Mathew Ingram is a senior writer at Fortune.
The “Trending” topics section of Facebook seems such a trivial thing, and in many ways it is. It looks and feels like an afterthought—ironically, it started as an attempt to copy Twitter—and many users probably don’t even notice it’s there. But now, it has triggered a national discussion around bias and the power of social platforms.
In case you missed the brouhaha, it started with a report from Gizmodo that profiled a team of anonymous journalists working at Facebook who curate the news that shows up in the Trending section. A subsequent report quoted one of the journalists as saying the team routinely removed certain right-wing political sites from the section, even when the social network’s data showed they were trending.
The revelation seemed harmless enough, at first: Journalists hired to edit things were actually editing them! But the comment soon snowballed into a debate over Facebook’s role in news consumption, and whether its sheer size and influence brings with it some level of responsibility.
Facebook responded to the story by saying that its policy is to remain as neutral as possible editorially, and that it will look into reports of misbehavior. Then it issued a second, even more heartfelt response, after the Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter asking the company to answer some questions around political influence and the Trending section.
The real issue, of course, isn’t the tiny section of the Facebook home page that follows trending topics. It’s the fact that the kind of editorial selection those journalists engaged in is happening every minute of every day on the main news feed, courtesy of the Facebook ranking algorithm. And that algorithm, since it is programmed by human beings, inevitably contains biases of all kinds.
The bottom line is that Facebook is more than just a social network where people exchange photos of their pets—it is the largest and most influential media entity the world has ever seen. The sooner Facebook acknowledges that, and becomes part of the discussion around how it can manage its social responsibilities, the better off we will all be.
BITS AND BYTES
Google may face U.S. antitrust scrutiny again. The Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether the tech giant abused its dominance in search engine technology by favoring its own products in query results, reports Politico. The investigation was prompted by a complaint by another U.S. company. The FTC ended an earlier investigation three years ago. (Fortune, Politico)
Dell plans $16 billion bond sale. The note offering, which could still grow larger, will help fund the company’s $67 billion acquisition of EMC, reports Reuters. Dell is also talking to lenders about whether it can increase the size of the $7 billion Term Loan A debt it will use to finance the takeover. The merger is scheduled to close by October. (Reuters)
Boston bests San Francisco for digital entrepreneurs. The top reason is quality of life for local residents, according to an analysis of 25 metropolitan areas by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The San Francisco Bay area region still has way more startup activity than anywhere else—6,000 business launches from 2011 to 2015, which was twice the number of the No. 2 location, New York. (Reuters)
Instagram looks really different, and people are freaking out. The company behind the popular mobile app for posting images and video has overhauled its logo, in a nod to design simplicity. No more camera-esque icon. Relax everyone. Remember the controversy over the Uber rebrand? I thought not. (Fortune, New York Times)
IBM sues former cloud sales executive. It has accused Louis Attanasio, who was general manager for global sales at the hybrid cloud division, of sending confidential documents to his personal email before leaving IBM for Informatica in early April. Attanasio’s new employer competes with IBM in business analytics and cloud services. (Fortune)
Intel offers unusually generous benefits to laid-off workers. For example, the chipmaker, which is idling 11% of its workforce, is offering workers in Oregon a minimum of six weeks of pay plus three months of health insurance. Departing employees will get more severance and more health benefits, based on years of service, if they sign a “standard release agreement.” (Fortune)
U.S. cybersecurity experts issue warning about SAP software vulnerability. The bug can give hackers control over older versions of SAP’s business management software if it hasn’t been patched, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Response Team. The problem was supposedly fixed six years ago. This is one of just three alerts that CERT has issued so far this year. (Reuters)
Salesforce caught between two software worlds. Like many software companies of a certain age, Salesforce is navigating a tricky path in the fast-changing technology world. Companies more than a decade or two old must constantly re-evaluate technology suppliers to assess if they should keep what they have or switch.
One critical question is whether Salesforce should stop relying on Oracle’s database technology to run its popular business software used by salespeople and marketers to track deals. Oracle is the market leader in databases, but those databases are pricey compared with other, newer products on the market.
It also faces another big issue—how much to use public cloud services rather than its own data centers. Fortune senior writer Barb Darrow reports on the business software company’s dilemma. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Antitrust officials pick on retailers and spare tech industry (again)
by Jeff John Roberts
What your HR data can tell you about your business by Heather Clancy
Will video advertising be the next media bubble to pop? by Mathew Ingram
Top U.S. officials urge more cooperation with Silicon Valley
by Jonathan Vanian
Google bans advertising by payday lenders by Aaron Pressman
Lyft offers millions more to settle driver lawsuit by Kia Kokalitcheva
Microsoft sunsets Sunrise calendar app by Jonathan Vanian
This startup helps Uber work better for businesses by Kia Kokalitcheva
ONE MORE THING
Larry Ellison donates $200 million to cancer research. The money from the Oracle co-founder will create a new research center at the University of Southern California. This is the second huge gesture on this front originating in Silicon Valley within the past month. In April, former Facebook President Sean Parker committed an unprecedented $250 million to an institute that will test using immune therapies to fight the disease. (Bloomberg)
|This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.|