Every once in a while over the past few months I’ve slipped a few words of subtle political commentary into these essays. It’s been pretty tame stuff, frankly, like highlighting the impact of protectionism on Silicon Valley companies and consumers. Without fail, these messages triggered a handful of emails urging me to stick to business commentary.
Business leaders, especially the titans of Silicon Valley, would rather be discussing anything but politics right now. In normal times, corporate leaders always have something to say. Given the size of their companies and their economic power, they arguably have a responsibility to pipe up. In what I assume will be the understatement of your morning, these are not normal times. The Trump administration’s move on Friday to ban refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries presented every major tech company with a challenge: What to say about the policy and how vociferously to say it.
On balance, the corporate responses have been tepid and legalistic, about what you’d expect from giant corporations. Microsoft told its affected employees it would help them with legal advice. Its CEO, Satya Nadella, noting that he is an immigrant, said Microsoft is in favor of immigration. “We will continue to advocate on this important topic.” It was hardly a condemnation of a policy even two prominent Republican senators implied was not consistent with “all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”
Others walked a fine line between disapproval and constructive engagement. (Here’s a quick scan of comments by Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sundar Pichai.) In an email entitled “Standing up for what’s right,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told employees “this ban will impact many innocent people—an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting.” He name-checked the heads of other companies—Tesla, GM, Pepsi, IBM, and Disney—who serve on the council, as if to provide cover for his decision to participate. And on Sunday, Uber created a $3 million legal defense fund for immigrant drivers. (Uber foe Lyft promptly announced a donation to the ACLU and said it stands “firmly against these actions.”)
This most certainly is not a time of business as usual.
BITS AND BYTES
It looks like Snapchat’s parent may file for its IPO this week. Several reports suggest that the company behind the widely used messaging app will publicly release the documents it filed confidentially with the government last fall. That would lay the groundwork for it to go public as soon as March. (Reuters)
Fitbit is contemplating layoffs after holiday disappointment. A report by The Information suggests the wearables technology company could reduce its workforce by up to 10%. It’s been warning about slower growth, but apparently it was still surprised by a weak fourth quarter. (Fortune, VentureBeat)
Canadian tech firms woo displaced immigrants after U.S. ban. Several high-profile venture capital and technology companies, including e-commerce darling Shopify, are urging the federal government in Ottawa to offer temporary residency to those affected by President Trump’s ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. (Reuters)
SURVEYS AND STUDIES
Only half of smartphone users actually buy apps. But spending for stuff that can be downloaded “in app” such as articles, digital maps, and other content is on the rise, according to new data from market research firm Gartner. Older millennials were the biggest spenders. (Gartner)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
What GoDaddy’s CEO thinks about AI, equal pay, and success at work. Blake Irving is not generally a fan of radical transformations. In his personal career, at least. “Regardless of what you bring to the table, bring it with amazing consistency,” Irving said in a live chat last Friday.
In addition to career advice, Irving took questions on everything from his favorite domain names, to how artificial intelligence will impact our jobs over the next five years. Fortune’s Laura Entis offers a rundown on his insights.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
IBM—Whose CEO Advises Trump—Calls for ‘Openness’ After Immigration Ban, by Claire Zillman
PayPal Payments Could Eventually Land on Amazon, by Don Reisinger
Google Pins Big Hopes on Cloud Business, by Barb Darrow
Apple Joins Influential Artificial Intelligence Group, by Jonathan Vanian
Why Sprint Is Cutting the Price of Its Unlimited Data Plan to Just $50, by Aaron Pressman
Tech Could Destroy More Jobs for Women Than Men, by Julio Portalatin
Twitter’s Finally on Instagram Playing Up Its Hashtag Game, by Raisa Bruner
ONE MORE THING
One potential downside of digital hotel locks. Guests at a lake resort in Austria were shut out of their rooms after hackers infiltrated its network and demanded a ransom in exchange for the digital keys. There have been more incidents like this in recent months as hotels experiment with apps, highlighting the dangers of ditching physical keys for cyber ones if the proper security measures aren’t in place. (Fortune)