Data Sheet—Tuesday, December 13, 2016


There was a flurry of interest recently in a lawsuit launched by some Facebook shareholders, who apparently believe that they got the short end of the stick in the company’s recent share restructuring. Here’s a news flash for them: You always had the short end of the stick.

The lawsuit relates to the changes that CEO Mark Zuckerberg made earlier this year, when he issued a new class of stock that will allow him to maintain control over the company even if he sells or gives away most of his shares.

The plaintiffs argue this could be damaging to their interests because their shares might drop in value. And the lawsuit alleges that Silicon Valley venture capitalist and board member Marc Andreessen was personally advising Zuckerberg, while also sitting on a supposedly impartial advisory committee overseeing the restructuring maneuver.

As titillating as it might be to read Andreessen’s text messages to Zuckerberg, however—in which the former quotes from a 1950’s film noir with Burt Lancaster, remarking “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river”—the whole thing feels like a bit of a sideshow.

The reality is that Mark Zuckerberg can do whatever he wants with Facebook because he controls more than 50% of the votes using the same kind of multi-voting shares Larry Page and Sergey Brin use to control Alphabet and Google. He also controls the board of directors thanks the creative use of proxy votes from other co-founders.

None of this is new. Zuckerberg has always controlled Facebook this way. Is multiple-voting control unfair? Arguably, yes. But those were the rules of the game before the shareholders bought their stock, which makes it hard to sympathize with their claim that they are being taken advantage of when they volunteered for it.


Microsoft earmarks money for artificial intelligence. The company's venture arm created a fund backing AI companies using technology to increase access to education, teach new skills, create jobs, improve treatment of disease, and other world-mending tasks. One of its first investments is Element AI, an incubator based in Montreal and co-founded by Yoshua Bengio, a pioneer in neural networks and deep learning. (Fortune)

Check out Panasonic's checkout system. The Japanese electronics giant has developed robotics technology for grocery stores that scans items and then places them in a plastic bag automatically, eliminating the need for a human cashier. The technology is being tested by the Lawson convenience store chain. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

This IBM bot could help get shoppers in and out of the mall faster. The latest application of the company's Watson analytics technology is the Experiential List Formulator (a.k.a. E.L.F.), being used by the Mall of America to help visitors figure out where to buy items on their shopping lists. Visitors "tell" the software-powered concierge what they want, and E.L.F. will offer suggestions. (Fortune)

Hertz will use an online marketplace to sell off used fleet vehicles. A deal with Shift Technologies, a startup seeking to expand outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles, will give Hertz another channel to turn over cars from its rental inventory. (Fortune)

Amazon to cloud customers: No staff? No problem. The company's Amazon Web Services group on Tuesday introduced a new service for its larger corporate accounts that helps with ongoing maintenance tasks such as updating software and monitoring against security breaches. The twist? Many of Amazon's business partners, especially those that help with cloud migration projects, offer similar services. (Fortune)


Detour for Google's self-driving car efforts? The Information reports that the company is backing away from developing its own autonomous vehicle in favor of stepping up its partnerships with established automakers. The initiative could soon be moved out of the Alphabet X "moonshot" group, where it would be able to ramp up more quickly. Google has scheduled a briefing on Tuesday to offer more details on future direction. (The Information)


Salesforce is rallying behind messaging as a customer service tool. These days, you’re at least slightly more likely to find someone sending messages from their mobile phone than making a phone call, a trend that is not lost on managers responsible for customer service strategy.

Software companies including Facebook and Zendesk have moved to support that shift more explicitly over the past 18 months. Now, cloud applications powerhouse Salesforce is doing the same with updates to its service desk offering. The changes are made possible by technology it gained through its September acquisition of mobile messaging software specialist HeyWire. And support for Facebook Messenger is first on the agenda.


Apple May Join Softbank's $100 Billion Tech Fund Pitched to Trump, by Aaron Pressman

Microsoft Surface Sales Soar on MacBook Pro 'Disappointment', by Don Reisinger

A Top Google Result for the Holocaust Is Now a White Supremacist Site, by Jeff John Roberts

Netflix Brings Its New Virtual Reality App to Google Daydream, by Jonathan Vanian

How AMD Seeks to Match Intel and Nvidia in Machine Learning, by Aaron Pressman


Donald Trump interviews former HP CEO Carly Fiorina. The President-elect and his former rival chatted about the role of China and another big threat to the United States, hacking by state-directed actors. Fiorina is reported to be under consideration for director of national intelligence. (FortuneWashington Post)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
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