Hello again from sunny Vancouver, the lovely Canadian port city where Uber is banned. I’m here attending the TED conference, where the conversations among overachievers are stimulating, the musical entertainment is invigorating, and the esoteric and work-life-balance onstage presentations betray next to no awareness of existential crises such as an ominous political season in the U.S., the civil war in Syria and coincident migrant disaster in Europe, and the shaky state of the global economy.
The business-tech highlight of TED on Tuesday was a talk by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. He shared data about the long-forgotten rise and fall of a “jitney” industry across the United States a hundred years ago. (Jitney was slang for nickel, the cost of a ride. Who knew?) Jitneys were immensely popular but were done in by regulations influenced by entrenched trolley interests, said Kalanick. Sound familiar? The long-ago service is exactly what Uber is trying to establish now with its urban UberPool service. A newer service, UberCommute, focuses on the suburbs.
Kalanick’s message was straightforward: Regulations a century ago killed an innovation that could have altered the trajectory of the life of U.S. cities. Don’t let it happen again.
An intriguing moment of Kalanick’s time under the bright lights at TED came during uncharacteristically tough questioning from Chris Anderson, TED’s congenial chief curator. He asked Kalanick about Uber’s funky new logo. Kalanick: Uber’s old logo began by mimicking a black car shield. Besides, he said, the “U doesn’t mean anything in Sanskrit or Mandarin.” Anderson called Kalanick an enigma whose company tolerated bad behavior toward women. Kalanick called Uber’s period of bad publicity a communications problem. “We felt we were good people doing good work,” he said.
As for how Uber reconciles doing right by its drivers while developing self-driving cars, the Uber CEO said that transition will take a long time (implying drivers will be productive for quite a while yet) and that to ignore the inevitable would be naïve. Uber, he implied, can help drivers and others retrain when the time comes. It’s an opportunity, he said, for “optimistic leadership.”
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BITS AND BYTES
Apple plans $12 billion bond offering. The debt will fund dividends and ongoing stock buybacks. Even though Apple has more than $215 billion in cash, the tax implications of using it for those programs are heavy. Apple’s offering is the second largest bond sale so far this year, after a $45.8 billion issue by Anheuser-Busch in January. (New York Times)
American Airlines goes to court over in-flight Internet service. In a lawsuit filed in Texas, the airline claims it is losing business because of unreliable wireless services provided on its planes by Gogo. It wants to get out of its existing contract, so it can work with an alternate provider, ViaSat. (Wired, Star-Telegram)
PayPal’s payment app logs biggest month yet. Venmo facilitated more than $1 billion in peer-to-peer money transfers in January, more than twice the volume it supported a year earlier. PayPal acquired the software in 2013. The app is particularly popular among millennials, who often use it to split dinner tabs and other collective bills. (Fortune)
Amazon buys Indian payments company. The e-commerce company paid an undisclosed amount for Emvantage Payments, which provides a service that allows online merchants to accept credit or debit cards. The acquisition is meant to speed Amazon’s ability to develop a payments system that works for Indian citizens, given that only 60% of people there use bank accounts. (Fortune)
Alibaba is now Groupon’s fourth largest shareholder. The Chinese e-commerce giant bought nearly 33 million shares, or a 5.6% stake, in the daily deals company. The value of its investment is nearly $100 million, although Groupon was unaware of the transaction until after a regulatory filing, reports Bloomberg. Alibaba said it took the stake in order to “share ideas” about U.S. and Chinese market strategies. (Bloomberg, Fortune)
Virtual reality startup raises $100 million. MindMaze is developing artificial intelligence technology that improves the ways human interact with computers using touch and eye movements. Some of its initial applications center on patients with brain injuries. The funding round, which values the company at more than $1 billion, comes from multinational conglomerate Hinduja Group. (TechCrunch)
Apple resists court order compelling it to build encryption decoder. Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company will fight a court order, granted to the FBI on Tuesday, that would compel the manufacturer to build what it calls a “master key” for the data held on iPhones.
The case couldn’t be more emotive: It involves the iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwaan Farook. The FBI can’t guess Farook’s PIN code, and if they try too many incorrect codes, the phone may wipe itself. Hence, they can’t comb it for evidence. To get around this, the FBI wants Apple to create a special version of the iPhone firmware that investigators could load onto the handset, allowing them to bypass the phone’s security mechanisms. Cook insists that doing so would cause far more harm than good. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Exclusive: Social network Nextdoor expands to first market outside U.S. by Michal Lev-Ram
Analysts suggest Google’s parent should buy AIG by Kia Kokalitcheva
Goldman Sachs backs social media software company Sprout Social
by Heather Clancy
Why you can’t buy Microsoft’s best laptop by Barb Darrow
Tech giant Intel prominent in Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute by Don Reisinger
Google and Red Hat find dangerous, widespread bug by David Meyer
Researchers have 3D-printed usable human bones and muscles
by Hilary Brueck
Many companies still procrastinate on cybersecurity by Jonathan Vanian
American workers try to organize—one click at a time by Rick Wartzman
ONE MORE THING
Los Angeles hospital held hostage by hackers. Staff at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center won’t get access to their computers until someone pays a $3.4 million ransom for the code to unlock them. They’ve been relying on paper documentation, phones, and faxes for more than a week. (Wired)