Some billionaire venture capitalists fund research into how human beings might become immortal. Others want to set up a series of artificial islands on which people could live without being subject to the laws of a specific country. And some get their lawyers to shop around for lawsuits they can fund in order to put a news website out of business.
Peter Thiel, the man best known for his early investment in Facebook and for being a co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, isn’t just any billionaire VC. He’s doing all those things at the same time. The Immortality Project and the Seasteading Institute seem harmless enough, but Thiel’s funding of a $140 million lawsuit against Gawker Media is anything but—if you have any interest in a free press, that is.
After Gawker founder Nick Denton suggested earlier this week that a wealthy benefactor was helping fund wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the company, Forbes named Thiel as the one providing the cash. Late Wednesday, the billionaire came forward and admitted to The New York Times that he helped finance not just Hogan’s legal case but at least one other current case against Gawker as part of a plan he has been working on for several years.
Thiel denied that his motive was just revenge for stories that Gawker wrote about him, including one in 2007 that publicly revealed him to be gay. He said that his campaign against the site was about “deterrence,” because he believed Gawker had pioneered a “unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”
What about the threat that such a campaign might present to a free press or the First Amendment? Thiel brushed these concerns aside in his interview with the Times. “I think much more highly of journalists than that. It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker,” he said. Is that going to help members of the press sleep soundly at night? It’s difficult to see how.
BITS AND BYTES
Snapchat discloses monster $1.8 billion round. The new funding was revealed in documents filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, although no investors were named. The infusion reportedly boosts the messaging app company’s valuation to $20 billion. A pitch deck examined by TechCrunch suggests that Snapchat is estimating revenue of $250 million to $350 million this year. (Fortune, TechCrunch)
Salesforce inks major deal with Amazon Web Services. We knew they were getting closer, but this is pretty cozy. The business software giant will spend $400 million on AWS’s cloud computing, storage, and networking services over the next four years. (Fortune, New York Times)
Shareholder sues Alphabet board over Google’s European antitrust troubles. The complaint accuses CEO Larry Page, president Sergey Brin, and executive chairman Eric Schmidt of mismanagement when it came to structuring distribution arrangements for the Android mobile operating system. The suggested remedy? The addition of three independent board candidates. (Fortune)
Alibaba discloses SEC probe. Federal regulators want to know far more about the Chinese e-commerce company’s accounting practices. Among other things, they’ve asked for information related to its delivery affiliate, Cainiao, as well as how it counts results for “Singles Day,” which has become the largest online shopping day of the year in China. (Wall Street Journal)
Twitter pivots on e-commerce. The struggling social media company has disbanded the team behind its “Buy” button, which lets users shop for items directly from tweets, reports Buzzfeed. That may be so, but Twitter hasn’t given up on social commerce, according to sources. Instead, it’s refocusing on ads that redirect consumers back to retailers’ own websites for more information or to purchase products, they suggest. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
HP Inc. tries to navigate shrinking PC market. The printer and personal computer giant saw its second-quarter sales shrink 11% year-over-year to $11.6 billion. On the company’s call with financial analysts, CEO Dion Weisler described the rough market as the “new normal.” (Fortune)
Lenovo misses big, blames Motorola investment. Revenue for the first quarter was $9.13 billion, roughly $1 billion less than the average of analysts’ estimates. The company’s CEO admits that Lenovo has had difficulty capitalizing on Motorola’s smartphone business, which it bought in 2014 for $2.8 billion. (Bloomberg)
Investors want Qualcomm to make a big acquisition. During a wave of consolidation across the semiconductor industry, wireless chip giant Qualcomm has stuck to relatively small deals, such as the $2.4 billion purchase of U.K. chip company CSR. But Qualcomm CEO Steven Mollenkopf is keeping his options open, based on remarks he made Wednesday to investors. (Fortune)
Japan moves to regulate virtual currency. The infamous collapse of the prominent Mt. Gox exchange in 2014 cost some users millions, and no one knows quite who’s responsible. The country’s previous position was that bitcoin regulation should be an international effort. It is now adopting tighter policies in the absence of multinational leadership. (Fortune)
Drone sales skyrocket. Sales tripled to $200 million over the past 12 months, according to data from retail researcher NPD Group. More than 2.5 million drones could be sold this year. Projections for 2020 are far higher at around 7 million units. (Fortune)
Non-compete agreements are bad for the little guy and bad for the larger economy. Not so fun fact: Did you know 47 out of 50 states have non-compete provisions on the books?
Non-compete agreements are used by employers to try to ensure that workers cannot go to work for a direct competitor for a year (or two or three), after resigning or being terminated. Prospective employees in high-tech often must sign these agreements as a condition of employment. As of now, every state except Oklahoma, California, and North Dakota has non-compete provisions in some form. Even California appears to have some restrictions related to trade secrets, according to a survey by Boston law firm Beck Reed Riden.
These broad agreements are bad not only for individual workers who can’t freely navigate the job market, but for the economies of those states generally, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow Mark Muro who wrote about the issue in The Wall Street Journal this week. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Uber checks into Foursquare’s massive location database
by Kia Kokalitcheva
Intel Capital leads $20 million investment in Lightbend by Barb Darrow
Dropbox strengthens mobile support, gets closer to IBM by Heather Clancy
Workplace chat tool Slack reaches new user milestone by Kia Kokalitcheva
Google may publicly ‘shame’ Android phone makers by Don Reisinger
Battery startup Stem raises $15 million from Peter Thiel’s Mithril
by Katie Fehrenbacher
Rock legend takes on Google in virtual reality by David Meyer
Is Mark Zuckerberg building a panic house? by Don Reisinger
ONE MORE THING
Magic Leap courts developers for mysterious augmented reality technology. The startup, which has amassed more than $1 billion in backing, will pick a select group of programmers and enthusiasts who can create prototype applications for its platform. (The Verge)