on AWS as ​cloud computing race heats up -- ZDNet

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Apple buybacks eclipse value of most S&P 500 companies -- Reuters

Invest different
"Apple Inc said on Tuesday it handed its shareholders $20 billion through share buybacks in the June quarter, bringing its tally this year to a record $43 billion and helping push its stock price to an all-time high.
With a mountain of overseas cash freed up by last year’s sweeping U.S. corporate tax cuts, Apple’s share repurchases in the first half of calendar 2018 exceed the stock market value of almost three quarters of the companies in the S&P 500, including Ford Motor Co, Delta Air Lines Inc and Twitter Inc."
Apple buybacks eclipse value of most S&P 500 companies  -- Reuters

New Tools to Manage Your Time on Facebook and Instagram -- Facebook Newsroom

Also see Facebook and Instagram are making it easier to spend less time on Facebook and Instagram (Recode)
"Today we are announcing new tools to help people manage their time on Facebook and Instagram: an activity dashboard, a daily reminder and a new way to limit notifications. We developed these tools based on collaboration and inspiration from leading mental health experts and organizations, academics, our own extensive research and feedback from our community. We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring. Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.

To access the tools, go to the settings page on either app. On Instagram tap “Your Activity,” and on Facebook, tap “Your Time on Facebook.” At the top, you’ll see a dashboard showing your average time for that app on that device. Tap any bar to see your total time for that day. Below the dashboard, you can set a daily reminder to give yourself an alert when you’ve reached the amount of time you want to spend on that app for that day. You can change or cancel the reminder at any time. You can also tap on “Notification Settings” to quickly access the new “Mute Push Notifications” setting. This will limit your Facebook or Instagram notifications for a period of time when you need to focus."
New Tools to Manage Your Time on Facebook and Instagram -- Facebook Newsroom