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PayPal is buying a Swedish startup that offers Square-like payments services in Europe for a whopping $2.2 billion. It’s a lot of money because the company, iZettle, processes a tiny fraction of Square’s volume, which is a tiny fraction of PayPal’s.
* Who would have thought a decade ago that payments would be such a hot field? PayPal was an obvious acquisition for eBay once upon a time because all the then-auction site’s customers were using it. Today, the independent PayPal is worth 2.5 times its one-time owner, and its business is way bigger than merely processing transactions on eBay. The big banks, Apple, Google, Samsung, and a bevy of “fintech” startups all want a piece of this pie, which continues to grow.
* The same phenomenon is playing out in China, where Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial’s Alipay started the mobile payments phenomenon and has more recently been joined by Tencent’s WeChat Pay. The two are investing hither and yon to bolster their payment platforms. Again, it’s a segment that once would have been an undercard fight and now is the main event.
* European tech is hot in its own right. Spotify led the way, but success stories like iZettle remind investors and consumers that impressive tech stories don’t have to come out of Silicon Valley. It’s such an important trend that we’re hosting a roundtable on European startups in Aspen, Colo., at Brainstorm Tech this summer. We’re still looking for a few good entrepreneurs to participate.
Speaking of Brainstorm Tech, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Vista Equity Partners, the software-focused buyout shop, is raising a $12-billion fund. Robert Smith, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista, is making his first appearance at Brainstorm. Vista is a fascinating story that has kept a relatively low profile until recently. We’ll shine a light on Smith and Vista in Aspen in July.
Have a good weekend.
Demo doubters. We and others made plenty of hay with Google’s amazing Duplex AI phone call demonstration. Now Axios (and former Fortune) reporter Dan Primack has some questions and Google has, so far, declined to provide any answers. Before playing the Duplex taped calls, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the app “was actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment.” Primack had a few issues, like why the establishments didn’t give their names and why they didn’t ask for contact info.
Inhaling outrage. It’s time to regulate privacy and especially to regulate Facebook, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said this week. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation law could be a model, he said in an appearance on the show CBS This Morning on Wednesday. “In some ways you can say Facebook has really become the new cigarettes in our industry,” Benioff explained. “It’s a technology that is…addictive, it may not be that great for you and it might be something that you might want to go back to.”
Spit in a tube. Speaking of privacy, after law enforcers cracked the Golden State Killer case by finding the suspect’s relatives with genealogy data, a firm called Parabon NanoLabs is using the technique on at least 100 more cases, BuzzFeed reports. The firm has already found 20 possible matches of DNA collected at crime scenes to the genetic codes of people listed a public genealogy database called GEDmatch.
I see you. Speaking even more of privacy, LocationSmart, a company that collects extensive location data from customers of all four major wireless carriers, was accidentally leaking the information to anyone who visited its web site, security reporter Brian Krebs reports. A demonstration page on LocationSmart’s web site could be used to track anyone’s phone number. LocationSmart took down the demo and said it was investigating.
Coming on strong. The smart speaker market is still dominated by Amazon despite Apple’s recent entry, tracking firm Strategy Analytics says. In the first quarter, Amazon shipped 4 million devices, good for 44% share, Google grabbed 27% of the market with 2.4 million of its speakers, and Apple’s HomePod lagged, shipping 600,000 units, or 6% of the market, the firm said.
First person shooter accommodations. All kinds of people play video games, including people with disabilities. So Microsoft’s new Xbox Adaptive Controller has two large buttons that can be operated not just by hand, but with elbows and feet, also. And it’s compatible with a wide range of other input devices, like mouth-operated quadsticks used by quadriplegic players. All kinds of people write computer code, too. So Apple said it has adapted its “Everyone Can Code” school curriculum for students who are blind or deaf.
Careful what you post. The Trump administration has abandon an effort to create machine learning software that would help with the “extreme vetting” of foreign visitors, the Washington Post reported. The program was intended to scan Facebook, Twitter, and other Internet posts to assess whether a person might be a risk to allow entrance. Instead, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will rely on humans to perform the tasks.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.
The Impact of Masayoshi Son’s $100 Billion Tech Fund Will Be Profound (Economist)
An outsize investment in an unconventional business is typical of a fund that itself is both vast and resistant to definition. It is the brainchild of Masayoshi Son, an unusually risk-loving Japanese telecoms and internet entrepreneur. It is too big to be considered a conventional venture-capital firm, which would typically manage much smaller sums. It eschews many of the practices of private-equity funds, such as shaking up management and applying plenty of debt. Yet this impressive-but-puzzling experiment is having an impact on everyone who invests in technology.
What Happened to Facebook’s Grand Plan to Wire the World? (Wired)
Zuckerberg was sincere in his swashbuckling belief that Facebook was among a small number of players that had the money, know-how, and global reach to fast-forward history, jump-starting the economic lives of the 5 billion people who do not yet surf the web. He believed peer-to-peer communications would be responsible for redistributing global power, making it possible for any individual to access and share information. “The story of the next century is the transition from an industrial, resource-based economy to a knowledge economy,” he said in an interview with WIRED at the time.
The Mysterious Heir of Extreme Travel (Rolling Stone)
As they sailed through the miles of icy waters, the ship’s 60-plus passengers traded the monotony of sea for mingling. Among them was William Baekeland, a young and unassuming outsider, who cut an intriguing figure. An inveterate travel expert at 22 years old, with a scrawny build and neatly combed hair, he looked more like a high-school student than an explorer. Shockingly, though, his knowledge of world geography was immense – he’d claimed to have already visited most of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. The other explorers onboard the ship—seasoned members of the Travelers’ Century Club, the Most Traveled People, and other exclusive societies—perked up in the company of the curious stranger.
From Memory to Myth: The Adventures of Patrick Leigh Fermor (The Weekly Standard)
We have come to Patsos in a group from the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society. In April 1944, Leigh Fermor, his fellow Special Operations Executive officer William Stanley Moss, and a supporting cast of Cretan resistance fighters kidnapped General Heinrich Kreipe, the commandant of German-occupied Crete, on the road near Knossos. For 18 days and nights, the kidnappers evaded German search parties and traversed the mountainous spine of Crete—until a Royal Navy launch extracted them and their prisoner from the beach at Rodakino on the south coast.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
After hundreds of startups have raised money by issuing their own bitcoin-like digital tokens, regulators and reporters are taking a deeper look into the world of “initial coin offerings.” And the results aren’t pretty. Wall Street Journal reporters Shane Shifflett and Coulter Jones say they dug into the documents for 1,450 ICOs and found at least 271 that looked suspicious or even illegal. Here’s one example:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Racist Rant by New York Lawyer Tanks His Law Firm’s Yelp Rating By Grace Donnelley
Facebook Partners With the Atlantic Council to Fight Election Propaganda By Jonathan Vanian
Ridiculous Samsung Galaxy S9 Ad Pokes Fun at Apple’s iPhone By Don Reisinger
Instagram Now Lets You Re-Share Posts to Stories By Lisa Marie Segarra
Why Millennials Will Swipe Left on Facebook’s New Dating Service By Chelsea Reynolds
BEFORE YOU GO
When a TV show got cancelled in the old days by its network for low ratings, that was it, end of story. Nowadays, a network cancellation announcement seems like it’s just the opening for a bidding war as other networks and Internet video sites start vying to revive the show. The Wall Street Journal has a good explainer about how this new “global content market” changed everything, even for Andy Samberg’s meh comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.